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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Knowing the difference between a "best regular" price, a "good" price and a "great" price

As the prices on goods fluctuates so readily, this can be a bit of a guessing game. I sometimes get it very right. But also, I'm sometimes disappointed that I've gotten it wrong. I use records from recent shopping experience, combined with studying the market with online resources (such as USDA weekly price reports) as best as I can, to estimate if a price is great, just good, or one that I know I can easily beat.

With grocery shopping, I keep three levels of pricing in my head --
  • the "best regular" price (or what I am confident that I will find, often, on a regular basis, usually at my low-price leader stores -- WinCo, Fred Meyer or Cash & Carry)
  • the "good" price (or a routine "sale" price, to be found once every several weeks, often found in grocery store ads, with limits)
  • the "great" price (rock-bottom, once a year, clearance, or closeout prices, such as an item on sale at Cash & Carry or WinCo, or a special promotion at any of the local grocery stores)
It goes without saying that I try to get that "great" price, as much as possible. Knowing when I have it, and when to buy stock-up quantities, is the trick.

Some examples from recent shopping
When I am completely out of a staple item, I will buy just what I need at the moment, at my "best regular" price. Sometimes this is on Senior Discount Day at Fred Meyer. Sometimes I find that "best regular "at WinCo. And sometimes, the best regular price is at Cash & Carry.

A case in point, I was completely out of all-purpose flour, leading into the Thanksgiving weekend. My "best regular" price was at Cash & Carry, in a 50-lb bag, at 22 cents per pound. I bought just the 1 bag, as I knew that at some point in the year, all-purpose flour will go on sale for a little less than this, likely at Cash & Carry. That "some point" came this week, as the same 50-lb sack of all-purpose flour is on a one-week only sale for $9.99 (just under 20 cents per pound). This will be the lowest price for the next 9 months, is my guess. I go through 1 50-lb sack of white flour every 4 months. I will probably buy 2 50-lb sacks, even though I still have most of the 50-lb sack that I bought last week.

My stock of butter has been depleted, significantly. It's not an emergency, there were still a few pounds left. But my reserves were low enough, going into Thanksgiving week, that I've been keeping a watch for a good sale. At WinCo, last week, butter was on sale for $2.48/lb, with a limit of 4 pounds. Given the current market for butter, this is a good price, but not great. (I've been finding butter on sale at Fred Meyer for $2.50/lb, about once every 6 weeks, this fall.) And I know that $2.48 per pound is better than the current regular price at Cash & Carry, at $2.64/lb in 1-lb blocks. Knowing that WinCo's price was good, but not great, I bought my limit of 4, and didn't bother with attempts to stock-up further at that price.

Later in the week, I saw Cash & Carry had put butter on sale for $2.09/lb. For our area, and at this time, that is a great price. So I bought 12 pounds.

I've been waiting for canned pineapple to go on sale. At the very least, it should go on sale at Fred Meyer or WinCo, for about $1 to $1.25 per 20-oz can, nearer to Christmas. The lower the price, the greater the likelihood of purchase limits. When I found 20-oz cans of pineapple on sale for 99 cents, at a local drugstore, last Friday, I thought about what possible prices I might see. 99 cents a can is not great enough for us to rethink our fruit consumption, and buy several cases of pineapple. But it is a good enough price to buy enough to last until the next good pineapple sale (perhaps at Christmas or New Year, but also I can be relatively certain I will find a similar price at Easter). I bought 10 cans.

Missing my guess
Sometimes, I guess wrong, and buy stock-up quantities at a price that is higher than the rock-bottom price. This happened with whole almonds, a month ago. I still paid quite a bit less than a best regular price. But I see this week, at Fred Meyer, the price is even lower.

What do I do when this happens? If I think the price is truly spectacular, and, I believe we will use more of the item before it goes bad, and, if I have the money to buy more, that is just what I do, I buy more. I accept that I didn't get the rock-bottom price on the first purchase, but I didn't overpay, either. In the end, no one is perfect, and I do very well, most of the time, with our grocery budget. And by buying a little bit more, at this new, lower price, I feel like I am easing the pain of having spent a little too much, the first time.

How to track the "great" price and know how much to buy
A log
You are all familiar with my grocery spending journal that I post at the end of each month. This is a dated log of my purchase price plus amounts that I buy. I am able to go back through the months of this type of post and find out how much I bought (which gives me the approximation of how long any given amount will last for my use), and what that price was.

With the all-purpose flour, I was able to scan the grocery posts from March through now and see that I bought a 50-lb sack in both March and July. It amazes me, but I go through all-purpose flour at a very regular rate, 50 pounds every 4 months. I paid $11.99 and $11.68, in the months of March and July, for a 50-lb sack of all-purpose flour. So, I know that my price this week of $9.99 is a very good price for the year, for my area, on this item.

A log doesn't need to be on a computer. It can be in a notebook. This type of log needn't have prices for everything that you might buy, but items that you buy infrequently enough to not be certain of what you paid, or how much you purchased.

