Updated on 09.08.14

The One Hour Project: Price Compare The Things You Buy Regularly

Trent Hamm

This post is part of The One Hour Project, in which you can spend just one hour to put your finances in a better place without a big lifestyle change, through frugality or other financial choices.

A while back, I mentioned how I build my own price book. While this is a great idea, for most busy people it would take a lot of extra work to execute it. However, I know from personal experience how much money a price book can really save you.

Here’s what I recommend instead: use the basic framework of the price book idea to just identify which local grocery store is cheapest on the items you buy regularly, then stick with that store. For me, identifying the store with the best prices for my purchases saves me about $20 a week over the average store – and it wasn’t the store I thought was cheapest, either.

How to Save Money by Comparing Item Prices

1. Identify all of the grocery stores that you’d be willing to shop at

For me, the nearest town with any competitive shopping has a Hy-Vee, a Dahl’s, a Fareway, a Super Target, and a Wal Mart Supercenter, among the ones I would be willing to shop at.

2. Make a list of the twenty or thirty (or more) items you buy regularly

This includes basic food staples like bread, eggs, and cheese to toiletries and other such supplies. List produce, list beverages, list prepackaged meals – whatever it is that you buy regularly. For me, this list ended up with about thirty items on it.

3. Make a regular shopping trip to each of those stores

While there, note the price on each of these items in that store. I found it useful to print off several copies of the list of items, then take a copy of it to each store as I went, so I could jot down the prices. Take down the price of every item on the list – if a store doesn’t carry a particular item, find the closest substitute and note that.

4. Add up the prices to get your total for each store, then do your regular shopping at the store with the lowest total

I’ve done this myself, and I discovered that the least expensive store for the items I buy regularly was not the store I expected it to be, and when I switched my regular store I found that my average grocery bill dropped noticeably – about $10 a week. Week in and week out, that adds up to $520 a year, even if you’re focusing entirely on basic ingredients and fresh foods, as I do.

I can easily see how the difference might be much more if you buy a lot of prepared food items and sodas and such.

Admittedly, this one will take more than an hour – perhaps as much as two – but the rewards over the long haul can be tremendous.

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  1. RG says:

    And make note too that some stores price match! Our WalMart does and I usually will shop there simply for this reason. Just because peanut butter is cheaper at Safeway – remember that you can get the same price at WalMart (if you want to shop at WalMart)- just let them know when they are ringing the items up.

    Great article and the price book is a great tool!

  2. Mrs. Micah says:

    I just discovered an Aldi, about 30 second away from my normal grocery store. Definitely going to be running some price comparisons this week!

  3. Susy says:

    I always shop at local chain and people always comment that it’s too expensive. However they buy their produce special and since that’s what I spend most of my grocery budget on, I shop there. I did find out though after moving, my beloved grocery store was actually way cheaper than big chain stores. Sure they’re cheaper on pre-packaged food, which I don’t purchase. Now I wait and only go grocery shopping every 2 weeks at my old store when I got back home to visit my mom. So check out those nice “boutique” grocery stores, you might be surprised! If you live in NE Ohio, shop at Buehler’s!!!!

  4. Empress Juju says:

    Well, it looks like I know what I’ll be doing Wednesday morning!

    I often just shop at the store I think will be cheapest, but I frequently notice that, whichever store I go to, they inevitably don’t carry a handful of products I’m looking for that week. I suppose it would be helpful to know which store has the most of what I’m looking for, as well.

  5. Lee Stranahan says:

    Great post! I quoted some of it and then added a bunch of Southern California specific information on a post at my blog, http://stranahan.com/2007/09/16/saving-money-on-groceries/

  6. lorax says:

    This is a great idea.

    But beware of a common supermarket trick. Prices are subject to arbitrary change. Non-sale items! This was documented in _The Undercover Economist_.

  7. daydreamr says:

    I like walmart because my money goes a lot farther than the other stores in my area. I also like the fact that their prices are practically stable. I can spend $40 and walk out with enough groceries that I have to bring the stuff up to my 3rd floor flat in 3 trips. Sometimes I hit sales at other stores. Once they had a 10 for $10 sale so I bought 10 boxes of generic cereal. That has saved me a lot as one of my staples. I got a membership to Sam’s club gifted to me and I went there with pen/paper, wrote down prices on items I would buy, figured out unit price and some were cheaper than Walmart but most were the same or more. Food was cheaper in some areas although I couldn’t use coupons or my tramp-stamp card there. I certainly don’t think the membership is worth paying for. It’s probably more the experience and the ilusion and maybe the “free” samples. They have a huge slice of pizza and a drink for under $2.00 which is a good deal. However, you would have to have a large family and/or consume an awful lot of goods in order to break even…

  8. Bill says:

    Don’t just make a list.

    Use a small notebook.

    Different stores get their own page, with prices on staples listed for that particular store.

    That way, if you are in store A and you see a sale display for an item you usually buy at store B you can easily make your decision where to buy.

    Credit to Amy Dacyzyn for the above.

  9. SAHMmy Says says:

    Great tips–knowledge is power! I made a list of about 20 household items like laundry detergent, toilet paper, diapers, etc. and noted the prices for each at Target (using regular, not sale prices) and Walmart. Walmart was exactly one penny cheaper on just about every item (except diapers–Target’s were far less expensive.) I hate Walmart, but was forcing myself to go there for the savings–the day I made the list marks my last visit (over a year ago!)

  10. ambre says:

    do you mind sharing which store was best for you? i have basically the same stores to choose from! thanks!

  11. RRWebst says:

    Also, you have to consider that MOST places will price match, but you either have to have a sales ad, or something to prove the price you want. Petco will call somewhere else, the walmart Ive been to needs an ad.

    Great idea about the book.

  12. Sarah says:

    Trent – what store did you find was cheapest?

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