Guest Post by Jennifer from Saving and Giving
Our family decided to take The Pantry Challenge in January and this has been quite an experience for us! Not only have we cleared out some of the older items that were lurking in our pantry, but we’ve learned many unexpected non-cooking lessons along the way:
1) We’ve slashed our grocery budget by another 30%.
Before I started my own frugal shopping adventure, our weekly grocery spending was hovering around $100 per week. That was for a family of three, and our daughter was under three at the time. Once I learned the ropes and began hunting bargains, I got our weekly grocery spending down to about $70 per week. I was even creating a nice little stockpile as I did our weekly shopping.
I used to wonder how Crystal was able to feed her family (which is slightly larger yet similar in age to mine) for $40 per week. I couldn’t seem to get out of my $70 rut! This month, I had my ah-hah! moment.
It all came down to the menu plan. Since joining the frugal shopping ranks, I have been menu planning using what we had on-hand as a starting point. This month has shown me that, while that’s a good start, I was making one fatal mistake. I was using my pantry as a starting point AND purchasing several additional ingredients for each meal.
If I had a can of diced tomatoes, I would decide to make chili. So I would buy ground beef, tomato sauce, kidney beans, and chili beans. I saved $0.99 by not having to buy the diced tomatoes, but I was spending another $6 to $8 on the other ingredients. Somehow that just wasn’t saving me money!
I wholeheartedly jumped into the Pantry Challenge. I wanted to give it my all! So I planned meals that truly used what was in the pantry. If I found a can of diced tomatoes, I paired it with several other ingredients I had on-hand to create a meal. I had to buy a few extra ingredients to round out the month, but not many.
Since we have truly been eating from our pantry, I have been able to use a smaller amount of grocery money (less than $50 each week) to purchase a few fresh produce/dairy items and whatever was on sale at rock-bottom prices. I’ve found myself adding things to the back of the pantry for use when the challenge is complete. Once the challenge month is over, I will menu plan from the new items I’ve added to the pantry. Then I can continue the cycle of cooking with what we have and purchasing only the very best sale items each week.
I am so thankful that the Pantry Challenge has helped me break the $70 per week grocery cycle. This challenge has been exactly what I needed to kick-start a new way of menu planning!
2) I’ve learned that my meals don’t need to be extravagant.
As I searched my pantry, I found several cans of Progresso Tomato Basil soup. At first I thought they might be good for lunches, but then I realized that my husband loves grilled cheese with tomato soup. That’s not even close to what I usually make for dinner since our dinners are usually the meat-potato-vegetable variety.
But in the spirit of the Pantry Challenge, I served grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner one night. It didn’t seem like much of a dinner to me, but it was a hit! Preparation was quick, our meal was enjoyable, and clean-up was a breeze. It was a very healthy meal, and we were all quite satisfied.
I realized that maybe I’ve been making things too hard–and too expensive at the same time!
3) The Pantry Challenge has encouraged me to stop making excuses.
Though I always menu plan, I don’t usually stick to my plan. I might be tired, feel lazy, or just not want to make my planned meal. I always find some reason to either eat out or make something other than what’s on my plan. Normally, I skip a planned meal or two and then forget that I’d bought the ingredients to make those meals. My habits are what lead to so many orphan ingredients being in my pantry! (Though I must admit that the dry black beans I found turned into some fabulous Crock Pot Black Bean Soup during the Pantry Challenge!)
This month, I’ve stuck to my meal plan. I have had to make a couple of changes due to being treated to a meal out and forgetting to defrost some meat. But I’ve adjusted the plan and am really and truly using up the ingredients this time!
4) I’ve been reminded how very blessed we are.
I knew that I had a reasonable amount of food on-hand. If we had a snowstorm or other issue that kept us from the grocery store for a week or two, I knew that we would be just fine. However, I had no idea exactly how much we had.
Cleaning out my pantry, freezer, and cupboard area as part of the Pantry Challenge was an eye-opening experience. I was saddened by what I had to throw away, knowing there are many people in our area who could have used that food. I was surprised at how little meat I had to buy for this month’s plan. I was thrilled to know that, with very few additions from the grocery store, we would be able to eat for a whole month without our cupboards being bare.
God has blessed us with more than we need. In fact, I’ve even taken some bags to the food pantry collection area at our church over the past two weeks. In reality, this challenge hasn’t been a challenge to stretch what we have. It’s been a challenge to be better stewards of what we have, and to share more with people who aren’t as fortunate.
Jennifer Bruce is wife to Jason and mom to five-year-old Emma. She blogs at Saving and Giving where she encourages people to save money and be generous. Jennifer hosts a weekly meme called A Time to Give where she invites others to share simple (and often free!) ways to give. When Jennifer is not blogging, she can be found playing Candy Land with Emma, spending time with Jason, reading, or making stationery and invitations for her clients.