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  • A Price Book: The Single Best Way to Save Money on Things You Buy

    Price Book -

    In the last five to ten years, as couponing has taken off, the Price Book seems to have fallen out of favor. But it’s the single best way I know of to cut back on expenses.

    A price book is simply a way to keep track of prices so that you know a good price when you see one. The benefit of a price book is that you can pay the lowest price on everything you buy on a regular basis, so you can substantially reduce your expenses on groceries and household items.

    There are lots of different ways to keep a price book, but I think it’s easiest to do it in a spreadsheet. Here’s an example:

    Price Book Example -
    Click on the image to see a bigger version.

    I’ve used last week’s Charmin deal at Target in this example, with a final price of 36 cents per double roll. As you can see, there are columns for Item, Size, Price, Coupon?, Other promo?, Final Price Per Unit, Date and Store. I have question marks after coupon and promo because those columns don’t always apply, but they do in this case. The “Other Promo” category can include store rewards like ECBs and +UP rewards too.

    The most critical data in a price book is the “price per unit.” That lets you compare apples to apples. For example, if next week, CVS has a 12-pack of Charmin on sale for $4.99 and there’s a $0.25/1 coupon in the P&G insert, you can calculate a final price of 39.5 cents per double roll. So you know that last week’s deal was better and you can skip the new deal because a better one will probably come along soon. Conversely, if the price next week is $3.99, which works out to 31 cents per double roll after coupon, you’d know that next week is a great time to buy toilet paper and you’d update your price book to reflect the better deal.

    If you’re starting a price book from scratch, here are some easy ways to get some data so you have something to compare new prices to:

    • Use recent receipts – Pull out receipts from recent shopping trips and use them to enter as much data a possible. You might not have the exact size information, or recall whether you used a coupon, but at least you’ll have a starting point.
    • Add data while you’re shopping – If you see something you regularly buy, even if you’re not buying it that day, take a photo of the shelf tag with your phone. Shelf tags generally list the item, size and price, so you should be able to calculate the cost per unit after you enter the data when you get home.
    • Use store circulars – Flip through the weekly ads for the stores you shop at and enter the info for the items you buy regularly. For example, all of the info in last week’s Charmin deal at Target, except for the coupon, could be found in the weekly ad.

    For organizational purposes, you could have different spreadsheets for different categories of products in your Excel file, sort the file alphabetically, or simply use the find function when you are looking for something specific. Within a couple of months, you should have a very useful tool that can help you save money on just about everything you regularly buy.

    You can download the CFO Price Book template here {Excel format}.

    This post will be linked to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well, Spending Less.

    Image via by posterize.

    2x Tuesday: Save money and stress by using these tips when you call customer service

    This post was originally published in 2007, but I still use these tips today. They’ve stood me in good stead throughout the years, and should serve you well too!

    Save Money & Stress When Calling Customer Service -

    I hate calling customer service. But I do it anyway, because I hate not saving money even more. In fact, I’ve been doing it for years, and I’ve saved thousands of dollars because of it. Keeping the end in mind helps me pick up the phone. So do these tips:

    • Always have the necessary information in front of you. This includes the bill you’re calling to question, your account number, product info, or anything else the CSR may ask for.
    • Always take notes. I usually write directly on the bill or relevant paper if there is one. If there isn’t, I write on a blank piece of paper and store it with the relevant records. You could use a notebook, or keep a file on your computer, tablet or phone. Do whatever works for you – just make sure you write down the date, the name of the CSR, and the important details of your conversation. It’s okay to ask the CSR to speak more slowly or hold on a moment because you’re writing things down (in fact, they may provide better service because they know you’re documenting the call).
    • Make sure you can find the paper you wrote on when you follow up. This actually goes along with tip #1. If you have to make a follow up call, it’s best to have your notes from the previous call in front of you. That way you can start off by saying, “On September 6, I spoke to Mary, who said that I would save money by switching phone plans.” This makes it clear to the CSR that you’re on the ball, and it’ll be easy to answer questions about what you were told the last time you called.
    • Be polite. I’ve had the best results when I’ve stayed calm and polite, even if at the same time, I’m stomping my feet because I’m so frustrated. It helps to call when you’re in a relatively good mood and not pressed for time. Which leads into the next tip . . .
    • Do something else that’s interrupt-able when you call. I hate being on hold, so I make sure that I’m doing something else that can be easily interrupted when I call. This can include going through posts on Google Reader, writing thank-you notes, or simply flipping through a magazine.
    • If you do snap, apologize. I’ve done this when my frustration has gotten the best of me. I say something like, “I’m very sorry for my harsh tone. This is very frustrating and I’d really like to get this resolved.” If appropriate, I mention the prior, ineffective calls that I made. This is also a good time to ask to speak to a supervisor.

    Follow these tips and calling customer service will be a little less painful.

    This post will be linked to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well, Spending Less.

    Image via by Stuart Miles.

    Free Online Resources I Use {Almost} Every Day

    Free Online Resources -

    There are some free online resources that I use every day, or almost every day. And since they’re so fabulous, I thought I should make sure that you know about them too:

    Gmail – You probably already know about Gmail, but in case you don’t, it’s a free email service from Google. And yes, there are privacy concerns {for example, they show ads targeted according yo your email content}. But it works really well, it’s FREE, and you get a ton of storage. And yet, I still have at least one friend who won’t get an email account … I don’t get it!

