There are times when your food storage might dwindle, especially after a weather emergency, household move, or Pantry Challenge. The bare shelves can be a great time for a fresh start, a chance to stock the pantry in ways better suited to how you live. Here’s how to do that without breaking the budget.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
There are going to be times when you need to stock your pantry. Not stock up in the sense of getting ready for a storm or pandemic lockdown, but a start from scratch kind of thing.
Perhaps you moved house and didn’t bring much if any food from the old house.
Perhaps you’ve eaten down the pantry to save money.
Perhaps things are bare after a vacation, a fumigation, or weather emergency that had you purposely letting things get bare.
As the cupboard starts to go bare, you might feel a little like Mother Hubbard. More importantly, you might wonder, how will I restock the pantry without going broke?
Sure, there are stock-the-pantry checklists out there on the internet, but they aren’t going to be much help if you don’t eat the way Martha or Goop or the next big lifestyle guru eats.
You need to know yourself. At this point, it’s important to ask yourself a few key questions so that you can rebuild in a way that makes sense for you and the rest of the household.
Do you know your household’s favorite, go-to meals? If not, start a list. As you build this list, also start a checklist of the ingredients needed for those meals. This will be the base of Your Own Grocery Staples Checklist.
What ingredients from your previous stock were difficult for you to use? This may be hard to answer unless you’ve recently done a Pantry Challenge, but take notice going forward. What are things that you end up throwing out because they’ve gone bad before you could use them?
Knowing what ingredients don’t get used up quickly at your house can inform your shopping and help you avoid food and money waste.
Are there ingredients that you want to avoid or limit their consumption? These don’t have to be “taboo” foods, just things that perhaps you want to limit for a variety of reasons, ranging from nutritional density (or lack thereof) to cost.
With this information in mind, you can set forth on a plan to restock your kitchen on a budget.
Use the System.
As you know by now, I’m a big proponent of the Good Cheap Eats System, which has 7 basic steps:
- Shop the kitchen.
- Plan your meals.
- Use up leftovers.
- Visit the store with the best prices.
- Check the sales and clearance.
- Cook from scratch.
- Freeze extra for later.
The seven steps of the System build on one another. While only two are specifically about grocery shopping and restocking the pantry, looking at the System as a whole can be a helpful approach to restocking the pantry on a budget.
Shop the kitchen.
Clearly, if things have dwindled there may not be much food on hand to work from, but take stock of whatever is there so you can build from that.
A good grocery store practices stock rotation all the time. When they restock the shelves, they move the current stock to the front and place new items in the back.
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 taste and texture 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.
Plan your meals.
If you’ve talked with the household, you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate meal plan, but have some idea of the meals you want to make over the next 3 to 7 days so that you can shop appropriately.
Your budget will do better if you grocery shop with a plan as to how to use the ingredients you buy.
Read –> Meal Planning Tips to Save You Money
Use up leftovers.
Since you may have limited food stuffs on hand before you restock the pantry, you may not have much leftover prepped food. Think about leftover ingredients or leftovers you might anticipate having once you plan your meals.
Will you have a partial carton of sour cream that needs using? Some salsa or pasta sauce?
Plan meals that share some common ingredients so that your shopping is efficient and leftovers (and food waste!) will be limited.
Visit the store with the best prices.
When you restock the pantry, it’s super tempting to just head to the nearest grocery store and buy all the things. You may have a full kitchen, but you’ll have an empty wallet!
Choose the store with the best prices and buy what you’ve planned for upcoming meals.
Check the sales and clearance.
This is where your efforts to restock the pantry will really come into play. So far, you’ve taken stock of what’s on hand, planned some meals, made a plan for leftovers, and chosen the optimal store for the things you buy. Next, let’s look at the sales and clearance.
If you’ve done your homework and already assessed your grocery staples and go-to meals, you’ll have a good idea of what ingredients normally get used at your home. These are the things to look for in the sales and clearance.
A general rule of thumb for stocking up is this: Buy as much as you can store, that fits the budget, that will be used in a reasonable amount of time, before its “best by” date.
Not everything will be on sale this week, but many things will roll around on a sale sooner or later and you’ll have a chance to add them to your pantry restock.
Manufacturers and grocery stores offer items on sale every 6 weeks or so. Chances are good that 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.
Just this week, I’ve seen stock-up prices on the following items that we regularly use in our home:
- cheese $3/pound
- ground turkey $2.97/pound
- sour cream $1.79/carton
Cook from scratch.
Cooking at home is a great way to save money, especially as you restock the pantry. Perhaps you don’t have the budget to buy all the things in one go. Instead, you can focus on some standard baking ingredients and build from there.
With essential baking ingredients on hand, there’s no limit to the things you can make yourself.
Freeze extra for later.
By that same token, as you’re rebuilding your kitchen food storage, cook extra to freeze. This will help you feel like you’ve gotten a little ahead, even if you haven’t purchased all the ingredients you would have in a fully stocked kitchen.
Circling back to the sales and clearance, use your freezer to build your storage and stretch your grocery dollar.
No matter the reason for an empty cupboard, it’s sure that you can restock your pantry on a budget without spending a small fortune.
Keep working the Good Cheap Eats System and you’ll have a healthy little mini-mart at your disposal in no time!
What do you think? What helps you restock your pantry once it’s dwindled?
This post was originally published on December 31, 2009. It has been updated for content and clarity.
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.
[email protected] susie
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!
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! : )
Jessica @ Life as I See It
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.
Jenny @ ThriftyJenny.com
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!
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.
The Prudent Homemaker
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.
@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.
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!
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!
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!
Family, Money and Stuff
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. 🙂
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!
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!
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!
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.
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:-)
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.
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!
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.
That was a wonderful post! The line between stockpiling and hoarding amongst couponers can be a fine one.