The Secret to a Healthy Grocery Budget: Keeping Your Receipts

Messy Receipts 2
I’ve been told that I have the memory of an elephant.  Several years ago, a co-worker came up to me and said, “Hey Tiff, do you remember that guy who took that thing into that room in that building? I need his file. Do you know where it is?”

Somehow, my brain knew exactly what she was talking about.

One decade, two pregnancies and a couple of elementary-aged kids later, it’s a good day if I remember to close the lid to the washing machine before walking away – and I have a sneaky feeling I’m not alone!

Keeping a good record of your spending (rather than relying on your memory) is just one reason why it’s so important to keep your receipts from grocery shopping.  Yes, I’m talking about those little pesky pieces of paper that seem to clutter your purse, or make messy piles on the counter. Believe it or not, you need to keep them!  But before we get into that, let’s back up for just a moment.

Why are we talking about grocery receipts in the first place?!

One of the top questions I’m asked is how to live a real food lifestyle on a tight budget? Since this is a personal mission of mine, I’ve written an entire series on creating a grocery budget.  And one of my first recommendations is to set a food budget and start keeping your grocery receipts.

Do you have a grocery budget? Do you need help creating one?
Whether you do or don’t, I encourage you to go through this series and download the 5 pages worth of free printables that are sent to you when you subscribe to the Crumbs weekly newsletter.  They’re designed to walk you through the first couple steps, so they’re perfect for beginners and seasoned budgeters alike!

Receipts Paperclipped

What’s the point of keeping these bits of paper? Glad you asked. Here are just a few reasons …

6 Reasons Why Keeping Your Grocery Receipts Are the Secret to a Healthy Grocery Budget:

1.  We’re called to be good stewards of our finances. 

Regardless of our financial situation, we should all be doing the best we can with our provisions.  That means knowing what you spend, how you spend it and being accountable for it.

2.  You won’t remember what you bought, where you bought it and how much you paid… every time.

Keeping the receipts is the only 100% way to know how much you’re paying for your food.  Our memories won’t always be like an elephant’s, and when you’re trying to seek out the best deal on food, you need to know what you’ve paid in the past and where you can get that price again – or in some cases, where you won’t get a good deal.

3.  Money stops “disappearing” and spending becomes purposeful.

Often times money mysteriously “disappears” at the grocery store, but keeping the receipts holds you accountable for every dollar you spend. In turn, each transaction becomes a purposeful decision.  You’ll be absolutely sure where your money went and why.

4.  In order to work within a budget, you need to know where you stand.

Setting a monthly allowance for groceries is essentially setting a goal.  How will you know if you’re on track to meet your goal if you’re not keeping track?  Consider the person who sets a weight-loss goal.  Don’t they weigh themselves regularly to know whether or not they’re headed in the right direction? Consider your grocery receipts as your weekly “weigh-in” to help keep you on track with staying on budget.

5.  Knowing where you stand is empowering.

When you are fully aware that you only have $20 left in your budget BEFORE you even set foot in the store, the line between “want” versus “need” becomes much clearer, so you’ll make better decisions while shopping and be less likely to overspend.

6.  Knowing where you stand is a powerful motivator to keep going.

It’s not always easy to eat leftovers for the third night in a row, or to devise a dinner plan based solely on a partially empty pantry, but it becomes a bit easier when you know there’s a purpose:  To help you toward meeting your grocery budget goal.

Receipts Paperclipped in Envie
So, now that we understand why keeping our receipts is the secret to a healthy grocery budget, it’s important to learn how to maximize this opportunity to better track our spending!

3 Ways Track Your Spending

1.  Use an online spending tracker or app.

I had quite a bit of fun looking for apps to track spending, but ultimately the one that best suits you will depend on your computer or phone and your personal preferences.  Try searching for “budget app iPhone/Android/Windows” (using just one of the three of course) and you’ll find plenty of options.  Be sure to read the pros and cons to ensure it will do what you want it to, and don’t spend a lot of money on it – if any at all!

2.  Use a spreadsheet.

For those who like to track on their computers, you can’t get any more free or basic than a spreadsheet.  Keep it really simple at first with just four or five columns, one for each week of the month, and enter the amount of money you spent for each trip underneath.  You can add more columns for more data later once you’ve got a good grip on your total monthly spending.

3.  Use a pen and paper.

This is my personal preferred method.  For as long as I’ve had a grocery budget, I’ve written down what I spent and where I spent it in my planner, on the day I went shopping.  Since I always carry my planner with me, it was easy to write it in, and easy to refer to later when planning another shopping trip.

It doesn’t matter which of these methods you choose, but remember they will only work if you actually use them. This means you will have to take a few minutes to enter your totals into your phone or computer or write them down.  Yes, it’s something else “to do,” but it’s the only way to properly get your grocery budget under control!

What do you do with the receipts once you’re done tracking your spending?

First, I recommend adding up your receipts at the end of each week so that you know where you stand for the next week, or even the rest of the month.  Once you’ve done this, keep all the receipts for the month in one envelope and keep the envelope in an easy access location.

