Fight rising prices by building your own food bank pantry

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food prices are expected to rise as much as 5.5% in 2011. Those prices aren't likely to go back down. So why not invest in food futures, i.e., your own pantry? Put it this way: If you have an emergency fund in the bank, why not have food in the bank?

Liz Pulliam Weston calls a full cupboard “the emergency fund you can eat.” Having plenty of staples on hand makes sense for several reasons:

  • You're locked in at the price you paid, which ideally will be the sale price (more on that later).
  • There's always something to fix for supper, which can mean less temptation to order in. You can also pack your own lunch.
  • If you get furloughed or laid off, you can eat from your cupboards.
  • Getting the best deals means your food dollars go further.
  • Having the ingredients to throw together a quick meal means less temptation to order in.
  • A deep pantry means less need to run to the store to get just one or two items. (Can you really get out of the store with just a six-ounce can of tomato paste?) This in turn means less wear and tear on the car and less gas used.
  • If times get tight, you can eat from your cupboard.

Discouraged couple shopping for groceries

Already on a tight budget? Don't fret. If you've got a buck, you can build a pantry.

Love Those Loss Leaders

Supermarkets, drugstores, and mass merchandisers like Target and Wal-Mart want you. They want you so much they'll sell you tuna for 33 cents a can or pasta for 50 cents a pound. Get in the habit of reading the sales flyers or checking sites like Savings Lifestyle, Coupon Mom, or A Full Cup, which not only highlight sales but also match them to coupons (many of which are available on the sites).

Look for shelf-stable items like dried fruit, ramen, pasta, peanut butter, tea, coffee and canned beans, vegetables, meat, fish, soup or fruit. If your favorite brand of pasta sauce is 99 cents, buy two or more if you're allowed. (And yeah, I know that homemade sauce is superior — so stock up on crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, already.)

Careful use of coupons makes these sales even better. I often pay little or nothing for items like pasta, chicken broth (good for making a fast soup, or extending the homemade kind), canned tomatoes, tuna, catsup, pickles, mustard, barbecue sauce, oatmeal, cocoa mix, and vitamins and supplements.

My favorite thing to get cheaply is canned fruit, for when I can't get to the store or for when fresh fruit is extremely expensive. Recently I paid 50 cents a can for low-sugar peaches, pears and fruit cocktail; I bought the maximum allowed.

On a super-tight budget? Try to get at least one extra item every time you shop. Almost everyone can come up with an extra 33 cents. That extra can of tuna, combined with pasta, white sauce and a little cheese, could become a day-before-payday casserole supper.

Dollar Days

Don't ignore the dollar store, which may feature some hot food deals along with the plastic colanders and clown figurines. Your mileage may vary, since not all dollar stores are created equal. But some of them offer rice, dried fruit, jam, canned tomatoes, pasta and other items.

Food blogger Billy Vasquez, aka The 99-Cent Chef, lives near a 99¢ Only store that routinely stocks frozen tilapia filets, olives, dry beans, potatoes, soy sauce, canned shiitake mushrooms, winter squash, onions, pasta and various canned goods. My dollar store isn't nearly as good as his, but I have bought kosher salt, pasta, rice, gingersnaps and canned fruit. Also Christmas gifts — but that's a different blog post.

Tip: Don't forget the island of misfit foods. If you live near a Grocery Outlet or similar salvage food store, you can find great deals on groceries.

Think Outside the Supermarket

“Ethnic” markets often have great deals on produce and spices. The Asian market a couple of blocks from me has the cheapest bananas anywhere and sells chicken-leg quarters for 79 cents a pound every day. That's where I bought 10-pound bags of rice and of pinto beans for $6.99 — and a pound of pinto beans goes a l-o-n-g way.

The per-pound price for such items is even lower if you shop at a warehouse store like Costco or Sam's Club. Don't have a membership? Maybe a friend does.

I live near a Grocery Outlet store that offers a line of cheap staple foods plus an always-changing bunch of special items. You might see organic corn crackers one week, but never again. I saw one-quart cartons of organic butternut squash soup for 99 cents — much classier than chicken noodle and cheaper, too. Trader Joe's and other specialty shops have some surprisingly low prices. For example, I've found cannellini (white beans) cheaper at TJ's than in the supermarket.

