I’m frequently asked about the best ways to save on food. There are many ways, including coupons, shopping the sales, buying store brands, and buying in bulk. But if you want to know the easiest way to save on food, here it is: Stop wasting it. According to WastedFood.com, Americans waste more than forty percent of the food that is produced for human consumption. That’s a staggering number that translates directly to your bank account.
You’ve probably noticed that you waste a lot of food, too. Stuff goes bad before you can eat it. Stuff that was once a favorite falls out of favor and ends up in the trash. Leftovers are simply left and end up in the trash. We take food for granted in most parts of this country. It’s so abundant, cheap, and easy to get that most of us think nothing of throwing it away. But besides the sheer waste, every time you throw food away it’s like tossing money in your trash can. You paid for that food (or you paid for the seeds and supplies to grow it in your garden) and when you toss it out, your money goes with it. If you want to stop throwing money in the garbage, here are some tips:
Check Expiration Dates. Check the expiration dates in the store, before you even add it to your cart. Get the best date you can to give yourself the most time you use the food. Check shelf-stable and packaged foods, too. They may not go bad for a long time, but they do go bad and you want to make sure you aren’t buying old stock. Regularly check your food once it gets home, too. Make a note of anything that’s about to expire and use it up.
Buy less: Buying in bulk/stockpiling is a popular money saving idea, but it only works if you use everything you buy. For small families, those who don’t eat much, or households with picky eaters, bulk purchasing is probably not a good idea. Stick to bulk-buying toiletries and cleaners and get your food in smaller quantities.
Eat Leftovers: If you end up with leftovers, use them. They won’t kill you and you might find that some things are better the second time around. You can repurpose meats and vegetables into other dishes. Take things like pizza or casseroles to work for a quick lunch. Leftovers make great meals for nights when you don’t have much time or inclination to cook.
Ask For A Doggie Bag: If you can’t finish your restaurant meal, ask for a doggie bag. Take those leftovers home and eat them. If you paid $10 for your meal and throw half away, you’ve just tossed $5 in the trash. Take it home and eat it tomorrow.
Rotate Your Pantry: When you buy new items, move the old food to the front of the pantry or fridge and put the new stuff in the back. This way you don’t end up with all your old stuff moldering in the back of the pantry while the new stuff gets eaten. When you rotate the pantry, the old stuff gets used first.
Buy Only What You Know You’ll Eat: If you want to experiment with a new food, buy a very small quantity the first time. It’s fine if you want to get the whole family on a papaya kick, but if no one will eat it, it’s wasted money. If you have a house full of picky eaters, don’t bring home a bunch of new things to try all at once. And don’t buy a bunch of healthy foods if you’re a confirmed junk food addict. You know you won’t eat the good stuff, so why bother? You know you should, but if you’re pretty sure you won’t, save the money.
Learn To Store Food: Don’t just dump food into the fridge and hope for the best. Master the art of tightly wrapping leftovers. Buy a good set of air tight storage containers, or think about a vacuum seal system. Properly close bags of chips and cereal so no air can get in, or place the food in storage containers. If you’re going to be freezing food, learn how to store it to protect from freezer burn. The better you protect your food, the longer it will last.
Donate Excess: If you still end up with excess food, donate it to a food bank or homeless shelter (but do so before it goes bad). They’ll be glad to get the donation and you can probably take a tax deduction.
All the best bargain hunting, couponing, and money saving tips about food won’t help you if you’re wasting a lot of food. All that means is that you’re throwing slightly less money in the trash, but you’re still throwing money away. You can’t truly begin to pare down your food bill until you stop wasting food. Once you get that down, then you can think about saving money on the food you do need to buy and find more ways to cut the food bill. But the single best way to save on food is to use what you buy.