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Financially Secure People Eat Leftovers

By , March 14th, 2008 | 52 Comments »

eating leftovers

This weekend I was reading “You’re Broke Because You Want to Be: How to Stop Getting By and Start Getting Ahead” by Larry Winget. (A pretty good read, by the way. The advice is nothing groundbreaking, but his straight talk and no excuses approach is entertaining.) Anyway, in the book he states that most people who are financially secure don’t eat out often, if ever. I agree. Eating out is expensive and easy to lose track of. The meals add up before you realize exactly how much you’ve spent. It’s much cheaper to cook at home. We all know this already.

Thinking about it further, I came up with a corollary to that statement that perhaps Mr. Winget should include in his next edition. People who are financially secure eat leftovers. I realize that I’m potentially opening a can of worms here. I’ve met quite a few people in my life who adamantly defend the reasons why they won’t eat leftovers. The kids won’t eat it. It doesn’t reheat well. It’s a pain to store excess food. And on it goes.

As a leftover lover, I don’t buy any of it. Since when do the kids get to dictate what’s served at dinner? If they don’t like it, send them to be without dinner. There are few things that won’t reheat well, if you pay attention to the needs of the food and don’t just blindly toss it in the microwave on high for five minutes and hope for the best.

I think a lot of these excuses are a cover-up for the real problem, which is that some people feel like leftovers are beneath them. It’s not hard to understand, I guess. The USA is a country of plenty and we encourage people to go for the best. Leftovers, in a lot of people’s eyes, are not the best. Why eat leftovers when you can have “new” food? Aren’t leftovers only for people who have no other choice? Before you say that I’m reaching here, let me assure you that I have heard actual people utter statements just like these. Since I doubt they’re alone, I’m willing to bet that a lot of the excuses people give for not eating leftovers are their PC versions of “It’s just not good enough for me (or my kids).”

No matter the reason people give for refusing to eat leftovers, the end result is the same. Waste. It wastes money and resources to simply throw away food. I don’t see how anyone who is comfortable with such waste can be comfortable financially, at least not long term. It would seem to me that those who blithely toss excess food are probably not that careful with their money, either.

Tossing perfectly good food in the trash is much the same as tossing money in the trash. You paid for that food. In order to get your money out of it, you need to eat it. If you pay $10 for an entree at a restaurant, eat half and then leave the rest behind, you’ve tossed five dollars into the trash can. Is that smart? Nope. Will this lead to long term financial security? No way. So with that said, what are some of the reasons to eat leftovers and how can you make them more appetizing if you or your kids really have a problem with them?

It saves money

This is one of the biggest reasons to eat leftovers. If you bring your leftovers home from a restaurant or you eat food that’s leftover from something you cooked at home, you’re getting the full value out of what you paid. It’s also one less meal that you have to pay for, thus reducing your overall food bills.

They make it easy on the chef in the family

As the designated chef in our house, let me tell you that people in my house would go hungry if not for leftovers. I don’t want to cook every night. I have other things I want to do. I seize every chance I get to serve leftovers. In fact, I intentionally make many dishes that I know will be served more than once. It allows me to maximize my time.

It gives you a great lunch

If you regularly brown bag your lunch, you probably get tired of sandwiches. Why not bring your leftovers from the steakhouse for lunch? Watch your coworkers drool as they eat their bologna sandwiches.

It reduces or eliminates waste

Food that gets tossed goes to the landfill. It wastes not only the food, but the resources that went into making it. A cow had to die for your steak. Is it fair to the cow for you to throw half of it in the trash? Is it fair to the farmer that spent his time and labor on those vegetables that you throw them in the trash? Not to mention the energy that goes into processing and preparing the food, and the packaging that is used. It’s not just throwing food into the trash. You’re wasting all of the labor, energy, and materials that went into that food, as well. The USDA estimates that Americans waste 96 billion pounds of food each year. Another study estimates that we throw away one grocery bag’s worth of food out of every three that we buy. One in three bags you bring home from the store is likely wasted. Stop and think about that for a second. Blows the mind, doesn’t it?

