Updated on 11.28.10

The Egg Nog Dilemma

Trent Hamm

This past week, we spent quite a bit of time visiting Sarah’s parents. Her mother kindly bought several items that I would be able to eat or drink throughout the week in advance of our visit (yes, I actually like my mother in law!).

One of the things she picked up for me was a quart of soy egg nog. On my first day there, I tried it… and I liked it! It was quite tasty and it was something I could essentially enjoy without violating my current doctor-ordered diet.

Every day, I’d consider having another glass of it. Every day, though, I’d think “well, if I drink it all now, I won’t have any later in the week, so I’ll wait to enjoy it later.”

Sure enough, the last day of our visit came. Sure enough, there were so many things going on that the egg nog didn’t even cross my mind.

Sure enough, the rest of that egg nog is now sitting in their refrigerator, several hours away, at a house where the occupants likely won’t drink it.

In other words, my desire to conserve that egg nogd meant that much of the egg nog simply went to waste.

This phenomenon pops up all the time with regards to shopping and personal finance. If you buy ten pounds of apples in bulk because the price is right, you need to use them quickly before they begin to rot. If you buy a large container of honey, you need to use it before it crystallizes.

On a straightforward level, good personal finance is about conserving things. You conserve your money. You conserve your splurges. You reuse and recycle things, finding second uses for them. You buy secondhand items, allowing these items to have a longer lifespan.

Yet, when you do this too diligently, you can often waste things – like the egg nog this past week.

After thinking about it a few times the past few days, I’ve come to a few conclusions about this.

First, if you have a desire to use something that can go bad, use it. If that egg nog is sitting in the fridge and you want a glass, have a glass of it. Don’t wait unless you’re waiting for a very specific event – for example, you might be waiting to specifically share a glass with someone who will be there later.

Second, the real decision with regards to being financially conservative with such disposable items happens at the store. Your choice with regards to the egg nog doesn’t happen at home. It happens in the store when you’re deciding whether to buy it. The same philosophy goes with regards to virtually any item you might pick up.

Once you have that item at home, use it. Use it when you want to use it. Use it until it’s gone, then make a decision about whether to replace it.

If you’re preparing a bowl of oatmeal and think to yourself, “I could put honey in this… but I should save that honey,” don’t. Use the honey. If you “save” the honey for some unspecified future event, you’re just increasing the likelihood of finding yourself with honey that’s crystallized into a giant brick in a month or two.

If you’re wanting a drink and think to yourself, “I could use some egg nog right now… but I should wait,” don’t. If you wait and then forget about it, you’ll find yourself with rancid egg nog – and wasted money.

Your decision to buy such treats should happen at the store – or, ideally, before you even go to the store, when you’re assembling your grocery list.

When you make the choice to write the words “egg nog” on your list, the decision of whether or not to have a cup of it in your kitchen a few days later should already be made for you. Otherwise, you’re spending money on items that will go to waste.

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  1. CNM says:

    This is totally me especially with pricier grocery items. It’s like I want to stretch the item out indefinitely, which then leads to waste or- even worse- some ridiculously small left-over quantity that is too minuscule to complete any recipe. I really just need to enjoy what I buy rather than waste it by saving for a rainy day.

  2. Michelle says:

    You know you can un-crystalize honey but putting in a bowl of very hot water, or microwaving it. No need to waste honey just because it gets hard! But I get what you’re saying otherwise. Good message! :)

  3. Beth says:

    I have this problem with clothes. I don’t want to wear out the “nice stuff” like a new sweater or pair of shoes. As a result, I’ve given away new or barely used items that no longer fit or went out of style.

    Needless to say I have learned it is better to wear out an item than waste it.

  4. DeeBee says:

    I don’t use soy milk often, so I freeze half of the container and then defrost it if I need it. Could soy eggnog be frozen?

  5. Pam says:

    First off I LOVE soy eggnog when I can find it!!! And yes, it has gone bad in my fridge due to the same reasons.

