Don’t just save those receipts, use them.
getty receipt
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Saving our receipts is widely held up as a “good” habit , but if you’re just tossing them into a bag or stuffing them into a drawer, those exceptionally delicate paper records of purchase have no future beyond one as clutter. And that’s a shame. Receipts are not just a bunch of numbers that might make you feel bad—they’re a resource, especially when you’re trying to cut down on financial and food waste.

See, receipts tell you what you buy, but done right, they can also tell you what you use. All you need is a pen and determination.

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You know how some people are into bullet journaling? Crossing out tasks on a to-do list feels so good. So a few years ago, I took that principle and applied it to my receipts. Responsibly handling my groceries became a task, and crossing out a basic duty still feels like a reward. Once I open a container, cook, or start eating something I purchased, I draw a thin line through the corresponding item on the receipt. Then, as I use it up, I thicken the line until the words are completely covered. And then I’ll replace it after my next big grocery haul.

my receipt
Credit: Sarra Sedghi

Sarra Sedghi

Back before I lived somewhere with a stainless steel fridge, I stuck my receipts on the refrigerator door with a magnet. Now, things are different, so I keep them on my table (and I always have a spare pen lying around) and make a point to go over the week’s receipt at least once a day, usually during breakfast. Clearly I am easily entertained, but the receipts are also less distressing than the news or social media feeds, and they actually serve a purpose. Oh look, I’m running out of berries. I should probably get some more. Easy logic here. You should put your receipts wherever you’ll see them, preferably away from other clutter. Countertops and drawers don’t work for me, because there’s either too much or too little traffic, but you need to do what works for you.

The fridge can be a messy wasteland or black hole, so having a clear inventory list on hand helps me keep track of what I need to go ahead and eat or stick in the freezer to save for later. If something doesn’t get crossed out, that’s a pretty clear sign I shouldn’t buy it in the future, no matter how much I think it’ll come in handy. For example, bulk bagged vegetables are good in theory, especially for families, but I live alone and the stuff inside starts going bad before I can eat it all. So instead, I’ll buy whole vegetables or smaller quantities. On the other side of the spectrum, that huge bag of potato chips I bought two months ago still hasn’t been opened. That’s all the proof I need to curb impulse buys. Do I still buy junk? Yes, but I buy junk I know I’ll use.