Make a Refrigerator List to Save Money on Food

Editor’s Note:  Updated July 2019

Blank noe sheetWe’ve all had experience with the grocery shopping list. Myself, I have a magnetized notepad right on the refrigerator and as soon as I notice we need an item, I jot it down on the notepad. Then when I’m ready to go grocery shopping, I just tear off the top sheet and I have the start of my shopping list. It works great in saving repeat trips to the grocery store.

There’s another list for the refrigerator that I only recently discovered and it has already began to help me save money on food. This is a list of what’s in the refrigerator, instead of the shopping list which shows what is not in the refrigerator.

I’ve been on a quest for the last few months to cut back on our monthly grocery spending while increasing the quality of our meals. I’ve made good progress with a variety of methods, like cooking meals ahead, using some coupons, studying the store ads, and growing some of our own food.  Even so, every time I cleaned the refrigerator, I was throwing out food that had been forgotten, and therefore spoiled. After working hard to cut down on our spending, it was very discouraging to discover wasted food. It’s like throwing money in the trash can.  It feels even worse when the spoiled food was a favorite dish or fruit that we would have enjoyed … a week earlier.

Some of the methods I tried were somewhat effective, like having a special shelf just for leftovers, or a special night for cooking with leftovers.  They didn’t give the results I wanted because I  didn’t really keep these systems up very well.  I needed something simple, yet workable!

I keep a list of foods that are in the freezer that works quite well and it made me wonder if it would work to keep a list of the food in the refrigerator.  At first it seemed way too cumbersome – so much activity of food going in and out of the refrigerator, and such a headache to list them all.

Then I realized that it is really only a half dozen or so things that were the problem areas.  I really only needed to keep track of the leftovers and any other highly perishable item.

For me, this includes things like fresh mushrooms, fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawers-(I’ve thrown out more brown lettuce heads than I care to share) – open packages of cheese, restaurant doggie bags, and packages of lunch meats.   Milk, eggs, and fruit juices have a high turnover and it would be unnecessary busy work to put them on the refrigerator list.

Not surprisingly, a study by NDRC (National Resources Defense Council) states that the average American wastes a lot of food – an average of $2200.00 in wasted food a year per family.  Wow!  I’m pretty sure we don’t waste that much, but if we were less careful, I could see that it would be a very possible amount.

Even beyond the money savings, though, the refrigerator list has some unexpected bonuses.  When thinking about dinner plans, what to take to the office for lunch, or even snacks, I can just look at the list.  I don’t even have to open the refrigerator and I especially don’t have to rummage through the shelves to try to figure out what dishes or ingredients we have.  It feels much calmer and simpler and I like that.

Yes, I know, the list is not perfect.  One of us will forget to write on the list, or more likely, will forget to cross something off.  Yet even that is workable because it’s a short list and the turnover, by its nature, is pretty quick.  I can quickly update it as needed when I notice an unlisted item or an item that needs to be crossed off.

My list is still new enough (just a few weeks) that I’m learning the habit of looking at it before I open the refrigerator door and especially before I start dinner.  I’m getting there.

So far it seems to be a good method of saving money on food.  I’m estimating that my refrigerator list is saving $5.00 to $10.00 per week for the two of us.  I’ll have to see if I can figure a way to keep track.  At best I’ll just have to watch how much food is being thrown away and try to compare that to how much we threw away in the past.

This is my kind of savings … reducing landfill waste, making things simpler, and of course, savings on the grocery budget.  Now that’s The Fat Dollar way!

How about you?  What methods do you have for reducing waste on your refrigerated foods?  How do you save money on food? I’d love to see your ideas.

Visit The Fat Dollar website for more money saving tips!

photo courtesy of and Supertrooper