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Real Food On A Real Budget: How to Create a Price Binder

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A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Create Your Own Price Binder

1. Figure your grocery list out; base it on what you regularly eat.
2. Transfer your list to a notebook and allot at least half a page for every grocery item you have.
3. Create a table of contents (for easy searching).
4. Go to every store you normally shop at and look for the items you’ve listed.
5. Take note of their prices. There are bound to be differences from retailer to retailer.
6. Buy from the cheapest.
7. Now that you know what each of your items cost, you can use that data to plan your meals according to price.
8. This precision planning allows you to stay in budget every time.


Over the years I have come to realize that, as silly as it sounds, grocery shopping is a very personal task.

Everyone has their own ritual, their own philosophy, and their own opinions on the most efficient, effective and affordable way to shop.

Some people swear by couponing, some people buy in bulk, some people wait for sales, and still others even buy groceries online.

Well, a couple of months ago I decided it was time for my grocery routine to get an overhaul.

My husband and I had recently laid out a detailed budget for ourselves and I was bound and determined to stick to it.

However, in the past this had proven difficult. I had been consistently budgeting $200 per month for our food and non-pharmacy-related home products (toilet paper, soap and the like). It seemed like a reasonable amount to me, but with every grocery trip I consistently surpassed the budget and became more and more frustrated.

I tried coupons and store membership cards but as my diet changed to include less and less processed foods coupons became less and less valuable.

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Then, I read an online article about a family of 6 who ate all natural, organic, and unprocessed food on a grocery budget of $180 per month (food only, no home goods).

I found more information about the family and learned that they had overhauled their food budget after simplifying their life and reading “The Complete Tightwad Gazette”, a book made up of six years worth of newsletters on frugality and saving money.

Intrigued, I rented the book from the library and got reading. What it recommended was creating a grocery price binder that took the items you most frequently bought and listed the prices of the item at all of your area stores.

Not only does this help you clearly see what product is cheapest in what store, but it also gives you baseline information for determining a good sale when you see one.

I’m not going to lie, going around and getting the information was time consuming, as was putting together the binder. However, in the end it only took a couple of days and it was beyond worth it! This is by far the most helpful money saving tip I have ever received.

Here is what I did:

First, I made a page for each item that I was including in the binder. Then I went to the five stores I most commonly shop at (Whole foods, Kroger, Food Lion, Walmart, and Aldi) and found the best price/unit for each product at each store.

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I listed the prices by store under each item and stored the pages in the binder. I also made a table of contents, which is very important because it makes finding the items much quicker. Here is an example of what a page looks like:

Frozen Green Beans:

Walmart: $0.98/12oz

Whole Foods: $2.49/32oz

Aldi: $1.49/16 oz

Kroger: $2.17/32 oz

Food Lion: $.97/16 oz

So, that is all fine and dandy but what do you do with this information once you have it and how does it change the way you shop and eat?

There is a lot to be gained through this process but here are the top three uses that I have found for my price binder:

1.    Price your food by the meal:

Having a list of how much each of your ingredients costs makes it very easy to decipher how much you are spending per meal and which meals are cheapest to make. This means that you can stay within your grocery budget simply by planning your meals wisely. For example: my “frugal chicken recipe” which contains 1 can of diced tomatoes 2 chicken breasts some herbs and some optional rice costs my only $2.87 to make for two people.

Making hamburgers, on the other hand, costs over $8 when you include the ground beef, onion, cheese, and the sweet potato fries we usually eat (this doesn’t even include the condiments).

So, after making the price binder it became clear that not all meals are created equal and in order to stay within our budget we were going to have to balance our cheap meals with our more expensive ones. (Realizing how much cheaper meals are at home, compared to going out, has also been a good take-out deterrent as well)

2.    Shop the ingredient not the store:

Going through this exercise also helped me realize how much convenience was costing me. The concept of the all-encompassing grocery store has bred within us this notion that we have no other options but to buy all of our food in one place.

I distinctly remember thinking to myself on multiple occasions as I walked the store aisles, quickly checking items off my list, “ Well, I guess it might be cheaper to buy some of these things at a different store, but probably not by much! I mean, once you factor in time and gas I doubt its even worth it at all…” WRONG!

It is completely worth it. Need some proof? Borax, a simple ingredient I use in both my laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent is $4.79 at both Kroger and Food Lion, but at Walmart it is only $3.38 that is a difference of $1.41… that means that if I buy one box of Borax every month I could either save or spend an extra $16.92/ year on this ONE ingredient, depending on where I shop.

