The biggest thing I have to remind myself of when it comes to a pantry is: patience! I want the pantry to be in place yesterday, but it takes a while to put one together, and even a pantrynoob like me can comprehend that. At first I was utterly overwhelmed by the various sales papers, coupons and blogs I would read by women who seemed to have this down to a fine art. I’m still not going to be able to get the hang of running through the checkout with a bunch of coupons and a couple of bags of absolutely free products in return, but I have figured out a few essential components to putting together a rather glamorous little pantry.
What do you eat? It does no good to run to the store for that 10/$10 poptart sale if you don’t actually eat the stuff. Ditto for stockpiling cans of cheap tuna when tuna sandwiches make you gag. The biggest lesson I learned is: don’t put your pantry together based on what you think you *should* eat; put it together based on what you actually *do* eat. For me that means pasta, rice, tomato sauce, chicken broth, yeast for making pizzas, and that sort of thing. I sat down and made a two week menu of those sorts of meals that I consistently made and enjoyed, and I looked at what ingredients in those meals were nonperishable and set out to hunt for those. Same for things like paper towels, toilet paper, and supplies like those. Seems simple, but I found myself chasing after a “good bargain.” But if you don’t use those things, it becomes waste. And waste is never a bargain.
Is it ever on sale? If it’s not, you’ll need to just plan on picking up one or two of it periodically as you go to the store and putting one back. If it is, then that’s what you comb the sales papers looking for. While I do look at everything in the sales paper, I’ve noticed many of the sales and coupons are for crap I don’t use anyway. So I skim them so I don’t get distracted/overwhelmed by pictures and colors and numbers. I also pay attention in the stores I like to shop in as to what they put on sale periodically. When I see the peanut butter go on a big sale, I don’t think twice about grabbing some extra. If pasta goes 5/$4, I grab it. Maple and brown sugar oatmeal boxes? Yes please! (Be sure to check expiration dates on some things.) But I have to first know what I eat, and then pay attention to the store and see what’s been put out for quick sale. Some weeks there is nothing. But some weeks it’s great.
Making little packages out of big ones: This is something that applies to buying food in the same way as making big meals that you then freeze in smaller portions. If I buy a family size pack of chicken tenders, I can usually get five meals out of that of about four or five strips a pack. I put them into Ziplock bags and I toss them into the freezer. Olive oil is another good example. Buying a giant can is ounce for ounce cheaper. Decant some into a pretty glass container, and it looks lovely as well as being cheaper.
How much can you spare and when? I took a look at my budget and realized there was a little money in there for occasionally “overspending” on groceries. If there is nothing on sale or there is no room in the freezer to stuff things in there, I don’t overspend at all. But if I have a spare $20 that trip and I see a cheap deal on roasts, for example, I grab several of them and throw them back. It makes the upfront bill a bit more costly, but over time I have a variety of things to pick from at any given point, and I’m never really “low” on things like meat. I also realized that even though I’m paid twice a month, the majority of my big bills kick in during the first 10 days of the month. So extra groceries aren’t really an option then. But that second pay, whoo-hoo! Some spare change can definitely be dug out then. In order to know that, though, I have a regular date with my bills, a day or two prior to every single pay. It’s the only way I managed to figure out why one week my belt would be tight and one week there was some wiggle room, even though I was following similar budgeting principles from week to week.
Getting over the poverty mentality of “just enough:” In order to overspend on my groceries, I had to get over the concept of just enough, which I picked up from my time as a member of the working poor. When I was a young, single mama with a small toddler, I spent a lot of poorly compensated paychecks where most every penny was spent or accounted for when payday hit. I used to hit the grocery store with a calculator and a dollar figure in mind and count down from the dollar figure, lol. There was no such thing as overspending, because there was nothing to overspend. But if I did have a spare money, I sure didn’t use it to buy more groceries — I was paying down debt or affording a little luxury or trying to put a few pennies back. Once I became working class or (dare I say it?) lower middle class, I still found it hard to break that idea that even if you have purchased “enough” groceries for that pay period, you should buy more to put back. Seems silly, but the instinct kicked hard.
Coming up, OPP: Other People’s Pantries….lol. Would also love to gather your strategies for filling the pantry!