Marking a package
A simpler method for many folks might be to just mark your packages. You can track prices and how long they last by marking individual packages with date of opening, date of purchase, and the price paid. The date of opening would give you some idea of how long a quantity lasts in your home. The date of purchase, combined with price paid, provide insight as to when the prices for an item are at their lowest.

Studying the market
I also use tools like the USDA reports, (google online for these reports), to get an idea of prices on specific food items. I've watched egg, butter, chicken, beef, turkey, cabbage and pumpkin prices, by reading these reports. The reports give me a good idea of what to expect, price-wise and availability.

In the end, its all a guessing game for the consumer. None of us have a crystal ball which can predict what the best price will be, for any season. Even if we get the best deal one week, the very next may see something even better. The bottom line is to set a budget and keep the spending within that amount. Luckily for us, what we buy is quite flexible. If we miss a great deal, for any reason, we can often make up for it, somewhere else in the grocery budget.


  1. Thanks for a very informative post! I try to use these 'rules' when shopping. Like you, I sometimes discover that I have stocked up at a good price, and then a great price comes along. It's frustrating, but I try to give myself grace. Since I keep track of my grocery spending and savings, I can look at the overall picture over a few months, or a year. Then I'll realize that I am doing a good job at managing our grocery money. And sometimes I find that if I miss the great price on one item, an unexpected great price will come along on another item. It always seems to even out.

    I hope you have a good day!

    1. Hi Angie,
      Yes, I believe that we just need to do our best, with the information we've got. There's nothing more we can do. And it does seem to even out, thankfully.

      Have a great day, Angie!

  2. Hmmm, I'm having trouble leaving a comment using internet explorer. I can't choose a profile as there is nothing there to select as an option. I have to use a different browser.

    Hi Lili, I used to bake a lot more but no longer do a ton. I have cut out almost all the sweets but hubby still gets his cookies and I make bread and that's it. There are lots of things I used to buy in large quantities with growing kids but I just don't want to store things in large quantities anymore. And that's ok for us.

    Even when the kids came home for Thanksgiving I didn't bake anything for them and no one asked for anything either.

    I remember having a second refrigerator in the garage filled with 8 gallons of milk. The deep freezer had a couple of 50 lb. bags of flour and 1/2 side of beef or 1/2 pork. I even bought a second upright freezer once to stock frozen foods in. Those days are gone (kind of) although I still do have a big deep freeze which is full. I really have to work through it this winter.


    P.S. water heaters are EXPENSIVE! Ours has been replaced and we're back in business.

    1. Hi Alice,
      I'm so glad your water heater has been replaced and all is well in that dept. They are expensive. And for good reason. I was talking with my sister, yesterday, about how times must have been for families, when they had to heat all of their water on the stove, for bathing, washing dishes, and worst -- washing diapers. I just can't imagine having small children with no water heater. We are blessed to live with so many modern luxuries. I am hoping ours will be replaced this morning.

      When my daughters were about 2, and my son about 9, I remember grocery shopping at the wholesaler, and loading up boxes of milk (2 gals per box). We would buy 2-3 weeks of milk at a time, and I had something like 16 gallons of milk on the cart. People were always astounded at how much milk I was buying. My kids were huge milk drinkers.

      It changes with the years, what we stock up on, and what we consider a stock-up quantity. For you, now, stocking up might mean buying several pounds of meat, when you find a great deal, instead of a side of beef. I still bake, but not nearly as much as I once did. I don't have the time or energy for the amount of baking I once did.

      Anyway, I'm glad your water heater issues are resolved. Have a great day, Alice!

  3. Your butter prices are similar to ours. In years past, I've been able to get a pound for around $2 during the holiday season, but so far, $2.49 has been my best purchase. If it doesn't get better next week, I'll just start stocking up. Meanwhile, chocolate (and other flavor) chips are $1.49/12 oz (some of the other flavor varieties are 10 oz or 11 oz) at Aldi, so I'm buying some each time I go. I'm at the stage of life where not only do I have a family to feed (and my son is HUNGRY), but I need to supply goodies for different events--last year I purchased enough to get into September, which was great.

    Love your idea about marking the package to see how long it takes to use a certain quantity. I don't think I have the patience to study the market. I rely on blogs like yours for that kind of info. :)

    Must have been the weekend for household expenses--but we now have our new furnace! Soon we will move on to braces for my son ... sigh ....

    1. Hi Kris,
      I'm curious, about how many packages of chocolate chips did you buy to last until September?

      Hungry kids are expensive to feed! And although as an extra, you are providing treats for meetings, practices and events, at some point, someone else is feeding your kids, for you. It's an expensive phase, with regards to groceries.

      A new furnace -- woo hoo! It should save you some expense in heating bills. And maybe it will function better, and keep you warmer, too. Our furnace has just another couple of years on it. The furnace guy is checking and cleaning it today. We are saving for a new one.

      Do you have good dental insurance for the braces? It's worth it, so long as the kids follow instructions and then after they're off, they continue to wear their retainers for as long as they fit. (My daughters, 3 years post braces off, still wear their retainers at night.) The wires seemed really flimsy to me, compared to my own experience with braces. We seemed to have a lot of broken wires, in our house. And the retainers are expensive to repair and replace. Wishing you much luck and patience with this phase.