Now, imagine the difference to be made in your budget if this was true for all of the ingredients on your shopping list… Yes, I do have to shop at multiple grocery stores. Yes, grocery shopping does take me longer. However, it is far less painful then it ever used to be because now I am ALWAYS within my budget!

3.    Avoid Surprises!

Last, but not least, knowing what your food costs before you go to the store means that there are no surprises at the cashier’s station. It means I can accurately budget for food, I can eat healthy food without feeling guilty or spending more, and I can take advantage of good sales when they actually arise. That way, the only surprises on a grocery trip are good surprises!

How do you think a price binder could help you? What are your tips on eating healthy on a budget?

View the original article.

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Prepping On a Budget

Build a 6-Month Food Stockpile on a Tight Budget

How to Prepare on a Budget




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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. gena

    July 29, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    The only problem that I can see would be that right now prices are changing, mostly going up, every few weeks at most stores, so in order to be accurate, you would have to be constantly updating your price list. I pay attention to prices and some things that a few months ago were, say 99 cents, went up to $1.19 and are now $1.32 each in less than six months. I noticed cottage cheese had gone up in most stores about 30 cents per smaller container in the same period of time. And between the drought and other natural disasters, meat prices are going to skyrocket, as feed is scare and costing the farmers and ranchers more and more, so the prices would go up anyhow, and they are also rushing their stock to market sooner than they would so they do not have to pay for the feed or water to keep them alive, so while prices are relatively moderate now there will soon be a shortage of meat available, and you know the story about supply and demand, the prices will go up and those who have a whole lot of extra money will be those most able to afford to keep meat on the table. And note when you buy either meat or produce where it comes from. A lot of the food that is imported, particularly produce might be cheaper, but it might not meet American standards either. There is a lot of illness going around the country right now that CDC says is usually related to imported produce that is not being properly cleaned before being used. In a lot of third world countries untreated sewerage is used as fertilizer on crops used by humans. You might save some money for meat or produce from other countries but then you might spend even more than you saved at your doctor’s office or the hospital getting well (hopefully) from what you caught by eating that. Meat and produce from other countries is supposed to be marked with the country of origin.
    And when you look at the price, look on the price sticker on the shelf for the price per unit, usually per ounce. That way you can determine which product is really lower cost. People assume that larger packages will save you money, but I have often seen larger packages actually costing more than the smaller packages. I remember noticing that at one store, a single roll of toilet tissue was 25 cents, but the multiroll package actually was more expensive than buying it by the single roll. Apparently at some stores the people who do the pricing are not very good at math, and overlook quite often that they offer smaller packages for less than the larger packages. Or maybe they do that intentionally, figuring most customers automatically assume by buying the larger packages they are going to save and that most people won’t bother to do the math to figure out what is really the best value. Your best bet if you can’t figure it out in your head is go by the cost per unit. It should be on the tag on the shelf. Not on the product itself for the tag on the shelf underneath the product.

  2. Nicole

    July 29, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    This is a great starting point. but as has been mentioned, prices are changing, and fast. What you can add to this tho, is keeping up with prices, or sales flyers from each grocer so you can watch for patterns in pricing.

    Stores run their sales in cycles. So if something you like is on sale, buy enough (if you can of course) to last until the next time it goes on sale. Some items go on sale more often than others. And there is also a sale, & a really good sale. One of the cereals we buy often goes on sale for a few cents off but when it goes to 50 cents off, we buy more. It’s not expensive to begin with but every penny helps. (Mom’s Best all natural)

    Learning to make more from scratch helps the budget tremendously as well. Buying spices in bulk instead of those overpriced tiny jars is huge too. And seasoning mixes … make your own! the savings & health benefits are amazing.

  3. JJM

    July 29, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    Several good points from Gina.
    Constantly changing prices and requirement for “price per unit” are weakness of a paper binder. If you go thru the trouble, why not instead of paper, use a spreadsheet which would be more easily updated, can calculate the “price per unit” and sort-able? I would use Excel OR the free version from openoffice.org.

  4. Jerry

    July 29, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    I believe an app should be around the corner, how easy would that be to have it all indexed with a search engine.

