Stretch Your Food Dollars

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By: Mariah Haroon, CSUN Dietetic Intern

If you find yourself struggling with your food budget, ask yourself these questions: How many times have I opened my refrigerator to restock groceries only to find out that I had more than enough groceries to last me for a week? Am I actually checking the food for signs of it going bad before throwing it away? Am I taking full advantage of all the money saving resources that are out there for groceries? If your answers lead you to believe that you can use some help in saving money on food, here are a few tips for you.

Not keeping a food inventory frequently results in food waste1.  A study done by USDA suggests that approximately 130 billion pounds of food goes to waste annually in the US. That amounts to about $161.6 billion of consumer money2. To reduce food waste, make a list that keeps track of: (1) types of items that you commonly buy, (2) the dates the items are purchased, (3) quantity of items purchased, (4) the dates the items are opened, and (5) the listed expiration dates. Cross off items on the list or update quantities as you recycle empty containers and bags. Make sure to add a miscellaneous section for items that you do not usually buy but are a one time purchase. Make several copies of the list. Stick one on your refrigerator and store the rest in a kitchen drawer with some extra pencils!

You can essentially save a substantial amount of money by saving food that might be thrown away due to overly conservative “Sell By” and “Best By” dates. These dates are generally indicative of the highest quality of the product3. According to an industry-conducted survey reported by National Resources Defense Counsel, “More than 90% of Americans may be prematurely tossing food because they misinterpret food labels as indicators of food safety”4. Additionally, you can ask your local grocery store if they give away products that have crossed their “Best Buy” dates or are close to their expiration dates at the end of the day5. If so, you can stock up your refrigerator for free!

Storing food in an appropriate way keeps it good for a longer period of time6. Get more bank for your buck by making sure your storage areas are optimal for your food. Keep your refrigerator drawers and shelves clean and your crisper at the right temperature. Make sure your pantry is not too close to the stove or cooking range7. Do not overfill your freezer and check periodically to make sure refrigerator and freezer doors are properly closed.

A food sale is your best friend. Keep an eye out for any promotional materials that come your way. Grocery stores mail out pamphlets about food promotions to surrounding neighborhoods1. Loyalty cards, coupons and taking advantage of “Manager’s Specials” are other great ways to save money through food sales2.

Here is a great Grocery Inventory List list for you to use as a sample!8 Feel free to download it and modify according to your shopping preferences. Specifying brands on the list it a good idea if someone else might shop for you.
The Marilyn Magaram Center (MMC) at CSUN is a great resource to tap into for knowledge about smart grocery shopping. MMC conducts Grocery Store Tours throughout the school year. For upcoming grocery store tour information, check out our upcoming events.


  1. Reducing Wasted Food At Home. EPA. Published August 2, 2018. Accessed September 5, 2018.
  2. Office of the Chief Economist. U.S. Food Waste Challenge . Accessed September 4, 2018.
  3. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Food Product Dating.; 2016. Accessed September 4, 2018.
  4. New Report: Food Expiration Date Confusion Causing up to 90% of Americans to Waste Food. https://wwwnrdcorg. September 2013. Accessed September 5, 2018.
  5. Giancoli A. 5 Ways to Stretch Your Dollar at the Grocery Store. Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published January 25, 2017. Accessed September 5, 2018.
  6. gov. Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer. Published August 23, 2009. Accessed September 5, 2018.
  7. Pantry Food Storage. Lichens. Published December 9, 2010. Accessed September 5, 2018.
  8. Grocery List (Ideal for single, health-conscious people). Published October 2008. Accessed September 5, 2018.

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