First and foremost, I want to know how I spend my food dollars. What percentage goes to which kind of food? How much for grains, meat, legumes, fresh produce, etc.?
Next, I wanted to see who was getting my food dollars. I wanted a way to identify where I was shopping.
I also wanted to be able to track food costs over time. Is milk going up? Are vegetables as seasonally priced as we've been led to believe?
Finally, I wanted to be able to cost out my meals to a very fine degree. How much did that 1.5 cups of flour add to the price of the cake? What does my lunch cost? Is this dish more economical when made with tofu or chicken?
I couldn't get enough detail recorded in my regular accounting program, so I fired up Access and slapped a few simple tables together. I have a list of food items I buy, currently sitting at 262 items. I split it up pretty carefully. I have some broad categories like Meat/Fish, Baked Goods, Alcohol (only what I use for cooking), Spices/Herbs, and so forth. There's a store table that lists the places I frequent, and a units table that lets me specify the measurements, from a Bunch to a Gram.
Finally, there is my purchases table where it all pulls together. I have the date, the place, the item purchased, the amount, the unit, the cost and the cost per unit figured two ways.
For example, I can track my beloved red bell peppers. At Trader Joe's, they cost $2.29 per multipack, with two per pack. At Ralphs, the one time I bought them there, were $1 each. At North Park Produce, they are (as of last Sunday) $1.29/pound. Now the 2-packs at Trader's can fluxuate greatly in weight because they are sold by unit, and may end up being anywhere from $1.58/pound to $2.62/pound. The peppers at Ralphs (not that I buy them much there) were about 12 ounces each, so about $1.33/pound. The lowest I've paid is $0.79/pound at North Park Produce.
So, I quickly learned that I can get mauch more for my pepper dollar at North Park as long as I was willing to accept wide price fluxuations and the possibility that there wouldn't be any worth buying. Traders is the back-up location and Ralphs only gets my money if everyone else is out.
I'm still working on the reports to be able to analyze where and how I spend. My expenses breakdown by category as a percentage since late October is:
- Alcohol - 1.23%
- Baked Goods - 7.30%
- Beverages - 6.72%
- Condiments/Sauces - 2.43%
- Dairy/Egg - 10.92%
- Deli Prepared - 0.15%
- Fresh Produce - 19.19%
- Frozen Prepared - 3.03%
- General - 18.31%
- Legumes - 2.85%
- Meat/Fish - 15.06%
- Pasta/Rice/Grains - 4.02%
- Snacks - 6.34%
- Spices/Herbs - 2.46%