Last month when I reached into the back of my pantry in search of something that might qualify as dinner, I found several cans of food with expiration dates somewhere in the mid-2013 range. I had an epiphany: I was throwing money away — month after month — by letting food go bad in my own kitchen.
Apparently I’m not the only one. According to a report by the National Resources Defense Council, the average American ends up tossing out 25 percent of the food he or she purchases each year. Considering that most people spend about $150 a week, or $600 a month, on food, that’s a whopping $1,800 a year gone to waste, just like that.
If you’re tired of throwing money away on groceries, it’s time to change your ways.
Pay Attention to Expiration Dates
It seems like a no-brainer, right? But how many times have we all rushed into the supermarket on the way home from work and grabbed the first milk container off the shelves only to then get home and realize it expires within 48 hours? And it’s not just perishables. Even pantry items have expiration dates, and if you let them go too long, you’ll wind up with a host of stale products on your hands. Take the time to see when things expire before you buy them, and you’ll save yourself some good money.
Avoid the Lure of the Sale
We all love a good deal, but sale items only count as a good deal if they’re things you already use or need. If your favorite cereal brand is on sale for half-price and it’s something you eat every other day, by all means, stock up. But don’t buy sale items just for the sake of feeling like you’re getting a bargain.
Plan Your Meals in Advance
If you’re the type who believes food should be an experience and an adventure, the idea of planning out your meals for the week might seem a little stifling. By locking yourself into a menu, you’re committing to eating specific meals at predetermined times. Not only that, but you may even have to eat some — gasp — leftovers during the week. But if you do plan out your meals ahead of time, there’s a good chance you’ll wind up saving money on your grocery bills while accomplishing the very important goal of not wasting the food you bring home.
Stick to the List
It happens to all of us. You walk into the store with a list of seven items to purchase and get sidetracked by the big display of snacks and condiments. Suddenly you’re buying up one of each type, because who wouldn’t want to try the new chipotle-honey-mango dip with orange-mesquite potato chips? The people who set up those supermarket displays are good at what they do, but don’t fall into the trap of buying extra products you simply don’t need. Make a list before heading to the store and commit to sticking to it.
One of the best ways to throw out your money is to buy things — especially perishables — that you already have. Instead, keep a running inventory of what’s in your fridge and pantry, and update it weekly before buying groceries.
We all work hard to bring home the bucks, so it’s time to put an end to the madness that is food waste. With a few simple steps, you could be well on your way to slashing your food bills and reducing your own personal surplus — and that’s something to feel good about.