Finding a way to tackle reducing food costs and better organizing at the same time

This is something that hit me the other night and I started working on it yesterday afternoon (would’ve done it earlier except tired and getting over a chest cold). But of course, my odd desire to color-code the hell out of everything might actually come in handy in a most unexpected way.

I don’t remember why, but I had a bunch of those 1-inch circular colored labels in my office and this morning I hit on the idea of using them. That meant I had to get a few more while I was out today, but oh well–if this system works, they won’t be sitting in a drawer for very long, anyway.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve been frustrated by my pantry space in my new house. It’s not a closet, but rather a bunch of cabinets stacked on top of each other next to the fridge, so it’s roomy but not really organize-able easily. I already got some expanding shelves in there and did what I could for them a few months ago, but my food is scattered around into other cabinets because I got in my “stock up on everything” impulse buying schtick and here we are. More than that, I’ve had some items I’ve bought for recipes and not used because I got busy or forgot what recipe I was tackling, so I have things in there like “uh, why did I buy that?” and it just sits there.

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I hate the idea of food waste more than ever. When I resume this “financial diet” of mine for good, I am gonna use up what I can to the best of my ability. So, while still somewhat fuzzy in the head, I decided I was gonna pull out all the food I have in the cabinets (and a few from the fridge), take inventory and write the expiration dates on them so they’re easy to see.

Is it gonna take a while? Hells yeah, it will. Of course, some things I won’t be able to really put dates on, like pasta and the like, but some basic research minus a year will give me a good idea how soon I need to use certain things up. I started putting the bags of flour that I hadn’t opened yet into the fridge to keep from getting those bugs. I have much better sealed containers than last year and will carefully inspect what I have. If it turns out I have a possible infestation (rice just doesn’t wanna last long around here), then it’s gotta go. Some things I’ve had up there a while and didn’t realize it had such a short expiration date, so I’ve already thrown them out (all creamy dressings that I forgot I had… but I’m learning how to make my own, anyway, so no biggie).

And the color coding labels will come in handy big time. I’ve got 4 colors, 1 is for “overdue”, or items that have gone past the expiration date (but I know are still good at least for a while–they’re my “make sure to eat/use first items”), another for “2023,” so any foods that expire next year will be next on the list. I’ve got another for “opened”, so if I’ve got a few jars of honey or something else, I can use that color OR I can use it and put it on something I gotta refrigerate with the date I opened it. I’m still working on it. The last color’s a neon red that I plan to slap on anything in the cabinets that needs to be used up in the next two months.

That last label was something I remembered from my first job at a pharmacy. We were big on checking for any sneaky expired meds and had a system that if something was 2 months from the date, we needed to slap that red sticker and date on the bottle to ensure it got used up first. It reduced shrinkage and was a good thing to do while moving bottles and cleaning shelves periodically (and for some reason I really liked getting that little red sticker gun and slapping the labels on the bottles… weird, but that was my thing.)

So yeah, this is a system I think will be very helpful. Namely, I can get rid of some stuff really quick that’ll free up some room, but also, there are some new ingredients I haven’t used yet and am not used to that have a VERY limited shelf life. I’m researching how safe some things are beyond the expiration date and for how long once the item’s been opened and used. Canned goods I know can last for a long time, but at the same time, I don’t want a can sitting back there that’s 4 years out of date. I wanted to have a LOT of canned goods available for emergencies, but it has to be eaten up a little along the way. I’m good with that; I just don’t wanna end up having to throw out half my pantry when I need it most.

So, that was my morning–pulling lots of goods out of cabinets and setting them up on some rolling shelves I’ve gotta move elsewhere later. I tried to keep everything together much as I could so I could get all the soups accounted for, ready-meals, etc. I did figure out that one thing that’ll help me big time with NOT spending money out of the house is moving my “shelf-stable ready meals” to the middle one of the 3 pantry cabinets. That way if I’m doing that bored “hungry, but don’t know what I want” thing, they’ll be staring me in the face. Like having fruits on my counter–healthy stuff over the junk any day. And with my color coding, I can have a pull out box of meals that need to be eaten first right in the front, easy to grab and not overlook.

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I’m glad I thought of this. Just disappointed I didn’t think of it sooner. Of course, I’m also taking inventory of what I have, because what’s the point if I end up buying more stuff and end up with a surplus. Already have 3 containers of peanut butter I was unaware of (well, 2 I’m keeping–the dollar store peanut butter is terrible to me and I’m donating the unopened one I got). It’s going to be interesting, and I can just hope I free up some space and make finding what I need a bit easier… and use things up in a timely manner. I hate buying things and forgetting about them, whereby I end up throwing them away.

So, that’s been the past couple of days, and I’ll be working on it even more in the morning and through the weekend. Kinda have to–I have meals I need to plan for January and hard to do that with all my ingredients scattered (and possibly in need of replacement).

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