Saving Money On Groceries: Tracking Grocery Bills

If you're alarmed by the rising cost of groceries at the supermarket, take a few steps to track expenses and then reduce them.

A Midwest newspaper began tracking what ten dollars could buy in the mid-1960s. Listing each item, the paper ran a considerable number of grocery items, like milk, bologna, bread, and coffee. The ten-dollar amount seemed to be what might feed a small family for a week.

However, for several years after that, the newspaper's food column would run the list periodically, showing the new and reduced number of items that ten dollars would buy. Finally the list was no longer published, as ten dollars did not buy much by the early 1970s.

Of course, everyone realizes that inflation can take a bite out of the monthly food budget. Wise shoppers search out the best deals, buy in bulk, and learn to stretch meals or goods. But to find out when to start taking cost-cutting steps, you must first monitor grocery prices to watch for trends that suggest price hikes. Here are a few tips that can help you track grocery bills:

1. Save grocery receipts. When you get home from the store, be sure that the receipt accurately reflects that day's purchases. Then store the receipt in an envelope with others of its kind. As you shop week by week or even monthly, saving receipts each time, you will begin to see changes in food prices for the items you buy consistently, such as bread, milk, sugar, coffee, peanut butter, meat, etc. Then you can mobilize your special budgetary steps.

2. Watch your checkbook register. If you write checks to buy groceries in a more or less similar pattern, you will often be able to track the rise and fall of periodic grocery bills. When you shop for the same items over and over, and especially if you follow a list or budget, you will be able to discern trends that reveal the upward or downward motion of the grocery industry. Naturally you can expect occasional flukes, such as around the holidays when many people typically buy more food for celebrations or guests. But generally throughout the year you will get an idea of what your purchases cost and when they tend to increase. Do the same with money order receipts, food vouchers, or cash receipts.

3. Start a household ledger for groceries. You may want to staple or clip the weekly shopping list or monthly budget to actual receipts or lists of items that you have purchases. By comparing these from one month to another, you will get a better sense of the direction that prices are going, especially if your grocery page includes additional purchases for dining out, special events, or other food items.

4. Keep an eye on the cupboards. When the grocery budget begins to shift, take stock of your pantry and food storage areas. Does there seem to be the same amount and type of foods as usual? Or is there less or more? If you're paying about the same amount for groceries each week but your cupboards appear to be more bare than before, maybe prices have gone up even as you have tried to control the grocery budget. This may be an indicator that it's time to adjust the budget or institute some cost-cutting measures.

5. Don't get sidetracked by extras. While a certain amount of additional purchases is normal, don't let a spouse, house guests, or the kids tease you into buying more than you might, or purchase groceries in a different mode, such as by credit card. While you may need to do this occasionally, frequently changing the way you buy groceries can lead to confusion and uncertainty when you try to check costs.

Groceries are a family's staple budget item. While you can't skimp, you can keep watch over budget changes and make necessary adjustments from time to time when prices jump.

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