Sure, coupons are a great source of savings for a frugal shopper, and when appropriately applied, they can save you a ton of money. In fact, some shoppers even walk out of the store getting paid to take home groceries! Yet if you don't know what a good price to pay for a food item, beverage, or hygiene product, you may wind up paying more than you should have just because you used a coupon. To prevent that from happening, you should start a price log for your regularly purchased items.
Start by making a list of all the items you buy on a regular basis. This can be anything from items you purchase twice a year (packs of razors) to items you purchase twice a week (a gallon of milk). Go through the major categories: bread, grains, meat, seafood, dairy products, snack foods, beverages, alcohol, vegetables, fruits, cooking fats (butter, oil, etc.), sauces, hygiene products, baby products, paper products, batteries -- whatever it is that you buy on a consistent basis, put it on the list.
Next, look over some past receipts to find out what some good sale prices you paid might have been. Depending on where you live in the country, some fresh foods or specific meat products may cost more or less because of transportation costs. Milk may cost $3 a gallon on one end of the country and $4.50 on the other. Because of this, we can't provide you with a solid list of how much each food costs; but you can figure it out pretty easily by looking at past instances where you saved money.
Now it's time to factor in coupons. Do you regularly use coupons on your favorite shampoo brand? Are you normally couponless when it comes to your deli meat and cheeses? Factor in the regularity of the coupons (some are so good, they only happen a few times per year, while, say, 30¢ off diapers may occur weekly in the Sunday paper); will you see this coupon again enough to count on it? If you're not getting enough of a coupon supply, ask friends if they would be willing to give you the ones they don't use. Factor those in, too.
Now, you can start making a list of prices. A computer document works well, because you don't have to worry about scratching things out or tearing paper to make room, and also because you can alphabetize no matter how many items you tack on the end. Excel or another spreadsheet document can be a great way to record your findings (make column A for breads, column B for bread prices, column C for meats, column D for meat prices, etc.). When you're done, print out a copy and save the document for further updating when you get more information, in case anything changes. Keep the copy with you when you go shopping, so you can stop to see if you're getting a good deal even when you use a coupon.
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