How To Track Your Food Spending Like A Boss

Ugh.  Grocery shopping.  

Most people hate it.  I love it.

It hasn’t always been this way.  And I still have my days where the thought of loading up a cart, weaving in and out of aisles and around people (ugh, people) and then unloading all of the crap I just bought and putting it away neatly so I don’t end up buying the same thing next week because I can’t find it and I’m sure we’re out.  (add this to other post?)

We already went over how to grocery shop like a boss (link).

The thing is, grocery shopping can get expensive.  Check out this thread on the Mr. Money Mustache forums (aka Frugal Utopia) about when you spend way more on groceries than you ever could at restaurants.

I’m not going to get all budget-nazi on you and tell you you need a budget (even though I promise it will change your life if you do it right!).

No.  I’m just going to show you how to track your grocery expenses and use that data to better plan your trips.  After all, one of the main reasons you’re on this site is to save money, right?

Tracking How Much You Spend – Why

By knowing how much you spend, you can:

  • See if you’re actually saving any money
  • Have a starting point if you want to cut costs
  • Plan for fluctuations in monthly spending

The first month or so after cutting out restaurants, you’re probably going to spend a lot more money on groceries, maybe even more than you were spending eating out a few times a week (link).  This will go down over time as you get better at, well, cooking.  And grocery shopping (ugh!).

If, after a few months, you’re still spending more on groceries than before you started this little journey, you need to be able to identify where your money is going.

Are you buying a lot of prepackaged meals or more organic food than you can afford?  Remember, eat the best food you can afford (link) –

see also:  How to deal with increased grocery bills

Finally, your grocery bills will probably fluctuate throughout the year.  Some reasons for this include:

  • Buying in bulk – it’s more expensive up front, but you save money in the long run
  • Entertaining/hosting – the more people you are feeding the more food you need!
  • Travel/vacations – I was thrilled when my grocery bill last month was one of the lowest of the year.  I forgot that I was away from home for 10 days out of the month – that’s 10 days worth of food I didn’t have to buy

I also find that I get into routines with my meals – I’m the type of person who can eat the same thing a few days in a row, and then not have it again for months.  Usually this might result in only minor fluctuations, but it’s still important to note.

There’s a lot of factors that affect your grocery bill – by tracking, you can at least be aware of them.  Knowledge is power, after all.

Tracking Your Food Expenses – How

Use An App

For my personal finances I use You Need A Budget, which costs $3 a month (it will change your life though if you’re interested?)

There’s dozens of budget and expense tracking apps for both Android and iOS out there – many of which are free.  If you already have a budget in place, then you can probably ignore this part.  If you’ve tried using a budget in the past and have fallen off the horse, then a simple expense tracker is probably your best bet.

Look for an app (ideally free – we’re trying to SAVE money!) that offers the following:

  • Easy input – the ease of using an app is wasted if it takes you more than a few seconds to input your purchases
  • Reports – you need to be able to see a report of your spending totals by month so you can see your progress and fluctuations.
  • Desktop/web interface – this isn’t a MUST, but I think it makes it a lot easier to look at your reports.

The whole point of using an app is to remove the added work of saving and keeping up with receipts AND THEN having to make your own reports.

Finally, there are apps like Mint that automatically record your transactions for you – but you have to be willing to supply your account login information.  If you’re comfortable with this, it’s probably the most effortless way to track expenses.

Pen And Paper (Or A Shoebox, if you like)

Then there’s good old pen and paper and a shoebox.  Just save your receipts and tally everything up at the end of the month or record your purchases in a notebook.

Best Practices

  • Record transactions as you make them – ever heard the phrase “garbage in garbage out”.  It means that decisions made from bad data are, well, bad decisions.
  • Keep notes – You should note things like travel, events, special occasions, buying in bulk, and changes in diet.  This helps with understanding where your money is going.

Finally, Don’t budget, just track – for most people, “budgeting” is a dirty word that means setting an amount and trying to spend less than that amount.  Trying, and failing, will lead to quitting.

On the other hand, tracking is simply about recording notes and data – and making decisions from them.

Readers, do you track your spending?  Have you done it for a specific category, like groceries, and what were the results of focusing on that one category?

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