    I’m with Beth, my problem is mostly clothes. I buy in fear that I’ll need something then “save” till it doesn’t get worn. Such a waste of my hard earned money. I’m trying to wait until I need that special item before I buy it and wear out what I already have… which is almost never!

  6. Amanda says:

    I’ve been guilty of this too. Frequently enough that my household now has a saying especially about relatively inexpensive indulgences. “___ is a renewable resource.” We can always go out and buy more egg nog or chocolate or cute socks. This way I enjoy it on a more frequent basis.

  7. GC says:

    I do this all the while with turkey bacon and things like chocolate and so on.

  8. Evan says:

    To add to Michelle(#2), they found honey in an Egyptian tomb that was over 3,000 years old and still good. So good article, but honey is probably the worst example you could find of a food item going to waste.
    I would blame a Soy Nog hangover.

  9. Todd says:

    Does this remind anyone of the scene in Home Alone 2 where Kevin tells the homeless woman about the rollerblades that he wanted to keep nice, so he never wore them, and then he ended up growing out of them?

  10. Hannah says:

    I’m generally terrible with wasting perishable food. I wish I could say it was from consciously making a effort to save it, but truthfully I am just bad at forcing myself to use up the oldest things in the fridge before moving on to something new.

    On the flip side, my boyfriend and I had a disagreement recently about using up nonperishable items- in this case coffee pods. I never pass up a free cup of coffee when it’s available. I could make my own when I get home, but the faster I use up the coffee pods that I already have, the sooner I will have to buy more. He says this is an example of the “sunk cost fallacy” because since I already spent the money, making the coffee last won’t get the money back. I disagree, because eventually I will replenish my stock, it’s just a matter of when.

  11. Wes says:

    I thought the Egg Nog dilemma was going to be about what to add to it.

    Anyway, honey is re-usable after it crystalizes, but it isn’t as good. And microwaving it is a sure-fire way to heat off all of the subtle aromatics that make honey more pleasant than cheaper sweeteners. So technically, yes, honey can be stored indefinitely, but when you do so you lose a lot of what makes it special (and costly) in the first place, so it’s best to just go ahead and eat (or, for a real treat, ferment it) when it’s fresh.

  12. Ruth says:

    re: #2 – A bowl of hot water is a good idea and will fix your crystalized honey brick. There is no need to heat the water, just use the hottest water from your tap. The honey should return to its original state and stay that way for a while.

    Don’t use a microwave – it only temporarily uncrystalizes the honey, plus your honey is most likely in a plastic container that could release toxins when microwaved.

  13. Kerry D. says:

    Aside from the honey, love the basic idea… my grandmother had a habit of saving nearly everything nice for some future point in time, and when she passed away she left many, many unused clothing items, accessories, you name it… I felt so sorry that she didn’t get to enjoy them during her hard working life.

  14. Matt says:

    I know exactly where this is coming from. However, this article brought up something that my family has been struggling with in regards to meal planning and feeling like we were wasting food. We began planning meals on a regular basis and consuming the left overs. We would make too much and not eat it fast enough or get sick of it because we did not want to waste food (i’m talking spaghetti lunch and dinner 4 days in a row for both my wife and I).

    I think that this causes many people to give up on making meals and eating left overs because they let themselves feel pressured into eating all of it to not waste it. To overcome this we started making meals every 2-3 days instead of when the other was completely consumed to give us variety and to stay on the meal plan. Has helped our budget and our waistlines even though we still occasionally throw out some left overs.

  15. Kate says:

    At first pass, I found this post really weird. “Drinking it all now” and drinking one glass are not the same thing if you have a quart of the stuff sitting around. Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I’ve just really internalized the second point: if we already bought it, it’s fair game. @ Hannah, don’t let your bf snow you like that: home coffee from a pod costs money, and free coffee is free. The sunk cost fallacy would only apply in this case if, for example, you decided to stop drinking coffee because you actually hate it, but went ahead and drank the last 5 pods because you’d already bought them and “wanted to get some good out of them.” Actually, the money you spent on the pods would be gone either way (a sunk cost): the only rational question to ask is whether you’ll enjoy drinking those last 5 cups of coffee. But economists tell us that many people would make the irrational decision to suffer in order to “recoup” a sunk cost.

