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Stop wasting food: 5 steps

The average family of four wastes over $1,000 per year on uneaten food. Here are ways to avoid throwing away your grocery money. 

By Dori ZinnContributor / November 10, 2012

This 2011 file photo shows the fruit and vegetable department at a Kroger Co. supermarket in Cincinnati. To avoid wasting money on groceries, plan ahead, and never shop hungry.

Al Behrman/AP/File

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A documentary called "Dive!" followed a group of friends who went dumpster diving behind Los Angeles grocery stores to reveal the amount of waste in America. Entire families featured in the film lived off “wasted” food for weeks.

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But grocery stores aren’t the only ones wasting food.

From farm to table, up to 40 percent of American food goes uneaten each year, at a cost of about $165 billion, according to a recent study by the national environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council. While there are numerous sources of waste, one of the biggest is the American family. We throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages we buy, costing the average family of four $1,365 to $2,275 yearly.

Here’s how to save cash, food, and time…

1. Don’t buy something just because it’s there

A grocery store generally carries the same items every day. So unless you’re in a store you won’t be near again for weeks, buy enough to last you a few days knowing you’ll use everything. That’s better than buying enough for a few weeks, which increases the risk of food going bad before you can use it all.

If it’s on sale, also consider whether you’ll use it before it expires. Buying something on sale isn’t a deal if half the food ends up in the trash.

2. Buy bulk with a friend

Wholesale shopping is great for larger families, but not necessary if you’re in a one- or two-person household. So if you want to buy in bulk but have a small household, consider splitting the difference with a friend or relative. I don’t have room to store 50 rolls of toilet paper or 36 hamburger buns, so I bring my mom along.

For added savings, think about splitting the cost of membership too.

3. Divide and conquer

Instead of putting food away as it came packaged, divide it into smaller portions as soon as you get home. This helps prevent food from going bad in your fridge.

For example, cut and portion meats, freeze what you won’t eat right away, and then remove what you need from the freezer the morning of the day you plan to cook it. Extra fruits, vegetables, and breads can also be frozen.

4. Make a meal plan

If the only time you think about what you’re going to make for dinner is on your commute home, you’re not doing it right. Spend half an hour a week making a list of meals for the next week. Include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if all those meals apply to your household. When grocery shopping, stick to your meal plan by buying the ingredients you need for the next week’s meals.

If you put your meals together at home, you’re less likely to buy breakfast on your way to work or head out to a restaurant for your lunch hour or after work. By avoiding eating out, you’ll be more likely to use your groceries before they go bad – and save money.

5. Don’t shop hungry

You’re more likely to make impulse purchases when your stomach is empty. If you can’t help grocery shopping while hungry, make a list and stick to it – no wandering the aisles for the foods you’re craving.

Dori Zinn is a writer for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.

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