Looking for ways to trim your spending? Organizing your kitchen is a good place to start because it can help you spend less and be less wasteful.
Editor’s Note: This guest post comes from Ryan Page, a writer for the financial website Money Crashers. I found it insightful and engaging and hope you will too.
Kitchens are meant to be for creating culinary art, sharing flavors with your friends, and preparing meals for loved ones.
A messy kitchen reduces your capacity for creativity by limiting your options. It also costs you money — money you could spend on better ingredients, more flavorful experiments, cookbooks, classes, spices, and more.
Here are seven ways you can organize your kitchen to save money now.
1. Avoid the Dreaded Impulse Buy
Personal finance blogger J.D. Roth, in his book “America’s Cheapest Family,” says 50% to 60% of the average American grocery bill is impulse purchases. That’s half your grocery bill every week, every month, and every year.
The best defense against impulse buys at the grocery store is to make a list of needed ingredients ahead of time, then buy only those ingredients when you get to the supermarket. It requires planning meals ahead of time and knowing what you already have on hand. In other words, organizing your kitchen will help you shop smarter.
Easy First Step: Put up a whiteboard near the fridge where you write down items whenever you run out.
Big Next Step: Make weekly meal plans that indicate what ingredients you need for each day, and turn those into your shopping list.
2. Time Your Purchases
You’ve probably noticed different groceries are cheaper at different times of year. For example, soda, beer, and wine are cheaper just before Super Bowl Sunday, Memorial Day Weekend, the Fourth of July, and similar holidays. Cereal and snack foods go on sale from late July to early September.
Likewise, your local supermarket features different items on special each week, based on what they have overstocked. You can take advantage of these savings, but only if you’re on top of things enough to notice the opportunities and jump on them.
Easy First Step: Just before the next holiday, set aside $50 or $100 to stock up on party staples like drinks, paper plates, napkins, and snacks with a long shelf life. When you do use them, look up what they would have cost you at that time and see how much money you saved by shopping ahead.
Big Next Step: Start looking at sales prices in your local print circular or online, and incorporate the best deals of each week into your menu plan and shopping list. Make it a creativity challenge each week to come up with a way to use the sale items.
3. Use Up Leftovers
Get in the habit of eating all of your leftovers. It can save you the cost of a meal a week and potentially much more. But getting into this habit means keeping your fridge organized enough that you don’t lose leftovers in a hidden corner.
Too many delicious lasagnas have transformed into resealable container-bound science experiments because someone forgot about them. Only you can stop this in your kitchen.
Easy First Step: Establish one night a week when you pull out all the leftovers and scraps from your fridge and eat them buffet-style. This is another option that saves money and challenges your culinary creativity.
Big Next Step: Get in the habit of cooking enough each dinner to pack leftovers for lunch over the next few days. If the adults in your home usually eat lunch out at work, it’s a savings of $50 or more every week. What could you do with an extra $2,400 or more a year?
4. Reduce Food Waste
Lost leftovers is one form of food waste, but this kitchen cost comes in two additional varieties: rotting scraps and unnecessary overbuys. Rotting scraps are exactly what they sound like: odds and ends of food you bought that just sit in your fridge, uneaten, until they rot. They’re the heel of bread that goes moldy, the half a carrot left over after you made a pilaf, the piece of fish you bought on special but didn’t cook before it went bad.
Unnecessary overbuys happen when you’re at the store and purchase something you thought you were out of, but then get home and realize you actually had the item. This means waste because it will likely go bad before you can use all of it.
Easy First Step: Once a week, see what you can make from the scraps in your fridge. Is there a soup or casserole in there? Get creative and see what you can build in true “Iron Chef” style.
Big Next Step: Remember the weekly meal plan from #1? Do that, but after you make your shopping list, go through the fridge and pantry to see how many items on your list are already in your home.
5. Minimize Your Variable Expenses
In business, expenses are categorized as fixed and variable. Fixed expenses are those that management can’t do anything about. Rent, for example, is the same each month no matter what you do. Variable expenses are things organizing your kitchen could reduce with attention and effort, such as how many napkins or bottles of soap for the bathroom you need on hand.
In your kitchen, like in many restaurants, the stuff you buy in addition to groceries is one of the biggest sources of variable expenses. How many paper towels, jugs of hand soap, packets of dish detergent, and similar items do you use each month in the kitchen? Getting organized around these expenses can save a surprising amount of money.
Easy First Step: Start buying all of these items in bulk, once a quarter, either at the cheapest price in your grocery store or from a discount warehouse like Costco or Sam’s Club.
Big Next Step: Track how much you spend on variables, and look for areas where it feels like you’re spending too much. Try to cut these expenses. The low-hanging fruit in most homes is paper towels. Are you burning through them when a cloth rag is a better option? Are you using three sheets when two will do? In most cases, cutting back on variables doesn’t just save you some green, it’s better for the environment too.
6. Put Everything in Its Place
You’ve likely been in kitchens with a shocking number of wine openers, paper plates, or specialty cooking gadgets. That kitchen might even be yours. It’s another version of the accidental overbuy, where somebody who needs a specific cooking gadget can’t find the one they bought last time they needed it. So they go out and buy another one, only to find the first one shortly thereafter.
The good news is these kitchen tools don’t rot. The bad news is they’re usually more expensive than an extra head of lettuce, and they clutter your kitchen by perpetually taking up space. Organizing your kitchen can help curtail these extras.
Easy First Step: Take an afternoon and empty all of your kitchen drawers, then donate all the redundant kitchen stuff. Give each surviving item a home so that you can always remember where to find it.
Big Next Step: Once you’ve organized your kitchen, take photos of each drawer and cupboard. Print them out and tape them to the insides of the doors to help you stick to the new plan until it becomes second nature.
7. Practice Fridge Velcro
“Fridge velcro” is a kitchen strategy where you become creative and pair foods together to make a new dish using a few kitchen staples and leftovers. Rice and pasta are the most common examples of fridge velcro, but the list also includes soups, grits, stews, and chili.
Let’s say you’ve got rice or pasta on hand. Pull the scraps and leftover ingredients out of your fridge or pantry. Get creative and find a way to combine them with the rice or pasta in a delicious dish. A few examples:
- Add half a can of peas, a fistful of spinach, and some pasta. Top it with olive oil and pepper.
- Add spice and leftover soup stock to rice, then top it with dried fruit from the pantry and that one piece of salmon from earlier in the week.
- Combine all the half-vegetables in the crisper with a handmade salad dressing and croutons you made from the heels in a bread bag.
Most families can make a velcro meal each week, stretching their cooking cred while cutting down on their budget.
Easy First Step: Try it once on an unencumbered Saturday afternoon. Open the fridge, see what’s available, and let your imagination run wild.
Big Next Step: Make this a weekly menu item for your household. Turn it into a contest for the cooks at your home. As a bonus, it’s a great way to get kids involved and teach them kitchen creativity at a young age.
Even if you’re on board with organizing your kitchen, these ideas can seem intimidating at first. That’s OK. You don’t have to do it all at once. Choose one item and try it for a month. Once you’ve got it mastered, add a second item. Add a third after you’ve got those two down.
In less than a year, you’ll have it all in place and will be raking in the savings. In turn, your kitchen will foster more creativity.
Ryan Page works from his Montana home running his Web design business. In his free time, he loves to cook for his family of six.