How to Refill the Pantry after a Pantry Challenge

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. We participate in other affiliate programs as well. For more details, please see our disclosure policy.

Doing a Pantry Challenge is a great way to save money and prevent food waste. But, if you’re left with an empty cupboard at the end of the month? How do you refill the pantry without going over budget next month?

How to Refill the Pantry after a Pantry Challenge | Life as Mom

When you do a Pantry Challenge, you’re focusing on eating down the pantry. Perhaps you’ve found some great deals over the last few months. Your little cupboard not only holds food, but it also represents an investment of your time in frugal grocery shopping.

As the cupboard starts to go bare, you might feel a little like Mother Hubbard. More importantly, you might wonder, how will I refill the pantry without going broke?

How to Refill the Pantry after a Pantry Challenge

This can be a little nerve-wracking, particularly for bargain shoppers who put their shopping on hold.

What if? What if you have to pay full pop for some items because you’ve used up all your reserves and haven’t been constantly buying, buying, buying?

What if you miss some great deals this month because you’re using up what you have and staying away from the store? It could happen, couldn’t it? What if?

Well, here are a few things to consider:

The Six Week Cycle

Manufacturers and grocery stores offer items on sale every 6 weeks or so. Chances are if chicken breast is on sale this week, it will be on sale again sometime in the next 6 weeks. It’s not a once-a-year opportunity.

Good deals can be had almost all the time. Sure, some deals are better than others. But, usually, if you shop the sales, you can refill the pantry on a budget in no time.

Stock Rotation

A good grocery store practices this all the time. When they restock the shelves, they move the current stock to the front and place new items in the back. This is called “rotating the stock” and ensures that food is bought and used before it goes bad.

You should be doing this in your own kitchen. Use up things that have been there awhile. A good deal is no good deal if it rots before you can use it.

While canned goods don’t necessarily “rot,” they do lose texture and quality over time. So make sure you’re using up what you have before the expiration dates. You don’t want to refill the pantry in a big way until you’ve moved out the old stock.

How to Refill the Pantry after a Pantry Challenge


Sometimes it’s really good to get your creative juices flowing and see how far you can stretch things. A Pantry Challenge is like a real life game of Chopped.

You’d be amazed at how easy it is to make a huge pot of soup from very few ingredients. Necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes we find our best solutions when we’re pushed beyond our comfort zones.

Cooking from what you have may help you discover some menus your family will adore.

Enough is as Good as a Feast

There are a number of lessons to be learned from Ma Ingalls, but this is probably my favorite that I’ve carried around with me in this “More, More, More! Society.” It’s all too easy to hoard things that we never use.

Why am I yearly able to give away a truckload of household goods to The Salvation Army? Because we have too much stuff.

And often, that applies to my kitchen well. Many of us hoard things away based on fears. Not only can it be unhealthy, but it also prevents us to rest in contentment. Having enough really is as good as the excess to which we’ve become accustomed.

Do It Your Way
The most important thing to remember about a Pantry Challenge is that you get to set your own goals.

Maybe you’ll still allow yourself to pick up the good deals, but you’re going to focus on what you already have? Maybe you want to be Mother Hubbard (with a bare cupboard) on January 31 and are happy to start fresh come February 1st. Maybe you’ll limit yourself to buying a few items that you know you will want in the coming months. You get to choose!

And, while I have some of the same fear that I will “miss a good deal,” I know from experience that good deals are plentiful. I confess, this week’s grocery trip caused me a little fear and trepidation. Extra lean beef and chicken tenders were on sale for $1.88/a pound! Normally, I would have bought five packages of each. But, I knew you were watching!

Since I knew I was having company, I allowed myself to buy one package of each for our joint family meals. I stayed under budget, and still got “the thrill” of a great deal. Obviously, I’m still going to grocery shop in January and I’m definitely going to give preference to those items that are “practically free,” but I’m going to focus on what we have and try to reduce my grocery spending in January.

Are ya with me?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

Subscribe to Good Cheap Eats
Read Newer Post
Read Older Post


  1. Marie says

    That was a wonderful post! The line between stockpiling and hoarding amongst couponers can be a fine one.

  2. Ter says

    I'm still trying to figure out how to make things work for 1 person. same with OAMC. Not as easy as it sounds… but hopefully I'll figure it out.

  3. TSFamily4 says

    This was an awesome post! I headed out to the grocery store today with purchasing a few staples in mind. I did get those staples…and a few extras. However, quite a few of the points you mentioned popped into my head. You've made some very valid points and have given me quite a bit to think on this month. I'm looking forward to this challenge! Blessings to you and your family in 2010!

  4. Tiffany says

    I've also had the irrational fear that once my freezer is nearly empty (I want to defrost it) that I'll never be able to refill it. But I keep telling myself how quickly it filled when I bought it and how my stockpile will come back.

