I’m a little obsessed with numbers. One semester in college I enjoyed going to my calculus class because it was a nice break from all my hard classes. In the summer of 2011, I quit teaching math and started staying home with our kid. Without many outlets for math and with an increased need to save money, I started a pretty extreme record to keep track of grocery prices. I used to not know a good deal when I saw one. Now, I still don’t know one, but my spreadsheet sure does. I enter in the information, and it pops out with “yes” if it’s a good deal. I’m on a serious bent to feed that thing all the sale prices I can to maximize savings. I used to go to a store and just by the cheapest (chicken, toilet paper, soup, whatever) in that store. Now, I actually know that if the cheapest flour is $1.78 for 5 lbs, I should only buy what I really need, but if it’s $0.99, I should stock up.
People I know started asking me what good prices for items are, what good deals some store has this week, and the like. I sent emails to all those people every week, and we clogged up our inboxes with comments and additions and questions. Then, I started this blog to streamline the conversations.
I’m not particularly into extreme couponing, because that’s a lot of work. Note the title of this blog. Some principles I use in determining good deals:
- One store in each category per week is about my limit. Driving to a second store costs money, is a hassle with a kid I have to carry everywhere, and is a low return on my money. If I enjoyed going to stores for that purpose, I might do it. Anything that involves leaving the house with the kid requires close scrutiny. Occasionally, I’ll go for a walk with the kid and use a good deal at a neighborhood store as the motivation.
- I have a giant spreadsheet to indicate good deals. I haven’t figures out a useful way to post the spreadsheet without having to give 2 pages of instructions for its use, thereby eliminating its handiness. I update the sheet with target prices regularly. I’ve been collecting data since about October 2011, and more is added regularly.
- I’m working on a method to indicate how good a good deal is. There are lots of sites that pair coupons with sales, but I want to know if it’s a good deal after that. A lot of sales aren’t particularly good prices. However, some things, like milk, can’t be easily stored for long and need to be purchased at more than the target price. I try to convey the goodness but haven’t settled on a method. I think I need to make up some lingo for this, since this paragraph is pretty stilted.
- I use a lot of store brands. On commodity grade products (e.g. milk, butter, sugar, flour, bulk meat), I rarely discriminate brands. Many basic products (e.g. canned or frozen fruits/vegetables, peanut butter, produce, cake mix) are mostly interchangeable price-wise, except a few extremes that I won’t purchase. Some items (e.g. Cheerios, frozen pizza, Stovetop Stuffing) are classified by name because they’re just better or very different from other brands.
- Snack food is rarely a good deal. We all buy some snack food because we like it. However, they’re generally inherently expensive for the quality of nutrition. There are also tons of different sizes and varieties, so I rarely bother to keep track of good prices. The few that I regularly buy I track, but only the very best candy deals will be listed here. Exceptions: certain types of chocolate and ice cream.
- Good prices are regularly obtainable. Occasionally, stores offer really great deals for a very limited quantity. Since I use more than four cans of tomato soup a year, that super low price is not my target price. Target prices are a price that could be purchased in significant quantity. Perishable items (e.g. milk, lettuce, bread) are noted when there is a significant sale.
- Feedback is good. More data is useful for me. Suggestions for me to add are useful for you. “Bragging” about good deals is fine (particularly if it’s current and other visitors could get the deal), but I focus on everyday savings information.