Monday, May 14, 2012

How to Price-Match at the Grocery Store

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Hello, Ladies!  I hope you all had a wonderful Mother’s day, I sure had a great one.  For my third instalment in my current series, The Old-Fashioned Kitchen, I wanted to share with you all my system for price-matching at the grocery store.  This is one of those posts that could read like Gone With the Wind if Im not careful, because there is so much to say.  I’m going to try to keep it as readable as possible, but if I dont cover something you want to know, dont hesitate to ask!
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What is Price-Matching?
Some of you may be wondering what “Price-Matching” is.  Many grocery stores now have a policy where they will match the advertized prices of their major competitors (advertized in sale flyers) and you will only pay their competitors price at the till.  Each grocery store has its own policy on how exactly they price-match and who they define as their “competitors”.  Some stores have limits on how many items you can price-match, some do not. 
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The only real homework you have to do ahead of time to start price-matching is to educate yourself on the price-matching policies of the stores in your area.  If you live in southern Ontario, I can tell you that No-Frills and FreshCo both price match, and I believe that Walmart and Superstore do as well, though I do not have personal experience with price-matching at their stores.  I prefer to shop primarily at No-Frills because they will price-match with any flyer with grocery items, and they do not set limits on how many items you may price-match, whereas Frescho will not to match to flyers from stores like Giant Tiger or Shoppers Drug Mart, and they have a limit of two items only.  Dont hesitate to call your local stores or ask when in-store if they offer price-matching. 
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The Basic Idea
The point of price-matching is to get to know the prices of the goods you buy most often (I recommend a price book of some kind to keep baseline prices in one location for reference, though this is not necessary) and then use the weekly sale-flyers to purchase those items at their lowest prices.  Price-matching allows you to get the best prices for your groceries from all of the competing stores in your area without having to run around town wasting time, energy and gas money.  It requires a little bit of time and planning up front to do it well, but once you get your system down if you’re like me you’ll find its actually fun… it’s a bargain hunt and who doesn’t like one of those?!
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How Its Done
The first thing you want to do is make sure that you are getting a flyer bundle delivered to your home each week.  Flyers are usually managed by your local newspaper, so if you are not receiving them, contact your local paper and ask them if they provide that service.  You can’t price match without flyers in-hand, because the cashier will need to see the published price of the competing grocery story before she can give you the sale price.  Plus, without the flyers you can’t learn whats on sale to begin with!
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When I receive my flyer bundle on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons, I wait until I have a quiet time, during Bird’s nap or after she has gone to bed, and I get myself a cup of tea and gather up all of my gear, and then I put my feet up and enjoy the process.  I sort through all the flyers and take out the ones I need and recycle the rest.  I have a pen in hand, and i have my pricebook nearby as well so I can check prices if I am unsure about how good a sale is and if its worth stocking up on the item.  I also have my little grocery file folder on hand so I can check my coupon stash, refer to old receipts, and file sale fliers once I’ve read them. 
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What Are You Shopping For?
As I pointed out in my post on meal-planning, my current system is to meal plan based primarily on food I already have in stock in our home (our freezers, pantry, and fridge).  Because I meal plan week to week in this way, I am able to save quite a bit of money at the grocery store because I only need to buy perishables (some fresh produce and milk) week to week (and Im even learning to freeze milk when its on sale!) and I am free to buy whatever the major loss-leaders and other sale items are from the fliers.  This has been a major shift for me when it comes to meal planning and grocery buying, and it is saving me a LOT of money.
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At this point, I am realizing that there is never any reason to pay full price for things like paper products, cleaning supplies (including dish and laundry detergents, as well as beauty products), canned good, baking supplies, chips and crackers, soda (if you buy it, we dont usually), and even cheese.  Did you know you can freeze cheese?  It’s really only good once thawed for dishes where you are going to melt the cheese as it gets rather crumbly after freezing, but I find there are good sales on cheese every 2-3 weeks, so if you stock up when its on sale you should never be paying the full price again.  And should absolutely NEVER be paying full price for things like toilet paper, as most grocery stores use their paper products as loss-leaders and you can always find something on sale, and usually something on outrageous sale (like 1/4 of the price).  I should also say you can probably always manage to get your meat on sale, but meat is one thing I personally do not usually buy at the grocery store- I buy naturally-raised meat from a local farmer, which i will blog about at some point in the future.
The Hunt Begins
Now the fun begins.  I read through my flyers, with my pen in hand.  If something appears to be a good sale, I put a small circle near the ad for the item as a marker that this could be a potential buy.  I do this as I work through all of the fliers the first time around.  Then I go through and read them a second time, and by the second reading I can see which store has which items on for the best prices. 
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For instance, I might think that Walmart’s price on bell peppers are great at 1.99/lb, only to discover that No Frills has a 2 lb bag of bell peppers on sale for 2.50.  Once I figure out which prices are truly the best, I put  large circle around the ad for the item, which allows it to catch my eye when Im making my grocery list and allows for quick reference for the cashier at the till.
Important Flyer Tips:
  • The best deals, i find, are usually on the front page, second page, and last page of the flyers.  But there are still other good deals on the other pages, so read it all carefully.
  • Be wary of terms like “Our Price” or “Special Buy”; these are often fancy ways of advertising an item for its regular store price, or in the case of “Special Buy”, a uniquely portioned or packaged version of an product that is selling for less but might not really be a deal.  I saw a “Special Buy” on cheese a couple of weeks ago where the package had four slices of cheddar in it for a dollar.  That is NOT a good deal, friends.  So be wary.
  • Look instead for “Save 3.50” or other specific savings amounts for the best deals.  This is also where keeping a price book and knowing your prices comes in handy

