Food & Finance

I received my W-2 statement in the mail today. After taxes, insurance, and other standard deductions, I brought home $26,632.12 in 2017. When you add in our side hustles ($1161.58), our total income for the year was $27,793.70. I mention this for two reasons. One, so I can marvel for a brief moment at the sheer awesomeness of living simply. If you had told me a decade ago that I would be living successfully on less than half of my then income…on purpose…and loving it…I would have called you crazy. The bank holding the note to my SUV, my suburban townhouse, and my camping trailer would have concurred. Today, looking at that W-2, I feel proud. I feel accomplished. I feel good about choosing time over money and I wouldn’t go back for every dollar in the world.

But…that’s not the only reason I mentioned our income. I wanted to use it as a real world example for today’s post on food waste.

Over the weekend, we watched the documentary film, Dive! If you substituted Angie and me for the folks making the film, this could have very easily been the story of our lives – minus all the meat. Everything they found – right down to the limes – is stuff we find in our own dumpster all the time. Blueberries, strawberries, bread, eggs…you name it, we find it. More than just the fact that we had similar dumpsters, what really stood out to me was that this film and their attempt to improve food waste conditions in CA was made in 2009 and yet here we are, nearly a decade later and 2,031 miles away, living the same story.

In the film, Jeremy Seifert makes a very valid point – Americans spend so little of their income on food that it has essentially lost it’s value. When we don’t value something, we have no qualms about throwing it in the trash.

At the time the film was made, Americans spent 16% of their income on food every year. Currently, we spend 6.4%; less than any other country in the world.

And still, we waste more than 1/3 of that.

Why? Because the scale of our personal economic impact is so small it doesn’t matter.

Let’s do the math. 6.4% of our income essentially means that 6 cents out of every dollar is designated for food. If we waste 1/3 of the food we buy, that’s 2 of those 6 cents. In reality, how much do we care about 2 cents? If the number of pennies that I find on the ground just walking into the grocery store is any indicator, then I’d say not much. But pennies don’t tell the whole story.

People don’t set out to waste food. We have every intention of eating what we buy but then life gets in the way. The apples rot before we get around to making that pie. The meat goes bad when plans change and we forget to freeze it. Or we get tired, bored, or disgusted with something before we finish it. And we throw it away because…it’s easy…it’s cheap…it’s not going to make a difference. Or is it?

Let’s try that math again. 6.4% of our income in 2017 would have been $1,779. In actuality, Angie and I spent more than double that amount on food last year, approximately 13% of our income (or $3,661.81). If we were “average”, $1,208 of that would have gone into the garbage as food waste. And that’s certainly not pocket change!

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about ways to improve your own financial situation this year. Skipping your morning coffee might put $500 back in your pocket for the year. Cutting cable will give you another $960. Heck, switching to Geico could save you 15% on car insurance (or so they say). But one of the easiest and most overlooked ways to start saving – simply reduce your food waste. Pennies do add up to dollars.

I don’t know about you but I’m not a fan of tossing money in the trash!


Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 0
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 3 ounces
  • Found Food this week: 10 US pounds
  • Total Found Food this year: 43.75 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.

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Better Me, Better World

During the month of December we schemed and dreamed about the kind of project we wanted to do in the upcoming year. Coming off an interesting (though less than spectacular) look at personal happiness in 2017, we knew we wanted something that was exciting, something that would make a visible difference in our lives, and something we could both get behind with enthusiasm. For a while it seemed we were on two divergent paths. We wanted to reconnect with minimalism and again the idea of a no-spend year got bantered around, as did uber-frugality and buying a tiny house. Yet at the same time, we also wanted to step up our pet project – reducing food waste – and see if we could do something more on that front. After going back and forth on the pros and cons of each, we came to the realization that the two paths are actually connected. We can do both.

And so a theme was born – Better Me, Better World.

Our recent Happiness Project really drove home the fact that for a project to be successful, it has to be specific and measurable so on each side of the equation, we set some goals.

Better Me
Goal: Live simply. Prove that we can live a happy, healthy, and prosperous life with less. 

  • Set a budget and stick to it. Strive for no unplanned spending.
  • Buy used when possible.
  • Eat a mostly plant-based diet, with no more than 10% of meals containing meat.
  • Do something active 3 times a week.

Better World
Goal: Zero-food-waste. Prove that one couple can have an impact in reducing global food waste.

  • Plan meals.
  • Continue food rescue – focusing on making reduced-to-clear/quick-sale items the first point of purchase when grocery shopping.
  • Buy local foods.
  • Grow a garden.
  • Compost year-round.

For our Food Waste Project, I set up a separate page to give a little background information and outline the bigger picture of what we’re hoping to accomplish this year. If you’ve followed any of our past dumpster diving expeditions, you’ll want to check it out for sure. We tallied our dumpster finds and even we were astonished! That page lives here: 2018 Food Waste Project.

We’re definitely excited about 2018. We’re sure that it will be full of fun and adventure, lots of laughs and learning.

What’s on tap for you this year?