Saturday, June 22, 2013

Spreadsheets: Not Just For Accountants

If you are like me, the very word "spreadsheet" brings visions of number crunching and Using 'sheets for couponing seemed like a waste of time as I foolishly presumed that it MIGHT save me a few pennies each trip.
complicated formulas.  I always thought of them as reserved for the type A personality that is more than a little anal retentive about organization. 

WRONG!  Spreadsheeting is something that you can spend as little as 5 minutes on per week and see immediate savings.  This is not exclusive to couponing.  You could save a lot of money without coupons just by seeing exactly where your money is going.  I am new to the idea of premeditated grocery shopping and I know I am not alone!  I used to go in the store with an idea in my head of what I needed, end up buying doubles, forget half of what I needed, and pick whatever brand caught my eye.  Taking some time out of the overstimulating visual environment of the grocery store to make calculations and observations can you save you not only money, but that flustered questioning ("Do I have this?" "Which is the best deal?" etc.) that often makes a grocery trip stressful. 

The first step is to save your receipts.  Whether you plan to start your spreadsheet today, next week, or whenever you find the time, you will need something to work off of!  I often save up several receipts before I sit down and enter all the information in.  There will be many duplicate items and eventually, you will only need to enter a few new items per receipt.

Next, find a good spreadsheet application.  There are many free ones that work great.  I love Open Office for my PC and Kingsoft Office for my tablet.  Any basic program will work.  If you are not technologically-inclined and prefer not to use a spreadsheet at all, you can use a table on a word processor.  If you are more technologically inclined, I recommend using a database such as Microsoft Access or Open Office's version.  This will give you more customization options.

Decide what product information is most important to you.  I have a column for brand, product name, product type, price, servings, price per serving, and comments.  The most important columns are a product description (as long as you know what you mean when you refer to the chart is all that matters), price, servings, and price per serving.  The rest are optional but useful for sorting and quickly finding an item.

For servings, I estimate how much use I normally get out of the product.  Sometimes it is a very rough estimate, sometimes I can be exact.  The process of evaluating the product is more important than precision.  For example, a pound of ground beef I estimate at 2 servings for my family of 3. This breaks down to $2.99 a serving (I normally pay $5.99/pound). 

Fill out the spreadsheet.  Compare like products you have purchased.  There is a common misconception that a lower priced product is a better deal.  You need to consider the weight or size and price per serving. Price per serving is my bottom line.  If you are running really short on funds, it sometimes makes sense to buy a smaller sized product, despite higher cost per serving.  Figure out what makes sense for you.  If you can afford to stock up (consider your cupboard, refrigerator, freezer, and pantry space before you go crazy!) to save overall, it is worth it.

 Hopefully, like me, your time will be well spent.  I had many revelations on products I buy.  Many were minor realizations on buying choices, such as that a smaller size was a better value or that one brand was cheaper than the other.   Others were more significant and represented use.  I realized that I was very wasteful with meat.  I often used an entire pound of ground beef for spaghetti and meatballs.  I accomplished the same with half or less of what I normally use, just less leftovers.

If you are feeling ambitious, make a spreadsheet for each store you frequent.  Make one just for sale prices and track sales cycles.  Figure out how to use the information at your hands to save some money and time!

Thanks for reading.  Coming up next, I will discuss the concept of "healthy" and my views on healthy eating.  As always, I'd love your feedback.  Feel free to link to your blog and I will be sure to take a peek!

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