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Best Price List

I am a person who likes to learn new things, hear new advice, make lists, RESEARCH, and then start a project. Problem is…I am terrible at finishing things. If you show up at my house unannounced on any given Tuesday you will find piles. A pile of clean clothes – not yet folded. A pile of health insurance “Explanation of Benefits” papers – not yet filed. A pile of ribbons, Mod Podge, fabric, paint… – not yet crafted. A pile of sealed and addressed envelopes – not yet stamped. (Seriously, how hard is that to accomplish??  The pile is sitting right next to the page of patriotic Forever Stamps!!)

So, about a year ago, I got one of my grand ideas. During my research on how to be a frugal mama, I noticed that one common step toward living WELL on a tight budget was to have a handy Best Price List. *PING* This prompted more research to discover what a Best Price List entails. I got really excited and decided, “I’m gonna do this!” Well, because I usually have grand ideas that end up as unfinished piles, it didn’t take long for me to get fed up with how much work it seemed to require.

I finally had to settle myself down and self-talk. It went a little something like this, ahem, “Sheila, these sample Best Price Lists that you are researching are more than you need. There is no need to go into every store and stare at price labels and write down every detail to the last ounce on every imagineable item you may purchase. You are not THAT mom.” Whew! What a weight off my shoulders. Instead of focusing on matching my list to that of Ms. Extreme Perfect Couponer who finds all the good deals…I focused on organizing the items we normally buy into categories defined by where we shop. Let me explain why.

Ultimately, the goal of a Best Price List is to keep record of lowest prices on the items you normally buy or on items you’d like to buy but want to get at the best price possible. Once the list is started, you have a base on which to compare prices later on. It is an organizational tool, a reminder tool, a budget-keeper tool, and a money-saver tool all wrapped up into one.

Last year, after my self-talk, I hit up the Dollar Tree for a little notebook with tabs. (Remember, I just got a smart phone last week so, at the time, paper and pen was my best option!) I got to work on recording my best prices and a few months later, WE MOVED! I mean, REALLY MOVED! We uprooted from Michigan to Minnesota and our main grocery store doesn’t even exist in this state. (I miss you, Meijer.) Upon arrival here, I realized that the prices at Costco and Aldi (my other tabs) were no longer accurate either.

This blog comes at a time when it is necessary for me to start afresh with my Best Price List and why not share the experience with you?

How to Make & Use a Best Price List

  • Choose a record-keeping tool.
    • I’m not a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to change. I may eventually research apps to help with this or just use the “Notes” section of my snazzy new phone, but, for now, I’m sticking with my Dollar Tree tabbed spiral notebook. However, I was bummed that they didn’t have anything cuter than a plain-colored chubby notebook. I took the liberty of sprucing mine up a bit. You may have a better idea as to how to make a categorized list on your phone, while some of you might opt for a spreadsheet on the home computer. You decide.

