The 1 Financial Resolution I Break Every Year -- but Not This Time

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Here's how one writer hopes to finally meet an elusive goal.

Most of us aren't strangers to New Year's resolutions. I've made my share of pledges that I've actually followed through on. As a result, I'm happy with the state of my savings account, and I own a home and don't carry debt other than a mortgage.

But there's one resolution I fail at year after year: spending less on food. More specifically, spending less and cutting back on food waste. But this year, I have a plan. I'm finally feeling better about my odds.

Why my family wastes so much food

First, let's get one thing out of the way. My family probably wastes less food than your typical household because we are very conscious about it. But wasting any amount of food is really bothersome in my book, so discarding even the occasional head of lettuce or leftover moldy bread is just plain uncool.

We've fallen victim to food waste for one big reason -- I don't have the time or patience to hit the grocery store more than once a week. I'm a full-time working mom of three young children (with a dog to care for, too), and my days are jam-packed. When I go to the supermarket, I make sure I get everything I need for the week. Often, that means erring on the side of overbuying.

The game plan

This year, I'm pledging to shrink our grocery bills and minimize our food waste through careful meal-planning, list-making, and inventory-taking.

Though I've practiced meal planning in the past, I've never gone so far as to figure out how many meals each batch of food I cook will amount to. That's led me astray. This year, I intend to break my meals down by number of portions so I know exactly how much to cook at once. And also, I intend to be more realistic about the level of leftover consumption my family will tolerate. If I make a giant batch of vegetable stew, I might have no problem eating it five days in a row, but my picky kids will. That's something I've realized I need to account for.

Now, let's talk list-making. In the past, I've shopped with lists because I can't remember which ingredients I need for which recipes, and having a list ensures that I don't forget anything essential. But I've never forced myself to avoid buying things not on the list. This year, that changes. If we're not out of ice cream and it's not on the list, I won't buy it, even if it happens to be on sale.

Finally, I absolutely need to get better about taking inventory at home. In addition to our main fridge in our kitchen, we have a second fridge in our basement and a deep chest freezer to store leftovers and stock-up items. But because I don't access the downstairs fridge and freezer often, I forget what's in there. Not anymore. Now, I've made a Google spreadsheet listing the contents of each fridge and freezer, as well as my pantry. Before I make my grocery lists, I'll force myself to cross-reference against my Google sheet to make sure I'm not buying things I already have. That, combined with my other efforts, should lead to less spending and less tossed food this year.

Will it work?

So far, my new system seems to work well, but let's face it -- we're only a few weeks into the new year, and old habits are hard to break. While I could see myself going off-list when I'm at the store and tempted to buy other things, I do think I'll maintain my inventory spreadsheet and check it before hitting the supermarket. And that alone should help me attain my goal.

I've also started consulting my kids on what they'd like me to cook. Now that they're older and more apt to answer with something other than just "mac and cheese," I figure if I give them a say, they'll be more likely to eat what's prepared -- and my meal planning is more likely to be spot-on.

It's too soon to tell how much money I'll save on groceries this year and how much food waste I'll ultimately eliminate. But I finally feel like I'm in a good place to uphold the one resolution that's always eluded me.

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