Buying food you love on sale and storing it for when you want it is a great way to build your pantry and save money.
I love a stocked pantry. I really do. It may be that my dad — and my gramma before him — loved to stock their cupboards with groceries. Food is a comfort for our family. Having choices, having reserves, well that goes along with the comfort factor.
I’m quite content when my cupboards are full of yummy, healthy options to feed my family. Yet, I want to build that pantry in a budget-friendly manner. If I can stretch our dollar, we get the best of both worlds: full bellies and a balanced budget.
Here are some quick tips on how to stock your pantry on a budget.
Know your likes and dislikes.
Be honest with yourself about what you really like. Don’t stock up on things that your family would really rather not eat. I’m not talking about “it’s not my favorite”. I’m talking about “we really can’t stand this”.
Lentils is one of those things for our family. Gasp. I know. I’ve tried. But, the texture is just a little too, I dunno, gritty for our tastes. So, I know not to buy them. Black beans on the other hand fly off the shelf. So, I know to stock up on those when I see a good sale.
Stocking our pantry with food we like at a great price saves us money.
Look at expiration dates.
While “best by” dates are a little ambiguous, it makes no sense to stock up on foods that will “expire” in a few weeks. Check near the back of the grocery shelves. You may find the exact same thing with a later date. If you find a great sale, buy extras, but make sure their dates are far enough out there to give you time to enjoy it. And be sure to rotate your stock as you use it.
Stocking our pantry with food that will stay fresh until we use it up saves us money.
Watch the sales and store markdowns.
So, I might not have “needed” ten packs of pepperoni last week. But, at $2 a package, it was a steal. That’s about half the regular price. I bought ten, stretching my money twice as far. They store well in the freezer, so I’ve got ten weeks of pizza night taken care of.
Likewise, I found canned organic pumpkin awhile back for only 50 cents a can, about 1/4 of the regular price. Since the “best by” dates were several years away, I bought a lot. It wasn’t hard to store them and I got a lot of pumpkin for my pennies.
Watch the sales and store markdowns for things that you know you will use (before the expiration date, of course), and stock up — budget and storage space permitting.
Stocking our pantry with favorite items on sale saves us money.
Keep track of prices.
In order to stockpile effectively, you need to know what a good deal is. Using a price book to track your prices or simply holding on to your receipts can help you get a sense of what a great price is, particularly if you buy the same item often.
After following the ads for a few weeks, you should be able to get a good idea of how low prices will go for the items you buy. Knowing a good price is key to stocking up and saving money.
Buy low even if you don’t need it right then.
As long as you WILL use a particular item in the next month or two, it is probably worth buying multiples of that item.
For instance, recently Ralphs had imported Italian pasta on clearance for 69 cents per pound. This is a really good deal. Normally, you’re looking at paying a dollar per pound of pasta.
Now, let’s say you go through 1 or 2 pounds of pasta each week. It makes sense to buy two pounds.
However, if you know that you regularly use pasta, then it makes more sense to buy it on clearance now, especially as it is an item with long shelf life.
As the budget allows, buy up to a six-week supply, more if you’ve got the storage room and the best-by dates are far past that range. If your budget is tight, at least buy the $2 worth of pasta you would normally buy. That gives you one extra pound to store in the cupboard, thereby saving you a dollar later on.
Buy in bulk.
Not all bulk purchases are a great deal, but they often are. The unit price of spices, rice, beans, or oats often goes down as the package size goes up. If you know it’s something you like (see point #1), that it’s not going to go bad before you buy it (#2), that it’s a good deal (#3), well, then go for it. Stock up!
(Just be sure to store it appropriately so that it doesn’t go stale or get infested by bugs or rodents.)
If you don’t have the space, consider splitting your purchase with friends — then more than one of you can benefit from the bulk pricing.
Stocking our pantry with bulk items saves us money.
Check the sales and clearance racks regularly.
Every week grocery stores offer a few loss leaders that are basic food items offered at an incredibly low price, so low that the store might even take a loss on it just to get you in the door.
Snatch up the loss leaders if they are items you normally use. Buy as much as fits the budget and store it for future weeks.
Likewise with clearance items. You can find incredible prices on items that the store bought too much of or has decided not to carry any longer.
Be sure to check the clearance section after the holidays, too. You’ll find amazing deals on items that might have holiday packaging or that the store doesn’t have room to store.
Make sure you leave room in your budget for necessities.
Don’t get so excited about nabbing a good deal, that you forget to buy regular staples that you might need like milk, eggs, and flour. Plan your menus around what’s on sale, stock up on good sales, and also make sure the non-sale necessities are covered.
As you build your pantry, stocking up on sale items, you’ll find that you will often have the staples you need — when you need them — thereby reducing your need to shop every week and/or limiting your grocery list of things to buy.
Don’t waste time in the store when you don’t have to. Stock up!
Protect your investment.
Your stockpile is not just worth what you paid for it. It also represents the time and energy you put into it to acquire a good deal. Make sure that you rotate your stock, using the closest dates first. It’s not a good deal if the food goes bad.
Likewise, store dry goods where ants and rodents will not venture. Make sure that you’ve protected your freezer from an undetected power failure.
Losing your stockpile to varmints and power failure will definitely take the wind out of your sales! 😉
How do YOU build your pantry?
This post was originally published on August 13, 2013. It has been updated for content and clarity.