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  • Select categories (tabs).
    • My tabs are for the stores that I want to compare prices with the most: Wal-Mart, Aldi, Sun-Mart, and Costco. We do occasionally shop at other places, but the majority of our groceries come from these 4 locations.
  • Reserve a section for Name Brand.
    • In our family, we have certain brands that we always buy because we have tried off-brand and have not been happy with them. I like to have a separate section where I list those items so that while I am shopping or (Lord help me) looking through ads, I can mark down the last location/price where I found them at the best price.
      • Here is an example of some name brand items on my list:
        • Ritz Crackers: Wal-Mart $2.56
        • Cascade Complete Dishwasher Soap: Wal-Mart $5.99
        • Fritos Corn Chips: Shopko $1.88 (2 Day Sale this weekend!)
  • Start Shopping & Recording
    • To begin, go on a normal shopping trip. Buy what you normally buy at one of your normal stores. Once you get home, grab a cup of coffee and the donut you probably just impulsively bought at the bakery (is that just me?) and sit down with your Best Price List and receipt(s) from that shopping trip. If you went to Aldi, open to your Aldi tab, and beginning at the top of that receipt, record items and prices for items you normally buy. Here is a snip-it of what I wrote down from my Aldi trip last weekend:
      • Coconut Oil – $3.99 for 14 oz.
      • Unsalted Butter – $2.99 for 1 lb
      • All Purpose Flour – $1.32 for 5 lb
      • Sugar – $1.67 for 4 lb
      • Deli Sliced Cheese – $1.99 for 11 slices
      • Canned Pumpkin – $0.89 for 15 oz
    • Notice that I did not follow through with the math and figure out how much everything costs per ounce. That is how my list is different than others. I don’t like all the work and I don’t have time to open up my book while shopping to write down the handy “price per ounce” that is listed on grocery shelf labels. I use my brain in the moment when comparing – which is the next step.
  • Compare prices.
    • The reason to list all of your normal purchases is to visualize how much you are spending on your groceries- item by item. When you start, the prices in your book might not be the best price, but they tell you what the price is at that location on a regular basis.
    • Here is an example comparison: I know that Sun-Mart occasionally has unsalted butter on sale for 2/ $5. That would be $2.50 a pound. If you look at my Aldi list, you’ll see that it is always $2.99 there (which is still a good deal!). Because I have that to compare with, next time I see butter for $2.50/lb at Sun-Mart, I know that it is the best price I’ve seen so far. So I do two things: buy as much as my  budget (and freezer space) allows to freeze for later and write the new best price of $2.50 on the Sun-Mart page of my Best Price List. Kapeesh?
    • So you may be asking, “What do I do with all of the items and prices listed that are no longer the best price because I’ve found better prices?” Good question. You can do a few things:
      • Remember the butter example? Because the best price on butter that I have seen is at Sun-Mart only on occasion, I am going to leave my low price on butter in the Aldi section. It provides a base and reminder that Aldi will always have butter at that price. Wal-Mart and Costco are similar to Aldi in that their prices are pretty much constant. Local grocery stores have the crazy good ads every so often, but normally have higher prices. If Wal-Mart’s normal price on butter is higher than Aldi, I don’t even add it to my book. I might add in Costco’s price on butter because it can be helpful to buy it in bulk if it is similar in price to Aldi per pound.
      • When it comes to comparing prices within the same store, I usually cross off the previous price recorded when a better one comes along. One Saturday, I saw that Sun-Mart had 80/20 Fresh Ground Beef for $1.99 a pound. Say what now? Surely, I went and bought 20 pounds and stocked the freezer. Then, I went to the Sun-Mart tab on my Best Price List. I had already written: Fresh 80/20 Ground Beef – $2.99/ lb. I crossed off just the price and scribbled in $1.99/lb. Now I have a new best price. I have again set the standard in my mind and on paper. When I come across ground beef for $2.99 a pound I can say to it, “No thank you, beef, you are not for dinner. Drop your price by $1 a pound and then we’ll talk.” Obviously, that best price doesn’t come around often so I will need to spend more than $1.99/ lb at some point, but atleast I know that it can get that low so I should aim for finding that price again.

Some of you may not need a Best Price List and can instead rely on years of thrifty shopping experience or a more flexible budget. I can say that after spending some time writing down prices here and there, I can recognize a good deal when I see it. Setting a limit on what I will pay for an item can seem annoying sometimes (like when we have chicken & pork dishes for a week because I REFUSE to pay full price for ground beef). In reality, it is a small step that eventually allows for more breathing room in the weekly budget. Last week was the first week since moving here that I didn’t need any meat for my meal plan. I had finally achieved a freezer stocked with chicken, beef, and pork. So instead of buying the “normal” meat I went and bought a whole ham and some things I wanted for the house and kids. It felt great. Our budget didn’t increase, but careful spending maximized it.

2 thoughts on “Best Price List

  1. I will always be a paper and pen (or pencil) girl. I remember things way better because writing them down connects your brain to the words you’ve just written. Simplifying it the way you have done is the way to go. If you really want to know the price per oz, you can easily do that at home when you have time as you are adding the new Best Price. It would come in handy for a few items, but usually when buying the same size of containers (such as a pound of butter) every time you shop it is not necessary. Bulk shopping is when it would come in handy. Keep up the good work!

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