It demonstrates overall financial responsibility

If eating leftovers is “beneath” you and you’re willing to waste that money, you probably have deeper financial problems. You aren’t willing to do the work and make the sacrifices necessary to bring wealth into your life. You may not be willing to take a job that may not be your dream job, but allows you to pay the bills. You may not be willing to pick up change off the street, or shop for the best bargain you can find. In times of financial troubles, you may be the one who won’t cut the cable TV. There’s an attitude of, “I shouldn’t have to do that because I’m better educated, smarter, wealthier, etc.” I’m not saying that eating leftovers will net you millions, but it can be an indicator of your overall financial outlook and your willingness to do what is required to get ahead in life.

It’s healthier

Restaurant portions are huge. It’s far better for your waistline to divide the dish in half and eat it over two meals instead of cramming it all in at once. Eating leftovers of something you made at home is also preferable to eating too much at one meal. You might find yourself losing weight by eating leftovers.

You don’t have to eat it on back to back days

So you just had spaghetti yesterday and don’t want it again today. Who said you had to eat it today? Most foods will keep for a few days if refrigerated correctly (and some can be frozen for longer periods). Spread your leftovers out so that you don’t have to eat the same thing the next day. Or use the leftovers as a starting point for a whole new meal. Use leftover meat and vegetables as ingredients in stew, for example, or pool all your leftovers for the week and have a buffet on Friday night.

Invest in containers that make food transport and storage easy

Don’t want to take your leftovers to work because it’s messy or a hassle? Invest in reusable plastic containers of varying sizes to make it easy to store, heat and transport food without mess or hassle. If something makes a good snack for the kids, like mac and cheese, consider putting some of it into small, snack sized containers to encourage kids to eat it. If they can just heat and eat without having to hunt for plates ands serving utensils, they might be more receptive to leftovers.

Learn how to properly reheat food

Some foods shouldn’t be nuked on the second go round because they get soggy. Cook these in the oven or toaster oven. Some should be put in the skillet. Some foods are best eaten cold the second time around. Experiment until you know how to get food to come out as good the second time as it was the first. It is possible.

Learn how to season leftovers to get rid of the blandness

Some foods do require a little extra spicing up the second time around. Keep a stock of basic spices or sauces on hand and experiment until you learn which foods require which spices to liven them up a bit.

You spend less on gas

I hear you now. What do leftovers and gas have to do with each other? Every meal of leftovers that you eat postpones that trip to the restaurant of grocery store a bit longer, saving you the gas required to get there. With gas going nowhere but up, eating at home as much as possible saves money in more places than just the food budget.

Label things as to what they are and when they were put in the fridge

This makes it easy to see what you’ve got and when it should be eaten to avoid spoilage. No more guess work or, “But I didn’t know we had that” moments.

Learn to cook and buy knowing you’ll be eating the leftovers

If you know there are some things that you absolutely will not eat as a leftover, don’t buy or make it unless you are prepared to eat the whole thing in one go. Only cook and buy meals that you know someone in your house is willing to eat again. Otherwise, you’re wasting money and food.

They save time

If you’re super busy, having a fridge stocked with leftovers is a great alternative to fast food. You can just heat and go without having to make something new. This is great for those nights when people are rushing around to activities and the only other choice is the drive thru at McDonalds. (And, by not eating fast food, you’re saving even more money, see #1, and getting healthier, see #6.)

Hopefully you’re now converted to the idea of eating leftovers. However, if you absolutely cannot reconcile yourself to the idea of leftovers, then buy and order less. Share meals in restaurants or order smaller items like appetizers. Buy and prepare just enough for your family to eat it once. Smarter shopping and ordering still saves money and eliminates waste, but doesn’t make you eat leftovers.

(Image courtesy of >Alpha)

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  • Allison says:

    Great article! This has been one of the keys to my getting better with finances! Thanks for that.

