Published in: Buying Stocks | Oct. 22, 2019

A Surprisingly Simple Way to Find Money to Invest

By:  Dana George

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If you find yourself wondering if you’ll ever have money to invest, you may be surprised by where we found extra funds. 

Have you ever vowed to eat healthier, filled your shopping cart with enough fruits and veggies to impress a cardiologist, and then proceeded to allow the food to go bad at home? What about leftovers? Ever promise yourself you'll cut down on food waste by eating leftovers, only to think they look disgusting the next day?

If so, you are not alone.

A wooden bowl full of a fruit on a counter.

Image source: Getty Images

Americans allow a full 40% of our food supply to go to waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, much of it between the farm and our kitchen. After all, we don’t like apples with spots or wilted lettuce, even if they're edible.

According to a survey by The Ascent on wasteful spending habits, 70% of respondents admitted to wasting money on food they threw away. And while the numbers vary, studies show that the average American tosses approximately 100 to 250 pounds per year. That comes to nearly $233 a month, or $2,798 a year, of spoiled food that is thrown into the trash, according to a study conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Bosch. 

What if the money was invested instead?

Let's say that you come up with a plan to cut the amount of food you buy and throw away each month. Now, rather than dump $233 worth of food, you invest that money in the stock market. If the investment earns 9.5%, (9.7% represents the average annual S&P 500 return since 1965), that $233 per month will be worth $45,370 in 10 years. And that's just the money you'll save by not wasting food.

What’s being thrown away?

Being wasteful is bad for our health, primarily because it's not typically the Pringles or Little Debbies going into the trash. Here are some of the most common items being dumped and the percentage of us who fess up to it:

  • Bananas -- 55%
  • Strawberries -- 50%
  • Apples -- 47%
  • Bread and milk -- 46%
  • Blueberries -- 45%
  • Leafy greens -- 44%
  • Meat -- 43%
  • Yogurt -- 42%

Ways to avoid food waste

  • Organize your refrigerator. A messy fridge leads to two problems: It's easy to forget what you have so you forget to eat it, and you buy duplicates of items you don't need.
  • Utilize your freezer. Whether you have leftovers from a meal that you don't plan to use right away or extra fruits and vegetables, organize them in freezer bags, mark the date on the front of the bag, and keep them in your freezer until you’re ready for them.
  • Download the USDA's FoodKeeper app. The app, which is available for IOS or Android, is designed to remind you to use food while it's at peak quality. It also offers specific storage and cooking guidance on hundreds of items and includes storage timelines for the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.
  • Shop realistically. If mealtime is chaotic around your house, be honest about how much time and energy you're going to have to try that new mango dish or to puree peas for soup. Don’t buy items you’re not likely to have the time or energy to use. Buy in bulk only if you know you will use the food before it spoils.
  • Donate items you won't use. When it comes time to clean the pantry, send items you’re not going to use (that have not expired) to a food bank rather than tossing them.
  • Create a shopping list and stick to it. The easiest way to purchase only what you will consume is to plan your meals in advance and buy only what you need to create those meals. 
  • Shop at home first. Before running to the grocery store to pick something up, make sure you don't already have it in your refrigerator, freezer, or pantry.
  • Be prepared. As soon as you get home from the store, wash, dry, chop, slice, or otherwise prepare your fresh food items and store them in clear containers for easy access.

Other ways to save

When you take a loss on something major, like a home, for example, you remember it because it’s a big financial deal. When you pay top dollar for school supplies for your kids because you didn’t shop for bargains, it doesn’t seem as important. It is, however, the small, everyday financial decisions that determine how much we have available to invest each month.

For example, The Ascent's survey on spending habits brought some other money wasters to light. These include paying excessive or unnecessary fees and interest, impulse buying and overpaying for digital services. Just as we can control how much money we waste on food destined for the dump, we can take control of the other everyday costs that have invaded our lives.

Once you've cut out your food waste costs, see whether there are other small savings you can make that would dramatically impact the bottom line. Here are a few relatively painless ideas that could save you another $123 per month:

  • Borrow four books from the library each month rather than purchasing them online. At an average of $10–$15 per book, that would save $40–$60 each month.
  • Cancel one streaming service. That’s another $15 per month. 
  • Get cash from your home bank each week rather than stopping at an out-of-network ATM, a habit that will cost you an average of $4.50 per transaction. There’s $18 back in your pocket each month.
  • Vow to save at least 10% on utility costs by cutting back on how often you run the dishwasher, the temperature at which you set your thermostat, and not washing clothes during peak energy hours. If your monthly utility bills cost a total of $300 now, that’s a saving of at least $30 per month. 

The beauty of investing is the way it turns small drops of money into a huge pool of savings. If you add these small savings to the $233 you’re saving by not wasting food, you could have as much as $354 to invest each month. At a rate of 9.5%, you could save $68,930 away in 10 years without diminishing the quality of your life.  

Author and environmental campaigner Tristram Stuart said it best, “Cutting food waste is a delicious way of saving money, helping to feed the world and protect the planet.”

It’s also a really great way to invest in your future. 

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