  5. Deb

    July 29, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    Excellent advice. I did this years ago when we were very closely watching our pennies; I knew that certain items were almost always cheaper at Store-A, and that other items at Store-B were cheaper than at Store-A. I also used the weekly shopper ads, to figure out what to buy in bulk (loss leaders), and since I was going to be hitting three different stores, I kept track religiously. It took me about an hour to go through the shoppers and comparison-shop (they almost always had similar items on sale at the same time.

    Not too many years back, we moved waaaay out of town, so my days IN town (once a month) had to be well-thought-out. We no longer got the shopper ads, so I changed-up the way I shopped, to the way you suggest here. And I found that almost aways it was cheaper at Woodmans (and more variety) than at Wal-Mart–strange but true! The few things that were cheaper at Wal-Mart, I wrote off–because I was only in town ONE DAY and didn’t have time to run to three different grocery stores, because I had to get the dr appts and other errands done all on the same day. We shopped at Woodman’s almost exclusively. And our grocery bill was almost always the same for 10 years. Waay low!!!

    Now I’m back to living in town, but I work & homeschool & volunteer out-of-the-home, so lots less time to comparison-shop. I need to get back to THIS more frugal, budget-helping method. I have found Aldi to be across the board, almost always cheaper than any other store (except Woodmans, in the midwest–but we don’t live in the MW anymore!).

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. CRYSTAL

    July 29, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    HOW ABOUT THE PRICE FOR GAS, WEAR AND TEAR ON YOUR VEHICLE, YOUR TIME, ELECTRICITY TO FIX THE MEAL, HOT WATER TO WASH THE DISHES SOAP TO WASH THEM WITH, AND TOWELS TO WASH AND DRY THOSE DISHES?

  7. Tommy

    July 29, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    Crystal: If you’re trying to compare a home cooked meal price (including cooking & cleanup) to eating out, there’s no comparison. Eating out will save you time, NOT money. The electricity to cook and water to wash dishes is PENNIES,(TOWELS to wash and dry ???? Do you throw them out)??? compared to DOLLARS for eating out. If you MUST eat restaurant food, try doing takeout (saves 15% tip) and supply drinks from home (saves on overpriced drinks out).

  8. USPatriot

    July 29, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    I always buy on sale. I keep “best prices” in my head to find the best bargains. I rarely use coupons. Buy in bulk at Costco but some prices are too high in certain items like some canned good. Ollie’s is good for some items like common spices. Watch the dates. Family Dollar Store is great for chocolate and Dollar Tree for some items.

  9. kaytee

    July 29, 2013 at 9:09 PM

    Like Crystal said… what about gas, wear & tear on your vehicle and time taken… to run all over town in order to get the “best” prices– which may no longer be the “best price” by the time you get to a given store?

    Driving all over town can also cut into productivity– personal and/or income generating. I can see having separate shopping trips, say, to CostCo for bulk items, and a local store for small quantity/perishable items, but to shop several different stores to “save” pennies on your list items is “pound foolish”.

    • Great Grey

      August 2, 2013 at 12:45 AM

      kaytee
      Yes going all over town every week can be pound foolish if you only get 1 or 2 items but, if only go to some stores only every few months and buy larger quantities of items it may be worth it.

  10. Ned

    July 29, 2013 at 9:23 PM

    “Then, I read an online article about a family of 6 who ate all natural, organic, and unprocessed food on a grocery budget of $180 per month (food only, no home goods).” And then goes out and buys Walmart crap!
    If price is your only consideration, buy overseas junk and take your chances. If nutrition and other health concerns are important, start a garden and buy local, e.g. farmers markets.

  11. Teresa

    August 3, 2013 at 7:03 PM

    Why yes you should pay $1.00 more for a package of T.P. of your preferred brand, $.50 more per serving of yogurt in your preferred brand, $1.50 more for a bag of your dog’s favorite dog food, $.75 more for a box of your favorite granola bars, etc. from someplace, ANYplace other than Walmart, just so you can feel all “superior”.

    If you buy “Brand X” at Walmart, Kroger, Dollar General, or “Snobs-R-Us” it is manufactured/produced at the same place. But, hey, if you want to pay more for it, be my guest.

    I rarely shop at Walmart because my local grocery store has much better meat and regularly has great sales. But the “everyday” prices are considerably higher than Walmart’s are. I have a garden and have the further luxury of not having to watch every penny, apparently as do you. In the current economy that is not true for most people and that you would berate people for making the most of their limited resources is petty and uncalled for.

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