At the end of the month, use the receipts to continue the grocery budget processWhen you’re done, paperclip the entire month together and move it into a second envelope.  This envelope doesn’t need to be front and center like the first, but it’s helpful to have receipts from previous months available for reference as you’re going through the budgeting process.

Receipts from previous months can get recycled after about six months, or whatever you decide works best for you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this … Do you currently keep your grocery receipts?  What are your favorite ways to track your spending in order to keep your food budget in check?

Note from Kelly: Don’t miss all of the other great budgeting posts that Tiffany has shared here. Simply click here and keep scrolling through to see her many helpful posts on how to save money on your food budget.

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Comments

  1. Cindy says

    Check out YNAB. Best budget system I have ever found. It literally changed our life and helped us survive after my husband retired from the military and had difficulty finding a job during the sequester period. Comes with app for phone that allows me to instantly see what I have left in each budget account

  2. xenia says

    We used to do it on a spreadsheet, but sometimes we couldn’t do it right after shopping and receipts were lost. Now we use a notebook where we leave all the receipts to write all the expenses down, when we’ve got time. We use one of these http://materialdeoficinaonline.com/ventadepapeleria/images/cuadernos%20cartone%20miquelriu.jpg
    I don’t know if you have them over there, but they are like the most traditional accountancy books we’ve got here. I love how they’ve got a vintage look!

    • says

      Hi Xenia!

      The issue with not being able to enter in information immediately was a huge draw back for us too on using spreadsheets, which is why we now use a planner. I think I’ve seen similar notebooks before, and they appear to be super helpful with getting a handle on all the line items!

  3. Laura says

    Are you concerned about the bpa on register receipts? Was just recently reading about this. Has thrown a wrench into my receipt saving world; I suppose we could use gloves to receive them and handle them.

    • says

      I can’t speak for Tiffany, but I would say if this is a concern for you, one simple solution would be to record your purchase and any revenant data you are tracking. Then toss the receipt and wash your hands well. :)

      • says

        You can always download the app “Lemon” and take a picture of your receipt. Then you don’t have the pile of receipts if that makes you uncomfortable. Then you have a picture of the actual receipt.

    • says

      Honestly, this isn’t much of an issue for me. We do the best we can with avoiding toxins, but it’s simply not possible to eliminate all of them from the environment that I live in, all the time.

      With that said, I don’t believe the real exposure to BPA in receipts – even while keeping them – is far reaching.
      – The cashier hands it to me, I stick it in my purse.
      – At the end of the week, I pull the stack out of my purse and set them on my desk.
      – I shuffle/rearrange as I tally.
      – They go into an envelope.

      If I had to add up the total time actually spent touching the paper, it’s maybe 4 minutes in a month? However, if it concerns you, then I I think Kelly’s advice is spot on. :)

  4. Melanie King says

    I also am a big fan of YNAB. And I do keep receipts, sort of… I take a picture with my phone when I get a receipt and then toss the paper. That way I can look back over the week or month when I an making my budget but don’t have to deal with the paper.

  5. says

    HI all. I realize that I’m late to this party, but I found a link to your blog at the end of the “50 Things To Know About Saving Money At The Grocery Store” e-book. I want to let you know about a brand new product that I just launched today (I’ve been waiting to post on here until after I went live). The tool I created is called FitFin (short for fit finances) and it’s a budgeting website/mobile web app that combines your budget with your shopping list. The way it works is that you set up a budget in about 15-30 seconds. Then you can set up your shopping lists from your old receipts or from our several thousand pre-loaded grocery items. You enter your item, what you paid for it, and your quantity. You do this for every item you buy (I recommend setting up a list for each store you shop at on a regular basis). You only have to set up your list one time, and once it’s set up, you’ll never forget an item at the store again!

    Once your list is built, you simply activate the items you need and FitFin tallies up your list total, letting you know your estimated cost for that store’s visit. Then we take it a step further and give you a “Check My Budget” link right from your list.

    I literally came up with this idea in the Target baby aisle in the summer of 2009 after my wife gave birth to twins. I would go to the store virtually every night after work to buy diapers, etc., and needed a way to track those quick and frequent visits that cost $20-30 a pop (which, as you know, adds up over time). Once I had the idea, I looked for a product that fit this need. I decided to build my own when there was nothing out there to do this. I had no background in retail or finance at the time, so everything I did was based on necessity.

    FitFin also has an expense tracker, which completes the shopping trifecta of budgeting, list making and expense tracking. One awesome feature is the ability to take a picture of your receipt and attach it to an expense. No more paper receipts! :)

    Finally, FitFin has simple charts and graphs that help you track your budget over time, so you can see how you’re doing either weekly or monthly and compare that to prior weeks or months. You can also set up short-term budgets for things like vacations or the holidays!

    I’m very excited about our product–it works great on the desktop or any mobile device. Best of all, it’s totally free and takes just seconds to sign up! Please check it out and http://www.fitfin.com and shoot me a note at rick@fitfin.com if you have questions or comments.

    Thanks and happy shopping!

    -Rick

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