Thursday, February 12, 2009

FAQ's - Calculating As You Shop


A question from a reader...

I know you try and stay below $60 a week. PLUS I believe you only bring cash right? So how do you calculate your groceries while going through the store to ensure you are only spending so much? Do you have a calculator with you? If you do, what happens if you hit the wrong button and zero everything out or something? I've always wondered how people keep track while in the grocery store. Thanks so much for sharing your groceries and stuff! I LOVE your blog!

You're right. I do only bring cash, no debit or credit cards. It helps me to stay accountable to the fact that I truly have to stay on budget. I usually shop with a clipboard with my shopping list attached. The clipboard is so I have a sturdy surface to cross out what I've already bought and to make notes or calculate as I go.

My shopping list (and maybe I'll make a PDF that you can download and use if anybody is interested) is in several rows and columns. It's all organized under headings like Produce, Canned Goods, Baking Supplies, Meat...etc. so I don't have to backtrack all over the store for missed items. I like to get in and get out.

In the margins I keep a running total of everything that goes into my cart. Number one, so I can control how much I'm spending and how much I have left to spend. Number two, is so I know if the checker is charging me correctly. I can't tell you how many times I've arrived home to find out that I've been overcharged for something.

Also, I don't use a calculator for the very reason that I've slipped up too many times to count and accidentally erased my running total. The woman standing in the aisle with the horrified look on her face would be ME after slipping and hitting the clear button on my calculator. Ugh.

To make it easy I always round up the price of the item as I'm adding them up. If I bought something for $.98 I would round it to the nearest dime which would be $1 so that it's easy to add and I have a built in cushion for any addition errors I might have made or to allow for tax.

So that's how I do it. Again, I want to say that mine is NOT the only way to do this. It works for me but I know there are tons of great ideas and resources out there. I'm smart enough to know that I don't know it all. So if it works for you too, great.

35 comments:

Tara said...

I always wondered how you figure out the price of bulk items without knowing the exact weight. I have tried the calculator and as soon as I get to the bulk section im lost with my totals.

Fake Ginger said...

Thanks for sharing! I can't use a calculator because my 2 year old will erase everything so it's nice to hear how someone else does it.

Mrs. Querido said...

My mom taught me to make tally marks as you go. I always love going to the front and seeing the total become less than I calculated :) And I round up too!

Good for you on shopping with cash! That is the last hurdle I have to overcome. I hate having cash in my pocket because I lose track of how much I have or I get an intense craving for chocolate or caffeine and my cash gets depleted. Sigh. I am still working on that one! :)

Kayla said...

LOL! I have done that so many times.

Halfmoon Girl said...

That was a good question. I can totally see why you shop without kids- this system would not work with my children all talking to me at once!!

Kristi said...

I'd love a "shopping list template" - it would be so helpful to have my list sorted like that! I always end up running all over the store when I forget certain things because they were down farther on my list... :)

Lizzie @ Lizzie's Home said...

I'd personally love to see a copy of your shopping list.

Then again, I am decidely weird like that, LOL.

Cheers,
Lizzie
www.lizzieshome.blogspot.com

Heidi said...

thanks for the tips, I'm going to try your shopping list idea, I usually keep my shopping list on one of those long thin "shopping list" pads, I try to notate if I have a coupon, if it's on sale, etc. but I end up with 3 or 4 pages sometimes!

Melly said...

That spreadsheet is SUCH a good idea! I usually just write out my list according to department and how I walk the store (eg: produce first, canned, etc) but your way kicks that up a notch. I would love the pdf file if you decide to post it! I get so excited now when I shop because I love setting a budget for myself (even a modest one) and finding that I can stay well under it!

Amy said...

Gayle:

We work our lists the same. I'd like to add that I don't add my coupons when tallying my totals, that way I know I'm under budget. For example, if an item is $1 and I have a 35 cent coupon, I still will put it in my total a $1 and consistently stay under budget! Great tips. Love the clipboard idea!

Mommy's Kitchen said...

Hi, thanks for the tips i never thought of rounging up. Can i get a copy of your shopping list (pdf) emailed to me.

tinabutler@sbcglobal.net

my little corner said...

I have made a shopping list based on the different aisles in the grocery stores ( a map sort to speak). My list is based on the map, and yes I use a clipboard too. My list is in columns based on the aisles. I have it in plastic where I can write with erasable marker, tally the cost, by rounding up. I don't use a calculator. When I get home I can see my handwritten tally and compare the plastic sheet to the bill.Then erase the plastic sheet for next trip. The sheet is a master copy. It has a column on the side that I mark an "X" or number of items I wish to get. It works for me.

Anonymous said...

When I cross off something on my list, I write beside it how much it cost, rounding to the nearest $.25. For bulk items, I weigh it and guesstimate. Then I can add up in my head as I get close to the end of my shopping. I can usually tell by the length of my list how close I'll be to my budget. If it is going to be really close, I estimate how much things will cost BEFORE I go to the store and take things off I don't need that week. When I go over my budget, I try to spend that much less the next week. Last year, I spent less money at the grocery store than I budgeted! :)

Tracey@Be A Wonder said...

I usually round up to the nearest $.50. This helps me take into account Tax and make sure that's covered.

I also hand tally the figures; no calculator. But that's mostly b/c I'm never prepared enough to grab a calculator.

As I load my items onto the checkout counter, I re-add them in my head. I can't help it. Must be the OCD tendency in me! LOL

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a list too! How do you work in you non food items? Cheryl (from Pennsylvania)

Jenny's Vegcafe said...

Thanks for the information. I know I would spend less if I tallied as I went and paid in cash.

Monkey Momma said...

