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I am always looking for ways to save money and one of the easiest ways is by stocking up on supplies. Buying in bulk and using coupons can really increase your savings when you’re shopping at the grocery store. Understanding the basics of how to stock your pantry on a budget makes it seem less overwhelming which is the first step to actually doing it. The following tips will help you stock a pantry without breaking the bank.
Grocery Shopping 101: Stock Your Pantry on a Budget
While it is wonderful to open up your cupboard doors and look at a full stock of food, it can be a challenge to actually get to that point. Knowing the tips and tricks to make the most of your local grocery store trips can help you get your pantry staples on a budget.
If there is one thing that history (and the last year or two) has taught us over and over again, it is the simple fact that it is important to have food on hand for tough times. Those panic shoppers who clear out the store shelves and disrupt the food chain supply when a pandemic hits make it challenging for all of us and make the cycle and chaos continue longer.
I am not saying you need to be one of those Extreme Couponers with rooms full of toiletries and rice, but having a full pantry is an incredibly simple way to guarantee food security as well as help your financial situation. After all, if you can save money in one area of your life, you can use it to pay off another area, whether it be clearing debt or investing for your future.
1st Step to Stock Your Pantry: Know Your Family’s Likes and Deal Breakers
Stocking up on 20 cans of white chicken chili because you found them on sale for practically pennies a can is no bargain if you hate the texture of beans or it’ll be a cold day in hell before your child touches one.
You want to fill your pantry with things you (and really, the kids) will actually eat so you need to be brutally honest with yourself about what everyone really likes and what makes someone make THAT face.
If it helps, make a list. Those will be the things you work on stocking up on. Even if it is only twenty items long, that will be twenty more things that you have a surplus of than you did before.
Stock Your Pantry by Working the Store’s Sell Cycle
Everything in your local grocery store has a selling cycle. That means there is a high price and a rock bottom price over a period of time. The trick is to purchase those items you want at that low price, and if you can add a coupon to it, even better!
It can be tricky to figure out your specific store’s cycle. If you save the weekly sales ads for about two months though, you will clearly see their pattern.
Certain staples like pasta and cereal go on sale every six to eight weeks. If you watch for that lowest price before you add that item to your list, you will be rocking the deals. Keep a record of the lowest prices so you know when it’s time to stock up.
It is amazing how buying ten boxes of pasta for a buck each saves you almost ten dollars if you eat a pasta meal every week and it is normally two dollars a box.
Now think of every other pantry staple from canned vegetables to macaroni and cheese. You can just see how simply working your store’s selling cycle can pay off for your budget in a large way.
This should be your go-to trick from pasta, grains, ready-to-eat cereal, crackers, cookies, and more.
Also thing about seasonal items. Hot dogs aren’t going in your pantry, but you are sure to get them on sale around Memorial Day and Labor Day. So guess what kids, we’re having hot dogs those week.
Really this tip will help you save money on your grocery budget overall. Fill your weekly meal plan with things that are on sale. And pick up extras to add to your pantry and keep on hand.
Don’t Be Afraid to Stock Your Pantry with Some Clearance Items
Scratch ‘n Dent isn’t what it used to be. You can often find items that have been pulled off the shelves for a simple thing like the company changed their packaging. Maybe they did a store reset and have chosen to discontinue that item.
Occasionally things might be getting closer to their expiration date. If it is something like dried beans or rice, keep in mind that they found pasta and rice in the Egyptian pyramids that was still safe to eat in current times. If stored properly, it can keep past that suggested date.
Some things like rice, sugar, salt, and honey are practically invincible if they are stored correctly.
The FDA and I believe DHEC have whole sections on their websites with recommendations. I have to Google a “how long can I keep …” on a regular basis.
Clip Coupons to Stock Groceries
It is a little different to do this than it was just five years ago as almost everything has gone digital. Start with getting your store loyalty card. Some advertised specials are strictly for store card carriers.
Check their website to see if they have digital coupons that are tied to your store card. You can reap the rewards of these additional discounts without even getting out your scissors.
That being said, there are still paper coupons out there. Some are printed in your store’s ad circular and some are in your weekly free neighborhood papers that most people just throw out.
If you can stack a printed coupon with a digital coupon? What a way to save!
Jump at National Canned Food Month. Who knew?!
February is national canned food month and offers a ton of incredible sales specials in addition to extra coupons out there. If you are looking to bulk up your pantry on the cheap, February is the perfect time for those canned meat, beans, vegetables, vegetable juices, fruit, fruit juices, even canned milk!
If you missed canned food month? No worries, things like tuna and canned pasta meals are in that normal store selling cycle that we already mentioned.
If it isn’t February, look at buying dried beans and lentils instead of canned. The price is a lot better, and they will last longer. Once you cook them, they can be frozen for longer storage.
Buy Groceries in Bulk
The price of pre-portioned convenience really adds up when you look at the cost per ounce on an item. Let’s pick Doritos. You can buy a full bag, on sale for $2.50, or buy three to four bags at $0.75 a piece when you get the single serving packs. If you take that large bag and break it down into smaller bags, you will easily have six to eight bags of snacks instead of just three to four.
I am not saying you have to get the jumbo cans of baked beans, but all of those pudding cups, fruit cups, and 4 count cookie packs really charge you for that work of breaking them down.
If you decided to jump into bulk “ingredients” or staples like rice and flour, add the Chef Store on St Andrews Rd to list of places to check out. For all the other bulk stuff, Sam’s or Costco are usually everyone’s first stops.
Another little tidbit, I haven’t done a comparison of in-store vs app prices, but InstaCart will shop Costco for you even if you don’t have a Costco membership.
Learn to Can Your Foods
If you get free produce or garden, canning your own vegetables will only take your time. You can save money on the cost of supplies that you need when getting started by looking at your local thrift stores or Facebook groups. Have no fear if you are new to the concept: you can learn literally anything on YouTube these days. Anything.
Canning is the one tip that I have never tried, but I know many who are pros and sing its praises on a regular basis.
Oh and in the same general arena, food sealers are fantastic for packing food to go in the freezer in a way that greatly extends their usability.
It really isn’t that hard to fill a pantry on a budget, and more importantly maintain it, once you have the tips and tricks down so you can do it.
PS – As you shop, also be mindful of how much storage space you do actually have. I may or may not have gone to Sam’s one time and come home to find that I’d apparently forgotten our tiny kitchen didn’t have enough room. There may or may not have been cereal on our living room shelves for a bit. To free up space in our current kitchen, I’ve put the dishes that we rarely actually use on the highest possible shelf which leaves more reachable space for food storage.
Tiny steps really can make a big difference to your budget. It’s worth taking a few minutes to assess the situation, make a plan, and keep track of things. It may not seem like much savings at the beginning. However, if you stick to it for a few months and keep close track, you’ll find that you are spending way less each month. You got this!