      Have a great day, Kris!

    2. Ummm, really not sure how many chocolate chip packages--maybe 20? I almost never use the full amount of chips called for in a recipe--I generally halve it, and a little trick I learned from Weight Watchers was to strategically put a few on top of my baked good (works with nuts and cheese, too), so that "visually" you think you are getting more.

      We are trying to navigate the dental insurance coverage for orthodontics and are a little confused by it. Interesting about the retainer wires. Mine never broke. I don't remember how long I wore my retainer post-braces, but I'm sure it was awhile. We meet tomorrow to discuss the actual plan and we'll go from there. I'm definitely timing having them applied for after my son's solo & ensemble (he plays the trombone--I think this will be a bumpy transition. It wasn't too bad to have braces with my flute, but the embouchure is very different for brass instruments).

      Good point that others will be feeding my kids, too! We aren't the house that hosts all the kids in the neighborhood--I know I could have it a lot worse than I do! I appreciate it when people are generous with my children, so I try to be mindful of that when I need to feed other's kids.

    3. Kris,
      One thing to specifically look for is if there is a waiting period. We have a child probably getting hers this month or next (second child) so switched last year to a slightly more expensive plan but with better orthodontic coverage. The catch was a waiting period--don't remember if it was one year or two but whatever it is we're now past it.

      I am doing the same with Aldi chocolate chips! We love the bittersweet ones which I am quite sure are made by Ghirardelli. They are an amazing deal at $1.49 for 10 oz.

  4. This has been on my mind quite a bit lately, actually. I came across a post from A Modern Homestead a few weeks ago about how she menu plans for 6 months at a time in order to purchase ingredients that she knows she'll use at the lowest possible prices. I tend to shop more to replenish items used but was intrigued by her savings with this method, so have been doing kind of a hybrid method the last couple weeks. At the moment I'm also stocking up on Aldi chocolate chips and butter ($2.29 here with a limit of 6 each unsalted and salted), as well as unbleached flour, sweet potatoes, navel oranges, onions, and whatever else is on an excellent deal.

    1. Hi Cat,
      How organized! I'm not sure I could commit on paper to 6 months of menus. But I think many of us do this in our heads, to a certain extent. I will search for her post. Good luck with your efforts in this!

      That's a generous limit at Aldi! I get frustrated with some of the low limits at my stores, like limit 1, or 2.

      Have a great day, Cat!

  5. I messed up on pumpkin this month. I bought the Libby's pumpkin in 15 oz cans at Fred Meyer for $1.50/can. The Fred Meyer store brand was the same price as the Libby's. Last year I found the cheapest price at Fred's, so assumed it would be the same this year. I did notice WinCo's price was cheaper on the Santiam brand. I have tried that pumpkin in the past & I just didn't like the flavor. I know I'm picky.

    Anyway, I bought 10 cans of the Libby's. A couple of days later I went to Walmart & they had their Great Value brand pumpkin for 98 cents/can. They have never carried anything but Libby's brand, so I wasn't expecting it. So I bought 12 cans there.

    I have tried making my own pumpkin puree before, but I just didn't think the product I got was worth the time & hassle. I always make my own chicken broth as the time, cost savings and taste are worth it to me, but I gave up on pumpkin. I just buy the canned.

    This type of thing would have bothered me terribly in the past. I used to always beat myself up over this sort of mistake, but my husband taught me to look at my time as having value, too. Now I just say to myself, "Well, you got a steal on that sausage, so it makes up for the pumpkin." Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa,
      This year, I didn't really go out seeking the free pumpkins that I usually get. I stopped in once, (at my free pumpkin place) to check but that was it. I feel too tired to deal with the work, this year. Maybe next year, I'll have more energy and will be happy to process pumpkin.

      Our time does have value. And for many, many years, I undervalued my own time, and I allowed family members to treat me in the same manner. But my time, and now energy, is in limited supply, and I have to budget it accordingly.

      I bought the Santiam brand of pumpkin. It's good enough for us. I need to get back to checking Wal-Mart, more often. I just don't get to that part of town. Great price on the small cans, this year!

      Have a great day, Melissa!

    2. Melissa, I was thinking about your purchase of canned pumpkin at FM for $1.50/can. I don't think you should count that as a fail. And this is why. Because you now have a good supply of canned pumpkin in your pantry, you are much more likely to make something from scratch, like baked goods, or a sage, sausage and pumpkin sauce for pasta, for a quick supper some night. In contrast, without the canned pumpkin, you might have been tempted to pick something up that was already prepared, or even take-out for a quick supper. Because that pumpkin is in your pantry, you will think to use it, instead of getting something pre-made.

      The extra that you paid on the pumpkin was 52 cents per can. If you were to make a pumpkin main dish for the family (like the pasta I just mentioned), instead of getting take-out, you would be saving yourself at least $10 on 2 Little Caesar pizzas, or $20 for cheap burgers for everyone.

      Even at $1.50 per can, the pumpkin is a bargain for a food that is ready to turn into something else, with just a little effort. And it's packed with nutrients.

      Just a different way to look at what you thought was a fail.


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