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How well stocked is your pantry? Is it stocked with items that you actually need and use? Or is your pantry filled with things that you could never possibly use by the expiration date (like the eight cans of corn and four boxes of family-sized Pop-Tarts that are currently filling my pantry)?
Having a well-stocked pantry (and by “well-stocked,” I mean filled with the right amount of items that you’ll actually use and need) can make your life simpler. You won’t need to run to the store every time you need an item, and you won’t waste money buying overpriced items that you may not even use. It may take some time, but it’s possible to create a well-stocked pantry while still staying under your grocery budget.
How to Stock a Pantry
Know what you use and use what you have
The first step to saving money on your pantry items is knowing what you use and using what you have.
- Take inventory of everything in your pantry (bonus points if you take the time to clean the shelves as you shuffle items around). I was amazed at the items I already had in my pantry, and I’ll be able to feed my family for months just by using what I have. As you’re taking inventory and cleaning your pantry (remember to check expiration dates, too), write down what you have. Note: check out this list of ways to reorganize your pantry from One Crazy House. She makes pantry organization look exciting!
- Once you know what you have in your pantry, you need to think about what you can use. What do you make that you could substitute? For example, while I was doing a “spend zero” challenge, I realized that I didn’t have chicken broth (a staple in many of the recipes I was planning on making), but I ended up substituting golden mushroom soup (I had twelve cans). If you have a ridiculous amount of something, use it as a substitute or find new recipes that call for that ingredient.
Determine what you still need to add to your pantry
Once you’ve determined what you have and will use in your pantry, it’s time to think about what’s missing. You’ll need to stock your pantry with items that you’ll use, and you’ll want to create a well-rounded pantry so that you aren’t running to the grocery store every time you need something. Refer back to your list of pantry items. Does it match your meal plan? If you can’t find a substitute, or if you don’t have enough of a staple item, like chicken broth, you’ll need to buy it.
How can you find pantry staples for the best possible price?
1. Order online
I love shopping online and recommend it every chance I get, but you can often find great deals as long as you know how to shop. These are the stores that I love and shop regularly (affiliate links included) to find the best deals for my pantry staples.
- Amazon’s Subscribe & Save I wrote an entire post about how I use Subscribe & Save to find deals, as well as how to set up your own account. Let’s just say that I love the convenience of being able to quickly clip coupons, schedule my orders, and have them arrive on my doorstep for less than I would pay at the grocery store. You can schedule your orders to arrive on a certain day once a month, and you can make changes to your order until the items ship.
- Amazon’s Prime Pantry Prime Pantry is how I ended up with eight cans of corn in my pantry. The corn was a really good price, Green Giant was offering an extra coupon, I found a free shipping promotion, and I had promotional credits which allowed me to save $10 on my order. If you have an Amazon Prime account, you can take advantage of the Prime Pantry program. Prime Pantry charges $5.99 for shipping, but you can find free shipping promotions. Also, if you select delayed shipping on some of your other Amazon orders, you can sometimes earn “promotional credits,” which, depending on the offer at that time, can be used for everything from Prime Pantry to books for your Kindle. Prime Pantry prices are similar to the prices that you would pay at a grocery store, but when you stack coupons, free shipping, and promotional credits, you can find items for an amazing price. Just be careful that you don’t take up your entire pantry space with one item (like corn and Pop-Tarts)!
- Walmart.com I often use Walmart as a price comparison tool because you may have to buy large quantities of the items that you want in order to get the best price. I usually only use Walmart.com for household items, and I rarely buy pantry items. I have found great deals on chocolate chips and household items, though. Also, you need to have a minimum order of $50 in order to get free shipping (and who wants to pay for shipping?).
- Target.com If you have a Target RedCard, you can save an extra 5% on your order and you’ll get free shipping. Many of Target’s items that are on sale in the weekly ad are also available online, although I’ve found that I typically use Target.com only for household and baby products and not to restock my pantry.
2. Buy in bulk
While you don’t want an item to overtake your pantry (ahem, four boxes of Pop-Tarts), if you find a sale, buy an amount that you can use and will last you until the next sale. I do this to save on meat, but it’s also a great way to stock up and save on pantry and household items. Be sure to buy quantities and sizes that you’ll actually use, though. For example, don’t buy a gallon can of chili beans if your recipe only calls for 10 ounces or you’ll never want to eat chili again. Even if the per-unit price is higher, you’re better off buying more of the smaller cans when they’re on sale. You may consider joining a box club in order to find great deals on bulk items. Just make sure that you’re checking the per-unit cost of the item (you may be able to find it cheaper at your grocery store if you buy it on sale). Also, make sure that you’re only buying quantities that you’ll actually use. I’ve had this problem on more than one occasion!
3. Shop in “season”
Typically you think of saving money on produce by “buying in season,” but pantry staples and household items also go on sale at certain times of the year.
National Canned Goods Month is in March, so it’s always a good idea to stock up then. Also, pay attention to your local grocery store’s promotion schedule. My favorite grocery store tends to have semi-annual sales on canned goods, so I stock up then.
If you have a price book, refer to that to make sure that you’re stocking up when your favorite items are the best possible price. If you don’t have a price book, I used the pre-made price book in Grocery University.
Save on household items as you stock your pantry
In addition to saving money (and decluttering) your pantry, you can also use these same tips for your household essentials. I use these to keep and maintain an inventory of toilet paper, paper towels, razor blades, makeup, and everything else that I use on a regular basis. I have a printed copy of my household items inventory taped to the inside of my bathroom cupboard so I can easily see when I need to order more of an item. I also check that list when I review my monthly Subscribe & Save order. I hate clipping coupons out of the newspaper (and half the time I forget to use the ones that I clipped), so I’ve had to find other ways to save while stocking up.
Let me know how you’re stocking up and saving on your pantry items!