How to stock your pantry on a budget
Stocking a Pantry
Investing in Your Pantry
How a Full Pantry Saves Money
Budget Pantry Stocking
We are a family of seven. I know I need to buy groceries in bulk. Because my grocery budget is so small at $75 per week at most, I can't figure out how to afford bulk items. I can't seem to come up with enough cash at one time. Do the readers have any ideas?
Stock Pantry with "Cheap Week"
Sit down with your family and figure out what the cheapest meals are that you can make with the things you normally buy. Plan a week's menu of really cheap meals that may include hot dogs, pastas, ground beef, etc. Take your regular amount of money with you to the grocery, and use whatever you have left over after shopping for "Cheap Week" to buy your bulk items. Start with things like canned veggies, macaroni and cheese, pasta and anything that you can buy as a "buy one, get one free" deal. Do this once a month or so, and you'll soon have a stocked pantry.
Co-ops for Pantry Stocking
Anyone with a need to buy in bulk, yet has limited funds, should look at co-ops. Our local homeschool group buys in bulk from a co-op. It's a great way to get high quality items for less. In addition, because there are other families, we often split a "bulk" item. That way, we are able to buy what we need, split the order with another family, and get the savings without a lot of cash outlay.
"Can-Do" Pantry Stocking
Even on a tight budget, you can stock up your pantry. Here are a few ideas:
- Ask you grocer if you can buy a case of an item that is on sale. Also ask if you can have the "stocking fee" taken off the price of the case. Most grocers that I have asked will give it to me as they do not have to pay someone to put it on the shelf and they still get paid for the item.
- Make a master list of what you need overall. I try to have nine to twelve months of food in my home as my husband is self-employed. A master list is easy to make if you make a menu for one month and multiply it by the number of months of food storage you want to have.
- Buy a few extra items each week that you have identified in your master list.
- Garden and preserve foods. Some people say this isn't a savings. It just depends on how you do it. I water my garden at the same time that I water my lawn with the automatic sprinkler system. I would have watered the same area if it were grass. I just get fresh produce instead.
- Plan your purchases. Save about six weeks of "savings coupons" that come in the newspaper. By looking at them over time, you can see the cycles of sales that stores have and the types of things that go on sale. You can gauge when needed items go on sale and purchase more of them at the time.
- Learn to cook from scratch. This is a huge cost savings. Pre-packaged meals are often more expensive.
- Have a "can-do" attitude.
You can do it, and the security of having what you need gives real peace of mind.
Distributors Help Stock Pantry
Call your local restaurants and find out the names and phone numbers of their distributors. You can buy from them even if it isn't for a business. Some of them have a minimum purchase amount to make a delivery, but they will allow you to go to their warehouses to make your purchases.
If you have a milk distributor in your town or city, they have five-gallon boxes of milk, will provide a dispenser, and will deliver to your home. They also provide things like eggs, cheese, mayo, butter, orange juice, ice cream and more. All of these items can be purchased in bulk.
Distributors like Sysco and Nicholas have everything else you can think of including bulk meat, laundry soap, and toilet paper. They sell at wholesale prices and your money is as good as any restaurant.
Tax Refund to Pantry
I started buying in bulk by using my income tax refund one year. (Now I know that I should calculate so that I don't get an income tax refund, but it was helpful to me then, when I didn't have much money.) Once you have started, each shopping trip will save a little money from previous bulk purchases, and be sure to use those savings to buy more in bulk. When I say bulk, though, it doesn't necessarily (or usually!) mean buying large sizes. Buy what is on sale that you use, using coupons as much as possible. I find that sales usually come around every three months or so, so I try to buy enough to last me three months. If you don't have enough coupons, there are Internet sites that sell them quite cheaply. Or start a coupon exchange box at your local library or daycare center.
Stocking Pantry With Great Deals
You may have to stock up on a couple of items at a time, as you find the sales that make stocking up worthwhile. I am the bargain hunter in my house, and my wife is happy to let me do the food shopping.
