The Keystone “Check Out” Line

One of the most eye-opening books I’ve read in the last few years has been The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  He analyzes how we form habits and how we break them.  Fascinating and so fun!  One of the ways we start to break a habit is by implementing a “keystone” habit.  You don’t have to do A B and C, just A.  Like for someone who needs to lose weight, don’t start excercising and dieting.  First just start food journaling.  Write down everything you eat.  That’s a keystone habit.  It’s the same with saving money.  A lot of experts say, first, write down everything you spend money on for a whole month.  Facts are your friends.  Then you can see where you’re spending unnecessarily.

I like budgeting, but I have a harder time sticking to it.  I was going over on my grocery budget regularly and I figured that was the fault of rising food prices and adjusted my budget up.  I’d go to the store and buy what we wanted to eat because, “Hey, it’s groceries and we need to eat.  It’s not like I’m wasting money here.”  Wrong.  The grocery store is a great place to impulse buy.  I needed to use a keystone habit to change my ways.

Grocery Journaling, if you will.

1111I’ve been saving my grocery receipts now since October (though I started making them cuter as I went) thanks to a smart blogger’s suggestion.  Her suggestion was to keep track of them so you know exactly what store had the best price on any item.  I rarely shop comparatively.  That takes a lot of time.  Instead, I use my kept grocery receipts to keep track of how often I’m buying certain items, to figure the cost per serving on my meals, and to split the receipts for budgeting purposes.1112


most often purchased 1First I started a spreadsheet to figure my costs on my most purchased items.  I thought I was being frugal enough (I don’t even buy soda or chips), but then I started to see I was spending the kids’ college fund on Goldfish crackers.  Yikes!  My kids were going through a bag a week.  I cut back.  I started packing bins of Cheerios for snacks instead. most often purchased

It’s also fun for me to see how often we buy toilet paper or detergent.  In almost every area that I keep track I’ve cut back.  The keystone in action!


Next I enjoy seeing just how much we save by eating at home.  It’s pure motivation to go home and eat real food instead of stopping somewhere quick.  I calculate my meals by adding up the exact (use those receipts) or approximate (dividing a bag of onions) cost for each major ingredient and then divide it by how many servings (or more realistically how many of those servings we’ll eat.).  cost per servingI do this on Excel, again.  I format the cells as currency.  For the total I use the formula[ =SUM()].  Then for the cost per serving I divide by using [ = /  ](plugging in the cell with the total as the = and manually putting the number of servings after the /). Does this make sense?

Then to organize the findings I made a database.  (This way I can see my meals in order and by price.  You can do this on Excel too, but Microsoft Access and I are buds.)  So far I’ve not made anything that costs more than $2.73 per serving.  My Taco Bell order is more than that.   recipe cost report

Click here to see the full recipe cost per serving report.


We experimented with a cash system budget for a few months.  It didn’t work for us.  I budget separately for groceries, home supplies (cleaning products, trash bags, toilet paper, etc), baby supplies, and personal care items (shampoo, etc.).   When we used cash envelopes I was the annoying lady in the checkout line asking my checker to separate orders.  Now, I simply use my debit card, keep my receipts, figure the purchase myself with a highlighter and a calculator, then I split the transaction on my budget app (Mint.com).

I love Mint.  I also love tracking things myself… thus my receipts database.  (Sensing a theme?)receipt database

Most people won’t find this necessary, but I’m discovering that I collect data like some people collect teddy bears or Willow Tree figurines.  I like my database report.   It shows the snapshot with a total and details that I want.  I can now compare how I’m doing month to month so easily!

Click here to see the Receipts Report

How about you?  Do you track your grocery line by line or have an easier way?  Mine is about as labor intensive as you can get.  🙂  Where do you impulse buy at the grocery store?

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4 thoughts on “The Keystone “Check Out” Line

  1. I read The Power of Habit a few years back—can’t say I put much of it into practice, but I recall the Target chapter:) Food is an area of our budget that is difficult for us too–I do some cash spending, but other months I just try to not buy much—like only visit Aldi, where my options are more bare bones. I impulse buy salty snacks:) I enjoyed reading the Meals document where you track per serving costs–mainly because I like to gain ideas regarding what’s for dinner. Have you read the book–Dinner, A Love Story?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I learned how to budget food money when we were on foodstamps. I only had a certain amount of money every month, and I didn’t have any out of pocket money to put towards it, so I had to make it work. Now, I just do the same thing with our money. I have a certain amount we can spend and I won’t go over.

    First, I make a meal plan (I buy two weeks worth of groceries at a time). Then I list out all the ingredients I’m going to need. Then I add breakfast and lunch stuff, and then all the extras I need like condiments, essentials, etc. Then, and this is the most important part, I write down the price of each item, rounded up to the nearest $0.50 (the extra rounding leaves a little wiggle room for things I forgot to put on the list, price hikes at the store, or impulsive buys). I’m pretty good at remembering prices, but I’ll use past grocery receipts or lists if necessary. Otherwise I just guesstimate. When I add it all up, if it’s over my budget, I start taking things out or swapping more expensive meals for cheaper ones. At the end, I put everything in order of where they are in the grocery store so I don’t have to make a bunch of trips around the store. The more trips you make, the more things catch your eye…

    When I get to the store, anything I buy that wasn’t on my list gets added to the end of the list. I write down the price of everything, rounded to the nearest $0.10 (only because it saves time adding at the end). I add it all up before I get to the counter to make sure I didn’t go over my budget.

    I can NEVER go grocery shopping without my list or I will spend twice my budget, having hardly any meals to show for it. Making the list takes a lot of time, but it’s definitely worth it!

    Liked by 1 person

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