  • rachel says:

    One more reason to eat leftovers: some dishes (e.g. rataouille, curry, stews and soups) taste even better a day or two later.

  • Marissa says:

    Repetition is not a valid reason not to eat leftovers…a good cook can “convert” whatever is left (meatballs into bolognese sauce for lasagna, steak into tacos, chicken into chicken patties, tacos, crepes or chicken salad for sandwiches, etc)

  • Dan says:

    I can’t believe people wouldn’t love leftovers. Most of my leftovers come from my best meals – I look forward to making a little bit too much so I can have leftovers! Plus it is good for the waist line to know you can just save it. (Oh yeah – since this is a financial artilce it really does save money.)

  • trex says:

    Spoken like someone who doesn’t have enough money. People that think that leftovers taste better than freshly prepared food are just saying that to themselves to justify having to eat leftovers. Come on people, rarely are leftovers as good as the original meal. Yes, I used to eat leftovers because I had to, but now that I have enough money, I wouldn’t dream of doing it.

    If you eat leftovers, fine. Just don’t try to fool yourself and others into thinking that this is a choice and not a financial need.

  • Hilary says:

    trex – it’s all about priorities. Sure, you “have enough money” now not to eat left-overs, but that’s money that could be used for something else, like a vacation or college tuition.

    I am literally shocked that some people don’t eat leftovers. We always had them in my house (and no, we weren’t financially strapped). It just seems crazy that you would throw out perfectly good food…

  • trex says:

    It’s not crazy to throw out perfectly good food if it doesn’t taste as good as freshly prepared food. Life is too short to eat crappy tasting food.

  • Hilary says:

    As I said before, it’s all about priorities. Food is not that important to me, and furthermore I have no problem with the way left-overs taste.

    I’d rather spend my money in other ways, but if it’s important to you then that’s totally fine. Just don’t come on here and tell us that we’re “fooling ourselves” because that is not the case.

  • Hilary says:

    P.S. For me, life’s too short to spend it cooking all the time.

  • most times i will cook double the amount just so we CAN have leftovers the next day!

  • and ps: lasagne ALWAYS tastes better the next day.
    furthermore, i want to add that at a lot of restaurants, meals like bolognese, lasagne, risotto etc are only made a couple of times a week and stored in the fridge to reheat. basically it is like eating leftovers, only you didn’t really know it.
    how do i know this? i’ve worked in many restaurants, and every single one does the same thing. and these aren’t ‘dodgy’ restaurants either. they are award winning restaurants, booked to capacity nearly every night.

  • scfr says:

    Guys, trex is kidding I think (has to be).
    Curries, chilis, and many soups and stews of course all taste better on day 2.

    Of course we eat leftovers, as well as take hand-me-down clothes and furniture, etc.

    Not because we have to, but because it is the right thing and the smart thing to do.

  • cptacek says:

    Is it fair to the farmer that spent his time and labor on those vegetables that you throw them in the trash?

    Uh, the farmer doesn’t care. You already bought his product, so he has his money. What you do with it after that is your business.

  • James says:

    Like Al Gore, too preachy. The choir may hear you, but the pews have tuned out.

  • trex says:


    What??? Of course I’m not kidding. Leftovers are just gross and I still call out those that say the food is better over time. A few may be, but most food isn’t. People use this line of reasoning to make them feel better about having to eat leftovers.

  • scfr says:

    trex –
    Then you grow your own fruits & vegetables and eat what you harvest immediately? You keep laying hens and a milking cow and consume your eggs & milk as soon as collected?
    If you eat meat, do you slaughter a chicken, pig, or cow and either consume the entire thing in one sitting or throw away most of the carcass?
    If you don’t do those things then you are not getting truly fresh food?
    If you buy your food at the grocery, that is not truly fresh food.
    And God forbid you buy anything that is canned or already prepared because by your definitition that is already “old.”
    Perhaps you do believe what you say but just haven’t thought it through?