There is a salvage food store in my area, perhaps there is one in your own town as well. I get some incredible bargains there. On my last visit there, I bought 16-count boxes of name brand cereal bars for $1 each and a 10-pound case of name brand beef hot dogs for $8.
Another chain in my area is Save-A-Lot food stores. They specialize in no-frills food and frequently have specials. They may have a store in your area or perhaps something similar. Be warned though, I have seen some other grocery stores that advertise themselves as "discount," and when I check their actual prices, some items can be higher than the major chains.
Keep an eye on the weekly sale flyers from the major supermarket chains. I stocked up on boneless, skinless chicken breasts recently when a local store had them for $1.96 a pound. I loaded up my shelf when another store had 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce for 18 cents each. Just stick to these loss leaders and don't be tempted by the other items.
The trick is to keep an eye out for the stuff that is a "steal-of-a-deal" and stock up on those items as you find them. Stock up a couple of items at a time when you run across them, and you'll be on your way after a couple of months.
Bulk Item Pantry Stocking
We are also a family of 7. We live abundantly on one income and spend $135 a week on groceries. This is actual food expense and does not include diapers, baby wipes or pet/livestock food. I started by buying one bulk item at a time from our warehouse club. Eventually, I was able to buy more than one item and now can buy several at a time.
I buy five Sunday newspapers a week for the coupon inserts. I recycle the newspapers into paper logs for the woodstove, crafts, mulch, etc. I use the comic sections for wrapping paper for family occasions. Always make certain that the papers do contain the coupon flyers before you purchase them. Some weeks they don't. I get many free items (air fresheners, protein bars, gum, candy, shampoo, conditioner, etc.) this way. I then go through the grocery store sales flyers and match things I need with items for which I have coupons. Most grocery chains also have websites where you can view their sales items.
Buy groceries, earn cash back at Checkout 51
We try to enjoy fruits and vegetables in their seasons when they are freshest and cheapest. We make our menu from sale items instead of making our grocery list from items we'd like to eat. We eat what is on sale when it is on sale. This keeps us eating a variety of foods and teaches us to be thankful. Green peppers just went from 89 cents each to 3 for $1 in our area. I bought 20 and chopped and froze them in plastic bags to use for cooking. Mrs. Smith's pies went on sale from $8 to $4 right after Easter. I had $2 coupons and bought 10 pies for $20. I often get the whole grain cereals for $1 a box. Sweetened cereals are usually on sale with a coupon for less than $1 a box and these we use for junk food.
I also searched online and found a few calendars that tell when to catch the best bargains on certain items. These included food items but are also invaluable for other items like clothing, appliances, seasonal merchandise, furniture, linens, computers, etc. In April, asparagus, artichokes, avocados, bananas, green beans, celery, grapefruit, nectarines, pineapple, onions, radishes, rhubarb, spinach and watercress are at their lowest prices of the year in most areas. I stock up on the items I use and either freeze or dehydrate where possible.
I shop the clearanced food items and also match those up with coupons. I recently had to pass up a deal on soon to expire health bars I could have had for free because I left my coupons at home. Lesson learned! By the way, I keep my coupons in a recycled baby wipe container separated into categories by 4x6 index cards.
I have four freezers, two refrigerators and a large pantry overflowing from food bought in this manner on my meager grocery allowance. I just brought home groceries two days ago and we had to work to find space to put all of it. My husband said he is going to build me a larger pantry and has already bought another freezer. It can be done!
updated May, 2013
Take the Next Step
- Your groceries cost less when you get cash back! Checkout 51 can show you how!
- It's tough raising kids today! You need every time and money saving idea you can find. That's why you'll want to get our free weekly Dollar Stretcher for Parents newsletter. You'll find great ideas designed just for parents that will help your family 'live better...for less'! Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE.
- Find new ways to reduce the family budget each week on our page dedicated to frugal families like yours.
Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.
We're still paying off last Christmas and worry how we'll afford the holidays this year without charging it again! Tell us: Yes, we could use help getting out of the debt trap we're in! or No, debt is not a problem for us but I'm always looking for ways to trim my family's expenses further!