Thursday, November 13, 2014

Grocery price comparison information

Here's the big one.  This is the catalyst by which I was asked to teach the workshop at Stake Women's Conference.  I sent the following to my ward Relief Society email list in May of this year, and received a lot of feedback.  Rather than re-type and re-explain it all, I'll just be copying the full text here.


I wanted to share something with you that falls into the "provident living" category. Bear with me, because this email is going to be long, but I hope that it will be beneficial to at least some of you.

For Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me a coupon binder. It's a system that she's used for a few years now and has been successful for her. She made one for her mom (my mother-in-law), and I started expressing interest in it. I've long needed an efficient coupon system but never found one. So she made one for me for Christmas.

The binder has dividers for various categories (baby supplies, frozen foods, meat, healthy/beauty, snack foods, cleaning supplies, etc.) as well as sections for store-specific and restaurant coupons at the back. Each section has plastic sheet protectors for sorting the coupons into. Some people use baseball card pages, others use business card pages. But the idea is to get each coupon in its own slot, where you can see the front and back of it. There's also an index at the front, so if you don't remember whether rice is under "dry goods" or "international/ethnic food," you can check. (If you're creating your own categories, however, you can put things wherever you want…I'm just still using the categories my SIL set up for me.)

At the front of the binder is a store price comparison sheet, which actually gets to the crux of my email today. I finally finished my own version of this document, and thought it might be helpful to each of you as well. It might look overwhelming, so I'd like to offer some explanation.

To start, I chose five stores to compare: Giant Eagle, Heinen's, Aldi, BJ's, and GFS. A little quick info on each of these, if you're new to the area or aren't familiar with them:

  • Giant Eagle: the big grocery store chain in the area. Anything and everything you need, basically. Reasonable prices but not great ones.
  • Heinen's: a locally owned grocery chain. More upscale, trendy. Lower selection, higher prices. The only time I really shop here is when I need something now, because it's closest to my home.
  • Aldi: a low-cost grocery chain based out of Germany. Its parent company also owns Trader Joe's. Aldi carries a lot of propriety and/or "off" brands. They have consistently low prices, but not a ton of selection. They accept cash or debit cards, but no credit cards or checks. You need to bring your own bags. In order to get a shopping cart, you need a quarter, which you get back when you return the cart to the corral. As far as I know, Aldi does not accept manufacturer coupons.
  • BJ's: similar to Costco and Sam's Club, just less ubiquitous. Located on Richmond Road near I-271 in Warrensville Heights. BJ's has a $50 annual membership fee, accepts manufacturer coupons, and is otherwise a fairly basic big box store.
  • GFS is located on Cedar Road in South Euclid, just west of Warrensville Center Road. GFS is a foodservice distributor and paper goods store. You can purchase many basic items in bulk, similar to at a big box store, but without the annual membership. The selection is limited, and many of the brands are proprietary and/or generic. They've got disposable bakeware and storage for super cheap prices, though. GFS does not accept manufacturer coupons, but you can sign up (via email) to receive in-store offers and coupons.

I've lived in the Cleveland area for almost seven years now, and regularly shop at Giant Eagle and BJ's. But when I received this binder as a gift, I decided to actually do the price comparison sheet. I'd been to Aldi once or twice before, but had been mostly unimpressed. I wanted to force myself to really look at the products I purchase the most, and where I could find savings. So I made a list of 41 of the things I find most frequently on my grocery list, and/or things I like to keep a stock of. Then I got nerdy. I made spreadsheets. I spent several hours visiting all of the stores, and making notes. I wrote down brand names, prices, quantities, notes about the product, etc. I started at the beginning of March, and it's taken me until this morning to finish this project (with a few long breaks).

I've attached a copy of the spreadsheet, which is quite extensive. There are several pages to it – a couple of master sheets, as well as individual pages for each store. I also went seriously formula-crazy and brought all the individual information into one big summary page, which is what I will print out and keep in my binder. The page titles are as follows: Group sheet master, Group sheet, Individual sheet master, Giant Eagle, Heinen's, Aldi, BJ's, GFS. The master sheets are mostly for copy-and-paste purposes.

On the group sheet, I have not hand-entered any of the numbers/data. Each cell (brand, price, units) is linked to the corresponding information in the individual sheets. That way, if Giant Eagle changes their price on flour, for example, or Aldi changes the brand of chips they're offering, I can update my sheet in one location and all relevant changes are made, instead of having to find it in multiple places. Unit prices are determined by calculations, and are also not manually entered. I've also done my best to ensure that the unit measurements are the same within each item. For example, instead of using 2 lbs of cheese from one store and 8 oz from another, I changed it to 2 lbs and .5 lbs. That does not mean that all unit measurements are the same across all items. Some are pounds, some are ounces, some are fluid ounces, some are individual counts, etc. That's where the notes on the individual pages come in.

Generally speaking, I chose the lowest priced brand. Exceptions to this were when I knew the brand wasn't very good (Giant Eagle's Valutime, for instance), or had little selection in flavors or varieties. There are very few items about which I'm brand-picky, and most of those aren't on this list anyway. I also recorded regular prices. None of the prices are sale ones, even if one of the products was on sale when I visited. I made sure only to compare base prices.

You'll see that I found more lower prices at BJ's than I did at GFS, and I imagine the results would be similar at Costco or Sam's Club. Remember though, that you pay an overhead for the big box stores, which is what helps keep those prices low. GFS requires no membership or commitment.

If a section is grayed out, it means that either the store does not stock that particular item, or that they didn't have it on the day I visited. The lowest priced store is highlighted in yellow for each item. I've tried to group similar items together (dry/baking goods, dairy, snack foods, condiments, etc.) in a way that makes sense to me.

Feel free to tailor this to your own family's needs. I'm sending it to you as a fully-editable Excel spreadsheet. You'll just need to download it in order to make changes.

Some suggestions for personalized changes:

  • Do your own price evaluations for Costco instead of BJ's.
  • Check prices for ground beef instead of ground turkey.
  • Check prices for condiments and sauces that your family uses a lot.
  • Switch prices to reflect your preferred brand on a particular item(s).

As I said, the products I evaluated are only ones that I was particularly interested in, and I know they won't be the same for everyone.

This is a tool that I hope to update for myself every year (possibly twice a year, now that I have the framework in place and it would be easy to just update where necessary). I hope that it will be beneficial to many of you as you navigate the family budget.


You can find the spreadsheet/workbook here, and you can download it to personalize for your needs:
Grocery Price Comparison Sheet.

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