    I'm allowing free items and nearly frees of things that we use often. Of course I'll be buying milk, fruit, veggies, and bread but we are going to do our best to get deals there. I can't wait to start tomorrow.

  5. Susie says

    I think the best point you made was to do it your way. If you miss a sale, it isn't the end of the world. Just stock up the next time. No big deal:-)

  6. Stacy says

    I'm in total agreement! The sales are always there. I only plan to shop 2 times this month, but if I come on a sale (like today… 57cents a pound for chicken thigh/leg quarters which I haven't seen in years)that is too good to pass up…I will buy, but package or put it away for next month.

  7. Jennifer says

    This will be an interesting month for me as I participate. I haven't been doing a ton of deal-snagging for the past six weeks or so. Life got crazy! I didn't really overspend at the store. I just didn't stretch our usual budget as far as I normally do. Less stuff bought each week = less stuff to use from the pantry.

    I'm planning to watch for the best of the best deals and use up some of the things that have been taking up space in our cupboards for far too long! I may have to spend a little more than I'd like this month, but I know that I'll still slash a ton from our usual budget!

  8. Melissa says

    THANK YOU for this post. It was exactly what I needed! We eat out of our pantry a lot already, which is how I've been able to keep the cost of our meals down, but I was nervous about going "hard core" because we've relied on our stockpile quite a bit this last year due to financial difficulties and I didn't want to be in a situation where we couldn't build it back up again!

  9. Christi says

    This is my biggest concern with this challenge. I've felt like (for my family) there's no point in saving all the money in January, if I just have to turn around and spend it all in February.

    Still trying to work out the details!

  10. Family, Money and Stuff says

    Thank you! Phewf! I'm glad I'm not the only one worrying. Thank you for your reassurance that I get to choose how to do this (my budget and plan won't necessarily look like someone else's), and that deals will come again. I haven't missed the boat if I miss a deal.

    Thanks for giving the fear a voice. Now I can move on to just doing it. 🙂

  11. Kathy says

    Thanks so much for this post! I have loved Eating Out of Our pantry. It has stimulated creativity, shown me how much we already have and has truly involved our whole family, especially my two year old as my cooking/baking assistant! These questions have crossed my mind and it was a great reminder that there will still be deals to be had later! I think right now for where we are it is a great practice of self-discipline. Thanks again!

  12. Libby says

    Everything you said is so true. I am actually not participating in the challenge and am doing quite the opposite-trying to stockpile and freeze meals- as I am due in just 4 short weeks (or less). Being so far along in the pregnancy with a 1yr old in tow and 2ft of snow covering the whole city I have had to pass up more than a few great deals. I just keep telling myself that they will come around again and it is not the end of the world!

  13. Excellent post! I keep reminding myself that the stockpile in my pantry and freezer didn’t end up there after just a week or two of shopping!! BS Chicken breasts are $1.47 this week (a ROCK BOTTOM price) but I think I can manage in a few pounds in my reduced budget this month because I still have so much to use up in the pantry and freezer! Even if I picked up 10 lbs, I’m still WAY under budget for the month! And that is a fantastic feeling!

  14. We lived from our pantry and garden for 27 months. It didn’t matter if there was a great sale; we couldn’t afford it. Yes, we ate down quite a bit from our pantry (but not all of it). I stopped looking at the ads because I wasn’t going to be able to go to the store. Our income stopped for 8 months and then, when we had an income again, it was 40% less than it had been, so we still had to eat from our pantry.

    Starting at the end of February 2009, I began to go shopping again. I couldn’t get much each time. In February, I bought 75 pounds of oats ($22.50) and 25 pounds of black beans ($17.50)–and that was it. It was hard for me to come up with that money.

    I was able to buy a few things each month; in April I bought vitamins, medicine, and tolietries, along with some food.

    I had a LOT less to spend than I had 2 years before that. By focusing on less expensive foods, and carefully watching sales (and using some internet coupons), and even by finding some less expensive sources, I restocked most of the things in my pantry (but not all). I restocked for less than I had spent before. I was able to get a used freeezer for $150, and I was able to fill it with amazing sales on meat (including 9 turkeys).

    Because of the nature of my husband’s income, I knew that we could end up living from our pantry again at any time.

    God blessed us to be able to shop for 10 months. In mid-December of 2009, I stopped shopping again and we started living from our pantry again. I don’t know how long it will continue, but I can see that it’s going to be a while. For many things, we have more than we did, starting out in January of 2007 (when we started living from our pantry before). I have more home canned fruit. I have more sugar.

    Some things I have less of: tomato sauce, diapers (I had diapers and wipes for 3 children for 8 months before), barley (I’m out), dried celery, and powdered milk, for example.