    Google Drive – Formerly known as Google Docs, Google Drive is like an online office suite where you can create and edit various types of documents. I especially like to use it for sharing documents with others, since you don’t have to deal with attachments – simply click on the “share” button, enter the other person’s email, and let them know the document has been shared with them. Google Drive also has templates like calendars that can be very useful. Finding them is not intuitive, but you can find instructions here.

    Google Calendar – I find Google Calendar to be the easiest way to keep track of all the different things going on in my life, although it can be glitch-y {I’ve been having lots of trouble lately with not getting email reminders}. I love the color-coded calendars, which allow you to assign everyone in your family a different color. It syncs with the calendar on my iPhone so I only have to enter the info once. And I recently discovered the interesting calendars feature, which allowed me to add all major U.S. holidays and important days {like when daylight savings starts}.

    Free Digital Photos – Free Digital Photos is a stock photo web site that allows images to be used for free, so long as you include an image credit according to their terms of service. {You do to have to pay if you want to use a larger size image.} Although visuals have always been important to web sites, thanks to Pinterest, they’ve been become even more important. And I really appreciate FDP as a resource for images I can use and edit for free.

    PicMonkey – Speaking of editing images, I use PicMonkey when the editor in Picasa and Paint can’t get the job done. They have free and paid versions, and I find the free version is adequate for my needs.

    Evreward – This is a great site that helps you see what cash-back site is offering the highest return. I use it whenever I’m about to make an online purchase. Just note that it doesn’t include all sites, like Swagbucks.

    Swagbucks – I mention Swagbucks all the time, but I have to mention it here too, because you can earn totally FREE gift cards just by using their search function, playing games, watching videos, and more. Learn more about Swagbucks here.

    Bing – I recently started using Bing as a secondary search engine, once I’ve had one or two search wins at Swagbucks. You can get a $3 Amazon gift card for 330 Bing credits, or even get 500 Swag Bucks for 525 Bing credits. It seems to take a lot longer to earn Bing credits, but I see it as a back up to Swagbucks since it too is totally free.

    Image via by Stuart Miles.

    Simplifying My Menu Planning

    Simpler Menu Planning -

    The benefits of menu planning are undeniable: You save money by not eating out or picking up take-out. You also save money buying only mostly what you need, and not buying food that just goes to waste. You can even save money by having leftovers for lunch the next day. And you tend to eat healthier, since you control the ingredients.

    However, as I’ve mentioned a few times now in my Menu Plan Monday posts, I’ve been looking to simplify my monthly menu planning. When I first started planning weekly menus, a monthly plan felt so overwhelming. But Gina, Camille, and others encouraged me to try it, so a couple of years ago, I finally did.

    I’ve been amazed at how much easier it is to plan a weekly menu when the monthly menu is already done. And I’m much more likely to plan a weekly menu if I’ve already done a monthly one. Oddly enough, even when I don’t follow my menu plan, I’m still more likely to make dinner at home than when I don’t have a menu plan at all. But at the end of each month, I dreaded sitting down to make the next month’s meal plan.

    Wendy suggested that each month, I start with a list of meals that I make regularly, and then fill in some of the days with other meals. I thought that was brilliant, so I promptly created a list of 30 favorite meals, which I referred to last week when I was drawing up my menu plan for March. I still needed my calendar of family events – in particular, the boys’ sports schedule, which once again includes weeknight games, in addition to weeknight practices, weekend practices, and weekend games. My menu plan has to be carefully constructed to take into account nights when food has to be ready the moment we walk in the door, or even taken to the field. {Admittedly, sometimes I just throw my hands up in the air and go with fast food or take-out. But it happens far less often when I have a menu plan than when I don’t.}

    You can see my monthly list of meals here {pdf}. Most of the meals have links to recipes, so you can try them yourself. And feel free to send me your list of favorite meals – I’m always on the lookout for new family favorites, especially ones that the kids will enjoy, and I’ll share them with other readers so we can all menu plan more easily.

    This post will be linked to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well, Spending Less.

    Image via by Witthaya Phonsawat.

    Simplifying by NOT Buying Ahead

    Simplify by Not Buying Ahead -

    For years now, I’ve prided myself on my ability to save money by buying ahead. I’ve stocked up on laundry detergent, toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, juice boxes, cereal, crackers, and my kids’ clothes.

    But as I walked through Target the other day, I found myself reluctantly perusing the clearance rack in the boys’ section. And I realized that my reluctance stemmed from not wanting to buy something just to stick it in the closet for a few months or even a year.

    As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve discovered that a clutter-free house is easy to clean – and that has made me averse to bringing things into the house, especially if they’re not consumable but sometimes even when they are.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a bargain hunter, and I’m still stocking up. But only on those things I am absolutely confident we will use up – things like toilet paper, facial tissue, and OxiClean, and only enough for a few months at most. I’ve been passing on deals on things I’m not completely 100% positive we’ll use up – things like cereal, mouthwash, and even toys.

    I’ve also been making an effort to use up what we have, and to get rid of things we don’t need or won’t use. I think my house feels better without all these extra things in it. And I know I feel better having less clutter around!

    Image via by sumetho.