Stores have all kinds of tricks to encourage us to spend more money. One of them is marking items with special “sale” tags or quantity discounts like 3 for $5. The only way to tell if the item is actually a good price is to know what the item usually costs. A price book can help you do that.
Keeping a price book is simple. All you need is a small notebook where you can record the price you pay for commonly purchased items. You can refer to the book to determine if a deal will actually save you money and track which grocery stores tend to have higher and lower prices. A price book can include as many items as you like or just the staples you buy frequently. For example, I keep a list of prices for the items I buy every week like apples, milk, chicken breasts and string cheese. Knowing the usual price for these staple items allows me to spot a good deal really easily and helps me recognize when a deal is actually just a gimmick.
Click out our video below for a simple guide to starting a price book and start saving today!
Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.
This month’s featured recipe, 3-Can Chili, is one of my “Go-To” recipes. You know what I mean—the ones that you know by heart, make often, and everyone likes. Plus, you can have this one on the table in about 20 minutes. To lower the cost, I buy canned tomatoes, canned beans, and frozen corn when they are on sale. I use my price book so I know a good price and try never to buy full price.
The variations for 3-Bean Chili are endless. You can vary the types of canned beans you use, or cook dry beans, rehydrating them for an inexpensive meal. You can use fresh tomatoes which would lower the sodium; add fresh chili peppers or canned Mexican-style tomatoes to increase the heat; use canned or frozen corn; add cooked and drained ground turkey or beef; etc.
I like to make a batch and freeze individual portions to take for lunch at work. Sometimes after it is heated, I add a tablespoon or two of shredded cheese, or plain yogurt. The soup, apple, and milk make a great lunch!
Jennifer sent a note asking if there is an easy way to compare prices across stores? I will share three ways that I do it, but I am sure there are more ways and we would LOVE to hear your ideas.
I started using a price book last fall. This way I can see if prices are moving up or down on certain items and also compare prices between stores.
I usually make my shopping list the evening the store flyers come out. I look at the list of what I need and then I look through the fliers for those items, plus products I buy all the time, like eggs, apples, carrots, yogurt, etc. As I look at each store ad, I jot down what I would buy if I went to that store. When I get done, I pick the one that has the best buys for me that week. (I only go to one store/week unless there is a really good deal at two stores.) This also helps me learn which stores are best for me.
Although this method takes the most time, it will give you the clearest answer to which store is best for you. Make a list of the 10-15 items you frequently buy and go to the different stores and write down the prices. Then add up the list costs and see the price difference over the whole list.
We have priced many foods in the last year for several different projects in Ames, and we do find differences between the stores. If you have ideas how to compare between stores, please let us know.