  • scfr says:

    Follow-up for trex: Sorry if I sounded snippy in my previous post, but clearly I just can’t follow your logic anymore than you can apparently follow mine or the original entry. Shall we just say that I’m “gross” and you’re “wasteful” and let it go at that?

    You know … “Ebony & Ivory live together in perfect harmony.” 😉

  • trex says:


    Look, I’m just telling it like it is. You said I was joking when I wasn’t and that is why I replied.

    I understand that you may be the exception to the rule, but there is a reason that people throw out one out of every three grocery bags worth of food that they eat — it’s because leftovers suck.

    If food tasted so good the second time it’s reheated, then people wouldn’t throw it out. The fact is that most of the time it does. That is why it gets thrown out. It isn’t because they are lazy (it takes more effort to make a second meal) It’s simply because it tastes like crap.

    I won’t even touch the ridiculousness of your fresh food rant (unless you really want me too) since I never said anything about fresh as directly from the source, but after cooking.

    It’s clear that you are converted. Great. But does it make sense why so many people throw away food so easily if it supposedly tastes so great? There has to be a reason and my opinion is it’s because it doesn’t taste great.

  • Millionaires' Daughter says:


    I think people are more upset by the implication in your first comment that only poor people eat leftovers than your assertion that leftovers taste bad.

    My parents are millionaires. They became millionaires partly because they ate leftovers, but now that they can afford freshly cooked food at every meal, they still eat their leftovers.

    Throwing out good food might not be crazy, but it is wasteful, and this blog is about saving, not wasting.

  • trex says:

    @Millionaires’ Daughter

    Hey, I’m sorry if the truth hurts some feelings. The reason that people eat leftovers (for most people) is because they need to. They don’t have enough money not to. If “poor” is no longer a politically correct word, sorry. I’ve been there and done that.

    Yes, I realize some here also do it by choice, but that isn’t the reason most people do. And I’m talking about most people. But most that eat leftovers make up all kinds of reasons to justify doing so even though they really don’t want to.

    And you are making a big assumption. I never said that I throw away food. All I said was that “It

  • AJC @ 7million7years says:

    I feel perhaps uniquely qualified to comment:

    1. We eat out as often as possible, which is not very often because even rich families have too many commitments

    2. Eating at home is MUCH healthier

    3. I love eating leftovers because I am a greedy pig … I also love turning leftover soup into curries etc. … this is FUN!

    Let’s concentrate on (a) earning money and (b) wisely investing that extra income without going overboard on the saving thing …

    [hint: if you are paying yourself first 10% of your gross, paying down all consumer debt, and are building up some equity in your own home … grubbing in the trash probably won’t add a lot of value!]

  • Hilary says:

    trex – I’d like to see the statistics you are citing: “Yes, I realize some here also do it by choice, but that isn

  • trex says:


    I take my cue from kids who tend to be a lot more honest about these things than adults. Just because there isn’t a scientific study I’m citing doesn’t make it any less real unless you can find one that says that it’s not true.

    But if you want to take a wager on it. I’d be more than happy to put my money where my mouth is.

  • katie says:

    Our county has a website with current health department citations listed for area restaurants. I’m appalled at how many, even among well-known franchises, have food safety problems. Often cited are lack of employee handwashing, failure to keep foods at safe temperatures, contamination of surfaces and pest control problems. Think E.Coli, Campylobacter, etc. Believe it or not, the places with almost no citations are most of the fast-food joints and school cafeterias. Not always the most nutritious menus but disposable dinnerware, gloves, hairnets andhelp avoid a lot of “stomach flu.”

  • Alex says:

    I agree with Hilary and Dan about leftovers. If the original meal was good, the leftovers will taste even better. But it’s not just about taste. It’s about wastefulness. Wasting good food is obscene. Sorry, Trex, you sound a bit “spoiled.” Maybe you should volunteer in a homeless shelter or go to a third-world country where people are starving.

