Unfortunately, throwing away money is something that's all too easy to do. Any time you rack up a credit card balance you can't pay in full, you start accruing interest that amounts to wasted cash. The same holds true for unused services like the streaming app you rarely watch, or the gym you stopped visiting months ago. But if there's one habit that could be costing you a small fortune, it's throwing out uneaten food.
The average family of four spends $1,800 per year on food that winds up getting tossed, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit. Considering that 60% of Americans have less than $1,000 set aside for emergency expenses, that's a big deal.
If you have a tendency to throw out food on a regular basis, kicking that habit could save you some serious cash. Here's how to avoid so much waste.
1. Pay attention to food labels
The confusing nature of food labels leads to needless waste, but you can avoid that problem by paying closer attention to what those labels are telling you. "Sell by," for example, generally doesn't mean "use by." An item may be perfectly salvageable days or even weeks after its sell-by date. The key is to make sure you don't consume products after their use-by date, especially highly perishable items such as meat and dairy.
2. Take regular inventory at home
You're more likely to throw out food if you shop without having any idea what your pantry and fridge look like. Rather than risk loading up on items you haven't yet run out of, make a point of taking inventory once a week so that you're only replenishing items you're truly low on. You can track your inventory on a spreadsheet, or use one of many useful apps to get the job done.
3. Always shop with lists
It's easy to get distracted by fancy supermarket displays and sale items, but if you buy items you don't really need, there's a good chance you'll wind up throwing some away. A better bet? Always make a grocery list before you hit the stores, and stick to it.
4. Be careful when buying in bulk
Buying groceries in bulk can be a huge money-saver if you do it carefully. But it can also lead to overspending and excessive waste. If you're going to load up on bulk items, stick to a few key ground rules. First, buy only items you use regularly -- don't take a chance on a case of pasta sauce you've never tried, or a frozen-burger brand your kids may not like. Next, don't buy perishable items in bulk unless you're certain you have the space to store them. Those supersized bags of frozen vegetables won't do you much good if you don't have enough room in your freezer to house them. Finally, pay attention to expiration dates. The giant bag of lettuce your warehouse club sells may be enough to feed your family salad for a week, but if it's only good for two days, there's no sense in purchasing it.
Being mindful of how you shop for food could save you a huge chunk of cash in the course of a year. If you've been known to throw out groceries, it's time to rethink your approach to food management -- before you waste even more money you can't afford to part with.