  16. Mister E says:


    Cooking smaller amounts of food may be the answer.

  17. valleycat1 says:

    #14 Matt – #16 Mister E is correct. I’m beginning to (mostly!) cut recipes to 4-6 servings so my DH and I aren’t endlessly eating leftovers. That said, last week I bought a whole ham for Thanksgiving, we cut off about 60% (to freeze for later) and we still ate it for every meal from Thanksgiving through last night (Sunday dinner).

  18. PJ says:

    One semi-exception is: if you have a *specific time* you’re saving it for, do that, and then enjoy it at that time. There’s a difference between planning ahead for a specific future date and planning ahead for ‘the future’. The former gets you well-deserved rewards – the latter, while prudent, can end in missed opportunities like Trent described.

  19. wren says:

    Guilty here! And I know exactly where I got this habit, from my grandmother. I’d always save the “good” ingredients, the “good” writing paper, the “good” shoes, the “good” sheets for “later”. I’ve no idea when or what this “later” was supposed to be. What finally broke me was realizing that my grandmother died at age 89, she had used her wedding china, that she received when she was 21, only a half dozen times in her life. It just seemed sad and silly.

  20. Kate says:

    My grandmother used the same towels my entire life. By the time she died, they were literally threadbare. In her cedar chest, we found sets of beautifully new, fluffy towels that she got as gifts and was “saving”. It made me sad.

  21. Matt C says:

    Reply – Cooking smaller amounts of food may be the answer.

    We found that cooking smaller amounts of food (half -recipe etc…) left us in the same predicament of eating the same thing lunch and dinner for a few days in a row. By cooking a slightly smaller amount every 2 days we can have different left overs for lunch than we do at dinner while still only cooking 2 to 3 times per week.

  22. Ben J says:

    This is an example of delayed gratification causing the unnecessary expenditure of mental energy, time, & one’s life. Egg Nog is seasonal so enjoy it while it’s around.

    The stone fruit season has started in my part of Australia – and the as per usual the prices are quite high at the start of the season. I could wait five or six weeks for the prices to drop – and that would rob me of a third of the season.

    Nothing wrong with being frugal and mindful of one’s expenditure – there just has to be some allowance for the small pleasures of life.

  23. MightyMighty says:

    Great post! We do this too. On the one hand, it makes sense to conserve things that you still end up replacing routinely. For example, we make homemade laundry detergent (dry, not wet), but I have big box of dry Cheer Brite, which really does get things less dingy. So, I use it on loads that are filthy, or dingy, but not on a load of dark clothes of regular soil-level. I buy fancy detergent every few months instead of once a month, so this really does save money. (About $120/year.)

    On the other hand, we have this odd habit of “saving” bell peppers until they mold. So now, when I see a good price, I buy them, bring them home and immediately slice them julienne-style, and then freeze them in small quantities. It’s not perfect, but at least this way we use them and don’t waste money on them.

    I’m about ready to give up on fresh herbs. By the time I want to make the recipe that requires cilantro, it is always bad. ;(

  24. holly says:

    You can chop & freeze or oven dry fresh herbs. I have done this w/cilantro, basil and parsley.

  25. moom says:

    If you save too much money for later in life or think you’ll enjoy yourself once you retire, it might all go to waste…

  26. deRuiter says:

    Cook a big batch of something and freeze portions, THEN REMEMBER TO USE THEM! It’s so handy to make a big batch of stuffed cabbage, and put in four Corning ware baking dishes with covers. Bake one for dinner and freeze three, have it once a week for the rest of the month, saves, time, energy, shopping time, meal planning. Make stuffed shells with tomato sauce, potroast, meatloaf, ditto, and a couple of other dishes, then use them once a week or so, you don’t get tired of the food. Honey? Easy to reconstitute, over and over, hot water or nuke it. I don’t notice anly loss of flavor with microwaving.