  • trex says:


    Now please do tell me how me not throwing out my leftovers which I don’t have because I don’t make too much so that there are leftovers – but that is besides the point – is going to help people at the homeless shelter or starving people.

    The fact is that I have been to many more third world countries than you ever have and I’ll bet that I do a hell of a lot more for homeless and other charities than you do. Even if I don’t, your argument is completely worthless as one has absolutely nothing to do with the other.

    If “spoiled” means that I no longer have to eat leftovers because I now make enough to decide if I want to or not, then yes, you’re right. I am spoiled.

  • Millionaires' Daughter says:

    trex —

    Sorry to make you defend yourself so much, but you are making a lot of accusations of others.

    You say, “Maybe you should take a little harder look at what people are saying rather than what you assume.”

    If you look at what I said, I did not say YOU threw out food; I simply said throwing out food is wasteful.

    Also, Alex did not say that not throwing out your leftovers would help a homeless shelter but rather that you should consider volunteering at one. Big difference!

    Measure yourself by your own standards, please.

  • Hilary says:

    trex – I love your argument for why leftovers taste bad. By that logic, I will take it one step further and assume that everyone’s favorite foods are Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Fruit Loops. Leftover cereal? Definitely bad.

    Although I have to admit, even as a kid I liked leftover Mac and Cheese better than the fresh stuff. But maybe my experiences as a kid don’t count… maybe I wasn’t honest about my feelings.

    And don’t get me started on how kids mimic their parents’ behavior. There’s NO WAY that your kids learned to hate leftovers from you… no sir-ee.

  • Marianne Sanders says:

    An alternative – if you DON’T want to eat leftovers – is to prepare only enough food for a given meal. WOrks in our house!

  • Gail says:

    As a disabled person, I have found it much easier to make one large dish, thus having leftovers, than making a new dish each night. I’m never sure if I will have the strength or energy to cook the next day, so I cook when I can. Many foods get put into freezer containers as soon as they are cool enough and then into the freezer or fridge. Leftovers are a matter of policy including leftover baked goods (purposely extra large batch) that when frozen immediately and thawed properly taste as good as freshly made. Yucky leftovers, uh no, I’m a good cook.

    Cooking in larger batches, conserves energy both your own and electric/gas etc. Is healthy as you can leave out all the extra salt and preservatives. Saves bunches of time. So nice that people don’t have to eat leftovers as they have enough money not to, but in our house that would also mean enough money to hire a cook for the days I can’t.

  • Krystal says:

    As a self-pronounced spoiled 21 y/o girl I LOVE leftovers. I love all things expensive, especially my BMW Z4 but this does not make me think I’m above leftovers simply because I like them! Of course, if you don’t like leftovers than you just don’t, no harm to anyone. I surely wouldn’t want someone forcing me to eat raw bell peppers (this is the only food I could think of that I despise) or making me feel bad because I choose not to eat them. I honestly agree with trex that I have NEVER eaten anything the second time around and thought it tasted better or even on par with the first time it was served. But as a non-discerning foodie I am just as likely to take a day old meal with a smile as a fresh one. If you eat something great tasting there’s no way it’s going to turn to crap after one day in the fridge!

  • hbemis says:

    Yea! PC Frugality! It’s about time.

  • Michele says:

    I love to cook (gourmet, I might add), and love to eat, and still I eat leftovers. The reason? I was taught (and firmly believe) that it’s a sin and a shame to waste food.

  • Susan says:

    Man, I love my leftovers and even if I was rolling in it($,) I wouldn’t mind eating them. I don’t feel deprived of taste nor does it feel like I’m sacrificing quality of life. Geez Louise, it’s food. Besides, leftovers are generally for one, two, maybe three meals, after that–freeze it! If you can cook, leftovers can be righteous!

  • Minimum Wage says:

    Financially insecure people eat leftovers too, so what’s the big deal?

  • Debbie Roberts says:

    My husband was opposed to eating leftovers…his mom never did it. Well, coming from a family that didn’t believe in wasting food, leftovers were a way of life. So, I started educating him — big pot roast at the beginning of the week, then using the leftover beef and broth for beef and noodles. He’s come around and leftovers aren’t a bad word in his vocabulary anymore.