Drugstores often have coupon specials for nonperishables like soup, canned fruit (especially mandarin oranges and pineapple), spaghetti sauce, nuts, mac ‘n' cheese (yes, it's radioactive orange and yes, kids love it), peanut butter, canned fish, salt, spices and — of course — ramen. Walgreens sells a line of dried fruits (raisins, figs, cranberries, pineapple, mango) for a buck a box.

Two more offbeat food sources:

  • Estate sales. The contents of the house must go, and that includes the contents of the kitchen. I've bought canned goods, waxed paper, aluminum foil and soap this way. In fact, at one estate sale the woman in charge just gave me the foil (a big box of it, too) and also some muffin-pan liners.
  • The Freecycle Network. I've seen canned goods, tree fruit, surplus produce, frozen dinners and pet food offered — and you can't beat the price.

Get a Freezer

Several years ago I hooked up with “Chester,” a 5.5-cubic-foot chest freezer. He's a good guy to have on your side: A little chilly, but utterly reliable — and frugal. My electric bill hasn't gone up noticeably, and having more storage space lets me take full advantage of great prices.

For example, plain frozen vegetables recently went on sale for 50 cents, which means my side veggies cost 10 cents per serving. If I had a garden I'd blanch and freeze the veggies I grew; for now, I stick with gleaned blackberries and any other free produce that comes my way.

I stock up on “manager's special” meats (99-cent-a-pound remaindered bacon, anybody?), loss-leader poultry (such as the “desecrated turkey” that cost me 25 cents a pound), cheap bread from the bakery outlet and on-sale butter to go with it. Some people freeze milk and cheese. I've heard of rice being frozen, either raw or cooked.

Related reading: Check out these past GRS articles on how to cut your food costs with a stand-alone freezer and how to buy a side of beef.

Although I don't do much baking except at Christmas, I like having flour on hand for pancakes, white sauces, and the occasional batch of brownies. The other day I found all-purpose flour on sale, five pounds for $1.50. Into the freezer; not only does this keep flour fresh for up to a year, it kills any weevil or insect eggs that are present. (Eeewww.)

Still not convinced? Amy Dacyczyn thinks it's a good idea. In her 1995 The Tightwad Gazette II, she suggests that a small freezer is a swell idea for singles. They allow us to shop less often, store bulk grains, freeze batch cooking, and consume “a healthier, more varied diet” — especially if your neighbors garden as much as J.D. and Kris do. (Hint: It helps if you like zucchini.)

Keep it Organized

Obviously you'll need to rotate the stock. Put new items in the back of your pantry or cupboards. To be on the safe side, write the date of purchase on the front of the item with a black marker (not a pale-blue pen).

These are not bomb-shelter rations, incidentally. You'll be eating from the pantry all along. Once you get in the habit of watching for good sales you'll continually replenish your stores.

Checklist to Build Your Own Pantry

Here's a checklist to help you with building your own food bank, i.e., a pantry full of staples you bought at rock-bottom prices.

This is not emergency food, mind you, to be saved for the next hurricane or other disaster. The point is to eat from this pantry all along, replenishing when prices are best.

What if Times Are Already Tight?

That's OK. You can get going on as little as a dollar.

1. Start small.

Try to get at least one extra item every time you shop. Look for shelf-stable foods like dried fruit, ramen, pasta, peanut butter, tea, coffee and canned beans, vegetables, meat, fish, soup or fruit.

2. Score loss leaders.

Your favorite soup, three for a dollar; pasta for 79 cents a pound; two cans of tuna for a buck — stores offer prices that low to get you in the door because they assume you'll do all of your shopping there. Be the exception: Take advantage of the best prices and then skedaddle.

Note: Driving 10 miles out of your way to save a quarter obviously doesn't make sense. Pick your spots.

3. Use coupon sites.

Regional coupon bloggers and national sites like CouponMom.com and AFullCup.com match sales to coupons, many of which you can print out or download to a store loyalty card.