  27. Callie says:

    @Holly Definitely consider freezing your herbs. In the case of basil(or other herbs you will cook) you can blend a bunch with a bit of olive oil, then freeze in ice cube trays. Then move your cubes to a container (I use Pyrex or mason jars)and keep frozen till needed.

  28. Joan says:

    #27 Callie. Thanks for the freezing herbs in ice cube trays idea. Soy eggnog, I will be looking for it in the grocery store during my next shopping trip.

  29. Janis says:

    Ha! Don’t forget the “good soap” – those specialty bars in cute shapes, colors or scents. It’s not as though they go bad (except for certain handmade soaps that tend to melt after a while), but I really should use up (or re-gift?) these fancy soaps that have been gathering in the closet – just so that I can reclaim the space. Same goes for the bath salts and similar products.

  30. Claudia says:

    My mother had bought a new couch and threw the same ugly throw over it that was on her old couch. “To keep it nice”. The throw was supposed to come off for company, but apparently there was no company special enough. Maybe knowing there was a new couch under that ugly throw made her feel better? When she died, the couch did still look good.
    I’m sure that someone else shopping at the Thrift Store enjoyed buying the brand new pegnoir set we found in her drawer.

  31. Kevin says:

    This is a really interesting topic. Trent, I think you missed a great example in Magic: The Gathering cards. I’ve seen many players proudly showing off binders full of valuable cards in great condition. Yet when they build a deck to actually play with, they use proxies, in order to “keep their cards in good shape.”

    Years later, when those cards lose value and are just worthless cardboard in a binder, will they be glad they kept them in such good condition, rather than actually playing with them and getting enjoyment out of them?

  32. littlepitcher says:

    Visited my dad years ago, discovered that his towels were down to rags. His Christmas present that year was a luxe set of bath sheets in dark blue. Twenty years later, I visited him, and guess what? Ragged towels, different ones, were in use, and the blue towels, unused, were in his bathroom closet. Grandmother saved the pretty peignoir set for her funeral.
    Two words: live now.

  33. Monica says:

    I laughed when I read this, because I am definitely guilty of doing the same thing with certain food items! Sometimes our brain just doesn’t work rationally I guess.

    Trent — if you can drink soy milk and like pumpkin, see if you can find Silk Pumpkin Spice Soymilk near you. It’s another delicious seasonal treat!

  34. Sam says:

    I do this all the time – especially with food & clothes. It’s comforting I know I’m not alone. I’m thin as a rail & really need to stop since the food expires & the clothes don’t fit as I loose mass.

    On the fancy gift soaps – I keep them in a separate soap bowl & if we run out of soap or if the kid’s can’t find the regular soap (the dog ate it) then the fancy ones get used. That way they are out & make the room pretty but still get used for their practical function. If they get grimy I just rinse them off when I scrub the sink.

    & one other thing – on the honey… stuff stays good forever. Once it crystallizes I think you just have to heat it up to re-liquefy it. I can never remember the exact procedure – I always a have to ask the local bee keeper(he has a actual store in the next town over with nothing but honey products).

  35. Raya says:

    Just a note – you can re-melt honey, just put the honey jar over the stove in a water-filled container. Or, if it is summertime, just leave it on the window to melt. Also, just because it is not liquid does not mean the honey is no good. Actually it is JUST as good.

    Of course, I know that’s not the point in the article :)

  36. f1ower says:

    I do this, too! It’s so hard to reprogram your mind to “spend out” as Gretchen Rubin from The Happiness Project blog calls it. I have a tendancy to try to stash all of the good stuff – food, soaps, perfumes, clothes, etc. – and then feel bad when it’s unusable later. After reading Gretchen’s posts and yours, Trent, I am going to try harder to “spend out.” :)

  37. Randy says:

    Wow, good article and great comments. Seems everyone knows how to melt honey crystals.

