Whether your food budget is $100 per month or $1,000 per month, if you want to stick to the food budget you’ve decided on, you have to know how to track your grocery spending.
After all, if you have a budget, but don’t know how much you’re spending, then do you really have a budget? (Implied: no.)
I have tried tons of budgeting apps and methods for tracking grocery spending over the past 10 years, and I’ve narrowed them all down to the 4 methods that I think are the simplest & most effective.
More recently, I’ve put together a 5 Day Grocery Budget Challenge. It’s free! In it, you will learn learn:
- What you need to stop doing when it comes to meal planning and grocery shopping
- How to save money on groceries WITHOUT COUPONS. (A’int nobody got time for that.)
- To create a simple monthly meal plan calendar (and how to use it)
- How to create your very own recipe cheat sheet
- How to start a recipe binder (or the digital version)
- A formula for a realistic grocery budget for your family
- How to track grocery spending – a few different methods that work!
- How to cut spending on groceries (if possible)
- Where you should be shopping to get the most bang for your buck! (Walmart pickup or Aldi)
- How to order groceries online – saving tons of time and money!
Option #1 – Track Grocery Spending with Cash
Cash doesn’t lie.
If your weekly grocery store budget is $100, carry that around with you until it’s gone. Then, don’t spend anymore. You can take out cash weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly – whatever works.
I used a cash grocery system for a LONG time. On the way to the grocery store once a week, I’d stop at the ATM and take out $120 in cash. Then, I’d spend less than that at the store – mainly by planning ahead for meals & sticking to my shopping list! Any leftover money we ended up was bonus fun money to eat out, or buy the kids a treat during the week.
I kept my grocery cash in one of those cute fabric magnetic “envelopes” pictured above. A friend made them for me! (Here’s a tutorial, if that’s your thang.)
If I bought anything in a different budget category at the store (i.e. gardening stuff, household products, diapers, clothes, etc…), I asked the cashier to do 2 separate transactions. I paid cash for the food and used my debit card for everything else. This probably added 2 minutes to my overall time at the register. #worthit
If you want to have a bunch of different cash envelopes, here’s another tutorial on making your own sturdy cash envelopes that fit in your wallet.
I really liked using cash for groceries. I’m a spender by nature and I like how concrete cash is. When it’s gone, it’s gone. In that sense it’s easy to track.
There are a lot of cons to using cash though.
- Some people feel like it’s harder to track because they just kind of randomly spend it. My husband is in this category – he hates having cash!
- If you’re saving for something in cash, you’re piling up a lot of cash in an envelope either in your wallet, purse, or house. Your wad of dough could get lost or stolen.
- You have to hassle with going to ATMs or the bank more too.
Option #2 – Use the Cash Envelope System Without Cash
I originally saw a version of this idea from Jordan Page @ Fun, Cheap, or Free. She tracks most of her spending with an envelope method that’s really simple. It wouldn’t work for the way we do our other spending categories, but I think it’s great for tracking groceries!!
Here’s how I tweaked the no-cash envelope system to be for groceries only.
- Write your grocery budget on the top of the empty envelope.
- Carry it around with you.
- Put any grocery receipt in the envelope and write down how much you spent. (i.e. minus 35)
- Track your total grocery budget left on the envelope too! This way you’ll always know how much you have left.
Option #3 – Track Grocery Spending with YNAB / Grocery Budget App
YNAB is an online budgeting tool that functions like a virtual cash envelope system of sorts. YNAB stands for You Need A Budget. WE LOVE YNAB!!!! (Here’s my entire YNAB review.)
You can either:
- Connect your cards to your YNAB account
- Enter all your spending manually, one transaction at a time
- Download transactions from your bank and 1-click import them to YNAB
We use YNAB for our entire budget. It’s connected to both our credit and debit cards. We also track other personal finance things in YNAB (net worth, various savings accounts, retirement accounts, etc.).
YNAB is amazing for budgeting because it forces you to actually budget money you have instead of spending money on a card first, and hoping you can pay it off at the end of the month. And it’s very easy to use with both various expenses (like groceries) and fixed expenses (like the gas bill).
By budgeting first, then spending, you will know exactly where your money is going. I used to manually track our spending in a spreadsheet, but YNAB saves me so much time.
If I am at Walmart or Target and I buy clothes, diapers, household stuff, and groceries, I can easily split that spending into multiple categories.
Whether you connect YNAB to your bank or import your transactions manually, you have to categorize or “approve” each transaction. As you categorize transactions in the GROCERY BUDGET category, that number goes down.
Did I mention I really really really really like YNAB? HA!
We’ve tried every budgeting tool out there, and this one is worth it’s weight in gold. It’s $6.99/ month which you will more than make up for once you start using it to track your spending. Plus you can do a free 34 day trial without even entering a credit card.
They have an app too! So you can do your grocery budget on the go within the app.
Seriously, try it. It’s awesome.
Option #4: Simple Grocery Tracking Spreadsheet
I created this simple spreadsheet for anyone who is just die-hard for spreadsheets and wants a spreadsheet to track your expenses.
You can either print it or use it on your computer.
If you print it out, it’s small enough to fit in your wallet. Just manually enter the amount you spent every time you grocery shop. Write your monthly budget goal somewhere on the top of the page!
Or, you can keep it on your computer, and the budget template spreadsheet will add the total monthly grocery spending for you as you enter each receipt’s amount.
If you have Google Drive (Google Sheets) on your phone, you can “star” it in Google Sheets and put a Google Sheets shortcut on your phone’s home screen. That way, this grocery tracking spreadsheet will appear at the top of Google Sheets any time you open the app.
Simple Isn’t Always Easy
Whether you use one of these options for tracking your grocery spending or come up with a totally different method, successful budgeting always comes down to willpower. If you want to stick to your personal budgets, you can figure it out.
If you have a different method for how to track your grocery spending that works well for you, I’d love to hear in the comments below.
Don’t Forget to Meal Plan!
One way to be diligent in your grocery spending is to meal plan on a regular basis… It doesn’t have to be too painful. I’ve actually found monthly meal planning dinners is less time consuming than weekly!
I give my favorite monthly meal plan calendar out in my 5 day grocery budget challenge. My grocery budget challenge is all about setting things up to work for you in a simple way that saves you time + money.
RECAPPING THE WHOLE SERIES
This post is part 3 of a 3-post series to help you simplify & get control of your food budget once and for all!
Post #1: What Should Your Grocery Bill Be? | Figure it Out with This Formula!
Post #2: How to Cut Your Grocery Bill
Post #3: How to Track Your Grocery Spending | 2 Simple Methods That Work Every Time
To recap the whole series, here’s the entire grocery bill overhaul process. Start to finish.
- Determine a realistic grocery budget based on your income, needs, and season of life.
- Figure out what you’ve been spending.
- Decide how you’re going to stick to your budget and track your spending.
- Adjust as needed.
- Join my 5-Day Challenge & email me if you have questions!!!
I’m serious about that last step. Let me know if there’s any way I can help by commenting on one of the posts or shooting me an email!
Good luck & happy budgeting.