The most expensive food you buy is the food you throw away.
I’m not sure where the above quote came from, but reading it the first time was an eye-opener for me. We’ve always been fairly good as a family about not wasting food, but until a few years ago, when we got serious about getting rid of our debt, I had never really thought about it from a savings point of view. I just didn’t like waste.
If there is anything I dislike more than throwing away food, it’s throwing away money, which I finally understood is what happens when we buy or make food and then end up throwing it away.
Our move to Kaua’i last year put us on a steep learning curve when it came to keeping food out of the trash. Food is more expensive here than back on the mainland, but Hawaii’s warmer temperatures and humidity mean things can spoil a whole lot faster here than they did back on the mainland. Fruit ripens more quickly. Meats can turn more quickly. Mold sprouts more quickly. Things go stale more quickly. And, ‘quickly’ gets cranked up to super-fast when summer arrives with its higher temperatures and higher humidity.
In order to save money and stay within our food budget we figured out fairly quickly that we all needed to become more vigilant. Brett and I are now nearly certified fanatics when it comes to keeping food out of the trash.
All pantry staples have to be kept in sealed jars; they can become moldy and/or turn to mush in a few days otherwise. That includes cereals, nuts, noodles and pasta, flours and other such items.
The whole family has become very good at keeping watch on our weekly purchase of bananas, and using or adding them in a variety of things – muffins, pancakes, smoothies and so forth – when they start to turn. We now know a pineapple has to be eaten in a couple of days or go into the fridge (if there’s room). Bread, muffins or cakes can sit out for a day, but then it’s into the refrigerator for them as well, but even in the fridge there’s a possibility mold will develop if a baked item is not eaten up quickly enough. Other leftovers are packaged up quickly after meals and moved right into the fridge as well. We’ve got ants too that show up if anything is left out for too long, especially sweets.
As you might guess, our small-ish refrigerator is always full. Always. That causes problems as well because food can get lost or forgotten. We use clear glass Pyrex containers for storage, but even that doesn’t help when something gets pushed to the back. Lots of things go into the freezer as well, but our goal is more to use them or eat them up sooner rather than later.
We’ve talked about going food shopping more frequently rather than doing a monthly bulk shopping at Costco. However, whether to pay Costco prices versus supermarket prices is a no brainer – our monthly food spending would go way up if we didn’t primarily shop at Costco. Brett and I would rather not sweat paying for a plane ticket for one of the girls to come home for a visit, or save so we can sip a glass of wine in Italy some day rather than do more frequent food shoppings at the supermarket. Bulk-buying at Costco is here to stay.
Saving money these days means being smart about our food in a whole new way. It means being more organized not only about what we buy, but also in our thinking about what to fix and when to fix it so that nothing gets thrown out. Almost every morning Brett and I discuss what we have and prioritize what needs to get eaten, as well as what effect the day’s weather will have on whether we’ll want to cook in the kitchen or not. The girls are very good about eating leftovers during the day (and Brett is certified Master Class), and with school starting up more leftovers will start going into their lunches again. We’ve learned much since last year, and have made incredible strides towards keeping food out of the trash, but there is, as always, still room for improvement. We’re good, but we can be better.
(P.S. The picture of the fridge is blurry because it turned out condensation formed on the lens when the cold air hit the warm, moist air around the camera. Yeah humidity.)