4. Hit the dollar store.

Concerned about recalls of foods produced in China and elsewhere? Buy only U.S.-produced foods. I used to get my Arkansas-grown rice at a Seattle dollar store along with things like pasta, gingersnaps and kosher salt. Food bloggers talk of finding olives, marinated vegetables, frozen tilapia filets and other everyday gourmet foods; if you're lucky enough to live near a 99¢ Only store, you can get fresh produce too.

5. Go gleaning.

Ask around for unused produce, fruit or nuts; some gardeners are happy to share. I've also seen this stuff on The Freecycle Network. Or check the following websites: Village Harvest (nine U.S. states and one Canadian province), Urban Edibles (Portland, Ore.), Fallen Fruit (Los Angeles and environs) and Not Far From the Tree (Toronto). Don't glean from vacant land or woods unless you have permission from the owner, and note that in some areas it is not legal to glean from city, county, state or federal lands.

People shopping in Chinese market

6. Check out ethnic markets.

I lived near an Asian market in Seattle where I bought 10-pound bags of pinto beans for $6.99 and the cheapest bananas and chicken in town. Peek into your own local Hispanic, Asian or other specialty stores to see if the prices there are as good or better than the supermarket's.

7. Join a warehouse club.

Although sales-plus-coupons at drugstores or supermarkets can be super cheap, Costco or Sam's can often beat grocers' everyday prices. Buying a six-pack of canned tuna means you can use some now and hold on to the rest. Certainly their prices on dried beans and rice are primo. Just don't buy a giant jar of salsa or peanut butter if it's going to go bad before you can use it all.

Don't want to join? See if a friend who's a member will pick up a few items for you.

8. Shop the drugstores.

Those coupon bloggers also highlight weekly specials on foods like soup, canned fruit, spaghetti sauce, ramen, cereal and teabags. Stack these specials with manufacturer's coupons and you can get some very inexpensive items. These items may not make up a completely healthy diet, but they're nice fill-ins or quick meals when you need them.

9. Buy like a restaurateur.

Do an online search for “restaurant supply stores” in your area and hone in on the ones that (a) are open to the public and (b) sell comestibles as well as cookware. A store near me in Seattle, Cash and Carry, let home cooks come in for warehouse-club-sized portions without paying a warehouse fee. Not everything was in a No. 10 can, mind you; I could get meat, cheese and produce (all of which freeze well) in reasonable quantities at startlingly low prices.

Baker loading cooling racks with bread

10. Investigate bakery outlets.

My partner and I routinely buy good-quality sandwich rolls and multi-grain breads for as little as a dollar per loaf, and tortillas for 50 cents per bag. It's not stale. It's surplus, and it freezes well. Do an online search for “bakery outlets” in your region.

11. Trade rewards points.

The quinoa that sells for $10.29 a bag in Anchorage markets was free to me because I bought it using Amazon gift cards obtained from the Swagbucks rewards program. MyPoints also offers Amazon cards, as do some rewards credit card plans. You could buy everyday foods that way too.

12. Pick your own.

Depending on where you live, getting food straight from the farmer can be a real deal. The results can be frozen, dried or canned. Find a farm at PickYourOwn.org or PickYourOwnFood.com.

13. The Freecycle Network.

Yes, really. I've seen frozen dinners, tree fruit, canned goods, surplus produce and even pet items offered up for free.

Storage and Preservation

Even if you live in a relatively small space, it's possible to stash a lot of foodstuffs. Here's how:

14. Get a freezer.

As a single woman in Seattle, I owned a 5.5-cubic foot chest freezer, for great deals on loss-leader frozen vegetables, breads, dairy products, and meat and poultry. It was rather surprising how such a small appliance could hold such a lot of food. If you're into batch-cooking, spend part of a weekend day in the kitchen and you'll be able to freeze a month's worth of meals.

15. Tally and date your finds.

Each time you buy something, add it to a master list. This is especially important for the freezer, because things way down at the bottom get lost and may wind up freezer-burned. For other items, use a black marker to write the date of purchase on the fronts (not the tops) of packages or cans.

Rotate the stock so you're using items regularly. And again, buy stuff you actually like because stuff that doesn't get eaten is no bargain.

