After I spoke at MOPS, several people had questions about my method of grocery shopping. The idea of shopping to replenish a pantry, instead of to make specific meals, is foreign because most people decide what they want to eat each week, and then go buy the stuff to make it. I approach menu planning differently, because I decide what we’re going to eat based on what we have on hand, what’s on sale, and what leftovers we have to use up. This insures that our existing food stock is always being rotated and used, and no food goes to waste.
Step Three of my $60 a Week Grocery Challenge is stocking your frugal pantry. I’m asking you to do this for two reasons:
1) When you have plenty of staples on hand, you can usually assemble a meal fairly quickly, even at the last minute, and you’re less likely to rely on restaurant meals, takeout, or convenience foods.
2) It keeps you out of stores. The more time you spend at the grocery store, the more money you’ll spend. Marketing studies have proven this, and it’s an excellent argument against “recreational shopping.” You’ll find that when you build a really well-stocked pantry, there will be weeks when you can skip grocery shopping altogether (especially this time of year, when you can buy extra gallons of milk, and take advantage of nature’s refrigeration. Which I did this week!)
So now you might be thinking, “This is all just great, Heather, but I have NOTHING in my pantry. How do I start?”
Before you panic, please understand that I don’t want you to rush out and buy everything you need to build your pantry all at once. That’s crazy talk! Whenever I’m teaching a new concept, whether it be frugal, financial, or organizational, I always say…start small!
If you’ve determined your weekly grocery budget, I would like for you to set aside only 10 percent each week for pantry staples. Your goal is to purchase the staples that you’ll use most often, and also what is on sale each week (watch your sale flyers!) Here are some examples:
1) I do a lot of baking – bread, cakes, cookies – because scratch baked goods are healthier (no trans fat), and cheaper than store-bought. I easily go through a 5-pound bag of flour every month. Recently, my local grocery store had 5-pound bags of generic, unbleached, all-purpose flour on sale for only 99 cents. Because I use so much of it, I spent $2.97 of my budget on three extra bags, which I put in my freezer to be used in the upcoming months.
2) Last summer, during a routine visit to Walmart, I happened upon an endcap of generic spaghetti, marked down to only 50 cents per 1-pound box. Because dry pasta, when stored correctly, keeps for a very long time, and is an essential staple for quick, frugal meals, I spent $5 of my budget on 10 extra boxes.
So, if your weekly grocery budget is $60, you would set aside only $6 to purchase extra pantry staples. As you continue to do this every week, you’ll slowly begin to build up a stockpile of sale goods, purchased at the lowest prices. Your goal is to purchase enough of each staple item to last until the next time it goes on sale.
When I talk about this subject, the question I’m asked most often is, “What should I keep in a “frugal pantry?” I don’t like to prescribe “must-haves” because food prices, dietary needs, and food preferences vary widely. However, I can offer a list of what we typically keep in our pantry, fridge, and freezer. I’ve designed this as a checklist, so you can use it to inventory your own pantry, if you wish.
If you’ve used this list before, you should know that it’s been updated to be more “user-friendly,” and to accomodate some changes in our diet (no pork, no trans fat), as well as some new price research. For example, I no longer make homemade hot cocoa mix, because the cost of dry milk has gone up enough that it’s more economical to just purchase store-bought cocoa mix on sale (an argument for why you must always keep checking prices!)
This pantry list is complete, with the exception of a few foods that we buy only for holidays or special occasions, as well as the occasional super-sale treats I find that by stocking these items, it’s very rare that I come across a recipe that I want to make, but can’t because I’m missing some essential ingredient.
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I hope this helps you get started. Have a great weekend, everyone!