Save Money by Using a Price List

Last week when I wrote about 4 Things I do to Keep Our Grocery Budget at $200/mo. for a Family of Four I mentioned that one of the ways that I save is by using a price list and I promised you a more detailed post on that topic.  Today is the day I’m making good on that promise.  :)

Have you ever seen an unadvertised deal while out grocery shopping and been tempted to buy it but just weren’t quite sure if it really was a good price? Or maybe you see peanut butter on sale at Kroger and go to buy it but then second guess yourself because you suddenly think you remember that Walmart’s regular price is lower.  I used to find myself doing both of those things regularly.  Try as I might, this poor brain of mine just didn’t do so well at remembering prices all by itself.   And so I came up with this price list idea and simplified my life.

The price list is really a very simple concept- basically you just keep a list of the lowest regular price that you can buy each item for.  Here’s a sample of what my price list looks like:

The first column is obviously the name of the item. The second has the price of the item as well as the store name. For sake of space I abbreviated some of the names. For instance, CV is Centerville (a local bulk food store) and WM is Walmart.  The blank columns are for me to write in updated price information as needed.

Now when I am planning a shopping trip and want to know if a sale price is a good deal, I simply refer to my handy little chart. The price list also helps me know what to buy where. For instance, when I go to Walmart, I make sure I buy the items that are priced the lowest there- that is if I need the item! And if I am shopping and come across an unexpected sale I can easily refer to my price list to see if it really is a bargain or not.

Using a price list does require a little bit of work. I mean, what good is a price list if it isn’t up to date? So here’s what I do. I keep my price list with me in my coupon binder and when I am out shopping at my usual stores I occasionally double check my prices. It doesn’t take long and I typically don’t go out of my way to do so; I just sort of scan the shelf for the price as I walk by. Then if a price changes, I simply note it in the 3rd, 4th, or 5th column of my chart. Eventually the chart gets full or messy and I have to update the prices in the original document and print out a new price list.

Not only has using a price list saved me lots of headache, it has also helped me save money. I can’t tell you how often I didn’t buy an item that I had thought was a good deal because my price list showed me it wasn’t. Yes, sometimes it was only a matter of $0.10, but let me tell you, that adds up. And if you don’t need the item immediately anyway, why not wait and get it cheaper?

Do you utilize a price list? What other ways do use to keep track of prices?

Image: via Shutterstock

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  1. by Sarah

    On May 12, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Good post,Lydia! A price list is so worth having for me too! It has helped me so much already.

  2. by Lydia Beiler

    On May 14, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Thanks for sharing Sarah! Glad to know that I’m not the only one who loves their price list. :)

  3. by Alisa

    On August 28, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    How do you know what the normal price is when it seems like stores mark up their prices, just to put them on “sale” again? Do you just write down the shelf price, or do you write down the “sale” price and then check back again during the next shopping trip? I hope my question makes sense!

  4. by Lydia Beiler

    On August 30, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Alisa, I think I understand your question. My price list goes by the regular price at the stores I typically shop. The point of the list is so that I know when a deal is actually a deal. For instance, I might see flour on sale at Weis for $2.50 but I look at my price list and see that I can actually get it for $2.29 regular price at Aldi. So then I know that the sale price at Weis really isn’t a great deal for me. This is especially helpful if you use coupons or buy generic brands because sometimes it seems like the coupon deal is great until you compare it with the regular price of a generic brand item. That is what works for me but you might come up with a better system that works well for you. I do know that as you watch sales you’ll start figuring out when a sale is actually a great deal. For instance, last week when I saw peanut butter for less than $1/jar I knew that it was stock up time! $2/jar is not a bad price but when it is less than that it is definitely time to buy up.

    Hope that helps! And please, if something still doesn’t make sense, ask. If you’d rather, you can email me at thriftyfrugalmom at gmail dot com.

  5. by Alisa

    On August 30, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Thanks for the clarification. It just seems some stores always have nearly all their products on “sale.” I will start with the shelf price and go from there. If anything, it will help me pay more attention to the patterns of when things go on sale and for how much. I do use coupons, so that is a really good point about consulting my price list to make sure it’s a good deal. How many things do you usually keep on your price list? What items would you recommend I start with?

  6. by Lydia Beiler

    On August 31, 2012 at 6:34 am

    No problem! Yes, I think for me it just helps me be more aware of prices in general and I’m amazed at how often I thought something might be less than what I can buy it typically when it actually wasn’t. I also shop at a local bulk food store that has excellent prices and buy most of my baking supplies there. Just this week I realized that raisins are actually cheaper at Aldi! Here all these years I’ve been buying them at the bulk food store thinking it was cheaper there. Now, it wasn’t much cheaper but still, as we all know, 10 cents here and there do add up.

    I also was thinking later that price lists really only help a lot if you shop at multiple stores. If you only ever shop at one grocery store then it might not be beneficial.

    As for what I put on my price list- I started with all the items I typically use such as baking supplies, paper supplies, and then items like sour cream, cream cheese etc. But it keeps growing and evolving. I would recommend starting the list with items that you typically purchase or that you try to keep your kitchen stocked with. I like to have a small stockpile of things like peanut butter and pasta just because they are things I use a lot of and so I am constantly watching for ways to get them inexpensively and then stock up. As for other things, I like to try to have at least one extra so that if I run out I don’t have to run to the store, which both wastes my time and typically causes me to spend more. So things like mayo, mustard, ketchup, honey, oil, lots of canned things, etc. I try to watch for a good price to get at least one so that I always have a back up. I mess up and sometimes I still run out or have to pay full price for an item but that’s what I shoot for.

    Hope that makes sense! I feel like I do so much better explaining it to people in person.

    Oh and I’ll try to send a copy of my price list to the email you listed when you commented. It’s what works for me but you very likely will come up with a design that works better for you.

  7. by Leslie

    On February 25, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Lydia,
    I recently had a baby boy and am blessed to be able to stay home with him. I want to start couponing more that I have in the past. I read different blogs and articles on coupon books. How do you start one? How do you organize one? I would love to see one that is put together. Any suggestions would be extremely helpful.

  8. by Lydia Beiler

    On February 26, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Leslie- Congratulations on the birth of your son! How to start a coupon book….well, that’s a tricky question! :) Here’s why. There are as many methods as there are people; basically you have to figure out what what works for you and then go with it. I do a combination method. I have a very small coupon binder that I take with me shopping. In it I have any coupons that I have clipped or printed and cut out, separated into various categories such as food, personal care, baby etc. I also collect the coupons for each of the store deals I plan to do and then combine each store’s coupons with a paper clip. In addition, I have small file box that I keep all my coupon inserts from the Sunday paper in. I organize them by month so that whenever I am looking for a particular one it is handy to find. This is what I finally figured out works for me although obviously other people do it quite differently.

    You might enjoy this article by Esther at Coupon Cutting Mom on How to Organize Coupons. She gives more ideas.

    Does that help?

  9. [...] and one more thing that might help is to use a price list….it’s saved me an awful lot of headache and might help you save time trying to figure [...]