Friday, June 8, 2007

My magic pantry

I was making my husband’s lunch last night (as I do just about every night), and I took the jelly jar out of the fridge.

“Shoot!” I called out.

“What’s wrong?” came my husband’s voice from the other room.

“Oh, nothing really,” I answered, scraping the inside of the jelly jar with a long knife. “We’re just almost out of jelly and I didn’t want to go to the store tomorrow.”

“I can stop on my way home?” came his generous response.

“No, it’s okay I can….” I trailed off as I opened the pantry to get a jar of peanut butter and found an unopened jar of jelly staring me in the face. I didn’t remember buying it, but there it was. “Never mind, honey.”

How did I have jelly that I didn’t know I had? Well, I would like to attribute it to the magical powers of my pantry and its ability to breed jars of jelly when I close the door, but probably that wasn’t it. Maintaining a well stocked pantry is one of the most important things that I do to save money on food and to reduce my monthly household budget. That trip to the store to pick up jelly, especially at 5PM when stomach juices are flowing and especially especially if hubby had gone for me, would have turned into a $25 impulse buy. (Look what I got! And it was such a good deal! And looked so good!)

A pantry only saves you money, though, if you don’t spend too much money stocking it in the first place. If you go out tomorrow and spend $200 to buy everything your household will ever use, you will not have money left in your budget for milk next week, and you will still find that you run out of things. Here are some ways to stock your pantry will saving your budget:


Make a list of things that your family uses regularly, and uses up regularly. In my household, that list always includes peanut butter and jelly, Listerine, toilet paper, frozen vegetables, bread, and canned tomatoes. Your list may be completely different. The important thing to remember is that you DO NOT save money by buying things on someone else’s list. You only save money by getting deals on things your family needs and uses.

Double up

If you see a somewhat decent sale on something you regularly use, buy two of them. It will cost you a little bit more money this week, but will save you money next week, or whenever you would have bought it again. Next week, you’ll have extra money left in your budget to buy two of something else that’s on sale.

Buy big

When you find a fantastic sale on something, buy a ton of it. We currently have 8 boxes of family size tea bags in our cabinet that I bought for 50 cents a box. How long will it take us to run through that? A long time. A long time before I ever again would imagine spending $2.50 on a box of tea bags.

Another way we do this is by shopping at a warehouse club for certain items we use a lot. For example, if we’re starting to run dangerously low on toilet paper, I go out and buy a jumbo pack at Sam’s Club. It’s not the best deal available, but it buys me time. I know have until that pack runs out to find a good deal on toilet paper. Trust me, that’s something I do not want to run out of, and running to the drug store at midnight to buy the overpriced 4-pack is definitely not something I’m willing to do.

Keep track

It’s important to keep track of what you have in your pantry. The can of beans languishing in the back of your pantry for six months is not saving you any money. You need to use it. Every so often, go through your pantry and pull out three things you haven’t used in a long time. Go to a good recipe website (I like and find a good recipe you’ve never tried to use up those things. Then don’t buy them again unless you know you’ll use them.

Another thing to keep track of is when you’re almost out of something. An item gets added to your grocery list when you open the last one, not when you use it up. It’s even better if you start shopping for a deal when you’re down to two. If you only have two left, it’s time to look for an “ok” deal instead of just a rock bottom deal.


The other really cool thing about having a full pantry is that you are able to share. Last time I went through my pantry, I pulled out a full grocery bag of stuff I bought because it was almost free but that I realized now we just won’t eat. The whole bag is going to my local food bank at the end of the week. I’m also able to invite people to dinner because there’s always plenty, and to whip up a soup, casserole or dessert to bring to a friend when something goes wrong. The love and joy that comes from doing these things is even better than the money it saves me.

That really does sound like a magic pantry, doesn’t it?