16. Think outside the cupboard.

Stack goods in an armoire or in a dresser, trunk, bookcase or even a file cabinet.

17. Hang it up.

Add shoe organizers inside closet doors and store small canned goods, spices, toiletries and the like.

18. Use under-space.

Stock up using under-bed boxes (shades of the college dorm!) or stack plastic totes full of food and cover with a decorative cloth: instant end table!

19. Be shelf-conscious.

Put up shelves in a closet, laundry room or basement to store and organize your canned food and dry goods.

Of course, the most important tip is to bank your savings!

Remember: The point is to stock up on stuff you'll actually eat. It's not a bargain if it just sits on the pantry shelf.

How do you build up your food pantry? Share your tips in the comments!

Grocery Outlet photos are by Karawynn Long, and come from her GRS post on saving money at the island of misfit foods.

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Derek
Derek
9 years ago

Thank you for these great ideas! My wife and I will be moving soon, but once we are settled, we’ll have to stock the pantry with some great deals!

Aaron
Aaron
9 years ago

Second fridges/freezers are great but keep in mind that it costs money to buy and operate (in many cases more than $20/month in electricity). The other issue is that when you have so much food storage space…things get lost/forgotten. If that $0.99/lb steak sits at the bottom of the freezer for 15 years, is it really worth it?

Erica
Erica
9 years ago

We recently had an Aldi supermarket open in our area. It’s reliably less expensive than Target, Walmart or CVS (and much less expensive than a regular grocery store). Their produce is awful, but everything else is great — 39 cents for a dozen eggs, $2.50 for a gallon of whole milk, 99 cents for sour cream with no whey or funky stabilizers. Here (in New England) we have a lot of mom and pop fruit and veg stores (mostly run by Greeks) where they sell perfectly good produce that isn’t fancy enough for the chain grocery stores at deep discount… Read more »

chett daniel
chett daniel
9 years ago

“Estate Sale?” Really????? I can’t see myself combing the legals and obituaries pondering who had the best selection of Hot Pockets in their freezer so I could pillage through some random dead persons kitchen.

Erin D
Erin D
8 years ago
Reply to  chett daniel

Here in the midwest we have estate auctions. Everything that is sellable is put out on tables and trailers. Then an auctioneer auctions the items in groups or lots to the highest bidder. I have bought food this way.

In fact there are many grocery auctions near us too. The discount grocery stores will get in a big shipment of dented cans and will auction them off too. Sometimes you can get really cheap deals.

Pat
Pat
9 years ago

Another good idea, if you have the space, is to grow your own. That’s what my wife and I do. There is nothing better than fresh green beans right out of the garden. and cheap too, a package of seed runs around $1.50 and will plant enough to feed an entire army. Beans, carrots, parsnips, peppers, squash, cucumbers, melons, potatoes, tomatoes, etc… We also bought a pressure canner (not the same thing as a pressure cooker) and we put up quite a lot of our own produce. Including buying a lug of peaches or pears in August and canning them… Read more »

Holly
Holly
9 years ago

I stocked up on butter once only to find that we don’t go through it fast enough. All four pounds of butter tasted like the freezer, but I think that it might have been already tainted when purchased. Sometimes you can be duped into buying groceries at deeply discounted prices because the products have been shelved for too long at the store and need to go.

Andy
Andy
9 years ago

This article is a great reminder of one of the easier things I can do to streach my dollars. We also order a side of beef from the local cattle farmer every six months and split it with friends of ours. We live in a little town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and we have a great local grocer that will actually order you cases of food at a discount (10-40%). This is nice because I get the things we eat most often at a discount and I don’t have to clip coupons or chase sales (neither of which… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

It’s a little late now, but a good time to go shopping to fill up the pantry with staples is during major food holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, 4th of July, Superbowl. Stores often have enormous prices on basics during those time.

Don’t fill your pantry with food you don’t eat, unless you want to be donating a bunch of stuff to the next real food pantry collection.

Having a stocked pantry is also great when the weather is bad. Everyday Tips has a post on that today.