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Making a List, and Writing it Twice
Once I have picked my sale items and have circled them in the fliers, I make a written list of the items, with their prices, that I am going to buy, listing them by store. This allows me to see it all on paper and to have a quick reference when Im at the grocery store and I want to get the items organized for the cashier so Im not there all day driving her and myself crazy trying to remember which item was from which flyer. 
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I then look at my “to buy” list that I have on the white board on my refrigerator, and write up a master list for my grocery shopping in order of the placement of the items in the grocery store (in other words, I do produce first, then bakery, then canned good, then frozen and dairy, as that is the layout of my grocery store.. this helps me not to miss an item on my list as I shop). If the item is something I am going to be price-matching, I write the price of the item, then “PM WM” for “Price-Match Walmart” or whatever the store is that I am matching against.  Again, this allows me quick reference if I need to double check the flyer.  I realize that this level of detail will not be necessary for everyone but its just the way I do it and so I am sharing.  and it really doesnt take but a few extra seconds to write down the detail, and I find it helpful once Im in the store and trying to focus.
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Once my list is written I fold all of my flyers and put them neatly into my grocery file folder, making sure that my shopping list is also in the folder. 
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At the Store
I do most of my shopping at No Frills, because I find their baseline prices the lowest, and they are very open with their price-matching.  There are times when No Frills does not carry a particular sale item that another store is advertising, and at that point i have to make the decision if its worth the time, energy, and gas to make an additional stop at another store.  This week, for instance, Zehrs had their PC Brand Ultra toilet paper on an awesome same for 3.99 for 16 double rolls.  I looked around and it was the best sale on paper products by far this week, but No Frills does not carry that particular toilet tissue  I decided because it was such a good sale it was worth running into Zehrs and I went in and stocked up  I bought three and saved 24 dollars in the process, so it was worth the stop!
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When I get to the grocery store, I pick up one of the hand baskets and put it inside the grocery cart.  I put all of my price-matching items in the basket so that they are separate and easy to access when I go to check-out.  Its really best for you and for the cashier if you can do something similar and keep your price-matching items organized and easy to access. 
Right before I go to through he line I review what I have and get the fliers out that I’ll need.  I always try to pick the friendliest looking cashier (not that I’m always right!) because the truth is, ladies, that sometime cashiers are not over-thrilled to help you price-match.  It’s extra work for them and I think many people do not price-match in an organized way and it becomes a burden and an annoyance for them. But be strong and be friendly and get your deals and be kind at the same time!  I grocery shop first thing Friday morning so that I can beat the rush and there is usually no one behind me in line, and this also helps keep me and the cashier happy that we arent holding anyone up with my bargain-hunting.
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Keep Your Receipts
Keep your receipts, and if you have a chance, give them a glance when you get home.  Last week I realized that the store charged me 4.99 for a brick of cheese I didnt take home!  You better believe I went back the next day and got my money back.  You can also use your receipts to go back and keep your price book up to date.
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How Much Do You Save?
This is an excellent question, and I will be doing another blog post soon with some details and examples of how much i have saved doing price-matching.  But It’s getting late and this post is already plenty long enough.  But believe me, it saves!  In the meantime, be sure to check out the posts in my Old-Fashioned Kitchen series, and be sure to find me on Facebook if you haven’t yet.
If you have any questions or comments, dont hesitate to leave a comment.  Id also LOVE to hear from you if you do price-matching already, what stores you like to shop at for PMing and why, or if you’re thinking about starting.  I love each and every one of your comments because I love knowing who is stopping by to read these posts and I love an opportunity to check out your blogs, too!
Happy Price-Matching, Ladies!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nicole,

Yes, I find that going shopping when I'm price-matching early in the morning (what I have found to be the non-busy time) works best. Happy to be saving a few dollars. Really loved getting a price match, and using coupons to get some whole-wheat pasta for 70 cents the other day.

J. Weber