How Wasting Food Steals Your Money

March 5-9 is Food Waste Prevention Week in California. Today, we talk about the high price of buying too much.

We’re wrapping up Food Waste Prevention Week here in California. If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you’ve seen my sneaky way of getting kids to eat the heels of bread and how I repurpose leftovers. Today, over at the Clutter Free Academy blog, I’m sharing a miracle recipe for getting a pound of ground meat to stretch into six pounds. My husband calls it my modern-day loaves and fishes recipe. I call it my Magical Miracle. My girls just call it good.

By now, you might be wondering what food waste has in common with clutter or compulsion or comparison. Everything. Here are some sobering statistics from Save The Food:

  • 40% of the food in the U.S. is wasted
  • The average American throws away 300 pounds of food in a year
  • A family of four tosses $1,500 in food each year
  • 20% of the food we buy never gets eaten

It appears that as a nation, we over-buy and under-consume – and that has everything to do with clutter and compulsion.

How many times have you gone to the store and walked past a sales display, thinking, “Oooh…that’s a good price” and bought it because you couldn’t remember whether you needed it? Or went to grab something from the back of the fridge to find out it expired last year?

I remember a time when my little family had four jars of mayo in the pantry.

I was making sandwiches for the girls one morning and noted to my husband that we were almost out of mayo. On his way home from work that day, he stopped by the store to get a back-up jar and put it in the pantry. A few days later, I was at the store and thought I’d better grab some. Because I knew we were almost out, I put my new jar directly in the fridge. Over the weekend, we were at Costco and saw a two-for-one deal. We both were still in “we need mayo” mode, and it seemed smart to take advantage of the offer. Into the pantry those both went. It wasn’t for a few more days before we realized that we were overstocked. Now, four jars of mayo may be the exact right amount to have on hand for some families, but our family goes through a jar of mayo a year – We don’t need four years’ worth of anything in our pantry. In January, we did a big fridge purge and tossed 11 bottles of mustard – ELEVEN!

This is the problem of us “cluttery” people: We over-buy because we aren’t always sure what we have on hand.

Our other problem is we don’t rotate through our food stores to use things up before they go bad. How many times have you tossed bags of produce that withered away from neglect in your fridge? You bought them with perfect intentions but then life got in the way and when you finally remembered the salad greens, they were slimy. Or the cucumbers were mushy.

Ending food waste and getting back that $1,500 a year that typically goes to a landfill is easy.

We must stop over-buying.

This is both a compulsion and clutter problem. As I mentioned before, if you don’t know what you have on hand, it’s easy to buy more than you need when shopping for food. But there is also the habit or compulsion to buy that must be fought.

My husband and I both work in education, and we’re paid once a month. We get spend-happy come payday. We make big trips to Target, to Costco, to the Grocery Outlet, etc. We feel compelled to stock up for the month – to make sure we have enough food to get through the whole month. We also want to eat healthy, whole foods so we buy up fruits, veggies and sometimes, my ambitions on the first of the month exceed the energy I have for cooking on the 10th.

What we’ve done over the past few months is worked hard to break that compulsion. Just because there’s a big deposit to our bank account on the first, doesn’t mean we have to spend it all right then. If we budget our grocery expenses week to week, we can buy what we need as we need it and only buy in bulk that which we truly use high volumes of (like beans, canned tomatoes and coffee). This saves us money in three ways:

  1. We spend less over all by not over-buying.
  2. We take advantage of sales and specials each week vs. just once a month.
  3. We stay more aware of what we have and what we need.

Buying in bulk to save money is a great idea if you use what you buy, but for a busy family like ours, the investment doesn’t typically pencil out at the end of the month. These three tips help us to align our food purchases with our schedules each week so that we’re not buying a week’s worth of salad greens that will wilt from neglect.

What about you? Are you throwing dollars in the trash week after week? What one idea can you implement to make next week different? Leave me a comment here or send me an email. Join me tomorrow, when we cover the second part of the solution: under-using.

Tonya Kubo is co-director of the Clutter Free Academy Facebook group, founded by author/speaker Kathi Lipp and based on her best-selling book, Clutter Free. Tonya and her husband, Brian, are raising two spirited girls in the agricultural heart of California. By day, she cultivates community in digital spaces for a public university. At night, you can find her either cooking, cuddling or helping others to fight the demons of comparison, clutter and compulsion.

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