I’m Embarrassed By How Easy It Was To Cut My Grocery Bill in Half

The current pandemic has forced many of us to re-evaluate our spending habits. Whether you need to buy more to make fewer grocery runs or buy less to make ends meet, most of us have had to make some changes. We’ve also had to take a closer look at how much food we can store, how long our storage capacity lasts us, and how much food we waste in the process.

If you haven’t yet made this evaluation, I strongly recommend it. You might be amazed at how much food you throw out and how much money you could save if you didn’t. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans waste up to 40% of the food we buy. Waste happens not just at the consumer levels, but also at the retail levels.

In 2010 alone, Americans wasted $161 billion dollars on food. That worked out to roughly 133 billion pounds of food heading straight to landfills. How much of that do you think came from your home? How much do you think you’ve been wasting now in the 2020 era of panic buying?

Third World Benchmark

Jamaica is a developing nation. This puts it a step behind developed countries, like America, and a step ahead of underdeveloped countries, like Haiti. This means that anything you find in America, you can usually find in Jamaica: from tech to food. However, because we import so much of our food, it is often way more expensive than what it costs overseas.

Coupled with a low minimum wage and equally low GDP, many of us know firsthand what it’s like to miss a few meals: not because we want to fit into a dress or feel too lazy to cook, but because we have to. Consequently, we do whatever we can to not waste food.

With this goal in mind, we use whatever we have in our fridges and cupboards and take advantage of foods growing in our yards. These are just some of the foods that grow naturally on my family’s property in Jamaica:

  • Banana
  • Breadfruit
  • Papaya
  • Guava
  • Capsicum pepper
  • Jackfruit

We may not necessarily grow hungry when living outside the big cities, but we might not always get the foods we want when we want them. I’m starting to realise, though, that this isn’t always a bad thing.

First World Comparison

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Life in America is the exact opposite. There isn’t a single edible plant on my property here and we get all our foods from the grocery stores. Even so, food is cheap and the salaries are high, compared to Jamaica. When I walk into Kroger, I can walk out with whatever I want. Unfortunately, this is sometimes to my detriment β€” and probably yours, too.

Have you ever gone to the store, seen something you want and not be able to remember if you have any at home or not? So, you figure why not buy it? Then, you come home and find out you did this two grocery trips in a row and now you have two pounds of bad food in the refrigerator. What about leftovers you forgot about or canned goods that sat there for years and expired?

In fact, if you are like most people living in America, you are probably guilty of one or more of the following:

  • You keep about $102 worth of food in the fridge all year round.
  • You toss out about $54 worth of spoiled food each week.
  • You end up throwing out about 103 pounds of food per year.
  • Too often, your perishables tend to perish before you get to them.

My Eye-Opening Experiment

As the coronavirus caseloads worsen and death rates increase in Georgia, I reduced my trips outside of the home even more. Instead of running off to Kroger every week to get groceries, I now try to make it to two weeks and have even made it to three, once before. These longer stretches led to some very disturbing realisations for me, which ultimately inspired this article.

I find that one of the biggest reasons I waste food is the fact that there are so many options. In Jamaica, I would decide what kind of meals I wanted for the week and plan accordingly. I don’t have to make that choice in America. Right now, I have three different types of teas in my cupboards. Side dishes? Well, I have potatoes, mac n cheese, fancy rice, regular rice, tacos, canned corn, frozen corn, string beans … I could go on and on.

To most Americans, this might not seem strange at all. Well, of course, you have all these things, so you can make a choice when you’re ready to make your meals! If you are a picky eater or have picky eaters in the house, having an open buffet of groceries at home might feel even more necessary. But, as several studies now show, an embarrassingly high portion of all that food ends up in landfills.

So, what exactly was the main finding of my little experiment? When I shop weekly, I spend anywhere from around $80 to $120 per week on food. If this seems high for a single person, consider that I am a pescetarian who buys a lot of organic foods. Would you like to guess how much money I spend on food when I shop once every two weeks?