    I know that God can provide. I only have diapers for the rest of the month for one of my children right now. Earlier this week, I got a call back on a diaper study. They are going to give me 3 weeks of diapers and $10 for completing the study. The timing could not have been better.

    I am being diligent in planting my garden. We had some warm weather here. I planted some more turnips, and they came up. In a couple of months, we’ll have more food from our garden, which helps a great deal. I try to always have something producing (right now we have parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, green onions and swiss chard). We’re also eating pomegranates, lemons, and tangerines from Novemeber and December’s garden harvest.

    To those who are worried–don’t be. God knows your needs and He will help you. The food is there in case you need it. If you’re needing it now because you can’t afford to buy food, you’re using it for the purpose for which you bought it.

    And the chance to refill will come.

    • Nancy says

      @The Prudent Homemaker,
      It was such a blessing to read this! Thank you so much for sharing how God has provided for you and your family! He is always faithful to care for us; included in that provision is the encouragement we get from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

  15. Pam says

    Thanks, I needed to read this. I’m fairly new at couponing ( few months) and I feel like I’ve become a hoarder already. So I need to take a few breaths and believe that the sales will happen again in a couple of months.

  16. I think this is a great post. It really can be a challenge to remember that deals come around often so we don’t need to hoard them! Plus I have found my own personal goal in this challenge. Once my pantry is “cleaned out” I am going to try to raise the bar when it comes to nutrition for stocking up next time around!

  17. Well said!!
    I ended up stopping the drugstore deals cold turkey 18 months ago – after 6 months of pursuing it passionately and getting tons of good stuff (which we gave away ALOT of!) I decided to stop and use up what I had gotten instead of collecting more.
    Other than a couple diaper deals I have not been back to CVS or Walgreens in 18 months and we have *just* run out of toothpaste and brushes (on our last of each right now – but a dental appointment in a week will fix that!) and still have razors, deodorant and body wash. I am amazed at how much we STILL have, especially considering the boxes of products I gave away!
    But spending the past 18 months NOT doing deals has been wonderful. At first I still stalked the ads, checking out what I was missing out on. But now it doesn’t even matter.
    I may start again in the next 6 months, but I may not ever go back to the drugstore deals either. It had an unhealthy hold on my life and God has broken me free of that.

  18. Allison says

    I’m not so much worried about using everything up and not being able to afford filling it up again. I just like knowing I can do easy grocery shopping by only getting the deals and not worrying about forgetting some major ingredient. If I use everything up, I gotta drag all my kids out and by enough stuff again, and that’s a pain! I’ve finally figured out my bargain shopping, and it works well for me. Plus, if we eat from the pantry, we’ll have to eat boxed mashed potatoes for the entire month! : )

  19. I LOVE this post! I especially love the points you make about creativity and the “enough is as good as a feast”… yes! We are living on a budget for the first time ever and it has been such an adventure! Our eating down the pantry commitment has been fun for all of us, even the kids are getting creative. After three weeks I’m just now getting to an uncomfortable place… I’m fighting the urge to hit the market. I shopped nearly every day (usually without coupons) and stock-piled needlessly, producing way too much waste. I’ve cut my monthly food budget by 85 percent this month and we are still blessed with bounty.
    Thanks for your insights!

  20. Laura says

    Thank you for this perspective. I like that quote from “Ma Ingalls!”

    I started the pantry challenge during the post-Christmas “blah” days and haven’t noticed a dent in my pantry yet! LOL! It’s like eating out at a restaurant and realizing you are almost full, yet your plate does not look very different than when you started.

    We are eating out of the panty because we really need to. God is always providing in miraculous ways. I am learning to be content with what we have.

  21. Christy McCullough says

    You guys have really made me look at my pantry and my buying. I am being creative and using it up, but if it’s still here come February 1st it’s going to the Mission (our local homeless ministry). I’m going to try to watch my purchases better too in the future and not get so carried away by “the deal”.

  22. Sheri McKinney says

    Christy, Thank you so much for saying “not so carried away with the deal”. I fell like that is what I have done. I have enjoyed eating from the pantry this month. I have bought a few good meat deals this week and Quacker deals but have really tried to only get milk and eggs. Thank you to all for your comments and encouragement. I know I am not the only one ya’ll help. May God bless.

  23. Mary Kirwan says

    We are were getting ready to start our first pantry challenge, and then our refrigerator went on the fritz starting with the freezer. For now, as long as we don’t put anything in the freezer it’s running but nobody knows how long so now we really are eating what we have and not buying. The thing is I live on a very limited income to feed 3 adults, so restocking and stocking up, in general, are a nightmare I can’t ever quite accomplish I want.

    • Perhaps take this time to reassess what your household’s preferences are and how you can shop the sales on non-perishables.

Share Your Thoughts