Person looking at a receipt for groceries.

What do you do with your grocery receipts? Do you keep them? Trash them? Do you even ask the cashier for them when you’re checking out? Many stores have moved to only providing receipts upon request. All of this may leave you wondering: Should you save receipts?

If you want to achieve your financial goals and shave a few dollars off your grocery bills, the answer is yes. Here’s how receipts can help you stick to your budget.

Why should you save receipts?

When you save and analyze grocery receipts — and receipts from other types of purchases — you’re coming face to face with the exact amount you’re spending. That knowledge is empowering. It enables you to make changes and decisions that help you reach your savings and budgeting goals.

Without a paper trail, it’s hard to accurately remember or understand what you’re spending money on each month. When you analyze your receipts, you can see where you’re overspending and make changes that keep you in check.

Saving receipts can also help you create a realistic budget. If you don’t already have a household budget, a month’s worth of receipts can help you start one. They can help you determine how much you usually spend on groceries and other categories, and you can then create a budget using those numbers.

How to organize and analyze grocery receipts

Tracking receipts may sound overwhelming. But don’t let that stop you from giving it a try. Keep it simple by using a digital or paper receipt log. Here are three easy ways to do so:

  • An online spending tracker app. Many free apps are available for your smartphone. Download one for automated tracking.
  • A spreadsheet. Use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to create a simple record of your monthly food costs. Separate out costs by categories like produce, meat and paper products.
  • Notepad. It doesn’t get easier than pen and paper. In a dedicated planner or page of your journal, write down what you spend on groceries, which foods you buy and what stores you shop at.

After selecting a tool, it’s time to analyze grocery receipts for trends. To start, collect your receipts for several weeks. Use your chosen planner, app or spreadsheet to look at your spending by category (e.g., processed foods, organic items, gourmet items, staples, drinks, alcohol, etc.).

Is anything unexpectedly low or high? Are you over budget in any one category? Also, think about whether you actually used or cooked everything you bought recently. Ask yourself where you might be making impulse buys and can cut back. In this way, taking stock of your receipts gives you a fresh look at what’s going into your shopping cart after the fact.

You can then use any insight you gain to make future spending decisions at the supermarket.