Anywhere from around $80 to $120 every two weeks.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Can you believe that all I had to do to cut my grocery bill in half was to go to the store half as often? Now, I might have to drink peppermint tea instead of hot cocoa every once in a while or use Swiss cheese instead of cheddar, but we don’t need to have exactly what we want all the time just because we can.

Food’s Role in Minimalism

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Let’s go back in time to my life in Jamaica. One spring morning in 2015, I woke up and had had enough. I texted one of my friends and said, “I’m going to quit my job before the end of the year. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I will. I’m tired of this.”

I then met up with several travellers from around the world who came to Jamaica. I asked each one of them how they found the time and means to travel so often and so far on modest incomes. The answer was almost always the same: minimalism.

Not every single person said the actual word minimalism, but they all spoke about the importance of having less stuff. I took that advice to heart. Every Sunday afternoon, I would get a big garbage bag and walk around my apartment, looking for things to throw away or give away.

By the time June 30th 2015 came around, I was able to give up my home and fit everything I had into three suitcases and a laptop bag. I then started a cross-island adventure with friends before coming to America to continue my gap year plans. That gap year never really ended, and now, I live here.

For the record, I am no hardcore minimalist who counts all her possessions and has zero clutter in her home. But, I do live minimally. My home, after all, is only 628 SF: a matchbox by First World standards. Even so, it’s ironic how food never made it into my minimalist plans.

I think that because food is a necessary item, we make peace with spending and wasting money on it. Justifying a purchase is even easier when you’re buying a pound of organic squashes instead of another cup of Starbucks coffee.

Yet, the effect on your budget is the same and the waste it creates is much worse. At least, there’s a pretty big chance you’ll drink that cup of coffee you bought before work. But, do you really plan to make that squash casserole you saw on Pinterest or is it the landfill that will get to taste your good intentions?

I’m sure many of you have already thought deeply about the money you waste on food and might even already be on your way to fixing it. Sadly, too many of us think the answer is coupons and buying in bulk. If you haven’t already seen buying less or less often as a viable option, there’s no time like the present to give it a try.

In the meantime, what delicious foods have your garbage cans stolen from your fridge lately? Or, have you tightened up your food spending already? Share your food waste confessions in the comments, below!

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36 thoughts on “I’m Embarrassed By How Easy It Was To Cut My Grocery Bill in Half

  1. I remember in 2018 when I was in FL, visiting my sister and her children. Sis had made some good juicy porkchops and the meat portion was finished. Me take up myself ya now the next day, ready fi shell it dung wid some good good rice. Alexis, ungle fi see me nephew dash the gravy in the sink and a get ready fi wash pot. I nearly put down a piece a bawling fi d food!! πŸ˜­πŸ˜­πŸ˜‚

    It was at that moment I remembered about the stark difference between the reality of the avg American and avg Jamaican. Oh, and I told her about the story and she laughed and said “he wouldn’t know the struggle”.

    It’s quite alarming to see that Americans waste so much food a year! Wow! But, it makes sense. Right now, my mom has to stretch everything she buys (as if she didn’t do it enough) because tings ruff!

    I am glad you were able to cut down your shop time to a week apart and save yourself some $ whilst reminding yourself that you can do without. I try to minimalism sometimes with my spending as well. Sometimes it sucks 😒, and sometimes it feels good 😁.

    I’ve a big venture coming up for March that I will NEED more minimalism for, so I’ll be doing just that for now.

    1. I was also really surprised by what people threw away when I first visited America. The longer I’ve been here, the less surprising it is.

      One of the big lessons I’ve had to learn is that throwing things away isn’t always the best way to downsize because all that stuff has to go somewhere, anyway. I try to donate what I can. When food goes bad though, there’s not much I can do about that.

      I’m currently on a tight budget myself to pay off some recently acquired debt. I had a project working on and it got expensive fast. πŸ˜‚

      Good luck on your venture in March. I guess I’ll hear more about that soon!

  2. Wasting food has never been a problem for me growing up or when I raised my own three children, because no one was allowed to be a picky eater, we’re all creative cooks, and we have old-fashioned – possibly Depression era – values about food.

