Save Money with a Grocery Price Book


Keeping a grocery price book is one tool to save money on groceries. If you already shop from a grocery list and use menu plans to save money and reduce waste, a grocery price book is the perfect next step.


Keeping a price book makes you pay attention to the prices of individual grocery items, rather than the bottom line on your receipt. When you start to know the price of each item, you are more aware of how each item in your cart affects the total bill.

Everyone is price-sensitive about certain items: you never pay over $2 for toothpaste, or never buy a box of cereal over $4, or always stock up on Kraft Dinner when the price falls below $1. Using a price book helps you figure out when sales will occur, when to stock up and when to wait.

There are also things we’re not price-sensitive about. For example, if you hate to run out of bananas, you’ll buy them every shopping trip regardless of the cost. In my case, I don’t bother tracking the prices of garlic or ginger because I use tiny amounts and they are cheap. If you don’t care – don’t track! But if saving money is the goal, you’ll want to track a bunch of items, and not just the ones you’re touchiest about.

I would say a price book (or a fabulous working memory) is a must when you first start your own grocery shopping, and when you move house and start going to new stores or markets. Another good time is when you have a major life change and your shopping habits change, such as a change in family size (a new baby, a child leaves home, a parent moves in).

A price book would be less helpful if your choice of stores is very limited (although online purchases or local delivery could be options), or if you grow and make the majority of your own food (although some provisions are always going to be store-bought). Even then, you could track best prices and know when to stock up.

If you’re living in a new area or you’ve just started grocery shopping on your own, you might not know when fruit and vegetables are in season or when annual sales take place. For instance, where I live, imported strawberries are on sale for Valentine’s Day, but local strawberries are available and low-priced around Canada Day.

It is said that manufacturers of packaged goods often put them on sale in 6 or 12 week cycles. This applies to things like cereal, granola bars, crackers and cookies.

A price book is just a structured list of items and prices that allows you to compare prices at a glance and make on-the-spot decisions within your grocery budget. It can be a sheet of paper, a notebook, a spreadsheet or an app.



There are three main ways to get prices:

  • Record prices from sales flyers – either from printed flyers delivered to your home, or from a flyer app like Flipp, or from the grocery stores’ own web sites (or street signs)


  • Record prices from receipts


  • Visit a store/market/site and record prices when you are there.

Flyers don’t always show the regular price, and you won’t see that a featured item has a store-brand equivalent at a lower price. The size might be vague: are the 12 rolls of toilet paper double size or mega size?

Making a list from receipts can work, but the product names are shortened: what was PortablsSlc? And how much did I get? I might have to check the fridge to find out. That was a sliced portabella mushroom on sale, by the way 🙂

I am a fan of going into a store and making note of prices and sizes while I’m there. I don’t feel self-conscious. I’m not stealing industry secrets!

Excel Spreadsheet

Excel Spreadsheet

The next choice is whether to record prices using pen and paper, or electronically. I make scratch notes in a notebook while shopping, then transfer them into an Excel spreadsheet. The advantage is that I can organize and sort it multiple ways, and analyze it easily. The disadvantage is that I could only access it on my home computer (since resolved), and it is difficult to print, even in sections.

In early days, you really need to have the price book with you so you can make buying decisions in the stores. So the better methods are using a notebook or an app.

In a notebook, you can write the name of one product on each page. Every time you see, buy or compare that item, jot down the size, price, store and date. Soon you’ll have a page of data for that item at your disposal. If you are keen, you can prepare your notebook in advance and organize it in a way that works for you: a section for fruit and veg, a section for frozen foods, a section for canned goods, and so on. If you are super-keen, you could take rough notes while you are in the store, and then copy them over at home into a better-organized, neat notebook. If you are already a Filofaxer or bullet journaller, you would enjoy this (do a Google Image search for Filofax or bullet journal to check them out!)

If you use an app, you are restricted to the format it provides. I have not found an ideal app for a price book yet. There are lots of grocery list apps. The basic ones only create lists, and sometimes allow you to save multiple lists or categorize them. Some allow you to sync or share across devices. Some allow you to list stores, sizes and prices, but they usually don’t allow you to display the information all on one screen – you have to click through several screens to see each detail. I found several grocery list apps, such as Out of Milk and Meal Board, that try to select stores or find deals for you, but only for US supermarkets. Price Cruncher is a proper price book app but is not available in Canada at all.

Price Book in Excel App

Price Book in Excel App

So it appears the best app option might be any basic spreadsheet app such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, or (with fewer sorting options) a basic note taking app like Notes, Evernote or OneNote. Rom and I share a Microsoft Office 365 subscription so I have now loaded the full version of Excel on my iPad, and I can use it to display my price book (and edit on-the-go if I have wifi).

