Gráinne McGuinness offers the latest consumer advice, this week looking at how to eliminate waste and save money in your food shop.
How much uneaten food do you throw away each week? Checking packets and realising the use-by date was three days ago, or emptying a half-full bowl of spotted apples and mouldy oranges in the bin?
If we are honest, many of us throw away more food than we like to think about. According to the European Commission, an estimated 100 million tonnes of food is thrown out every year in the EU. This wastage is costing us.
EPA research suggests Irish households spend between €400 and €1000 each year on groceries that end up in the bin. Eliminate that waste from your food budget and not only are you helping the environment, you will also feel the savings in your wallet.
Before you can reduce you need to identify the problem areas in your house. Keep a sheet of paper on the fridge or near your bin and quickly note down what food you throw out and why. After a few weeks, you should have a good idea of the patterns of waste in your house.
If food is going out because it is mouldy or gone off, then it is time to rethink the quantity you are buying and also check you are storing food correctly. Use-by dates whizzing by before you notice suggests food bought without a clear plan for when it will be used.
If you want to annoy yourself into reducing waste, also keep a running total of what the food cost - thinking of what else that cash could have bought will provide extra motivation.
Once you know your danger areas the next step is to start planning your shopping trips. Even if you waste little food, some forethought can make a big difference to the total on your receipt.
Going in with a shopping list will keep you focused. General wisdom suggests you first make a list of planned meals, including school/work lunches as well as dinners and then decide what you need to buy.
But with so many retailers now doing heavily discounted specials that change each week, it is worth checking these out and seeing if you can build some meals around them. It doesn’t mean waiting until you get to the shops, specials are widely advertised in the media and online each week.
Once you have drawn up a shopping list, tot up what you expect it to cost and aim to bring your final bill in under that amount. Sticking to this will help keep you away from temptation. When comparing prices, always check the unit price, buying in bulk will not necessarily mean the cheapest price.
Plus, if you are looking at bulk shopping or multiple offers, remember that it’s only good value if you actually use it.
Try not to shop hungry, it makes junk food and treats seem way more attractive.
If you can, leave children at home and go yourself, pester power is real and shops know how to harness it. People who shop less frequently spend less overall, so avoid nipping in after work and just getting that night’s dinner as much as possible.
A well-planned weekly shop will save you time as well as money. If you are buying for several days keep a close eye on dates, particularly shorter-life items such as meat.
Food labelling is another area that can lead to waste, with consumers dumping perfectly good food once it reaches the ‘best before’ date.
There is no need, this guideline states how long the food will be at its freshest but it can still be perfectly safe to eat for some time after.
Judge for yourself whether it is edible, going on appearance, texture and smell. ‘Use by’ is for perishables like meat which could become unsafe to eat relatively quickly.
Consumers should only eat such items in date. Another way to reduce waste is to regularly go through your pantry and freezer and take an inventory. Aim to eat your way through what you have accumulated before you buy more.
This way you reduce your food bill, get rid of those open packets and frozen leftovers and free up space. Loyalty cards are a mixed blessing.
Coupons are always welcome and retailers generally tailor offers based on your shopping.
But don’t let a loyalty card make you a slave to one store, the savings you make from loyalty schemes are small.
Shop based on the price for what you are paying today, any points or coupons for future shopping are a bonus.
Eir and Meteor have introduced a new service to allow bill-pay customers to make call and send texts using a WIFI network. WiFi Calling lets you use your smartphone to call and text over any WiFi connection, not just your home or work network.
If you are in an area of poor coverage but have access to a WIFi network, Turn on WiFi Calling in your phone’s settings, log into the network and make your call.
The new service is being added to certain plans with no extra charges and you don’t need to download any apps.
This service will be particularly useful to Eir and Meteor customers who are heading abroad this summer as it means you can make calls and texts anywhere in the world for the same price you pay at home.
WiFi Calling is currently only available on selected plans and certain smartphones, you can get full details at www.eir.ie or www.meteor.ie.
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