    I felt bad recently when I had to throw out eight eggs because we’re a vegan household and a visiting friend bought a new dozen just days before going home and hadn’t used them. I held onto them for two weeks so that my visiting college-aged stepson could eat them. He never prepared them for himself even though I encouraged him to.

    Finally, I scrambled four of them and served them to him with sausage, hasbrowns, etc. a few days after the “Best by” date. He enjoyed them, but I had to throw out the rest a week later. With our varied and busy schedules, I was not going to put forth any more effort to force-feed these eggs to a perfectly capable young man who cooked everything else that he wanted.

    1. I wonder why your friend brought so many eggs, knowing you guys were vegan. Also, your stepson should absolutely make his own meals. Don’t spoil him. He’ll only become a headache for the rest of us women later on. πŸ˜‚

      Sorry you had to throw those out though!

  3. I spend way too much on food and could save more if I cooked at home, but it’s honestly hard since I live on my own plus work horrible hours (80+ per week on average). Thus I don’t cook as often as I should, but when I manage to cook more than I eat out, I save quite a bit. And I guess I’ve grown accustomed to buying a few pricier options now e.g. grapes, fancy rice etc and could not imagine going back to things like eating tin mackerel (no offense to tin mackerel eaters). The only thing which helps me save is my mantra to never buy more than one meal per day.. therefore if I buy lunch, I’m making breakfast and dinner. πŸ™‚ Work has caused me to break this rule a few times but perhaps only 5-6 times so far.

    1. Spending more on fancier food is fine, as long as you eat it. I don’t see anything wrong with that, but it definitely sucks when we throw it out.

      80 hour weeks sound brutal. I worked a few of those and it was horrible. πŸ˜‚ Why so many hours though? Is it because of the pandemic or is that normal?

      1. Damn….I guess at least you knock a lot of it out in one go. Are you allowed to sleep at all during that time?

      2. Well you sleep/rest once you have no patients to see. So once your patients are stable, and there are no new admissions, you can sleep πŸ™ƒ therefore duties can be anything from chill to extremely rough where your eyes are red and bloodshot and your brain feels like it’s moving through molasses at the end 😭

      3. But where do you sleep? Do they let you go home or you sleep at the hospital? 😳

      4. Depends on the specialty you can go home but for high paced areas like the maternity ward or anaesthesia/ intensive care, you’re not allowed to leave. There’s always a staff room with a bed or 2 on every ward.. just have to hope it’s free when you’re able to take a nap. Otherwise, you’re gonna rough it in a chair. Not like you’re getting more than an hour’s sleep at a time anyway. πŸ˜₯ if you’re lucky 2.

        Then, if you’re on a specialty which allows you to go home, you have to sleep light and be rested enough to head back to work quickly as needed. It’s not really the safest thing driving at 2 and 3am in the morning when tired, but we do it anyway. And you also shouldn’t live more than 5minutes away. Which is 1 of the reasons why our expenses are high because you always have to choose somewhere very close to the hospital you work which tends to be more expensive since it’s in the heart of the city. A lot of hospitals have on campus accommodation though for staff at a small cost, but that’s usually only allowed for the first year of work. I sort of miss living on the hospital compound for the convenience like I did last year, but I love having a separate space too. It’s sort of depressing to live where you work.

      5. Girl, did you know all this before you signed up for this madness? 😳

      6. Wow. It’s a real scam that they didn’t prepare you guys for that in the classroom. I have a friend in medicine there who mentioned his 36 hour shift to me once before, but he didn’t have time to explain what he meant when I asked and we haven’t spoken much since.

        America is short of doctors, as are many other countries. My doctor family member makes a quarter mill USD per year up here and works 5 days a week with weekends off. I’m not sure if the pandemic changed her schedule, but it doesn’t seem like it.

        Consider your options if you start to feel like it’s too much after a while. Starting a private practice after a while might also help you preserve your sanity. I’m sure you’ve been looking into things, so fingers crossed for you.

