How One Family Saved $4,800 on Food in a Year

Bobbi : August 23, 2015 12:25 am : money


What would you do with an extra $50 to $250 a month? Pay off credit card debt? Build an emergency savings fund? Take a much-needed vacation? There’s a good chance you are throwing away that much money month after month, and if you stop, you’ll be able to put it to better use.

You just need to stop wasting so much food.

Laura McElfresh from Aurora Colorado, has learned firsthand how the savings can add up. With seven children ages 3-21, the $800 to $900 the family used to spend each month on food didn’t seem unreasonable, but it was putting a strain on the family budget. McElfresh says she planned meals, used coupons and thought she was doing pretty well. She remembers reading that Americans throw away about 25% of their food, and thought “no way.”

But in 2012, after the holidays, she had an epiphany. “I remember the week after New Year’s going through the fridge and throwing away a kitchen-sized trash bag of food” she says. She realized that throwing away a quarter of her food that meant she was wasting $255 a month, or $2,700 a year. “My grandmother who survived the Depression with her family of six small children would have rolled over in her grave if she knew what I’d done,” she said.

She resolved to change.

First, she got creative. “Grandma rarely had a recipe,” she says. “She used what was fresh from the garden, what was already in the house, and her meals were sort of a smorgasbord of bits and pieces from what was in the fridge. The ham she cooked, half a jar of home canned peaches, bread from the morning, leftover green beans, whatever she had on hand. And no matter how many people there were at her table there was always enough.”

McElfresh says she realized that if she started serving more side dishes like her grandmother did, the main dish would go further, and there would be another bonus: It would encourage everyone to eat more veggies and sides.

A Recipe for Savings

McElresh has a “go to” meal she calls “Stuff in a Pan” that she says is a great way to use up whatever is on hand.

Start with meat — ham, chicken, sausage etc. (For her large family, she uses two pounds of meat.) Add potatoes or veggies such as zuchinni or spaghetti squash. Then throw in seasonings and condiments you find in your fridge such as onion, garlic, leftover corn or green beans, cheese, olives, “that carrot that needs to be used up in the back of the fridge” etc. One version she calls “Stuff Italiano” can be made with spaghetti sauce, or a Mexican version can be made with taco meat and salsa.

Turn ‘Trash’ Into Meals

McElresh now makes it a habit to freeze and label leftovers, even when the amounts are small. “It seems silly when you start doing it, but I’m always amazed at how many great meals come out of what would be trash,” she says. For example, if there is a leftover pork chop or bit of pork roast, she will freeze it. Over time, she’ll have enough to warm up with barbecue sauce for sandwiches. “I take it as a personal challenge to see what I can make out of ‘trash’ at our house!” she says.

She also recommends a periodic “freezer challenge.” For one week, the goal is to use what is in the freezer. She might buy essentials like milk, eggs, butter or snacks, but as much as possible she tries to use what she already has on hand. She says she searched the Internet — “What can I make with frozen broccoli?” – until she came up with tried-and-true recipes, many of which she shares on her blog.

Clean Out Your Fridge

Experts often recommend rotating food in the fridge and pantry so that older food is front and center, where it is most likely to be used, and McElfresh agrees it is essential. “I learned quickly that I absolutely had to clean out the fridge every three to five days in order for this to work,” she says. “I rotate food to the front of the fridge that needs to be used most quickly and tuck the stuff that lasts longer back to the back. Cut up produce that is looking sad and put it out at snack time.” She says tackling this chore more frequently means less time and waste than if she waited longer. “And I have less guilt knowing that my money is feeding us, not the landfill,” she says.

Bring Less Home

Learning not to buy things she didn’t need was her most important lesson, she says. When she started paying attention to things she was throwing away she found recurring themes: fresh fruit, leftover meals, side dishes and “always the celery and carrots (that) would get slimy in the back of the vegetable drawer … and big bags of precut lettuce.”

So, for example, she stopped buying fresh celery unless she knew she needed it for a specific recipe. The rest was immediately chopped, frozen and ready for a cooked dish. She says she buys heads of romaine lettuce now instead of the bags of cut-up salad mix. “It lasts forever in the fridge,” she says. Although prepping it is a little more work she says doesn’t wind up wasting it or making another trip to the store because she needs some lettuce for tacos.

McElfresh efforts paid off big time. She was able to feed her large family on $400 to $500 a month, a savings of $400 or more a month, which adds up to roughly $4,800 a year. She says, “In the end, I learned I really didn’t need to spend so much if I just use what I already have and buy less.”

Image courtesy of Laura McElfresh

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This article originally appeared on

This article by Gerri Detweiler was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


photo credit: Woman Shopping with Blue Plastic Shopping Cart. via photopin (license)

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Yes, It Really Does Cost (a Lot) More to Eat Healthy

Bobbi : August 2, 2015 10:20 pm : deals, featured, money, Rants & Raves

I am constantly seeing chefs and health/nutrition experts on TV claiming it’s a myth that it costs a lot to eat a healthy diet. They go through all of these examples to disprove this “fallacy,” which usually involve some really unbelievably low prices for the healthy options. Well, sorry—I’m just not buying it.

Granted, maybe they live/shop in an area with more grocery shopping options, or in a region where the warmer climate makes fresh produce easier to get (and therefore more affordable). But that’s not the case in my area.

The food shopping options within a 25-mile radius of my home consist of a Walmart and two mid-sized grocery stores that are part of a regional chain. Despite the fact that I’m a pretty savvy shopper, I’ve been unable to buy nutritious grocery items without spending a fortune. more »

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Beware the Bait and Switch

Bobbi : December 27, 2011 9:33 pm : deals, money, Rants & Raves

Bait and switch

When you’re stretching every dollar, your purchase decisions (the few you are able to make) revolve around sales. You pounce on the sale ads as soon as they come out, eagerly hoping you can find a good bargain on something you need. When you’re lucky enough to spot a great deal, you celebrate because it means you’ll have a little more to use for other essentials.

So it can be very discouraging to find that you can’t actually get that item for the great sale price—and, in fact, you never had a shot at getting it all. That’s because, you realize later, you’ve become the victim of a store’s attempt to do a bait and switch.

What’s a bait and switch? It may sound like a fishing term—and in a way it is, only you and I are the big catch stores are hoping to reel in. A bait and switch is when a store lures you in by promising a really great deal—only to then try to sell you a more expensive item instead.

The dirty little secret of retail is that many stores, including huge retail chains, engage in bait and switch tactics.

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It’s Gift Card Exchange Day!

Bobbi : December 26, 2011 5:00 am : Earning, Easy & Fun, money

Gift Card ExchangeDid you get some gift cards for the holidays that you won’t be able to use? You’re in luck! Today is Gift Card Exchange Day! That means today is the day when you will get the best price for gift cards you want to sell. You won’t get full value for the card, but you will probably get a decent offer – in cash. And a little cash is certainly better than some plastic you never plan to use. And it’s better to sell them for a decent price now, before you throw them in a drawer somewhere and forget about them. (Statistics show that the average American household has $300 in unredeemed gift cards, and $60 billion in gift cards go unused every year.)

To find out how to sell your unwanted gift cards, visit


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