Want to trim back your expenses without lowering your standard of living? Pledge to only buy food that you'll actually eat.
Yes, we know that food waste is the definition of a first world problem. "I have so much food, I don't have time to eat it all!" But this problem is still real –- and it's draining your bank account. Letting food go to waste is a huge budget drain. So consider these steps:
9 Ways to Cut Back on Food Waste
9 Simple, Quick Ways to Cut Back on Food Waste
Keep your shelves organized so you can see everything you have. Clearly mark any perishable items with their expiration dates and label leftovers with the date you packaged them. If that sounds like too much work, try this: Only buy enough perishables to last for one week of consumption, and label your pantry shelves based on expiration dates (one month, six months, etc.)
Keep newer items in the back of the fridge so that when you reach in to grab a snack or peruse the shelf for meal ideas, you're more likely to use the items that will expire the soonest. Do the same with your pantry (especially canned goods) and items in the freezer.
Keep those leftovers fresher for longer by making sure you package them the right way. Items that can go stale (like chips and cereal) should be stored in airtight containers. Don't pack your fridge too full, as this reduces cool air flow. Know the best way to freeze different items. For some handy food storage charts, check out FoodSafety.gov.
You won't get sick of leftovers if you find different ways of preparing them. Create salads, soups, wraps and omelets when you're looking for ways to make use of ingredients that seem somewhat random. Experiment, and throw different ingredients together while you're cooking. You may just come up with your next favorite recipe.
Sit down on Sunday and draw up a plan for your meals throughout the week, making sure to use any ingredients that are due to expire soon. Planning out your meals helps you make the best use of the items you have -- and cuts back on that "What on earth am I going to make tonight?" panic.
You can freeze a lot more than you probably think you can. Milk, bread, cheese and other items can be safely and successfully frozen if you don't think you'll be able to finish them before they expire. (Or if you buy multiples on sale.) Leftovers can be frozen for instant microwavable meals when you're busy.
Some expired food can still be used as ingredients. Overripe bananas can be made into banana bread; stale bread is great for homemade croutons; slightly mushy produce can always be tossed into a smoothie.
The "use by" date on most items doesn't mean they're unsafe to eat after that time; it simply means that's the date the USDA recommends you consume them by to enjoy peak quality and freshness. Most foods will still be fresh and safe to consume for several days after this date. When in doubt, use your senses -- if it looks alright, smells and tastes OK, it's probably OK.
Make use of small scraps, spoiled foods and unusable bits by turning them into compost. If you use this to fertilize your own kitchen garden, you'll be able to save even more on groceries by growing your own fresh produce.
Paula Pant quit her office job in 2008, traveled to 32 countries and became a successful real estate investor. Her blog Afford Anything is the groundswell of a rebellion against standard, tired old financial advice that says you should skip lattes and chain yourself to a desk for 40 years. Afford Anything is dedicated to crushing limits, creating riches and maximizing life.