      7. Yup. Can’t tell her nothing though. She’s a DOCTOR and she won’t let you forget it. πŸ˜‚ Just remember you have options. Build up some experience and then go somewhere else, if the opportunity presents itself. Jamaica is not short of talent. What it’s short of is opportunities. America is the opposite.

  4. I just got a bigger fridge, too big for just me, but I’m reading up on how to freeze and save items i ordinarily would let go to rot and end up in the compost bin. Some still will just because, but as I get better with gardening, I’m gonna need the storage space. I wanted a bigger freezer so I could cut up and freeze as much of my harvest as possible and use the rest sooner. I’m a newbie gardener and just finding my way around the kitchen again, so my recipe list of more healthy stuff is abysmally low. I’m still learning, but I don’t want things to go bad while I’m poring over cookbooks trying to find the cool stuff I wanted to try. Gotta see what’s growing and make some lists to correlate with what’s coming out of my garden.

  5. I’m also spending a lot less, although I haven’t tallied exact figures. I’m wasting much less, besides. If I have several types of vegetables left that are close to going bad, I make a big pot of veggie stew using all of them. There aren’t many vegs that can’t go together (beets may be an exception). Just put in the selections that cook the fastest toward the end of your cooking time. Leave ingredients still crisp, since there will be a bit more cooking when you reheat. I then divide into several containers for the refrigerator or freezer. When you want to use them, just add whatever type of protein ingredient you want.

    1. That’s a very good way to save the veggies going bad. I’m not big on stews, but I’m sure someone could do the same with pasta! I added squash to my pasta last night for the same reason and it was lovely. Reminds me of “pasta primavera” which is usually the vegetarian pasta option at Italian restaurants I’ve been to.

      Thanks for sharing your tips!

  6. My wife and I struggle with food waste. We have gotten better over the last few months, stretching our trips to the store, especially because of a lack of availability early in the pandemic. We don’t mind leftovers, have started using a pressure cooker to prepare larger quantities that allow us to freeze and use up those leftovers. We get variety by having multiple frozen leftovers to choose from.

    1. I think you’re the second or third person mentioning freezing the leftovers. Now that I think of it, my mom does the same. How do you know what’s frozen though? Do you label the bags? I should look into that!

      I definitely don’t mind leftovers either and stretching out the grocery trips was my biggest eye opener.

      1. I think that’s what mom does as well, but lately she still had a mix-up and ruined her curry goat! I think the ice messes with the sharpie sometimes. πŸ˜‚

      2. Really? That really sucks. You could probably try getting all the air out, closing them and then still securing them with clips as a backup. πŸ€”

      3. That’s true, but food expands when it freezes, so I think maybe that can mess with the seal too.

  7. i dislike eating leftovers and usually prepare meals in which i dont have or have very little leftovers. it is had to “cook” for one and mostly my meals are what i can “cook” quickly with minimal prep. during the summer the oven is not used. but the microwave is. lol summer is fruit, salads, sandwiches and outside grill and anything i can “cook” quickly on the stove or microwave. before the pandemic, my store would have an area where meat/seafood was placed on discount and also an area where other food items were discounted. i try not to keep a lot in my fridge/freezer or pantry and i dont mind going shopping as deals can be found on many days of the week and i let the store keep up the stock. lol it works for me and my food spending is controlled.

    1. I’m trying to make fewer trips to the store, so I don’t think your method would work for me. πŸ˜‚ I also cook all my meals for the day, so leftovers are the best way to spend less time in the kitchen. I use my oven almost every day of the week. I don’t like fried foods, so most of what I do is baked or toasted.

      I’ve gotten better with reining in my food waste, but I’ve definitely got a long way to go! Do what keeps working for you. You’re doing a great job! πŸ™ƒ

  8. Ug. We waste in leftovers. Some get eaten and some get lost. I hate the big refrigerators here. In England it was small but just right for the two of us. Condiments – Ug and my husband- Ug. Oh well.

    1. The big refrigerators are definitely partly to blame. It’s insane what can get lost in there. I’m getting better about eating my leftovers but I have a ways to go!

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