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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#5TF: Spending & Saving

Five Thought Friday Challenge:  Week 5 – July 22 – July 28, 2017

Over the weekend we found ourselves making several minor purchases that added up to a significant little chunk of change. For minimalists who hate shopping anyway, coming home with several bags and one giant box, was enough to create a panic, even though every item was purchased with intent (well, except for the travel spork, and I just wanted that).

We’ve walked/hiked 328.4 miles so far this year (not counting general walking about the house, yard, stores, etc.) and our shoes were clearly beginning to show the effects of that travel. The inside of my left shoe was so bad that it was starting to wear holes in my socks…my wool summer socks! And those things are supposed to be nearly indestructible. So first up on our list of purchases was new walking/hiking shoes.

The next purchase was new camping gear – specifically a small tent and tent light. We sold our large 8-person tent on OfferUp a few months back and have been debating on getting another ever since. With a rafting trip planned for next month, we thought it might be a good time to look for something compact and easy to set up. Believe it or not, we bought a kid’s tent. It was actually 12 inches longer and 6 inches wider than the smallest 2 person adult tent and a full $20 cheaper.

And finally, a larger freezer. Our biggest downsizing regret ever was selling our chest freezer when we left Florida. We’ve missed it terribly. The little one we bought on Craigslist last summer has been great but it is too small for any real attempt at storing food for winter. For now, we have two freezers, though I think the little one may be re-homed soon. My mom seems particularly interested in adopting it.

Big enough for food, yet small enough to fit in the Peanut…it’s our new freezer.

Spending money for stuff (even necessary stuff) is often very difficult for us. We usually talk ourselves out of most things or debate about them for so long that we forget why we thought we needed them in the first place. But there are times when you have to spend money to save money later on. This was one of those times…and I think all in all, we did alright.

One thing I really enjoyed this week was (definitely not shopping!). Instead, the highlight of my week was Wednesday…the whole day was about as close to perfect as it could possibly get. We had breakfast in the park, picked blackberries, took a walk at Bicentennial Mall State Park, picnicked outside the Nashville Farmer’s Market, and went to our first Nashville Sounds baseball game (on free hat night!). We even managed to make running errands fun that day…and we picked up a great CSA basket full of peaches, cantaloupe, and corn. I don’t think I could have asked for a better day.

Enjoying the “cheap seats” at the Nashville Sounds game…in our new shoes.

I am grateful for whatever it was that sparked my mom’s sudden interest in her own health this week. She didn’t say why or how she plans to do it, but she has finally decided to quit smoking. Though I have never smoked, I know how hard it is to quit and I know not every day is going to be a good one but I’m here to help in whatever way I can. Just making the decision seemed to lift a great weight off of her and she was much more active this week. She played outside with the little one on Tuesday and even helped us in the yard yesterday.

I need to let go of my obsession with minimizing our shoe collection. As much as we’d love to wear flip-flops or go barefoot every day, that’s not always appropriate (or allowed), so shoes are a must have item. The average woman in America owns 27 pair of shoes, the average man, just 12. We each have 7 pair (including our new ones, flip-flops, water shoes, bowling shoes and winter boots) and I still think that’s too many. As I put the new shoes in the closet on Sunday, I stood there staring at the rest of them, questioning their necessity until I nearly had a headache. That’s not minimalism. It’s just silly. There are no arbitrary limits to what one can own as a minimalist. The point of minimalism is that everything you own has a purpose. Every single shoe in our closet does so I give myself permission to leave them alone…for now.

We made progress on saving money…despite our little shopping spree. We managed to stay in budget on groceries and household goods, spending less than $150 total for the month, and we added $425 to our savings and investment accounts. Our CSA basket and garden are really helping on that front. Speaking of which, we put away 4 quarts of blackberries, another 1/2 dozen ears of corn, and 2 gallons of snack peppers. Angie also canned 2 more jars of pickled jalapenos and I made 2 more quarts of spaghetti sauce (though we ate most of it already). And we continued our technology time-out, leaving the phones behind for several enjoyable hours of hiking and picnicking this week.

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The funniest thing that happened this week happened at the Sounds game. Angie has such a small head that the free baseball cap didn’t fit her, even on the smallest setting. She looked kind of forlorn sitting there in our grass seats with that giant cap on her head, so she set it aside. Though I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it happen, I promised to fix the hat when we got home. (I would literally have sewn a brand new hat if I’d had to, just to keep her from making that sad “my head is too small” face.) As it turned out though, in the 3rd inning, a random guy stopped by our blanket with a wad of money in his hand and said these magic words, “I’ll give you $10 for your hat.” Sold! I guess it pays to have a small head after all.