For Mark Roberts’ Use: Whether you’re preparing for retirement or you’ve already begun that chapter in your life, you know that making every dollar count is a major key to your financial success. Before retirement, stretching your budget helps you to find extra money to stash in savings. After retirement, living a thrifty life helps your retirement income to last longer.

One of the largest drains on most household budgets is food waste. In fact, about 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is never eaten. We are throwing away billions of pounds of food each year, and part of the problem is rooted in a lack of understanding about expiration dates.

The biggest misconception about the dates stamped on foods is that they are a hard and fast rule which governs when a particular food has “gone bad”. In fact, these dates are actually just guidelines, provided by manufacturers to help stores decide when to discount items or pull them off the shelves. The product itself is nearly always fresh beyond the “sell by” date on the package.

So how do you know whether a food can be used? It’s simple. For packaged foods such as bread, crackers, cookies, and so on, you don’t have to throw it out unless it’s stale or unappetizing. Completely disregard the dates on the label and let your eyes, nose, and taste buds be your guide.

For meat and dairy products, you can usually add five to seven days to the “sell by” date on the package. Once again, let your senses make the decision for you. If the product looks, smells, and tastes okay, then it is perfectly usable.

If your household is like most, putting this simple knowledge to use can really change what you spend on food each month. Now that you’ve found more room in your budget, put it to good use by saving a little more for retirement.