And Then?

It’s time to use the data. When it was staring me in the face, I realized that I had become “price blind” to a lot of lower priced items, as if they didn’t matter. For example, canned diced tomatoes vary a lot in price and go on sale often. It may be “only” 25 cents a can, but why pay that difference all year when I can stock up easily at the lowest price? Even if I can only fit 8 in my cupboard, that’s $2 in savings. I would rather buy something else with the 2 bucks. On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to drive across town to stock up and save $2.

Cashews Kirkland / raw 1 kg  $             14.99  1.50/100 g Costco 8/6/2016
Cashews Central Roast / roasted 325 g  $               3.99  1.23/100 g Sobey’s 2/7/2016
Cashews Bulk / roasted 100 g  $               2.68  2.68/100 g Wal-Mart 8/6/2016
Cashews Joe’s Tasty Travels / roasted 400 g  $             10.00  2.50/100 g Wal-Mart 8/6/2016

Or I would buy something expensive like cashews and not know enough details to  figure out the unit price from one store to another. I wouldn’t have thought that Wal-Mart’s bulk bins had the highest price!

  • I didn’t think about how most of the commercial bagels are a lot smaller than the in-house bakery bagels for the same price.
  • Do I really want to eat the white rice that costs 88 cents a pound – where does it come from and what was it grown with?
  • How often can I justify spending 300% more for locally ground espresso when the store brand is satisfactory (but the local is sublime?)

I discovered I really do feel justified in buying local, expensive products such as honey and maple syrup because they are completely worth it. I can afford free run eggs. This weekend I am stocking up on my favourite brand of frozen veg pizzas for those lazy, heat-something nights.

I could have made these decisions at any time and said what the heck and who cares? It just feels better to know they are evidence-based decisions 🙂 If I were on a tight budget, however, I would want to know I was leveraging my grocery dollars in the best way possible. In my case, I feel we have substantial savings from not eating meat, and I like being able to spend that money on other foods. Ultimately we all scrimp in some areas and splash out in others, and the grocery budget is one of the best places to save while still buying good quality and eating well.

Can you name 2 or 3 products you buy every week and the price differences between one shop and another?

What are you price-sensitive about?

Do you have another way of tracking sales and knowing when to stock up on things you know you will use?



  1. Items we buy every week: lettuce, bell peppers, potatoes, Gardein frozen products, tomatoes, bread. The store with the best produce has the highest prices, but we pay them sometimes for convenience (closest grocery to our home) or practicality (if I’m driving 20 miles to save 50 cents on a pepper, I’m not really saving anything considering gas costs).

    I try to buy a week’s worth of groceries at a time, but fresh veggies are hit and miss. I either buy too many and they don’t get eaten, or I don’t buy enough and we run out. We do better on fresh produce if we buy what we need/plan/crave every 4-5 days, especially in the summer. But prices vary significantly year round. A head of lettuce might be $1.29 or $1.99 the same week at two different stores. Green peppers are as low as 69 cents and as high as $1.89. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason.

    I don’t exactly track sales, but I know a good price when I see one. And I know what it costs to make things. Sometimes my spouse will pick up a product at a grocery discount store and ask me, “Is this a good deal?” Often the answer is “No.” Price-per is important, as opposed to only looking at packaged price. Getting six Fiber One cookies for $1.99 is not a good price-per, for example (33 cents per cookie). Even though $1.99 is a better *package* price than is often available at regular retailers, it’s still not a great deal. If that makes sense.

    I’m price sensitive about snack foods, as the above example demonstrates. I am far too un-frugal about drinks. I figure the two balance out. 😉

    • I wonder if produce prices vary so much because customers can easily compare the prices of packaged foods – the packages are the same in every store – but it’s harder to compare a cauliflower or a watermelon? Or maybe it’s like gasoline: the grocer has to buy the produce from the distribution centre at a given price, and then try to recoup their cost – and then the next day, the wholesale price could go down, enabling a competitor to offer it for less? Or they don’t anticipate demand correctly, over-order, and have to cut the price to get rid of it? Etc. Of course there are supermarkets that just don’t seem to care about value for the customer – they just charge what they can and their customers pay it – maybe because they have a great store location and great selection and it’s easier for the customer to do one-stop shopping rather than driving around.

      I know what you mean about the cookies. I am always tempted by Clif Bars on sale, but then I think, do I really want to pay $1.00-1.50 each?

