Queen of Free: Take a closer look at what’s in your fridge

By Cherie Lowe

No matter how many times you open the door and stare in, you can’t seem to find what you’re looking for. No matter how many times you have great intentions to eat healthily, you find foods well past the use by date hiding in the back.

No matter how many times you remember to actually seal up the leftovers and put them away, you discover a mystery dish growing mold three weeks later.

Our refrigerators are a modern machine we couldn’t live without. However, oftentimes, we fail to use them to their full capacity. We waste food and let it expire. We clutter up our space and can’t ever seem to find a shelf to place the items we need.

We choose expensive convenience foods over healthier, more affordable options — all basically because we can’t manage what’s inside of our fridge. Here’s how to get better.

Clean once a week

Make it your aim to do a refrigerator clean sweep at least once a week. It’s best to do it before you go grocery shopping so you can evaluate what foods you already have in your house, preventing overbuying and overspending.

You’ll also have a blank slate when you return home from your shopping endeavors. No more stuffing and smashing when you unload the groceries. You’ve created the space you need to properly store the items you’ve purchased.

Power of plastic

Two years ago, I used part of the Christmas money my in-laws blessed me with to purchase see-through glass dishes for food. I know what you’re thinking. I’m a regular party animal. I bought white flour sack dish towels and a steam mop with the rest of the funds. Feel free to be jealous of my lifestyles of the rich and famous.

After years of disposable and even high-end plastic containers, I knew we needed to make a swap. Being able to immediately see leftovers and chopped vegetables upon opening the refrigerator serves two purposes. 1) It makes the veggies and fruits much more appealing. 2) I’m given a visual inventory of exactly what’s inside of the fridge.

Up-front expiration dates

As you stock your refrigerator, it’s wise to place the items that will expire the soonest in the very front. Even with clear containers and a cleared out space it’s easy to lose sight of what’s on the verge of becoming trash. Especially when you have multiples of a specific item, be mindful of those dates. It is wise to note that there is a difference between “sell by” and “use by” dates. Expiration varies from product to product, so do your research to keep your foods safe.

Take a nightly glance

Before you go to bed, it’s a good idea to take a peek in the fridge. No, it’s not so you can grab a midnight snack. Rather, so you can be prepared for the demands of feeding yourself and your family the next day. Whether you need to move items from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw, do minor lunchbox prep, or simply fill up a water bottle or two to chill, a quick peek can help keep things organized while ensuring you’re ready for the next morning.

I also like to pre-program my coffee pot at the same time. This habit makes sure mama has her java brewing before her feet hit the floor and I am quite certain everyone in my household is more than grateful.

Clean the outside, too

If your refrigerator looks anything like ours, it’s information central. Flooded with school papers, pictures, invitation, calendars and more, our fridge is the most decorated household appliance we own. Clear through the papers now and again.

But it’s also important to sweep out the coils behind your fridge and the vent at the bottom every few months. Regular cleaning keeps the device running smoothly so that your foods are stored at the proper temperature and your electric bill reduces. Maintenance adds years to your fridge, extending the amount of time you have before you have to replace it.

Yes, it might take some regular work and forming some new habits, but organizing your refrigerator will save you money and keep you from blowing your budget by dining out every night. Smart systems move beyond the food you put in your belly allowing you to spend the extra cash in more fun ways. I suggest investing in a steam mop with the money you save. It’s wild, crazy, clean fun.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net.