How to Keep a Price Book

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I’ve kept a price book for about 10 years. If you’re serious about getting control over your budget, a price book is absolutely necessary. It allows you to buy only the cheapest items at each store, and provides the information you’ll need to evaluate unadvertised sales and unexpected sources of goods, like garage sales and salvage stores (yes, I’ve purchased new grocery items and household supplies at garage sales. You never know what you’ll find). Recently I found store-brand disposable diapers at a salvage store. We use these at night and for traveling so I whipped out my calculator, checked my price book, and found that the per diaper price was cheaper than the cheapest disposables at Wal-Mart. I stocked up. Knowledge is power!

I keep my price book in an Excel spreadsheet, which is formatted to automatically calculate unit price. I sort items alphabetically and by category, one category per page. With the exception of clothing, which I rarely buy new anyway, I keep track of prices for most consumable products we purchase. This includes food, office supplies, personal care products, household supplies (paper towels, light bulbs, etc.) oil and filters for the car, and pet food. I keep my price book in the “Shopping” section of my Home Management Guide, and just take it out and put it in my bag when I do my weekly grocery shopping.

This is the baking supply page of my price book. It includes the product name, any notes such as flavor or brand, the package size, the price, the unit price, the store where it was purchased, and the date. The date is important because over time you’ll notice sale trends (EX: nuts and baking supplies are always cheaper at Christmas. Buy in bulk and freeze them). The yellow line through the “cornmeal” entry means that I need a current price for that item.


After all of these years of tracking prices, I’ve narrowed my shopping down to two stores: Aldi and Wal-Mart. I always buy their generic products because they’re consistently the cheapest. Occasionally another local store will have a really phenomenal sale that beats them, but this is unusual. When it happens, I buy a lot! I have a list of items to buy at Aldi in my HMG. If any of those items is on my weekly grocery list, I check it off with my dry erase marker, and take the page with me so I remember to stop at Aldi before I head home. Aldi is right across the street from Wal-Mart, so it’s very convenient.

If you want to make your own price book, you will first need to make your pantry list (see The Frugal Pantry). Once you have this list, you’ll know which items you need to get prices for. Tracking prices of other household goods is more challenging, because you may not purchase them as regularly. I still add items to my price book that I’ve forgotten about (humidifier filters come to mind).

When you set out to research prices, don’t take your kids, and don’t make special trips! This wastes extremely expensive gasoline, and making a price book is a gradual process that takes time. I get my prices from my receipts, sale flyers, and by simply jotting down prices as I do my regular grocery shopping. It takes a few trips, but it makes the process less overwhelming. If you have friends who also want to make price books, you may want to assign each of them a list of items, and make it a cooperative effort!

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Heather is a minimalist in love with a recovering packrat. 7 years ago, she and her husband sold pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down in order to pay off their mortgage, and they've been living happily debt-free ever since. They have 3 hilarious little kids who were conceived with the help of in vitro fertilization, and they haven't had a good night's sleep in the last decade. Heather is an anglophile who loves all things British, and spends her free time looking at real estate listings in Cornwall. Every day, she and her family work toward a simpler, more meaningful life. Some days are awesome, some are disastrous, and you can read about all of them here.

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2 comments… add one

  1. Kerry Hunt November 14, 2013, 5:38 pm

    Thank you for sharing a page out of your price book. It allowed me to better visualize what I need to put together and especially the column headers I need. I’ve been shopping frugally for many years and have a pantry that is very well stocked. Until now, I’ve done best pricing by memory, but it’s time to commit to a price book. I have to say i’ve done pretty well on things I buy more frequently, but i’ve been stumped a few times too. Thanks again!

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  2. Christina Luiggi December 20, 2013, 2:17 pm

    I always come back to your budgeting articles. I used to have a price book using an actual book, but didn’t keep up with it. I am going to try again. I have a question- do you never buy unless its cheaper than the last time and then when it is, change the info in the list for that item or do you update it either way? Is there a way to see the history of spending for certain items? I hope that makes sense. Thank you :)

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