Edmundo Braverman
Edmundo Braverman
9 years ago

J.D. The auxiliary chest freezer is key if you can in any way afford it. You can eat out of a decent chest freezer for MONTHS. One freezer strategy that can really cut down on meat costs AND ensure a better, healthier brand of meat is to split a whole cow (or pig, even) with a buddy at a local butcher. By purchasing half a cow at one time, you’re knocking out probably six months worth of beef and the per pound price is usually far below the supermarket for a much higher quality product. Just as a matter of… Read more »

David Hunter
David Hunter
9 years ago

@Chett Daniel: I’m with you on that one.

The others are great ideas! Plus, depending on where you live, you could get snowed in and all of the food stores could be closed for days.

Thad
Thad
9 years ago

One of our local grocery stores is currently going out of business and everything in the store (with a few exceptions, like meat & diary) was 50% off! So, we stocked up pretty good … on top of our normally well-stocked pantry. I know that it is not standard but it is important to keep and eye for closing stores. In the last year, one Rite-Aid and now a Shoppers Food Warehouse has closed in our immediate area.

Lauren
Lauren
9 years ago

@David Hunter: A whole bunch of Texans are finding this out the hard way! We’re totally prepared for hurricanes. Snow storms? Not so much!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

I would love to get a freezer, but my lease makes it a pricy venture! (An extra $18 a month for hydro — talk about an ancient clause!) Still, I make do. I always keep homemade soup or stew on hand, and I’ve recently started freezing staples that take a while to cook — like extra helpings of beans or specialty rice. (Millet works well too!)

As an apartment dweller, I don’t have much room to stock up so I have to be very careful about what I buy and how quickly I’ll use it up.

Kris
Kris
9 years ago

We frequently buy large cuts meat on sale and butcher it ourselves – and we’ve found a vacuum sealer to be a good investment. Last fall, I bought both a beef rib loin ($3.99/lb) which yielded a small standing rib roast and ten ribeye steaks (plus ribs for the barbecue this summer), and a boneless strip loin ($2.99/lb) and ended up with a roast, several NY strip steaks (8 or 10) and a couple of pounds of beef to grind for burgers. Altogether, I spent just over $100. The meat was all vacuum sealed, so it’ll keep well in the… Read more »

Deb
Deb
9 years ago

We moved into a tiny country house in a semi rural area, and built into the hillside behind the house is a large concrete food/root cellar – the depression era folks who sold me this home kept it well stocked with their own preserves and canned goods, and proudly showed me photos. I do purchase lots of food in bulk and keep that cellar stocked well. Dried goods, pastas, beans, oats, wheat, plenty of canned goods. The more perishable goods are sealed in food safe bags and buckets. It’s not just good economical sense, but good to have in case… Read more »

Jan
Jan
9 years ago

I lost everything in the freezer to a storm in the summer. Now I go the direction of canned goods. Swanson’s white chicken is excellent.
Don’t forget to rotate foods- putting the newer expiration dates in the back. Bury potatoes and onions in sand outside your back door- they can last a LONG time.
Finally, trying to beat inflation with a pantry is a bit crazy. You will still eat and the prices will still rise. Stocking for survival or storms or one less tank of gas—those are all reasons. Inflation? have a good producing garden and some chickens!

Jennifer
Jennifer
9 years ago

I couldn’t agree with you more. Having your own supply of food bought at rock bottom prices is the best way to save money. And when you are in a pinch and have an emergency that will take all available funds – you don’t have to worry about what you are going to eat, because you have a pantry full of food. We just ate from ours for a month in order to pay for the dog’s surgery. worked great!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

@Jan — good point! I don’t think there’s a whole lot we can do to stay ahead of rising food costs. I wonder if most people would be better off with smarter shopping lists and better meal planning so they don’t throw out food. The amount of food the average North American throws in the garbage is quite shocking. Besides, I often find when I stock up on things, I feel I have to use them up faster and I’m not as careful. (“I have lots of this, I’d better use it…”) Increasing consumption, even if the goods are cheaper,… Read more »

Sustainable PF
Sustainable PF
9 years ago

You may also want to buy in bulk. In Canada we have Costco and you get a lot of staples / pantry items at these bulk stores and you end up paying rock bottom prices per unit.

