At the end of the month, we end up throwing out a lot of food. According to a report conducted in 2012 by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40% of produce goes uneaten and straight into landfills. The report also found that American families throw out 25% of the food they buy, which costs the average family of four anywhere from $1,356 to $2,275 annually. After housing and transportation, food is the third biggest household expense, according to a survey conducted by the Department of Labor. Obviously, food is a necessity for everyone and with it being such an important expense; it takes up a large chunk of our budget. A 2012 Gallup Poll found that Americans spend $151 on food per week on average. One in 10 Americans also reported spending $300 or more per week on food.
Today, the average family spends about 11% of their income on food, compared to 17% thirty years ago. Food is getting cheaper as prices are falling and many Americans are currently spending more money dining out than eating in. Despite the fact that food costs are low, other expenses like homes, healthcare, education and energy are rising faster than their incomes. Therefore, it is important for families living on a tight budget to save money. Buying groceries, making home cooked meals and reducing the amount of produce wasted in order to allocate more money to mortgages and gas are some ways to cut down on expenses. Here are a few more ideas to help you save money on your next grocery bill and eliminate throwing out food every month.
Buy in bulk. Buying in bulk saves money because it is usually cheaper than buying an item individually. That is why warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club are so popular. The price per unit is low and you will be able to buy many items in a large quantity. With a membership, you can stock up on staple items and cut down the number of trips you make to the store. The yearly membership for Costco is $55 and for Sam’s Club it is $45. Remember to avoid buying products in bulk like fruits, cheese vegetables and chicken that may spoil quicker than you can eat them.
Understand expiration dates. One way to avoid throwing out food is by understanding expirations dates. The “sell by” and “use by” dates are not federally regulated and do not indicate when a food should be safely consumed. Many foods can be eaten after these dates and we should instead focus on the manufacturer’s suggestion for peak quality on a product.
Shop wisely. Hit up the discount rack. Usually there are items there that are near their “sell by” or “use by” dates. When buying cold cuts, buy them at the counter instead of buying them prepackaged because they are usually cheaper. You can also compare the unit prices, which is usually located right next to the item pricing. By comparing unit prices, you can compare the prices per ounce or per pound for items that are different sizes and see which products will cost you less. Avoid going to the grocery store on an empty stomach and avoid impulse buys or marketing tricks that can lead to overbuying. Instead of buying the brand name, go for the generic name product.
Change what you are buying and plan meals. The foods that get thrown out the most are fresh produce. Some of the reasons fresh produce spoils in the home is due to improper storage, purchasing the wrong kinds of food and lack of meal planning. Planning out your weekly meals and using shopping lists can help reduce purchasing ingredients that will go unused and end up in the trash. Fruits and vegetables that tend to have a longer shelf life include apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes and frozen vegetables. To keep apples fresh, put them in a plastic bag in a drawer that is between 30-32 degrees away from other vegetables. For carrots, keeping out moisture is key, so if your carrots come in a plastic bag, place a paper towel inside to absorb any liquid. Store garlic in a dark kitchen cabinet and for onions; store them in a dry area where the temperature stays between 30 and 50 degrees. Lastly, keep potatoes away from apples and onions and store them in a dark place that is ideally 40 degrees.
Use coupons. Cutting coupons is still king when it comes to getting the best savings at the store. You can find coupons online, in your mailbox, in magazines or in the Sunday paper. Many big stores have coupons that can also be combined with the manufacturer’s coupons for even more savings. Some of the best places to find online coupons and discounts are at coupons.com, Amazon coupons, RetailMeNot, Target In-Store Printable Coupons, Redplum and SmartSource. You can go to these sites, search for coupons by item and expiration date and print them out for free. The coupon database Krazy Coupon Lady and the blog Money Saving Mom also feature some great savings.
Take advantage of a store’s savings program. Target’s Cartwheel program is a free savings program where you can save anywhere from 5-50% on the items you purchase. Simply download the app from the app store on your smartphone or access it online on your laptop. Through Cartwheel, you can choose the offers you want to use and those offers will go on one single barcode, which you will use at checkout to save on your purchase. It’s a great way to save without having to cut or print out a single coupon. If you don’t have a smartphone then you can print the barcode out and have it with you and any offers you select will automatically go onto it. The barcode never changes so you only have to print it once. The offers on Cartwheel can also be combined with manufacturer and store coupons.