    I have an exception to your story. I’ve learned that wasting extra food is not necessarily a sin. Just because I have extra, doesn’t mean I should eat it. I need to learn to waste a little in order to have a little waist (or at least smaller). Yes, I could make smaller batches, but I grew up thinking the economy size was required because it cost less per ounce. That idea has settle around my mid-section and I’m working on re-learning.

  38. Kai says:

    to Randy,
    It depends on what it is. If you can save it for later, do so. It is not good to waste food if you could just put it in a tupperware and have it instead of something else tomorrow.
    But if it’s a question of eat now or throw out now, sometimes throw out works.
    The way I learned to think of it is that “once I’m full, the rest is trash (assuming it cannot be saved). If I put it in my body, it’s trash in my body. If I put it in the garbage, it’s trash in the garbage. Better to trash the trash than trash my body.”

  39. Sam says:

    I mean this helpfully & not to be “smart”… instead of making the un-savable food trash in the body or in the trash cab you could also compost it for your garden… if it’s not a meat or dairy product.

    Our cast off meat/dairy goes to the dogs so it theoretically saves me dog food….

  40. ChrisD says:

    This is so true, if I’ve had a bit of chocolate left and I’ve spent loads of mental energy thinking, should I eat it, should I save it. Eating it and then not thinking about because it is gone is so much better than any possible benefit of having it later.
    I also have the problem of buying something and then saving it instead of using it. I think this is another type of comfort zone. I bought a nice notebook to use but couldn’t bring myself to do so. So I gave it so someone who can use it and bought a really cheap pad that I am happy to scribble in, throw out and then replace as necessary. So now I know to just avoid expensive stuff if I won’t feel comfortable using it.

  41. Mary says:

    So true for me. I grew up “saving it for later” and often end up being unable to use them. My dad famously wouldn’t let my mom leave the stove light on (she liked to have it to illuminate the kitchen if someone was getting home late since it was next to the door). The reason? If we used it, it would burn out. I’m really trying to get better about depriving myself just because and not being afraid to use (and spend!) when its a good reason.

  42. SwingCheese says:

    My husband and I have had numerous discussions about candles. I seem to amass candles, because I love the smell and look of a room that has a scented candle in it. However, they burn up quickly, so I was always loathe to burn it. The outcome was that I’d be showing my husband the new candle(s) I’d purchased, and he’d point out that I had unused candles gathering dust. Now I work on burning candles on a regular basis and not buying any more until I’m out completely. (Or down to one.) Admitting my problem was the first step. :)

  43. Todd says:

    #25–I don’t think the same principle applies to money. If you save the good clothes and towels, your heirs aren’t like to value your old stuff the way you did when you packed it away. But your money–I’m sure they’ll be pleased to have that. Their pleasure will help them get over the sadness they feel that you socked all that money away and never used it on yourself! ;-)

  44. Shell says:

    I haven’t found any difference in the taste of honey after it has crystalized and then been warmed and I am a real honey badger. I buy from Dutch Gold and Sleeping Bear Farms. I have tried just about every kind of honey there is. I also freeze their cherry juice if I have had it in the fridge for more than six days or so. Can’t tell any difference in it either. ( This is for the person who said the taste is not as good after crystalization) I would assume you would however have a difference in texture , if you freeze egg nog, because you do with milk. Nothing bad, just a slightly discernable texture.

  45. I know exactly how you feel Trent… I’m such a delayed gratification “saver” that as a kid, I would always keep the Halloween candy that I really liked and eat the ones that I didn’t care much about. I would save those precious Snickers, Reese’s, etc. until I forgot about them, and found them the following year when it was time to go trick-or-treating again. :(

    I wish I could say that I am better about this, but well, the delayed gratification tendencies are deeply ingrained. I keep finding examples where I saved things too long. I hope that you don’t have the same “over-saving” for retirement problem that I do… I wish I could let myself enjoy more of my money, but I am just so compelled to sock it all away.

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