  2. Fiona

    This is such a timely post, Dar. I did my first few weeks of shopping at our new house (only 30 minutes drive from the old one) and was shocked at the higher prices where we now live. Even Mr D noticed immediately the cost difference.

    I feel totally at sea now. All my standard meat cuts, fresh produce and even off-the-shelf grocery lines are different at the two closest supermarkets to our new house. These are both ‘independent’ stores and don’t stock the same chain lines as the ‘duopoly’ chain supermarkets we have in most parts of Australia, or ALDI. It’s not easy to compare my old, basically ‘memorised’ prices.

    Since I don’t have a price book from our old suburb, I did the crazy thing tonight of going all the way back over town, dropping J at a friend’s to play and then doing my weekly shop in our old supermarket.

    I logged on to the computer tonight with my receipt to price-check against our local supermarkets at the new house.And then of course…I got side-tracked by blogs and still haven’t started my price book yet 😉

    • I don’t blame you one bit for going back to the old store! The last time I tested myself by doing a whole “shop” at a different store, I got really irritated and couldn’t wait to return to my old one. We also have a duopoly, but we don’t yet have Aldi or Lidl.

  3. Our supermarkets used to show the price per kg / liter, etc., so you could compare different brands, but not any more. Makes it a lot more difficult to shop for the cheapest items. Only meat has this on the label now. Regulation (law?) now makes it compulsory to list all the ingredients on tins / containers, etc., which helps a lot if your are heath conscience (well, sort of. 🙂 ). Do you have this regulation as well? Btw, I can see you are used to writing reports (and keeping them interesting!) 😀

    • Yes, we do have unit prices, but when an item is on sale, the unit price is not updated. Everything has ingredients labelled on it, too. Sometimes I will pay more if a product has less crappy ingredients 🙂 Ha, ha, thank you – yes, I do write my share of reports!

  4. Margie in Toronto

    I don’t keep a price book but I do have a very good memory and I follow the flyers each week so I’ve got a pretty good handle on things.
    I shop mostly at 3 stores (all Loblaw products but in different ranges) – No Frills, Loblaw and a private high end grocery store that stocks their more expensive options. I get the No Frills and Loblaw flyers each week and check all the specials first, circling what I need and then what are good buys for long term pantry restock. At times the Loblaw store will have what I want at a lower price than the No Frills so it pays to check. At some stage during the week I’ll also stop by the high end shop on my way home from work – most items are a lot higher but even there you can get some bargains and I do prefer their meat and eggs and will pay a bit more for these items.
    I won’t pay over a certain amount for things like canned items, beans, fruit & veg and I never (at least 95% of the time) pay full price for toiletries (soap, shampoo, deodorant, dental care, etc.), TP, detergent, dish liquid, Paper towels etc. – there is always a sale somewhere – if not at one of the supermarkets then at either Rexall Pharmacy or Shoppers Drugmart.
    My pet peeve is the deceptive ads and prices – mostly at the drugstores – they’ll advertise something as Now only $9.00 and show the regular price as $11 – even though it’s been at $9 for weeks! Or they’l put tags on a whole wall of items and people assume they’re on sale but they aren’t at all! You really do have to know your prices and be prepared to walk away. And stock up when you can – especially on non-perishables. And it drives me crazy that the supermarkets list produce price per lb – but package up items in Kilos so that bag of grapes with the $3.99/lb sticker really costs you $7.99 when you hit the checkout!
    My aim at the moment is to restock all toiletry/cleaning/paper products so that I’m back to a 6 month supply by the end of September – I don’t drive so I like to have all this sort of thing done before the winter hits so that I’m not desperate for anything when the weather is bad. Starting in Sept. I’ll also be stocking up on food items as I find there are a lot of good deals for when the kids go back to school and people start to cook more.
    Do you collect reward/loyalty points? I do and again, some are better than others – I do really like my PC Plus card for any Loblaw and affiliate stores – they add up quickly – right now I’m hoping to save up all my points until the New Year to see where I stand and how long I can shop on points – I’m hoping it will take me through at least January and February (and into March if I’m careful).

    • Here our Loblaw’s is called Superstore and we also have No Frills. Most people seem to think that Sobey’s has higher prices than Superstore but I don’t find that to be true, at least for the items we buy. Lawton’s pharmacy (owned by Sobey’s) and Shoppers Drug Mart often have a few good flyer specials. I buy almost all our produce at a local market whose prices cannot be beat, and have still found it worthwhile to go to Costco every other month. Since we only spend about $45 a week at the supermarket, we don’t do very well for points or rewards, but I do eke out as much as I can (about $50/year from Air Miles, for example). This year I am putting all of our groceries on a cash-back Visa which I pay in full monthly. When all other purchases and fees on the card are factored in, I am getting about $20/month back. I’m impressed by your points savings! I share your annoyance about fake sales. They really prey on people who don’t know the regular prices. And the same with “featured” items that are not on sale – the manufacturer has probably paid for better product placement that week. Thought you would like this:

  5. jollyhollybanolly111

    I used to do this when I was strapped for cash as a new immigrant. Now though I must admit I am a bit lazy about it all. Dad keeps a spreadsheet similar to yours though.

