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Your cupboards could be costing you dear

Do you really know exactly what’s in your cupboards? You should. Because, as I found out, not paying attention to what’s in your kitchen cabinets could cost you.

The food bank at On Rock Community Services is well into its surplus stocks earlier than expected due to lower donations and higher demand. (CBC)

I currently know to a sausage exactly how much food there is in my house. That’s because I’ve been carrying out a stocktake of my cupboards and freezer in an attempt to save money.

As much as half the world's food is thrown away, uneaten, with families in the UK chucking out £680-worth of perfectly edible food each year, according to the campaign group WRAP.

My new year’s resolution has been to stop wasting food in our home. But while that’s been easy enough to do with fresh produce, I do often find out-of-date packets of food that have been languishing at the back of my kitchen cupboards.

So how can I cut this waste? I needed a plan.

[Related feature: How to cut waste and save cash]

Like a business

A recent blog post by the admirable Penny Golightly suggested making a note of all the food that’s already in your home.

That way you can use up all the surplus ingredients and frozen leftovers that gradually build up in even the most efficient homes.

I’ve often thought about the benefits of keeping closer control over the contents of my cupboards. Once, during a fit of 1950s-style enthusiasm, I bought Anthea Turner’s book ‘How to be a perfect housewife’. I’m not going to lie, it didn’t make much of an impression on me – I am simply never going to iron my tea towels.

However, she did make one suggestion that stuck with me: “Run your home like a business.” Well, a smooth-running business would know exactly what stock it had in, so that it didn’t waste product or buy duplicates. So that’s what I set out to achieve.

The task

I won’t pretend that this was an interesting way to spend the afternoon. I emptied my cupboards onto the kitchen floor and sorted through the contents, chucking out anything that was no longer safe and reorganising what was left.

Then I noted down how much of everything I had as I returned it to the cupboards, asterixing anything that was approaching its use-by date.

Emptying the freezer was a far worse job. Now that I have a chest freezer, I’ve gradually filled it with unknown packages, half-opened packets and escaped fish fingers.

It took an icy half an hour to sort through everything and, by the time I’d finished, I couldn’t feel my fingers – but it was worth it. The freezer is now much better organised and I have meals planned for the next two weeks that will make sure everything that’s been in there a while is eaten in time.

How much could this save me?

While I’m delighted at my reorganised kitchen cupboards, I am slightly ashamed at the amount of stuff I had to throw away.

The pile of out-of-date packets and unidentifiable frozen packages was bigger than I expected, easily about £30-worth of food.

We’ve only been in this house for six months so most of that was fairly recent waste. That means that we have been wasting up to £60-worth of edible food every year.

If I can cut down on that waste, it will be a decent addition to the estimated £520 a year I hope to save by being more efficient with my fresh food shopping.

Will I keep it up?

At the start of this, I had planned to keep absolute control over what food was in the house. I had visions of an up-to-date list pinned to every cupboard listing the contents and the use-by dates.

I’ve since realised that this is never going to happen. There simply isn’t enough time to be that obsessive about every last half-packet of pasta shells.

However, doing a stocktake did mean I’ve planned meals over the next couple of weeks that will use up any food nearing its use-by date, so I have cut back on a lot of potential waste.

My new plan is to carry out a stocktake every three months or so, to keep waste to a minimum and stay in control of my kitchen’s contents. It’s definitely going to save me cash, so I’d recommend it.

Empty cupboards aren’t the answer

While simply not having much in your cupboards or freezer would be one solution to this problem, it exposes you to other problems.

Having a healthily stocked kitchen not only gives you more options and something to fall back on if unexpected guests arrive, if you’re in control of what’s in your cupboards then you can also build up an edible emergency fund.

Just as it’s a good idea to have some spare cash ready for a rainy day, an edible emergency fund can also give you a little extra protection if you’re hit by a financial disaster or even just a particularly big bill one month.

Provided it’s done carefully so you don’t end up wasting food.

[Related feature: How to build an edible emergency fund]

What do you think? Do you know what’s in your cupboards, or do you often throw away out-of-date food? Share your thoughts and tips with other readers using the comments below.