Jeannine
Jeannine
9 years ago

As mentioned in the story, we do freeze cooked rice (brown rice). I always cook 2 cups whether we’re going to use it or not. Then freeze leftovers. When you’re in a pinch for dinner, take it out, put it in a colander and run hot water over it for a minute or so. Just like freshly cooked rice everytime. BTW, I live in an area where none of the grocery stores double coupons anymore, so it’s especially important to stock up during sales and pay attention to sale cycles. When I notice my pantry or freezer getting too full… Read more »

brokeprofessionals.com
brokeprofessionals.com
9 years ago

This post comes to me at a poor time (from a personal level), as we are currently blogging about our experience of “eating only food that is already in our house for a month.” Looks like we should have kept the stockpile of edible foods she constantly overlook and refuse to eat. Oh well, lets just hope the apocalypse doesn’t begin during the next month or so.

Carrie
Carrie
9 years ago

Awesome and uncanny timing on this article – we were just talking about restocking our pantry without breaking the bank last night! thanks!! I’ve always turned my nose up at shopping at WalMart and the dollar stores, but maybe I need to take a second look to see what they actually stock other than the junk food in the first row.

Sam Russell
Sam Russell
9 years ago

These aren’t bad tips, but sometimes it’s a little frustrating to see the assumptions a pro can make. One bedroom apartments don’t always have room for a full-sized normal fridge/freezer unit, much less a full standalone freezer. Our pantry and cabinets are as full as we can make them already, and our freezer can’t take anything beyond the normal week-to-week meat and frozen vegetables.

SupportingParents
SupportingParents
9 years ago

@15 Deb- I would love your root cellar! I have about a 1/4 acre property (which includes a house, shed and some unusable land) and I plant every inch that is workable. Last year I threw a bunch of potatoes and onion seeds in the ground and we are still enjoying them! The root cellar is a fantastic free idea (compared to buying a freezer and paying extra electricity… is it really a deal??) and the cellar keeps good quality fresh foods that are so much more healthy than frozen dinners and microwaveable items. I have over 100 pounds of… Read more »

Money Smarts Blog
Money Smarts Blog
9 years ago

I agree with Chett. Buying canned goods from estate sales is one tiny step above dumpster diving.

Good article, but those of us in smaller houses will have a harder time implementing.

Best way to save money on food is to eat less. Most of us would be healthier if we did that.

brokeprofessionals.com
brokeprofessionals.com
9 years ago

I think that if you want to you can eat really inexpensively. For instance, for breakfast a giant container of oatmeal is like $3.00 and it would give you a healthy breakfast for a few weeks. Then, for lunch you find a 10 for 10 deal on soup or something and bam, you have a (slightly less healthy but they have reduced sodium soups) decent lunch for $1.00 per day. Then for dinner, as sides you find 10 for $10.00 deals on frozen vegetables and some decent but inexpensive meat/main course and there you go. It is all the snacks,… Read more »

Nick (Macheesmo)
Nick (Macheesmo)
9 years ago

My problem with always thinking about food in this light is it gives people the notion that all food is created equal. Which is just not the case. The $2/pound pasta is probably $2 because it uses real ingredients and is better for you and probably tastes better to boot. Most of the loss leaders that supermarkets offer are loaded with bad stuff that most people would be better off just avoiding entirely. Sure. Sometimes you find deals, but at the end of the day one of the most important things you can do is put good food into your… Read more »

Chris
Chris
9 years ago

Great post Donna. Very few people can make buying canned goods interesting. Does anyone have ideas for saving on “luxury” items like almonds? My husband loves nuts as snacks and I like to encourage his healthy choices but they can really blow a grocery budget. Since we aren’t broke, I try to balance these kinds of great cost saving ideas with some higher cost items. If you have to get your groceries this cheaply, do so but note that it means your chickens are being raised in tiny coops, that your veggies are being grown with lots of pesticides, and… Read more »

