Dear Home-ec 101:
I hate going to the grocery store each week and spending so much money. I’ve heard that I need to have a stocked pantry, but I don’t understand how that will help me. If I buy twice as much food so that I have some in the pantry for next week, won’t that just cost even more?
Dear Going pantry-less:
Going pantry-less is just asking to get caught with your pants down!
Having a well-stocked pantry can be life-saving when money gets tight. However, building a pantry is not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. It can be stocked in relatively easy steps. First, take a look at your average menu. What are the non-perishable foods you find yourself buying regularly?
Make a list, and then find your store’s current sales flyer. Many stores even list them online. Most chain supermarkets offer “loss leaders” in their flyers as a lure to bring you to their store. Loss leaders are items often priced near or at cost. The store owners are willing to profit on some items as most people will purchase other items at their normal cost on the same trip. Loss leaders are usually offered in a rotation, and smart consumers stock up when they know they are getting a good price.
The Benefits of a Well Stocked Pantry
The goal is to buy enough of your staple items to last until the next time they are on sale.
Remember that this is not an all-or-nothing situation. You don’t have to buy all of your staples on your first trip. Pick one staple that’s on sale and just buy twice what you normally would. This won’t increase your food budget too much but may save you from having to buy that item at full cost on the next grocery trip. Use that savings to buy more of another staple.
The catch: Over-buying
Some people believe they should stock up on everything, even if they don’t eat the item regularly. If you hate tuna, save that space (and money!) for something you do like. Don’t buy lots of a single item if you only rarely eat the product. Only buy what you will eat or it is just money wasted.
Your pantry is more than your kitchen’s cupboards.
*2022* update – we use shelving in our office/spare bedroom as an extension to our pantry. We have four teenagers, and the itty bitty closet of a pantry in our house just doesn’t cut it for the eight of us. Some people use linen closets or roll away storage under beds. It’s ok to get creative. As long as the food is in sealed containers and YOU REMEMBER AND TRACK where it is, it doesn’t matter if it’s “officially” a pantry.
Back to 2007…
Also, don’t forget your freezer is an important extension of the pantry, especially for meat and vegetables. Recent studies have shown that frozen vegetables retain more nutrition than those picked too early, artificially ripened, and shipped hundreds of miles to be sold “fresh.”
With a bit of practice and planning, it is possible to buy most of your needs only when they are discounted.
Fresh produce is a notable exception, but there are ways to save even in this category. When possible, peruse Farmers’ Markets and produce stands to take advantage of local crops. At the peak of the season, you may find some deep discounts. If you have space, consider freezing or canning your finds.
Last summer, we picked blueberries and froze them in one-cup portions. I can now laugh at the produce department’s price and still enjoy blueberry waffles and the occasional cobbler. For my family, another great buy is the bags of bananas on the verge of being overripe. I peel them, portion them, and freeze them in ziplock bags for smoothies or baking. A little forethought and creativity can really stretch your grocery dollars.
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