Sunday, November 11, 2012

Knowledge is Power - Combating the Rising Cost of Food


“Please tell me you aren’t a consumer.”  The clerk had watched me for several minutes as I worked my way down the aisle, making note of prices.  I rarely shopped in this store and wanted to find out whether it was worth coming back.

I shrugged, “Yeah, I guess so.”

He hooted with laughter and said, “You aren’t OCD are you?” 

“Well actually, I am,” I laughed. 

Immediately contrite, he apologized.  I assured him it was perfectly all right.  He expressed concern that this was controlling my life.

I explained that no, it actually freed me; that I have a difficult time remembering prices. Sometimes I end up just buying something without having a clue as to whether or not it’s a bargain.  

That’s really bad if you live on a fixed or limited income. My Shopping Book is simply my way of keeping track of prices and relieving me from anxiety as I try to get the best buy for my dollar.

I’ve been disabled with lupus and fibromyalgia since 1997.  Everyone knows about the chronic pain and chronic fatigue, but not many people understand the ‘brain fog’ issues of short-term memory loss and thinking difficulties on occasion. 

At first, I would jot a few prices down on a slip of paper, but quickly lost them. Then I carried a small spiral notebook to record prices of things I use most often, but the list got so cumbersome, it was difficult to find what I wanted. 

Finally, I took the bull by the horns and set up an Excel Document.  This is a handy device because as you add to the list, it’s easy to refresh and alphabetize the list. 

Over time, I played around with an assortment of lists until I finally honed it down to the simplest and most efficient system for me.  I know, at first glance, it looks like a ton of work. But if you start with a simple list, it’s easy to add on and modify as needed.

I keep a loose-leaf notebook with pages for each category of food.  This stays in the car and I take it to the stores with me.  When I am shopping for a particular item, I flip to its page and check.  If the price is substantially lower than the price I listed, I buy as much as I can.  If the store price is higher than my list, I make a note of it and wait until I get to the store with the best price. 

Eventually, I set up a basic sheet and now record the following information:
  • Item
  • Variety – this may change depending on the product, some brands have two or three varieties of the same item
  • Brand name
  • Unit – the actual size of the container, usually in ounces
  • Cost
  • Store – since I shop at several stores, I set up a short code to keep track of where the best price is
  • Date – this was added later. It helps me know how long it’s been since I looked at that item and helps keep track of price fluctuations
  • SALE – I tack this onto the end when I see an especially good price (usually a loss leader) on something.  It helps understand substantial price variances
By regularly recording the prices on groceries you normally purchase, you can begin to see trends in pricing, and sometimes significant variations from store to store. 


  • Asparagus – notice the difference in the prices. In 2011 it was $3.39 per pound, in 2012 it was 3.66 per pound.  But I did find it on sale once for $1.49.  Guess when I bought it?  (note: I messed up when setting this page up and the dates don’t show the years, but only month and date. You can set your excel sheet to show dates in a variety of ways.  I later fixed the document)

  • Bisquick – notice the difference in price on the same day in two different stores.  
  • Powdered cocoa – it was interesting to see the difference in price when I was shopping for cocoa.  Three different brands, ingredients 100% cocoa. As much as 56¢ difference.

  • Canned chili diced – as much as 44¢ difference per can in two different stores
  • Hominy – I was amazed to see 40¢ a can difference for one of my favorite foods! Sheesh!
  • Mushroom sliced – the 4 ounce cans 17¢ difference between the cans.  However, the last time I bought canned mushrooms was three years ago (three cases @ 50¢ a can). Haven’t seen them at that price since.
  • Canned pumpkin - 69¢ a can difference for 100% canned pumpkin.  No difference in ingredients, just in brand name and the fact that one was on sale.

  • As I am shopping, I make note of price changes. Later, when I get home and am in the mood, I pull up my document and enter the new prices and data. I copy and click the DATA SORT button and alphabetize the list. Then I print out new sheets and replace them in my notebook. Sometimes I don’t do this for several months, just depends on how much new data I added and how I’m feeling at the moment.

Herbs and spices are extremely expensive.  For example, nutmeg is $4.82 for 1 ½ ounces. That works out to $51.49 per pound!

I never buy ground spices, only whole seeds and grind them myself.  There is such a variation in the weight between spice containers; you really have to look closely.
  • Allspice – pay attention to the weight. Although there’s not much difference in price, one is ¾ ounce and the other is 1 ¼ ounces!
  • Anise – extract vs. seed… 93¢ difference for the same weight. So which will serve your cooking needs better?
  • Fennel – one pound vs. 1 ½ pounds. 
  • Asparagus -  sale vs. retail price.  In just two days, the price jumped $2.17 per pound!
Well, you get the point. Except for a few rare individuals, most people cannot keep track of fluctuating prices between different stores and brands. 

  • If you get into the habit of keeping records, you will be amazed at the differences in prices.
  • By keeping records of prices, you can also not seasonal trends in prices.  You will learn when to stock up on certain items.
  • You can make intelligent decisions on what to buy and how much to buy. You will know when it’s a really good bargain and when you would do better to pass it up.
I’ve been doing this for five years now. I no longer take meticulous notes on foods, but only bother when there is an exceptional change.

Bottom Line:
When the cost of living exceeds your income, you only have two choices:
  1. Increase your income
  2. decrease your spending
Linda’s Note: this only applies to real people with real lives. It does not apply to governments with $15 Trillion in debt. How do they handle the problem? Redefine debt or raise the ceiling! L How do THEY deal with inflation? Print more paper. L



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