While reading Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette this afternoon, I learned a great new money hack. Dacyczyn (pronounced “decision”) advocates using a grocery price book to save big bucks at the supermarket. A grocery price book is an ongoing list of the items you most commonly purchase and how much you paid for them. This list allows you to detect price cycles, spot bargains, and plan your shopping trips for maximum savings.

Dacyczyn explains:

My price book is a small loose-leaf binder. Each page contains prices for one item, and the pages are in alphabetical order for quick reference. I include my code for the store name, the brand, the size of the item, the price, and the unit price.

I began by writing down prices on sale flyers and from my grocery slips. I made a few trips to compare prices of specific items. It quickly became evident that not every sale was really a sale. But when I did find a good buy, and I could verify it with months of records…what power! I could stock up with confidence.

At first you may think this is too much work and the idea of shopping at so many stores will be inconceivable. It will pay off. A good strategy is to shop at different stores each week of the month so that within a 30-day cycle you can hit them all. We have our shopping system down to once a month with only a few short trips to hit unbeatable sales.

[Keeping a price book] revolutionized our shopping strategy more than anything else we did. For the first time we had a feeling of control over our food budget.

[...]

It might take you a total of five hours to make up a price book for comparison shopping, but after several years of supermarket excursions, you may discover that your hourly “pay” for those five hours was over $1,000.

When Dacyczyn first published this technique nearly twenty years ago, personal computers were not ubiquitous. But in the Internet Age, it seems a little old-fashioned to keep a paper-based price book. As much as I love notebooks, I’d rather keep my data in a spreadsheet where it’s easy to search and sort. I found two Excel-based price books: one at Cheap Cooking and a more elaborate version at An Uncommon Way to Wealth.

If you’d rather start a paper-based price book, OrganizedHome.Com has a free printable price book page. (Though, to be honest, you’re probably better off just using notebook paper!)

For more information on grocery price books check out:

I already know several powerful grocery shopping tricks — shop on a full stomach, always use a list, use coupons, shop alone — but the grocery price book is new to me. It sounds intriguing, but I worry that it would be too much effort. Do you keep a price book? How has it worked for you? Any hints or tips?

[The Complete Tightwad Gazette: The price book, pp. 33-34, 123, 322-323]