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Q&A: How do I stock our pantry on a limited grocery budget?

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I’ve been reading your blog for years, and now have moved out of the college dorm phase into newly-married life. Now that I am actually responsible for a household, I’ve been following your blog more closely.

We are trying to come up with a workable grocery budget, but I’m having a hard time doing that and stocking my pantry at the same time. Most of the menu planning and money-saving tips include “shop your pantry” or “make do with what you already have,” but I find myself going to the store every few days because I don’t have basic staples.

Do you have any suggestions for me and for others who are just starting out? -Emily

Congratulations on your recent marriage, Emily! And I love your desire to wisely steward the money and resources you have. Way to go!

1. Set Aside A Small Portion of Your Grocery Budget for Stocking Up

If at all possible, set aside at least $3 to $5 each week from your grocery budget to invest in buying ahead [3]. This will be things that are at rock bottom prices and that you’ll be storing in your pantry or freezer to use later.

Typically, since you’ll be pennies on the dollar to stock up on these items, $3 to $5 will stretch pretty far. If you don’t see any really amazing deals, just “roll” your stock-up money to the following week. If I know I’m going to be investing in a larger bulk purchase, I’ll often hold off on using my stock-up money for a month or so and just let it build up so that it can cover that larger purchase.

Tip: For those of you who are new here, you can view my Stock-Up Price List here [4] to get an idea of what prices I aim to pay. You can also download the customizable Stock-Up Price List [4] to track the sales and deals in your area.

2. Focus on Stocking Up on the Best Deals

Set a price-point for what you’ll pay for buying ahead. Maybe say that you won’t stock up on something unless it’s something you know you’ll use in the next 1-2 months and it’s $0.25 or less.

Creating boundaries for what you can buy with your stock-up money will help you to prioritize and not get sidetracked or sucked into buying things you don’t really need. It will also help you to maximize the mileage of your grocery money.

3. Make Some Short-Term Sacrifices To Free Up Money to Invest in Stocking Your Pantry

When you’re first getting started with buying ahead, you might feel like you don’t even have enough wiggle room to devote $3 to $5 to stocking up. In that case, I recommend talking with your husband about some short-term sacrifices you could make to free up money for stocking up.

For instance, maybe you decide that you’ll have two meatless meals each week for two months, or eat oatmeal for breakfast five days per week, or give up buying a certain treat that you love for 4 weeks.

The beauty of practicing the buy ahead principle is that the more you’re able to buy your groceries for pennies on the dollar, the farther your grocery money will stretch. Making short-term sacrifices can help you build your stockpile faster, thus freeing up money to then be able to afford the occasional treat or to invest in higher quality foods.

Tip: Check out my post on How to Survive on a $30 Weekly Grocery Budget [5]. Also, be sure to see my sample $25 Menu and Grocery List. [5]

4. Realize That It Takes Time to Stock a Pantry

You’re not going to stock your pantry overnight — unless you spend an arm and a leg to do so! However, if you consistently purchase 3-10 items each week at rock bottom prices to add to your stockpile, over time, you’ll really start to see a difference in your grocery budget.

Plus, it’s so nice to not have to worry about running to the store when you run out of toothpaste or shampoo. Instead, you can just get a new tube or bottle out of your stockpile closet — and be thankful that you purchased it when it was free or almost-free!

What tips and suggestions do the rest of you have for Emily?

photo courtesy of Big Stock [6]