How do you know when something is a really good deal versus just a marginally good deal? When you do find a good deal, how do you know how much to buy? You keep a price book.
I first learned about the concept of a price book in The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. A price book is simply where you keep notes about brands and how much you pay per pound or per ounce for items you purchase at least semi-regularly. These notes will help you plan large purchases at the lowest prices to help further decrease the food bill.
I purchase a simple, pocket-sized notebook and give one page per item. I don’t track seasonal produce, just items that are used year-round, such as spices, staples, baking supplies, nuts, packaged items and the like. Then I pull out my receipts and note down what I have paid per pound or per ounce for each item, along with the brand, the store at which it was purchased and the date.
From there, any time I see a sale advertised or go to the store and find an unadvertised sale, I note any good prices in the book. After a while, you’ll start to see that sales happen in cycles. It will allow you to always know when you’ve got a good price and buy enough to get you through until the next sale.
Why price per ounce? Sometimes, you have more than one brand that works for your family. Sometimes those items come in more than one size. And if you’re looking at more than one brand, they typically don’t go on sale at the same time. By having it converted into price per unit, you can easily know at a glance if the item you’re looking at in a store is a good deal or not. And because different brands of the same item don’t usually go on sale at the same time (at least in my neck of the woods), if you’ve accidentally under-bought to get you through until the next sale, this will allow you to fill in without paying full price.
Math isn’t my favorite subject, so I do keep a small pocket calculator with me, as well. It keeps me from standing there, clogging up the aisle, while I do math in my head.
When I do find a good deal, I buy enough to get me through until it will likely go on sale again. I’ve found that many things go on sale in predictable 4, 6 or 12-week cycles. It also helps me know that some items, such as spices and whole grains, are a significant savings when purchased in bulk, even when compared to the sale prices. For the items that don’t go on sale, it helps me know which stores to pick up those items. Every penny counts.
For seasonal produce, I make a list in the back of the book where I list the lowest price I saw it per pound this season, even if I didn’t purchase it, along with the date. There’s normally some seasonal variance in when produce prices bottom out at wholesale prices due to variances in the growing season, but it does help me to plan the timing of the bulk purchases and figure out how much to purchase.
Photo credit: $5700 by AMagill, on Flickr