Best way to tabulate grocery store receipts
March 4, 2015 10:11 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to start putting the details of all my grocery receipts into a spreadsheet. What's the simplest and quickest way to do that?

My family spends a lot of money on groceries. We'd like to spend less money on groceries. Being a data weenie, I'd like to start by figuring out exactly where our current grocery dollars are going.

Given that, what's the best way to get all the details of our grocery receipts into a spreadsheet? I have a desktop scanner, Macs, and iPhones. I've tried some scanning software, but haven't found anything that does a decent job of OCRing the receipts into a usable tabular format without a ton of cleanup. Is there software that will do that? Or is my best bet just to retype the receipts into a spreadsheet by hand?
posted by alms to Work & Money (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
A low-tech solution would be to group your groceries as they go onto the belt and ask the cashier to subtotal them after each grouping. So you will know this much went to produce, this much went to meat, this much went to household goods, this much went to junk food. You also need to keep notes such as *holiday meal or *birthday party or what-have-you, in case of a spike in spending in any given week. But yeah, using that method means you still need to dump it all into a spreadsheet.
posted by vignettist at 10:18 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you shop at the same store, and use a credit/debit card, they may have that information... wouldn't hurt to ask.
posted by HuronBob at 10:21 AM on March 4, 2015

Do you have kids? If so, and depending on their ages, this might be a good allowance-earning task. And/or you could do something like pay them the equivalent of whatever monthly savings they can come up with (so, they find a way to save you $100 per month, you give them $100).
posted by melissasaurus at 10:24 AM on March 4, 2015

I used to do this by scanning the receipt visually for anything I considered a "treat" or luxury marking them with a highlighter, and just recording those items into a separate category from groceries. It's not elegant, but worked well since I could easily flag those. (examples for me would have been fancy tea, expensive chocolate, the "nice" muesli, etc.) This will only work if you are pretty clear mentally on what's a staple versus what's a treat, which is of course a personal decision. Now I waste tons of money at the store and consider expensive chocolate a staple, which is neither good for my budget or my waistline, ahem....
posted by chocotaco at 11:12 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might try OneReceipt, which does pretty impressive OCR and itemizing of receipts. (Their smartphone app lets you take a photo of your receipt, uploads it into a server queue for the actual processing, then updates the client when it's finished.) I've never tried it on groceries before, but it might be worth a shot. They let you export to CSV, which you could then import into a spreadsheet.
posted by usonian at 11:25 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

So, here is what I'd do in this situation, which is not a high tech solution, but...

-- Make your shopping list in Google Sheets.
-- At the store, plug in the prices right there as you're shopping.
-- Substitute or skip items as necessary
-- You're not allowed to buy things that aren't on the list.

Honestly, just shopping with a list that I make with budget in mind and not allowing myself to buy off list unless it was genuinely an oversight (i.e. I forgot to put milk on the list, not "but the fancy cereal is on sale!") has cut my grocery budget way down, along with making sure to plan 2-3 vegetarian meals each week. And I don't even track the specific prices of things. It would be annoying for a couple of weeks to follow this format, but then it would be done and you'd have the data to be able to look at and make decisions from there.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:32 AM on March 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

I really like rainbowbrite's idea, if saving money is your top goal. Bypass the receipt thing entirely by taking control of your shopping list in a spreadsheet format on your phone. This is also a great way of tracking price changes for items over time. If you're shopping and notice that a product's price has become too inflated, you can choose another brand.
posted by oxisos at 12:15 PM on March 4, 2015

I preface this with I am an old guy who would totally kluge this together since I know nothing about programming or anything like that. I do know Excel.

I use "Out of Milk" (for Android, not sure if it is for iOS) for my grocery lists. I can scan a barcode. There are also fields for unit pricing and quantity. I would actually make a list, shop, then adjust the list after shopping by scanning items I did not have on the list and deleting items in it I did not purchase. I am pretty sure you can download the data or share it. Then, I would import it to Excel or Google Docs or whatever and adjust from there. It will save you a lot of time and effort in typing and may do exactly what you want.
posted by 724A at 1:35 PM on March 4, 2015

How about scanning the receipts each week, and having someone on Amazon's MTurk do it for you?
posted by rippersid at 6:15 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you do Internet ordering, even if you collect yourself? I used to do that and the data is malleable.
posted by b33j at 2:39 AM on March 5, 2015

What OCR software do you have?

I have a bunch of programs that came with various scanners.

I just tried a Trader Joe's receipt in Abbyy FineReader5 SprintXE using the "Open & Read" button.

I copied the output and pasted it into the free and amazing TextWrangler.

TextWrangler comes with a built-in replace option in its Find-and-Replace dialog called "Run of spaces to one tab." That turned the multiple spaces between the product and the price into a tab, so I could then copy that into a spreadsheet. It wasn't flawless, but it wasn't a ton of cleanup, either.

(Note: TextWrangler tries to replace ALL spaces with a tab. To limit that to 2 or more spaces, I just added an extra space to the Find pattern before I hit Replace All.)

Once you get a bunch of items into your spreadsheet, it might end up being easier to type them in by hand, since you'll get the auto-complete from the previous entries, but at least to start, it should be possible to get tabular data with just a little search-and-replace.
posted by kristi at 10:23 AM on March 6, 2015

Oh, and if you're getting lots of OCR output errors, check your scanning resolution. For black and white text, I usually have the best luck with 600 dpi.
posted by kristi at 10:29 AM on March 6, 2015

Response by poster: OneReceipt does pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I'll still need to do some cleanup (to normalize the terminology across stores, etc) but it does a remarkably good job of getting the raw data off of the paper receipt into a database. They're probably harvesting the data and reselling it, but I don't mind that in this case. It's worth it for a quality service.

If I run into any unexpected roadblocks I may fall back to some of the other suggestions. Thanks all!
posted by alms at 10:32 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

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