Karen
Karen
9 years ago

We are doing this so we can feed our large family. We bought boneless skinless chicken for 98 cents a pound. We have about 70 lbs left still. We are gluten and dairy free so we have tons of almond milk bought on sale (much longer shelf life than cow milk), gluten free dairy free waffles-bought on BOGO for 1.50 a box-bought 65 boxes for $60 with coupons and now will not buy probably for 1 year. My only problem is, we are running out of space but I have to keep finding more because being gluten and dairy free,… Read more »

shash
shash
9 years ago

This post comes at a time when I am attempting to somewhat do a “pantry challenge”– as in, eating meals based on the contents of my pantry/cupboard until they are depleted. I actually do take advantage of sales, etc. to stock my pantry, but I realized lately that: A) I was ignoring some of my stock B) Items were hiding behind my stock, which made me buy them again instead of checking deeper C) My fridge freezer was filled to capacity so making anything new to separate into meals and freeze was impossible. I believe deeply in having food on… Read more »

Lindsay
Lindsay
9 years ago

Funny to read this today as yesterday we sold out chest freezer for $50 to someone who might use it. I use to stock up on canned items and items to freeze but realized we really did not touch most of it. For the last two months we ate everything from our chest freezer and our pantry. We sold our freezer and now just have a few things in the pantry (rice, pasta, oatmeal). Instead of stocking up I place the little extra $ in our savings. As we live in Florida we do have an emergency supply of food… Read more »

Sara Trice
Sara Trice
9 years ago

I tend to keep a stocked pantry since I learned that from my mom. I use a website called The Grocery Game to figure out when the best time to buy things is (with coupons and sales). It’s a subscription site, but I save about 40% on all my grocery shopping, so it pays for itself. One hard lesson I learned is that I should not buy more than I think I’ll eat before it expires – I cleaned out my pantry last Fall and had to throw out 4 bags of groceries. Just because it’s a good deal doesn’t… Read more »

brokeprofessionals
brokeprofessionals
9 years ago

I know my wife’s one uncle (who obviously has an extra freezer and way more space than we do in our little apartment) will have like, whole animals slaughtered for him at some ridiculous wholesale price, but over the long run he will end up saving a ton of money while supporting local farmers. Kind of cool in a way.

Donny Gamble
Donny Gamble
9 years ago

This is definitely a great idea, but I don’t think that I am actually ready to implement something like this quite yet.

Des
Des
9 years ago

If you’re not above producing some of your own food, rabbits are a very good source of meat in an urban/suburban setting that is often overlooked. 2 does and a buck will provide meat for a small family, and it is very lean meat at that.

Evangeline
Evangeline
9 years ago

No matter what method you use (freezer, pantry, etc), just stock up. It will come in handy during bad weather, financial difficulties, sick kids, you name it. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. If you realize you’ve got a couple dollars left over after your grocery shopping is finished, then find something on sale that your family likes and buy one extra. Little by little it will build and you won’t regret it.

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago

Good article, but is it really “homemade” sauce if you’re using canned tomatoes and tomato paste? We’re looking in to buying a side of beef or possibly splitting it, which will necessitate us buying a small chest freezer.

Janice
Janice
9 years ago

as we routinely lose our electricity here, I don’t stock up the freezer too much. BUT I do buy on sale always, only good food and no, to the poster who said most inexpensive food is probably not good food. Read labels and you’ll see that a lot of times you’re just paying for a brand name or fancy packaging. If you’re talking convenience foods loaded with sugar, salt, fat and preservatives, then I’m with ya. Small house too, but I do keep multiples of things I use regularly as when they go on sale I buy a few so… Read more »

Quest
Quest
9 years ago

You’re spot on with the estate sale bargains. A friend of mine came away with so much stuff I couldn’t believe it. Most of the food was free, just given to her. The daughter just wanted it gone and was so grateful to be able to give it to someone who needed it. Not many people think about that.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

@ #2 Aaron: The small freezer I bought has had little to no impact on the electric bill. In part that’s because I rarely open it; when I do, I take out a LOT of stuff (e.g., two chickens, four bags of blackberries, two pounds of butter, three packages of bacon) and put those items in the freezer atop my fridge. Weeks go by and it never gets opened again. I can still hear my mom hollering, “Close that freezer!” when we kids would linger in front of it. She was right. Believe me, nothing ever gets forgotten. I make… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

