To get the best deals, track “buy prices” on your favorite items

When you see an item you like on sale, you may snatch it up and assume you’re getting a great deal. But one store’s sale price may be equal to or higher than the regular price at another retailer. To make sure you take advantage of the best deals on products you buy frequently, you need to determine their “buy prices.” This is the price at which you can take action and buy the item, knowing you’re getting it at its lowest cost.

For example, I’ve determined my buy price for Coca-Cola 12-packs is $2.50 each. This price is offered by CVS every so often in sales ads, and I’ve never found another store in my area that beats this price. When I see that sale at CVS, I stock up so I don’t run out of soda before the next sale rolls around. At Kroger, I know 99 cents per pound is the best price on bone-in, split chicken breasts, so I buy extra when this sale runs and store them in my chest freezer. This is a lower price than I could get at my local warehouse club.

Since costs can vary by geographic area, the best way to determine buy prices on your favorite items is to track them over a period of several weeks. This may seem like an overwhelming task, so start small. Pick three to five items you use often, and then note their prices when you see them in the stores where you normally shop and in sales ads. Follow the prices for at 6 to 8 weeks. Then, jot down the lowest price you’ve seen for each item in a small notebook you can carry with you when shopping. This will allow you to buy with confidence when you see store specials, or wait for a better price.

Over time, you can develop a substantial list of buy prices. Having them written down prevents you from guessing incorrectly about which prices are a good deal. I’ve tracked the buy prices for chicken, canned soup, pet supplies, ice cream, toiletries and more. A little homework can save you a lot of money in the long run.

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