    • Hi Holly, I did this once 4 years ago and this is a reboot to see if anything has changed. I wouldn’t consider your style to be lazy at all – once you have a good idea of the local prices, you can spot the good and bad deals and know when to walk away. I bet you will be doing price comparisons for diapers! My dad is a grocery guru, too 🙂

      • jollyhollybanolly111

        So you don’t need to continuously do it? Do prices hold fairly steady then? Maybe I will give it another go.

      • I would say that once you get into a best-price mentality, warning bells will go off in your head when you see high prices and you will look around for a better deal! It becomes second nature after a while. Prices do keep changing, but you’ll notice and start comparison shopping on the items you are price-sensitive about – rather than just paying up automatically.

  6. I still only aim to reach your levels of listing! You are inspiring!
    I have a list of things we eat as a shopping list, so that we do not get side-tracked by sales on items we do not usually buy. Then if OUR items are on sale, we stock up. (I refuse to have my eating and shopping deceided by a marketing office. I alway-always stick to the shopping list.
    Coffee and tea we only buy at a specific sales price, I personally import my porridge oats as nothing in the mans country is good enough and fresh cauliflower is my “will buy at almost any price” item. Although with this years rainy season, I will buy almost any produce any farmer has managed to produce in the country at any price to prevent them being priced out by cheaper imports.
    And I will walk to another shop (I have at least ten within walking distance) if any bonus or sales price is not registered correctly in the cashiers computer systems; and never come back. (you know who you are, cheating manager at the bad chain-store across the street!!!)

    • I have had the same experience of sale prices not ringing in correctly. There is a “scanner price accuracy” code that retailers can join, in which you get the item free (up to $10) if it doesn’t ring in correctly. Most of the grocery stores here abide by it. I hear you about the porridge oats! I bought a new brand recently and they were terrible! Last Fall, prices of vegetables rose dramatically for a short time because of farming problems, and the price of 1 cauliflower went up from about $3 to $8 for a few weeks. Now it is cheaper than ever. I love it too!

  7. I don’t shop around – mostly sticking to the one supermarket and green grocery store. I like them because they are local and convenient and independent, not part of the duopoly here where two supermarkets have dominated. The two big ones really make hurtful cuts to farmers and producers. For example forcing dairy farmers to sell milk at low prices so they can use milk as loss leaders.

    We also have home delivery for some products like eggs, milk, butter and bread. The home delivery company sources all the products from Aussie farmers and ensure good payment to farmers and producers.

    I do stock up on things when the supermarket I go to has them on special but always check out unit prices to check it is a deal.

    And I do shop at Aldi, the German supermarket chain which is giving out duopoly a run for their money.

    If I had more time and less income, I’d definitely do a price book. Probably not as detailed as yours. A few years ago I was on a thrifty drive and this was one way suggested to save money, given that groceries are where most households can cut costs.

    • We don’t have Aldi, Asda or Lidl 😦 We have the duopoly of Sobey’s and Superstore but their prices on produce are quite high so it’s hard to imagine the farmers lose to sell there. I found out there is a regional distribution centre that all the supermarkets buy their produce from, so they all get it at the same price and from the same source, then mark it up differently! Don’t get me started about dairy – it is supply-managed and price-controlled here. I suppose saving money on groceries is a bit of a game for me. I don’t need-need to save every penny, but it allows me to spend more on other things. I don’t mind driving to several stores if I can group my errands and not be wasteful. My local-buying “policy” is that if something is grown locally, I buy local and in season. But I will always buy additional products that can’t be grown here – like oranges and coffee and wheat.

  8. I did try this a handful of years ago – but I felt like a nerd in the store! And it was too little to cram all the data in that I wanted in one row. Since Australia introduced unit pricing I’m more likely to compare whilst in the shops between various items. And fresh food (like strawberries) I have a keener memory for the good prices, so won’t buy them unless it’s a ‘2 for <$5'.

    On the other side of the food budget coin, every coffee I buy, I plan is $4, and when it's not, I'm often like, nope, that's what I pay. Of course, I'm a little put out when it's more than $4!!

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