How to figure out the lowest price on groceries

05/15/2014 11:14 AM

02/15/2015 11:20 AM

For shoppers looking for a deal on groceries -- and who isn’t these days -- there are few things more tantalizing than the front of a supermarket ad screaming BOGO deals.

A BOGO -- or buy one item, get one free sale -- has got to be a deal, right?

Not necessarily.

The supermarkets would certainly like you to believe that a BOGO sale is always a bargain. That’s why they feature them on the front pages of their weekly circulars in large print.

But the truth is, sometimes grocery store prices are so inflated that you still might be paying too much.

A prime example is the price of canned soda. The regular grocery store price on 12-packs of the major brands can be more than $6.50. A BOGO sale brings that price down to $3.25 per 12-pack.

That might sound like a good deal, but if you know your prices, you’ll skip the BOGO sale and wait for the rock-bottom price, which is about $2.50 in the Triangle and surrounding areas.

So what’s a careful consumer to do?

The single best way to spot the best deals is to know your prices.

That may sound obvious, but there’s a bit more to it than trying to rely on your memory.

The easiest, and most efficient, way to tell the difference between a truly good sale and a pseudo sale is to create a price book of the top ten or 20 items you buy on a regular basis. Typical items might include: milk, cereal, bread, eggs, chicken, ground beef, apples, peanut butter, cheese, canned goods and snacks.

Here’s a simple price book how-to:

Write down the grocery items you purchase most often. Use your smartphone or a pocket- or purse-size spiral bound notebook.

Each time you make a trip to the grocery, note the date, the name of the grocery store, the price and the price per unit. You can also jot down prices from the weekly circulars or the online shopping tools such as Harris Teeter’s Express Lane.

Frugal tip: Ditch your brand loyalties and store loyalties and record the prices of several brands at multiple stores. And don’t forget to check the house-label products.

An entry might look like this:

Peanut butter

Skippy, 15 oz.

Harris Teeter; 0/0/14

$3.69; 25 cents/oz.

$2.19 after coupon

Final: 15 cents/oz.

----------------------------

Peter Pan, 16.3 oz.

Lowes Foods; 0/0/14

$2; 12 cents/oz.

------------------------

Nice! brand, 18 oz.

Walgreens; 0/0/14

$2;

$1.50 after rewards

Final: 8 cents/oz.

Over time, you’ll notice patterns emerge. While many grocery items seem to always be on sale, oftentimes that sale amounts to as little as a dime off. You want to watch for the big sales when items are at their rock-bottom prices.

Typically, that low price will be offered every six to eight weeks, though some items, especially those seasonal in nature, may only be offered for a brief time once or twice per year. You’ll find the lowest prices on baking items at Christmas and Easter; the best sales on picnic fixings show up close to Memorial Day and the Fourth of July; and you’ll likely score the lowest prices on peanut butter and jelly at back-to-school time.

Once you’ve established the rock-bottom prices for the items you buy, be ready to stock up. Buy enough to carry you to the next sale plus one. I like to think of that extra one as my insurance policy against paying full price.

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