streamline comparison shopping with benchmark per unit prices

August 1st, 2008

Streamline Comparison Shopping With Benchmark Per Unit Prices

One of my strategies for lowering my overall grocery bill is to shop at several stores.  For many people, this would be a waste of gasoline, but I have access to 3 different chains simply driving to work and back, and if I drive to Aldi (my main shopping place, which is not on my route to work), I pass two other branches of those stores on the way there and home.  So for me, it doesn’t cost me extra gasoline to go to a number of places.  It does add a little more time, but I feel my time is worth it.  Mileage may vary on that one.  :)

The problem I’ve encountered is that keeping track of the normal prices at all these stores and then comparing them against each other on the fly becomes a little more than my brain can handleI do use a price book – in that I record the prices of the things I buy every week and compare them to the prices I paid in the past.   But when I look through the sale circulars it isn’t always apparent to me if something on sale is actually a good deal compared to what it might cost at other stores because of the different unit sizes and the myriad of different prices I might have paid for that item before.

To help figure this out, I’ve started a list of per unit “buy it now” prices.  These are prices on items that if I see anything below that price (or can use coupons to get it there), it is a very good deal and I should stock up.  For example, I frequently see boneless chicken breasts on sale in store circulars.  I’ve done my research, and decided that $1.70 a lb or less is a price rarely seen for that item, so if I can get chicken for that price, I generally buy it.  Keeping that one price on a single sheet, versus pages and pages of prices over time, helps me to streamline my shopping preparation.  Yesterday at Walgreens, I used a combination of manufacturers coupons and a $5 off $20 one day only store coupon to get Pampers Crusiers diapers for about $0.22 per diaper.  My buy it now price on those is $0.25/diaper (for those of you whom that seems way expensive, realize my daughter is in size 5′s, not size 1 or 2 where the cost per diaper is much lower).  Knowing what I usually pay per diaper and what I consider a good bargain cut out a lot of the hassle of deciding if it was a good deal or not.

Creating the buy it now list did take some effort.  I made a detailed list of everything I have bought in the past 6 months or so, and then looked at all the prices I have paid for those items and decided what the bargain threshold was for each item.  The bargain threshold was usually close to but not the rock bottom price I have paid for the item in the past – because I may never see some of those prices again with the rising cost of food.  Then I put that single price next to each item.  In a few months, I will re-evaluate the list, comparing it to what I have been actually paying for items over that time period and decide if some of my buy it now prices are too high (I can always find that price) or too low (I never ever find that price any more).  And I can adjust when needed.  Maintaining the list should not take too much more effort than just keeping track of prices does – and for those who don’t want to keep track of prices formally, you can just save all your shopping receipts.  that is how I started my price book in the first place, just saving my receipts.

For now, I will stop at Meijer on the way home from taekwondo tomorrow and pick up some organic milk for my kids.  $2.50 for a half gallon is an unbeatable sale price for me.  :)

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15 Responses to “Streamline Comparison Shopping With Benchmark Per Unit Prices”

  1. I did basically the same thing. I made a list of about 30 food and household items that we have to buy regularly, regardless of whether or not they are on sale. (milk, flour, sugar, bath tissue, vitamins, etc.) and determined where they are least expensive when they are not on sale. If I see them for less anywhere else, that’s where I buy them. I also stock up at that time if they are non-perishables.

    For everything else, if it’s sold at Aldi, then the Aldi price is my base. I consider any price lower than Aldi to be a good deal and buy accordingly.

  2. sounds like a great way to keep track of things. i really need to start a price book of some sort so that i can maximize my deals. i’ve only been doing this whole menu-plan-and-then-grocery-shop thing for a month, so it’s still rather new.

  3. When there are only two stores in town, it’s much easier to keep it in your head. But, as I am staying out of the grocery stores for awhile, it is not much mattering. I’m on week four of no grocery buying…. my goal is 2 months. Then we’ll see how far it goes :) Might need a ‘staples’ trip in there somewhere… but in the meantime, the freezer is getting the old stuff eaten for once – need to make room for the fresh garden produce :)

  4. Slightly off topic may be but still – Here in Australia, this week one a big supermarket chain announced that it was introducing ‘unit pricing’. So in future the exact unit price for every item will be displayed – no more packaging tricks by manufacturers.

  5. Maybe you might consider posting your buy it now prices somewhere so that we might all benefit if it isn’t very much work. That way people could add too it or just use it if they wanted. Just an idea.

  6. I used to have (now stashed away) a price book complete with unit pricing. I got a little too obsessive though, and categorized and dated sales, listed multiple stores, so forth. The idea being sales happened periodically and I was trying to nail down the time frame so as to buy only enough to last until the next sale as well as always getting the “best” price. Your approach is much more realistic and appropriate given the craziness of price changes these days, and that it’s too costly to go out of your way for most sales. I also think sales will be much less cyclical and more based on whatever is available to the grocers at any point. Sadly I’m betting your price points will be rising over the next several months. I’m seriously stockpiling, hopefully when sales and coupons coincide, as I expect to soon see much more dramatic price increase, but also betting they will then drop somewhat in 6 months to a year.
    So: having a unit price point or threshold is perfect!

  7. I just wrote a similar article about this at my site: http://www.cutupthecards.org/2008/08/aldi-is-not-always-cheaper/ It is about not just assuming that Aldi is the cheapest way to go, because it is not. Although I do love to shop there for a lot. A price book is definately the way to go!

  8. I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months now, and have learned so much from you about debt elimination. Thank you!

    This is of a similar vein as well, and something I read yesterday in Real Simple: if you want to comparison shop (not so much on food items I would guess, but maybe so), you can send a text message to Google (466453) to comparison shop without driving all over town. Type “price” followed by the item name, e.g., “Lacoste Polo” (their example, not mine). Google will send back prices at various stores. Google is very good about providing accurate information in seconds, and this may be a very good way to instantly comparison shop.

  9. I have compiled the same list. I find it extremely helpful. Old age is killing the memory cells or it’s the kids??? I too buy my organic milk from Meijer. I strongly believe in organic milk and I wish they would outlaw bovine growth hormones. My now 13 year old daughter was given organic after breast, and my now 11 year old was given “regular” milk (13 year old was 3 1/2 at the time when she got the “regular” milk too). The 11 year old “developed” at the same rate of her older sister. I feel like it has been a sad science experiment. Organic milk is a must!

  10. This is such a nice insight into the issue of keeping a price list!

    Got a link to it in today’s round-up post at FaM. :-)

  11. Maybe take it a step further and figure out what your lowest paid price (for the last 3 months) and most commonly paid price (over last 3 months) is and set your “rock bottom” price to be somewhere between there (80/20 split with 80 between common and bottom and 20 between lowest and bottom) and then just keep track and adjust after each trip? It would be a bit more complex/complicated but once a system were worked out for it, it might be simpler and more useful…

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