12 Mindless Kitchen Habits That Are Costing You Money

published Jun 14, 2020
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A person standing in front of an open refrigerator inside a kitchen
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

When it comes to utility bills, the small things can add up very quickly. Mindless habits like leaving lamps on in a room with natural light or running the air conditioning when you’re not at home not only waste energy, but cost you extra money. But it’s not just utilities: Your organization and storage routines can also take a toll on your pocketbook.

While there are opportunities to save money throughout your home, as it turns out, your kitchen is one of the biggest culprits for money-wasting. Curious how your kitchen measures up? Here are a few of the mindless habits that are most likely to be racking up your bills:

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Over-filling or under-filling your fridge

Did you know there’s an optimal amount of food to keep in your fridge? If the fridge is too full, you might accidentally block vents, which forces the appliance to work harder. On the other hand, since the already-cold items help keep everything else cold, if your fridge isn’t full enough, it will use up more energy to cool itself off every time you open the fridge door. The solution: Aim to keep your fridge (and freezer) about 75 percent full at all times. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Keeping appliances plugged in all the time

Even if an appliance isn’t on, it drains a small amount of energy to keep it plugged in all the time. Obviously, you can’t always unplug your fridge or oven when you’re not using them, but if you want to squeeze every cent out of your power bill, try to unplug smaller gadgets like your toaster, coffee maker, or tea kettle when they’re not in use.

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

3. Following the “best by” date on your food

If you’re throwing away food just because of the date on the label, think again. As a general rule of thumb, a food item’s appearance and smell are better indicators of its safety than the “best by” date (with the exception of infant formula). According to the USDA, that label just indicates when the food is most likely to be the highest possible quality. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

4. Running your dishwasher when it’s not full 

Who isn’t guilty of washing a half-load of dishes from time to time? Tossing a few cups and plates in the dishwasher may be much faster and more convenient than hand-washing, but it’s also a huge waste of water and energy. Take a more conservative approach by hand-washing what you need when you need it and reserving the dishwasher for full loads. To save extra money, switch off the heat-dry feature and let your dishes air dry instead. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

5. Using single-use supplies

Zip-top baggies and paper towels might be easy in a pinch, but they’re also two of the biggest money-wasters in your kitchen. Not only are they pricey—did you know sandwich baggies can ring in at around a nickel a pop?—using these products regularly in your kitchen is also hard on the environment. Try replacing paper towels with microfiber cloths (they’re sturdier for cleaning, anyway!) and swapping out your baggies for reusable tupperware.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

6. Storing your produce incorrectly 

Buying fresh fruit and veggies only to lose them just a few days later (whether to mold or over-ripeness) is like throwing money (and perfectly good food!) down the drain. The key to long-lasting produce is storage. Knowing which veggies to store in the fridge and on the counter is a great place to start. For example, always store apples in the crisper drawer of your fridge, since they ripen faster when they’re at room temp. And with fragile vegetables like lettuce and kale, focus on preventing moisture: Try wrapping them in a paper towel and sealing them in a baggie before putting them in the fridge.

Read more: We Tried 5 Methods for Storing Fresh Herbs and Found a Clear Winner

Credit: Brandy McKnight/Shutterstock

7. Using your non-stick pan for everything

Non-stick pans are an admittedly convenient way to cook, but for higher temperatures, a cast-iron skillet might be a better option. Repeatedly exposing a non-stick pan to high heat is a great way to deteriorate it quickly, so aim to use yours only with lower-temp foods. (Another fast way to wreck a non-stick pan is using metal utensils, so you’ll want to avoid those, too.)

Credit: Joe Lingeman

8. Storing perishable items in your fridge door

Because the refrigerator door is exposed to the most temperature fluctuations, perishable foods like eggs or dairy are at a much higher risk of turning bad if you store them there. Reserve your fridge door real estate for less-volatile items like condiments, and keep your milk, eggs, and meat on the shelves, where they will stay colder. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

9. Keeping your fridge at the wrong temperature

It’s probably not a surprise that your fridge works best at a very specific temperature: between 35 and 38 degrees fahrenheit. If your fridge is any warmer than that, your food is at risk for spoiling more quickly (especially if you open the door a lot). And if your fridge is any colder, you’re wasting energy (and risking icy produce). If your fridge doesn’t have specific temperature markings on the dial, you can invest in an inexpensive refrigerator thermometer instead.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

10. Opening your fridge too much 

Standing in front of your fridge with the door open is never a great idea. The longer you leave the door open, the higher the temperature inside increases—meaning your fridge is going to have to work harder and use more energy to get back to your pre-set temperature.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

11. Not labeling frozen foods 

If you’re not sure what that mystery item in the back of your freezer is, you’re probably going to toss it. To prevent freezer confusion (and wasted food), make a practice of labeling and dating everything you freeze. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

12. Not properly sealing food

It may seem obvious, but if you want your bags of chips or cereal to last as long as possible without getting stale, don’t just roll the top of the bag closed. Your food will stay fresher longer if you use a clip! These $2-a-piece Gripstic bag sealers are a favorite of our team.