I have a nice flat little calculator about 4x6 in size. I tape my list on the back of it and take a pen to cross things off as I go. So my little calculator IS my clipboard. I also write down the cost on each item as I go - 1.20, rounding up to the nearest dime. I don't actually use much of the calculator until the end of my trip, where I add everything at once. Thus erasing something I'm working on throughout the store, just doesn't happen.

Ty-Anna said...

Great Question! Please post the template that will be very helpful, great ideas :-)

Monkey Momma said...

Oh...and I don't shop with my little one either. Every Monday night my sweet MIL has him, allowing me to use that time to shop.

Serina said...

Right up my alley; grocery cart alley, that is. I would love to see a copy of your Shopping Form.
rockndove2@yahoo.com

Terri and Bob said...

Love the clipboard idea. And, I would be interested in the shopping list!

Ransomed~Redeemed said...

I'd love to see your pdf! Thanks, this helps alot!

Sadie said...

I wind up everything to the nearest 50c mark, which helps a lot with estimating the weight of the bulk items (since the scales there aren't always very accurate, especially when it comes to small amounts like spices). I also mark the prices down on my shopping list... takes a bit longer, but worth it!

The Halton Mom said...

Rounding up is key. I will have to invest in a small clipboard b/c I'm always punching wholes through my list writing on my hand. PDFs are always great and your time would be most appreciated. Love your blog!

Shannon said...

I carry a spiral notebook AND a calculator. As I put something in the basket, I jot down the following information across one line: the item, how much it costs, the quantity, the total cost, minus any coupons, total for that item and then add it to my bill total. So, it doesn't matter if my calculator gets zeroed out, I already know what my bill total looks like. (And I live in Cali, and we aren't taxed on food.)

Here is an example of my system:
Butter, $2.18, 2 (qty) = $4.36 - $.030 (coupon)= $4.06. (add it to my bill of 0) = $4.06
Salsa, $1.66, 1 (Qty) = $1.66 - $0.25 (coupon) = $1.41 (now add it to my bill of $4.06) = $5.47

Since I always keep my spiral notebook with me, I can look back thru prior shopping trips to see what I paid before for an item, how many of an item I've purchased (and I'm kooky and always date my shopping trip and notate the store). So it also ends up doubling as a price book for me.

As I re-read thru this, it looks confusing, but it really isn't. I have to shop with kids, so I had to figure out a way to keep things in line without losing my mind!

Anonymous said...

I also would like to see your shopping list template! I love your site!

Thank you,
Dayna


DaynaAyala@bresnan.net

Anonymous said...

When I do my list I put a capital c after an item I have a store coupon for as a reminder. I seldom use a manufacturer's coupon but use the store ones when I can. Clip them to the clipboard. Do you put the actural price you should be charged the for item on your list too? You say you round up, me too, but I keep the shelf or sale price listed along side the rounded up one so I can check the receipt to see if I was overcharged. Many things were not in the sale ad so you can't check it once you get home. I too try to keep my list by the diagram of the store. Remember many stores will take the others store coupons. Also the manufacturer's coupons in one store's ad could be used in any store. Some stores will honor anothers sale price for the same item too. I think of it like trying to win a prize. The prize is more $ in the bank and more food on the table! :) I agree the bulk items are the hardest to figure the cost of! Love your blog!! Jody

Jacquelin said...

I too would love to see your list. I always end up running back for something I forgot.

Anonymous said...

I live in a rural area, and I only get to the grocery store 1x/month. We have a local grocer, but it is very expensive. I plan on spending $350/month. I shop on the 1st of the month, and then figure out how much I have left to spend after my big shopping trip. I divide that into four weeks, and use that difference to buy fruit, milk, and eggs at the local grocer.

SK and Family said...

I do the same, Gayle--it's an easy system! :)

Andrea said...

I always bring my calculator to figure out the best price per 100g, etc. for the items. But on my list I write down the price as I put an item in the cart. I round up to the next dollar and add as I go.(better safe than embarrassed at the checkout!!)

Before I leave home I make sure what we need is in check with what is budgeted. example: say this week I spend $60 total. I'll write cheese $4.50; brownsugar $3.00; shampoo $2.00; and so on until I reach $60 including tax AT HOME!
Then when I hit the store with my list & guesstimates(I really pay attention to pricing in flyers & at the store so I'm pretty accurate), if I can only find a block of cheese for $5 I won't get it this time & pick up $4.50 of a different item.
This makes it easy-breezy and when I go home with what I need and save money because of the rounding up..it makes it fun!

...I do shop with a 3yr.old but he snacks on a free chocolate chip cookie from the store's bakery so he's quiet :)

Heather & Chaos said...

Thanks so much Gayle for answering my question! Wow - I actually got to see my question asked and answered on your blog! LOL! It's the little things that excite me.

To be honest I never thought of doing it the way you said! I'm definitaly going to try it out. Thanks for sharing!!!

Mother Hen said...

When I do my addition in the store I have the children "play the game." The game is standing stock still (in a line) while I do the adding. I keep an eye on them while I add, but they are not to speak or move, which would mess with my concentration. Once I am done, I announce a winner. There is no prize, but they don't care. Usually, I do this 3 or 4 times during the course of one shopping trip. Keeps me on track and keeps the distractions to a minimum.

Rainy Day Farm said...

Thanks so much for these wonderful tips. I have not worked my way down to $60 but I am getting closer. I just used your menu planner and grocery list this week and LOVE it. I also bought a clipboard. That makes things a breeze.

Kari said...

I'm wondering how you budget and plan for super sales to stock up? I tend to be a stock-er (maybe that's my first problem) so I shop by what's on my list, what I need, not necessarily by what's on sale. How do you budget for that? Am I just going about this all wrong? I have a family of 3 and good grief, we spend way too much on groceries!

Thanks!
Kari
kbrane@unm.edu