Food for Thought – the secret to retirement is in your refrigerator

EXCEPT FOR A SCALLION or cucumber—feel free to add other items—finding something green in your refrigerator is generally not good. This morning, I reached for the butter and caught a glimpse of dark green. It was a wedge of never-opened goat cheese, $5.60 worth. Or, to view it another way, $253 in lost retirement savings over the next 40 years.

Before we left for Florida this winter, we removed from the fridge all items that would not survive six weeks. That process alone triggered a debate over what to keep or throw. In any case, a lot of money went in the trash. Many of the things we found upon our return had simply been forgotten during our pre-trip purge. Like goat cheese.

According to Feeding America, nearly 40% of all food is wasted in America. An estimated 39% of that waste occurs at home, amounting to some 42 billion pounds of food each year, including my 0.51 pound of cheese. I often wonder how anyone knows that statistic. I suspect it won’t be long before high-tech kitchen appliances report our every wasteful action.

I also decided to look in the pantry for old food. Sure enough, there was a cache of forgotten cans, jars and boxes, including a jar of beets. I haven’t eaten beets since forced to by my mother in 1952. The jar said “use by 3/23/2018.” It must have come with us when we moved to our condo.

In addition, I found souvenir food that was either way outdated or questionable as to its use. Souvenir food is the stuff you buy in gift shops when traveling. It seems cool at the time, but when you get home, you’ll never cook anything as intended. I found Real Texas BBQ rub, Cajun spices, cactus jelly, and paprika from the last time I was in Budapest. When was the last time I was in Budapest? My favorite find was a “special” tea you sip from a gourd. I picked it up in Argentina. I was told it was very relaxing, which is yet to be determined.

When on a cleaning spree, don’t give too much credibility to expiration dates. Except for baby formula, there are no federal regulations on food dating. The “use by,” “best by” and “expiration” dates are pretty arbitrary and more intended to reflect a decline in flavor—unless the product has turned green, of course.

It’s possible to waste money in other ways, too, like on junk food and snacks. One estimate says we spend nearly $30,000 in a lifetime on salty and sweet snacks. Based on the annual spending rate on snacks of almost $480 a year and a 10% investment return, cutting them out could turn into more than $230,000 over 40 years. As I’ve said before, let me at your shopping cart and I’ll find savings that will put you on track for early retirement, and maybe lose weight, too.

While all this throwing away and snacking is going on, the U.S. manages to rank as the most obese country in the world, if you exclude an array of Pacific Islands and Kuwait. It would appear our financial woes aren’t caused by what we fail to put in the bank, but rather by what we put in our mouth—or planned to and forgot about.

Read more by Richard Quinn

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  1. I’m very overweight, and became so as my activity level became more sedentary due to the combination of those injuries, working half days (12 hours a day, 7 days a week) and going to graduate school at night.

    However, instead of denying yourself unique foods and spices, try what my niece did – some kind of funky form of fasting. She only eats twice a day, no snacks in between. She looks even thinner than I did back when I was running marathons.

    Her process may be based on what is known as the “2 meal a day”. She eats when she is hungry and then a second time each day no more than 8 hours later. She eats whatever she wants. So, typically, she would eat at 10 – Noon in the morning, and again just before 6:00 at night. Turns out she eats less, runs more, and boy does it show.

    And, because many more meals were planned, her focus at the grocery store also increased – likely leading to less waste.

    To get to that stage, she endured a number of weeks feeling hungry, tired, etc. – until achieving some sort of a rhythm.

    Assuming you currently spend $25/day, $750 a month on food (excluding dining out), and that skipping “lunch” would reduce the amount you eat and lowers your monthly spend by $200 a month, if you start at age 25 (when it is easier, because you are more active), assume the cost of food increased 3% per year, and invest @ 5% per year, that $200 a month at age 25 becomes $500,000 at age 65 (not adjusted for inflation).

    I’ll be adding this to my new hire 401k plan education sessions.


  2. I get so mad when I look into our full upright freezer. My wife will buy meats when on sale. Then each week she will buy for the menu for that week. Then I’ll find multiple packages a year later all freezer burned. Throwing it out hurts because unlike other modern foods with UPC prices that you can no longer read, meats still have a readable price tag . At least with can and dry foods, you can donated that food if you know you will not get around to eating it. But throwing out meats still hurts.

    It is the price I pay or my wife will stop cooking and she’ll stop buying food and I’ll be forced to take her to dinner every night. Money can buy happiness if I keep my mouth shut.


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