Grocery Price Books Make Good Cents

For years, I've read about
obsessively organizedsmart women who keep a grocery price book - a little journal of what specific foods cost at various stores in their area. "Wow," I thought. "They must have a lot more time on their hands than I do." But after reading Family Feasts for $75 a Week, I became convinced I needed to give price books a try. (The author, Mary Ostyn, is pretty compelling. She feeds her family of 12 for $800 to $900 a month. 'Nuf said.)

I like Mary's approach to price books. She suggests taking just a few of the more expensive items you usually buy and log them into a book. This makes the task seem far less overwhelming, and you can continue adding a few items to your price book each time you shop.

But, you might be thinking, I already know which store is cheapest in my area. That's what I thought, too. But when I took Mary's challenge, I was in for some surprises. Actually, a lot of surprises.

For example, if I shop in town, I have three stores to choose from. One is Walmart (not a super store, and therefore limited for food shopping), another is a nationwide chain grocery store, and another is a small regional discount grocery store (again with limited offerings). I thought Walmart was always cheapest. Then I priced cheese.

I buy about 4 loaves of cheese each month. I cut my own slices for sandwiches and grate my own for cooking. My kids also eat chunks of cheese for snacks. Cheese is one of the more costly things I purchase, so any savings in this area is pretty significant over a year's time.

So when I started my price book, cheese was one of the items I started with. What I discovered was that Walmart, where I thought cheese was the cheapest, charged $1.59 more for every cheese loaf than our regional discount store. That means I was paying an extra $12 or so every month. By purchasing cheese at the discount store, I am now saving about $144 a year!

Yeah, I was shocked.

The fact is, until you compare individual prices, you don't know when you're overspending. It's true you may not experience huge savings for every item, but even small savings add up over the course of a year. Once you have a price book, you'll be much better able to tell when sales are truly worthwhile, too.

How to Make a Grocery Price Book

The simplest way to make a grocery price book is to purchase a small loose leaf binder. Then, after shopping at one store, sit down for a few minutes with your receipt in hand. Write the name of one type of food (like cheese or milk) at the top of the page. Then note the store name (use an abbreviation, if you like), the brand purchased, the price paid (being sure to note the measure of the food - for example, $1/lb. or $2.29/10 oz.), and the unit price.

If you're fortunate, the receipt will list the pounds, ounces, and other measures. If not, you'll have to hop up and look at the product in the pantry or fridge.
To figure the unit price, just divide the total cost by the measure. For example, if cheese costs $5 for a 32 oz. loaf, divide 5 by 32. The result (.15 cents) is the unit cost of the product. Having this figure in hand makes it easy to know which products are most economical. Although one package of cheese, for example, may contain more than another, if you know the unit price, you can choose the better deal.

Maintaining a Price Book

Keep adding a few products and different store prices each time you shop. You don't have to do it all at once.

Keep the loose leaf pages in alphabetical order and stick the price book in your purse. (That way you'll always know what's a good deal. For instance, if I'm in our national grocery store chain and I see cheese on sale for $4/32 oz., I check my price book and see that's a good savings over what I typically buy.)

In total, the amount of time spent to create a price book isn't more than 4 or 5 hours (for the average woman), but can result in thousands of dollars of savings over the course of a year. Give it a try; I think you'll be amazed by what you discover.

Read my UPDATE on keeping a price book here.



  1. I've suddenly noticed that I'm going through my grocery budget much more swiftly than I'd prefer, so this is an excellent idea. I'm going to pass this along! :)

  2. Great ideas. I hate looking at "sales" and wondering if they are really a good deal.