Here's how to stop throwing money down the garbage disposal.

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A couple of weeks ago, I got a deal at the grocery store on three avocados. This week, I threw them all away, since I never got around to buying the tomato I still needed to make guacamole.

I also threw away the remaining chicken salad I meant to eat last week, what was left of an expired carton of milk, four shriveled mandarin oranges and leftover broccoli, originally intended for topping a baked potato. While I was at it, I sorted through the condiments shelved in the refrigerator door.

Here’s a partial list of what I discovered:

  • A bottle of browning sauce used for a turkey three years ago
  • Two opened bottles of the same stir-fry sauce
  • Half a jar of salsa that morphed over time into a spicy monstrosity
  • Two partially-filled containers of stale parmesan cheese
  • Four cans of expired orange soda

I’m not a slob or a hoarder, just a typical American buying cheap groceries, using them once or twice, and sometimes forgetting about the food until it’s time to pitch. In fact, the average U.S. household throws away up to 40 percent of its food, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

Food that gets wasted will always slip through the cracks, but here are six tips to cut down on waste so you can save money on groceries

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1. Shop with meals in mind

Overhead shot of healthy organic plant-based international cuisine for vegans and vegetarians

I try to buy ingredients that I can use in more than one dish.

For example, I can use mushrooms in pasta sauce, salads, and scrambled eggs. I might use leftover chicken and vegetables in soup or a stir-fry.

If I use celery for a recipe, I stuff the extra stalks with cream cheese or peanut butter. If I buy stuffed peppers that were cheaper by the package, I use the extra peppers in eggs and salads or eat them raw with a tasty dip.

For more information, find out: How to Save Money on Food Without Cooking Every Meal

2. Make a grocery list

Preparing the shopping list before going to buy the groceries

Make a list, with meals in mind, before you set foot in the grocery store. You might still buy a few extra items, but a list keeps you on track and helps you resist impulse buys.

Find out: 7 Hacks to Help You Stop Impulse Spending

3. Use your freezer

You can freeze any meat or fish, cooked or uncooked.

You can also freeze onions, cheese, portions of homemade soup (depending on whether the ingredients freeze well), certain pasta dishes and sauces, quiche, butter and margarine, beans, and lots of other items.

If you live alone, you can stop wasting half a loaf of bread every week or two if you freeze the loaf and remove slices only as needed. They’ll only take five minutes to thaw on a paper towel.

4. Store wisely

Beef, chicken and salmon in vacuum plastic bag for sous vide cooking

Did you know that if you wrap celery in aluminum foil, it stays crisp longer? Chop or slice onions, celery and carrots and freeze those veggie bags or containers to easily add to soup recipes later.

While you’re at it, organize your kitchen cabinets so you actually know what’s in there. Make a habit of clearing old food and condiments from your refrigerator regularly.

5. Prepare smaller portions

If you’ve got a family to feed, go ahead and make that big salad. However, if you live alone or with just one other person, half will probably go to waste.

Make a small salad and use excess lettuce for sandwiches or tacos. Cut recipe portions in half if you can’t freeze the leftovers. Keep in mind that mayonnaise-based recipes, fried foods, sour cream, and a good portion of fresh or cooked produce don’t freeze well.

6. Post an inventory on the fridge

It’s easy to forget fresh produce or leftovers pushed to the back of the refrigerator. Sometimes I make a list of what I’ve got on hand that week so I can avoid food waste. You can even write up a daily menu as a reminder of available options.

There’s no need to throw away half your groceries because you forgot to cook, eat or drink them. Next time you shop, pay attention to what you’re buying. Remember, less food waste equals a smaller grocery bill and a fatter wallet.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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