I was working on a blog post on an unrelated topic one morning, coffee near to hand, open books all over the desk, and NPR chirping away on the stereo behind me, when I picked up a great tip from a piece they were doing on handling the effects of the “Great Recession” on household finances. They recommended that you save all your grocery store receipts and plug them into a ledger or a computer spreadsheet to track the cost of individual items you purchase so that you can a) see what you’re over-spending on (say, soda, or items you could buy in bulk instead of packages) and b) be able to better estimate how much you will be spending before you go next time.
I started my own the very next day. I arranged mine so that I can track all the little bits of data I need: item, date, price per unit (pound, ounce, each, etc.), extended price for pre-packaged items, average price of frequently purchased items, and a space for handy notes such as “Matt says these suck” or “3.5 lbs of sugar fills canister perfectly”. There is also a separate page where receipt totals (including tax) are entered under whatever week of the year the food was intended for (because I currently shop one week at a time – though I’m working on changing that to two weeks at a time to match Matt’s pay cycle) and purchases made at separate stores for that week are totaled and then averaged so that I know what weeks of the year I spend the most on food (usually the week of or just before a holiday is the highest and mortgage week is the lowest) and what our average weekly expenditure is (for budgeting purposes). It also allows me to determine what items are cheaper at which stores (our local store, where things usually cost almost twice what they do at the discount store turned out to have much cheaper parchment paper because their package has almost three times as much product in it), how much of each item we use (if we use a lot, we should look into making our own), and how often we buy certain items (can I buy less often and store it at home somehow?). It makes a handy reference when I am doing a homemade vs. store-bought comparison, allowing me to find the price of each ingredient in, say, a loaf of bread, or a batch of laundry detergent.
When the time came to total the harvest record I wanted to use the grocery price spreadsheet to see how much additional produce we bought. I wanted to see how much money we saved by eating home grown veggies and also see what we were still buying from the store so that I know what we need to grow more of next year. This didn’t pan out because the bulk of our store-bought fruits and vegetables come from a small produce stand whose receipts list neither the weight nor the “per” price of the items – only the extended prices – and I failed to make any notes. Another task that will have to wait for next year, I suppose.