@ #$ Chett: I don’t haunt (as it were) the estate sales. But if I’m out and about and I see one, why not stop in? I might find something, or I might find nothing at all. (Incidentally, the folks running the sale for that “random dead person” are charged with selling everything. I’m not pillaging, nor am I disrespecting the dead — I’m helping the family out by purchasing items that must be disposed of in some way.) I feel the same way about yard sales. Neither venue consumes my life, but I’ve found some very useful items that… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

@ #13 Elizabeth: I live in a one-bedroom apartment myself. I’ve learned to get very creative about storage (under the bed, behind the bookcase). And, in fact, the freezer is in my bedroom — there’s nowhere else to put it, since the “kitchen” is really just a little galley area.
Do what works for you — but take a look at unused space and see if you could, say, put up a small yard-sale armoire or chest (the yard-sale kind, of course) and stash extras there.

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

I usually do just-in-time kitchen restocking, but this year I’m going to try to do better with a pantry.

Even in a high-cost neighborhood with no gardening available (apartment, middle of Los Angeles), I’ve been able to score some real deals just by knowing which supermarkets do certain things best. I got a 1.6 pound tri-tip roast last night for $4.84 – that’s three to four meals, and only 20 minutes under the broiler. Ten days ago I got a NINE-pound package of pork shoulder for $13.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

@ #23 Sam Russell: I live in a one-bedroom apartment myself and I’ve got both a freezer and quite a bit of food stashed.
Do the best you can with what you have. But take a look around and see if any unused space could be reconfigured.

Kandace
Kandace
9 years ago

I’ve done a two month and three month pantry challenge and survived just fine without grocery shopping (Details on my blog). To know what you have, especially in the freezer, I suggest lugging it all out and creating an inventory of each item. You can create lists like meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables, etc.noting the quantity of each. I keep it taped to my freezer. Whenever I pull out an item, I put a chicken scratch next to the item on the list. It also helps to know what I need to buy. I also inventory what I can, dry, and… Read more »

Marly
Marly
9 years ago

Dried beans are a lot cheaper than canned, but take two hours to cook if you do it the traditional way. I cheat! I boil them for two minutes, drain them and put them in a plastic zip lock bag with a little water, then freeze them. When you are ready for dinner, they’ll cook up in about twenty minutes instead of two hours, and you can use as many or as little as you want. Also, if you grind them up , you can put them in all sorts of things to stretch your meal dollars and protein quota… Read more »

Annie
Annie
9 years ago

I definitely support the idea of shopping smartly, and stocking up when prices are low. I agree though that it can be hard when you live an apartment, especially with a roommate – my freezer and pantry space is cut in half! I’m currently doing a self-imposed ‘Pantry/Freezer Challenge’ to reduce my ‘food bank’ contents, as a way to be more mindful of what I have and how to use it (rather than just buying another can of tomatoes at the store, oblivious to the fact I already have 4 at home, etc) – and documenting on my blog. Thanks… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

@ #25 Money Smarts Blog: It’s easy enough to check the sell-by date on a can of tomatoes at an estate sale. Other items, such as the aluminum foil, don’t ever go bad. What’s the problem, then? Obviously you shouldn’t do anything you’re not comfortable doing. But to say that an estate sale is comparable to Dumpster diving is just wrongheaded. Take the ideas that work for you and leave the rest. And to the folks who keep saying “But I live in a small house/apartment” — I live in a one-bedroom apartment with one medium-sized closet and one coat… Read more »

Tracy
Tracy
9 years ago

I want to echo Nick (#27) and emphasize that, especially for meat, you’re paying for what you get. Those 79 cents a pound chicken legs are from chickens raised in horrible conditions (tiny cages with so many other chickens around they have to trim their beaks so they don’t hurt each other), fed the cheapest possible feed, and stuffed with antibiotics – is that really what you want to put in your and your kids’ bodies? I’d vote to eat chicken half as often and spring for better quality when you do.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

@ #32 Sara Trice: I’ve heard people talk about The Grocery Game. Just FYI: You can find sales highlighted and matched with coupons for *free* at CouponMom.com, and maybe at others, too.
Just sayin’.

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