Sunday, March 15, 2009

Keeping a price book

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but it's critical to saving money--whether you eat organically or traditionally.

For 11 years, I kept a price book. I started when I was in my early 20s (yes, seriously). I have been on my own since I was 18 and every penny counted since my father bullied me into using all of my savings as a down payment on a NEW car instead of full payment on a USED car--and then bullied me right out of my house. I never missed a payment on that thing. I only had to borrow (short-term) ONE payment. Ever... in 5 years.

You can't remember the prices of everything. Of course, after shopping for many years, specific things will stand out: I know I'll never buy meat over $1.99/lb and that any meat with bones in it that costs less is subject to much scrutiny. But by and large, you're not going to remember. Especially for things you don't buy all the time--like measuring cups.

A price book is nothing more than a place to keep track of the stuff you buy and how much you pay for it. I have finally found a very small 3-ring binder that is ideal for this, but you can use just about anything and put some self-stick tabs on the side of the page so you can find what you need quickly. The price book goes EVERYWHERE with you. EVERYWHERE.

My price book taught me that places like BJ's, Costco & Sams could never outdo a grocery store sale. My price book taught me that some things were cheaper without coupons if I could tolerate a brand change. My price book taught me that sometimes a place that sells the most of something will have the worst prices; and a place that you wouldn't really expect to buy something unless you REALLY needed it and happened to be in that store--had the best prices. My price book taught me that sale prices weren't always the lowest prices. My price book taught me that what they tell you about how to save money is usually wrong.

Each page in my book is devoted to a specific item and I mean SPECIFIC. It's not just "peas", but "canned peas" or "frozen peas". If you are sometimes buying organic and sometimes traditional, you would then have separate pages to separate the two. Each page has the following information:

Date of the price
Store (I have abbreviations with a key in the back)
Item (brand)
Size (what size packaging)
Unit price (so the price per ounce or whatever)

These headings are horizontal across the top of the page. My paper is lined, so I leave 3-4 lines between entries because there will sometimes be a sale that only happens occasionally for the same thing at the same store and I track those, too.

I can't tell you how much I HATE (and I mean HATE) pencil. Even in school I did my math work in pen (and that was okay because mathmatically, I had it like that! ;) But it drove my teachers INSANE) but I have learned the hard way to do all my entries in pencil. Especially when you keep a book for many years and start to realize that the best price for an item is now 7 years old and you're never going to see it again!

It takes time and effort before your price book becomes REALLY handy. Of course, it may not. Within a week of first using mine I found that I was paying a fortune for deodorant and the cheapest place happened to be a place I'd never think to shop for deodorant.


Start with a list of the top 20 items you buy all the time and build from there. It's a start!

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