Here’s How Much Money You’re Throwing Away Each Year

by Emily Guy Birken · 3 comments

A funny thing happens to how you view money once it’s spent: cash loses its value when it’s no longer in your wallet or bank account.

This means anything you purchase seems less valuable than the equivalent cash value — and so having to later throw away your purchase doesn’t hurt nearly as much as chucking a $20 bill in the trash would.

But wasting purchases, particularly those you never use, is no different from throwing money straight into the trash bin. Here three some common ways we’re wasting money, and some methods for recouping your losses.

1. Throwing Out Food

The average American household throws out about 25% of food purchased, according to an August, 2012 report by the National Resources Defense Council.

Considering the fact that the average household spends $151 per week on groceries, it’s pretty clear that you could save yourself time by simply putting $37.75 in the trash can each week. It’s even more horrifying to realize that money spent on wasted food could total as much as $1,963 per year.

The solution to throwing away less food means using up the food you buy, and relies on three strategies:

  • Meal planning. Scheduling out your meals each week ensures that you’ll only buy the ingredients you need, and allows you to plan around the food already in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.
  • Mindful shopping. Being a mindful shopper (and not while you’re hungry) can help you to only make purchases of things you know you can use, rather than thoughtlessly picking up items just because they are on sale, are available in bulk, or look delicious in your hunger-addled state.
  • Creative cooking. Finally, figuring out how to use up the last portions of food can be tough, but modern technology has made it much easier to be a creative cook. Google can help you find any number of delicious recipes to help you finish up that last lonely potato.

2. Tossing Disposable Items

When you purchase something disposable, you are literally planning on throwing it in the trash. While some items, such as facial tissues, are disposable for very good health-related reasons, others, like bottles of water, are simply sold for convenience.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact amount that Americans spend on disposable products, but there are certain products that are trackable. For instance, disposable diapers cost parents about $3,000 from birth to potty training (compared to $500 to $1,500 for cloth diapers).

In addition, Americans send about 3,000 tons of paper towels to landfills each year, and the average family goes through two rolls per week. At about $1 per roll, that’s $110 per year thrown right in the trash.

The solution to saving money on disposable items involves being more thoughtful. Disposable items are both more convenient and potentially more sanitary. But any time you replace a disposable item with a reusable one — whether you are swapping Tupperware in for plastic sandwich bags, or wiping your nose with a handkerchief instead of a tissue — you’re improving your bottom line. Not to mention the environment benefits from your smart recycling habits.

3. Not Redeeming Gift Cards

According to research, a whopping $41 billion worth of gift cards went unredeemed between 2005 and 2011. Despite the fact that giving a gift card often seems like the smartest possible choice, it’s clear that many givers are simply throwing money away each year.

The solution to stop wasting gifts cards means shifting to more thoughtful gifts and experiences. Recent research has shown that experience gifts offer both the giver and the recipient more enjoyment and satisfaction than tangible gifts. If you regularly give gift cards, consider taking your recipients out shopping with you. They will get to enjoy something they pick out and time with you.

The Bottom Line

Mindful consumption is the key to making sure you get the most of your money. In order to waste less, save more, and feel better about your choices, you need to beware of how much money you’re actually throwing in the trash each year. Then use these solutions as a way to stop wastefulness and focus on more mindful spending and consuming.

What’s another thing we do that wastes money each year? How can we be more mindful consumers?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Jon @ Penny Thots says:

    I’m guilty of wasting money on paper towels. I take too many off the roll when cleaning.

    I’ve become better with food, mainly through meal planning and making stir frys with veggies that are about to go bad.

  • lana says:

    We are being more mindful of throwing away food. But, the biggest thing I’m working on is buying stuff that I will be tiring of in a short period of time. I tend to do that with shoes, handbags, artwork, pillows, blankets, books, videos, candles, dishes etc. I am becoming more mindful of what we bring into the house and how long it will be viable.

  • Kayla @ Everything Finance says:

    I have done a lot to reduce my use of disposable products. I also always use my giftcards and I don’t waste nearly as much food as I used too. Good reminders!

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