Do you ever wonder how coupon queens manage to tell you how much money they have saved on coupons?

It’s really quite easy to track, but I didn’t start it until two years ago. Duh! I figured out how to do that accounting trick about four years earlier when my daughter needed to report for a fundraiser how much money we got back at the Michigan bottle deposit machines.

If you are tracking your grocery expenses with a household budgeting software or accounting system, this is how you do it.

  • Payee: Kroger
  • Category: Groceries.
  • Amount: $45.01.
  • Date: Jan. 2, 2010.

Then do a “split transaction” or a second line item as your system is set up for:

  • Payee: Kroger
  • Category: Groceries / coupons
  • Amount: -$4.20
  • Date: Jan. 2, 2010.

Did you catch the minus sign on the coupon entry?

You might instead list it in red or in parantheses, if that’s how your program works: ($4.20).

The bottom line is that you spent $45.01, but took home $49.21 worth of groceries.

So now when you download your grocery expense reports, you’re going to see a mix of positive and negative numbers. The positive number will be how much the retail value was in groceries. The negative number will be your coupon savings. Subtract the negative number from the positive number and you’ll see what you actually spent (which is the figure that you’re probably used to tracking).

Now here is the catch: each retail store has a different way of listing its coupon savings and promotions on its receipts. You will have to get used to how  coupons are reported by your favorite stores. The percentage-off calculations that some stores do are fun to look at, but may not give you the amount that you are looking for.

But this is just a line item to add up when you are inputting the receipts. Many people who track their expenses already scan through shopping receipts to divide out medical expenses, clothing or household supplies from the groceries.

I personally do not count the sale prices or 2-for-1 deals as “coupon savings” when I do my bookkeeping. That’s just the price of the day in my opinion.

In order to be listed on my “coupon savings” line item, it has to be a discount that I made an extra effort to get: such as cutting out a coupon, downloading a deal to my shopper card, or giving the drugstore cashier a rebate check.

If you can save just $30 a month via coupons and rebates, what else would you spend that money on?

Update: this post is featured on the Jan. 5, 2009, Festival of Frugality.

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