    • Abraham Alrai says:

      Leftovers are only part of life of you are poor, rich people don’t eat leftovers and people who have a decent job don’t need to eat leftovers

  • Frugal Jana says:

    I personally think that most people don’t know how to avoid the left-over taste. I have very little time (and by the way we are financially very well off) and so I often fix several meals in advance on the weekends to save time on the weekdays. The trick to keeping them tasty is to not cook them all the way. That way you are just finishing cooking them when you are ready for them. My husband loves my cooking (and so do our friends and family) and rarely do I fix food that was prepared from start to finish on the same day. I grew up on yucky left-overs and learned tricks to make them wonderful. Food for thought.

  • Love this article. Leftovers. So obvious that they are often forgotten. All the comments show you hit the nail on the head with this one and sure got a stir of emotions. Good writing.

  • Olivia says:

    Lately this hasn’t been much of a “problem”. We have two boys in sports. If you want to borrow them for a while…..

    In the old days (when they were smaller) we had a leftover smogasboard night. The kids liked being able to chose their meal.

    Thanks for the tip Frugal Jana, about only precooking food. Will keep that in mind for the time the kids move out.

  • pn says:

    I find this such a weird discussion. I think the problem may be just the word “leftovers”; it definitely sounds yucky. BUT, when I roast a chicken for dinner, there is always some left. The next day, I might make chicken salad sandwiches. Do I call them “leftovers”? Nope, they’re just chicken salad sandwiches. Then I might freeze what’s left of the chicken. A week later, I use that to make homemade chicken noodle soup with carrots, celery, onion, noodles, etc. Do I refer to that as “leftovers”? Nope, when I serve it, I call it chicken soup. We are not poor at all, but I cannot imagine tossing half a chicken in the garbage. And I can’t imagine my kids refusing to eat the soup or sandwiches, probably because they taste delicious and I don’t present them as “leftovers.”

  • Jennifer M. says:

    Wow. I had no idea there were people snobbish enough in this world to actually throw away perfectly good food! What is wrong with people that they would think this is acceptable behavior? If you take the time to buy and prepare a dish, why on earth would you throw half of it away?? This makes no sense to me.

  • Tom says:

    Leftovers I make taste just as good as the original night — Chicken and mashed potatoes, steak and green beans, gen tsao’s (yes, you can make it), etc. Even sandwiches– toast the bread, heat up the meat and melt the cheese, *voila* magically transforms a mediocre sandwich into a wonderfully tasting thing. Not sure why that happens, but it does.

    Bottom line to me is eating in almost every work day saves me and avg of say $6. Times 250 days a year = $1500. That’s cash. If I pay 25% of my income in tax, that means I’m burning $2000/yr of my gross pay eating out. So I don’t think of it as ‘saving $5’. I think of eating this single ham sandwich I made as ‘saving $2000’. What could you do if someone gave you a $2,000 check at the end of the year just for eating ham sandwiches?

    Still, can’t get my sis, who is in serious financial distress, to buy into this. She’s married w/3 kids. Makes a lot less than my household. The logic is undeniable to her, but she just trails off “yeah…”, like “that’s a great idea, but I’m not gonna do that”. I guess some people just aren’t built for the action. I’ll always love her, but I believe she’ll always be broke. So, yes, I buy this article 100%.

  • Mario Wilson says:

    Great article! I especially like point number 9 that talks about reheating properly. I have found that most people do not like leftovers because they don’t taste the same as the original meal. I now heat up all of my leftovers on the stove or oven (depending on the dish). This gives it “good as the first time” texture and taste so that my family will actually eat the leftovers. Again, thanks for sharing!

  • Abraham says:

    leftovers are not food they belong either to the poor or in the garbage. People should not eat leftovers for iftar either give it to the poor or throw it away, who cares if people have no food.


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