We all want to save money. We are working hard at our jobs and taking care of our families, and most of us are stressed out with a whole lot of stuff on our plate. Many of us, especially those of us who read (and write) blogs like this one have turned to budgets to help us reign in spending and give our money a purpose. While most line items have little room for negotiation, we often have some flexibility in our grocery budget.
If you are reading this post, you are probably already doing lots of things to save money on your groceries: coupons, sales, bulk when able, and shopping multiple stores. We do all of that, but one easy thing to do that saves a lot of money is simply not letting what you buy go to waste.
Saving money on groceries is a major budget focus in many households here in the United States and around the world. According to the USDA, 41 million Americans are food insecure which is defined as not having consistent access to enough food to lead an active and healthy life. The average food costs for a family of 4 with 2 young children on the low cost food plan spent $725.50 per month. That adds up to well over $7,000 dollars a year, which is a lot of money for most families. It is important not to waste the money that you worked to buy the food with or the time spent shopping for it.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1.3 billion tons of food is being throw away each year globally. I don’t know about you, but this number is an incomprehensible to me! A number we can all better relate to comes from a 2018 study published in PLOS One. It estimates that every American throws away approximately one pound of food per day. We may reflect upon our day and think, “there is no way that I have thrown away a pound of food”, but when you get around to that horrid task of cleaning out the fridge, pay attention to what is being dumped into the trash; it can be quite eye opening.
One day while cleaning out my own refrigerator, I realized that number wasn’t far off. I was horrified at the sheer volume of my good intentions that were being tossed to go out to the curb for the next day’s trash pick-up. I knew I could do better, but I had to make a plan to eliminate or at least minimize the amount of food that was being wasted. As the old saying goes, waste not, want not.
Food waste prevention needs to starts before you leave the house. Be sure to plan your trip for the day so that the grocery store or farmers market is the last stop on your outing. We do this even when the cold weather sets in as we often prefer to have the heat on during the drive home.
Keep Your Cool
Not only should you plan your driving route, you should plan your route through the store so that you hit the frozen and refrigerated sections last. Doing this will limit the amount time your cold groceries sit in the cart warming. Also, be sure to place all of your cold items together in the cart as well as when you place them on the check out belt. Even if you don’t bag your own groceries, keeping these items together will help make sure they get bagged together. The more they are packed together, the less heat they’ll absorb over time.
Once you’re done in the store, you have several options for preserving your cold items until you get home. Cooler bags can be purchased in many stores and, if you remember to bring them in with you, you can put your goodies in the bag as soon cashier rings them up. If you don’t want to haul your cooler bags around the store, you can keep them (or a chest cooler) in your vehicle and simply put your cold goods in as you unload the cart. If you don’t have bags or a cooler, you can just pack those items together and cover them with a heavy blanket or two for insulation on the trip home. If you have air conditioning, running it on your drive home is also beneficial during the summer.
Afer you make it back to the homestead, time is once again of the essence; unload and store your cold groceries first. Your canned goods will last for years, so they can certainly wait a few minutes while you work to keep your ice cream from melting or your salmon from thawing. Speaking of planning, did you remember to clear space in your freezer and refrigerator to have room when you get home? This is a trick I often forget, and end up in front of the fridge with the door open while I shuffle things around, potentially harming what I just brought home as well as the food already in there.
Don’t Sweat It
Now that your refrigerator and freezer doors have been shut for the last time, you can deal with the fruits and vegetables you just brought home. In the heat, single items like cucumbers, apples and even potatoes can start to sweat pretty quickly if they were previously stored cold. It is important to get them out of the bags and dry them off before storing them to prolong their shelf life. During our humid summers, we’ve had mold growing on cucumbers in less than 24 hours if we forget to do this.
If you purchase greens in a plastic container it is helpful to open it and add a paper towel on top to help absorb extra moisture. Store these items so that the paper towel is on the bottom ; it may need to be changed every few days.
Now that you have properly stored your perishables, make it a priority to eat them before they go bad. For my family, if any fruit or veggies look as if they are about to go bad, I cut them up and freeze them to use later. Frozen fruit can be used in smoothies and breads, lemons and limes can be added to water for flavor, and vegetables can be frozen and added to soups and casseroles. Bread can be frozen to extend it’s life and so can cheese, although it will need to be used in cooking as it changes it texture and is not pleasant to eat alone. Milk and juices can also be frozen, just make sure the plastic jugs are not completely full so they have room to expand as they freeze.
Make a List; Check it Twice
Once food is prepared and the leftovers go into fridge, take a moment to write down what you just put inside so you don’t lose track. We keep a small white board with a magnetic back on our refrigerator door just for this purpose. It’s a good idea to put the date you stored the food so you’re sure to use it before it has a chance to go bad. Be sure to include things like half-full jars of pasta sauce or apple sauce on your list (it’s amazing how quickly these things can get pushed to the back). In fact, you may want to keep a Sharpie nearby so you can write the date they were opened directly on the jars or their lids; we’ve had more than one open jar of the same thing in our refrigerator more than I care to admit. It’s always good to check the list, and the fridge, before opening a new container. Also, don’t forget to have everyone erase items from the list as you use them, otherwise you might have a frustrating (and fridge warming) search for that elusive bowl of casserole your husband ate after you fell asleep last night.
Life is certainly busy, and the suggestions above may just sound like adding more work. Rest assured, with just these few steps you can save a lot of money over the long run by simply avoiding waste. There is no reason you should be throwing away your money over expired food!
We hope you find these tips helpful and would love for you to share your tips for making your food last and avoiding waste. Please take a moment to share in the comment section.