Tuesday's Tip 13: When is a sale a great deal?

by Beth Montgomery on January 1, 2009

in Coupons & Rebates, Frugal Series, Tips & Basics

The word “sale” doesn’t always mean you’re getting the best deal. Phantom sales are items that are marked on sale in the store or in the circular, but in fact aren’t really a discount at all. For example, Meijer often lists ketchup “on sale” during their 10/$10, 11th item FREE promotion, but if you lift the sale tag in the ketchup aisle, underneath you’ll find that it’s normally priced $0.99. Basically, if you buy the ketchup on sale without buying 11 items, you’re actually paying a penny more than you would when the ketchup isn’t on sale. So how do you know when you are truly getting a good deal?

This is a question I get asked almost daily and, unfortunately, it’s one of the hardest questions to answer. It depends entirely upon your shopping style. For example, if you are out of toilet paper this week, any sale going to look like a great deal to you. But if you have a good stockpile, you can wait until it hits rock bottom prices. On top of that, if you are brand-specific about an item, you need to know the rock bottom prices for that specific brand. On the other hand, if you are willing to use any brand, you need to know the rock bottom price for the entire product line. It also depends on what store you shop or if you shop around.

So basically, to answer this question, I’d have to rattle off great sale prices for every brand in every product line at every store. Sadly, I don’t have the time (or that knowledge). However, I can give you the tools to find the best prices for you and your family.

First, when shopping and searching sales, calculate every thing down to the unit price. To figure out if the large value pack of toilet paper is a better deal then the small 4-pack, you have to know how much it costs per roll. Next, start a grocery price list of all the items you buy regularly. With this, you can keep track of sales and see how low they go, so you know when to buy. This isn’t something you’ll have to do forever. Approximately 3-6 weeks of tracking prices will give you a good idea of when a sale really is really a good deal. Remember, to retrack prices as the economy changes and prices alter.

To get you started, here is an example of my grocery price book – Grocery Price Book Example. Use it to track sale prices and find the best deals for you. Remember, stacking the best sales with coupons is how you maximize your savings!

Finally, once you get a good idea of great sale prices, set reasonable limits for yourself and simply refuse to buy the product (unless you can’t live without it) until it hits that set price. You can, for example, refuse to buy regular milk for over $2.00 a gallon. With milk always hitting abut $1.98 a gallon somewhere each week, that’s a very easy and very logical limit to set.

With all this in mind, frugal websites, like In Good Cents will help you a lot. I try, very hard, not to list a sale, unless it truly is a sale. Good luck & happy saving!

Have helpful tips to save money? Share! How do you make sure you’re getting the best deal during a sale?

Check out the other Cent Saving Tools in The Basics of Saving Cents!

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