As food costs rise and the supply chain becomes less reliable, keeping a prepared pantry has never been more important. But how do you stock your pantry on a budget? I’m going to share 15 ways to stock your pantry right now while sticking to a budget.
In an ideal world, you would build up a prepared pantry over time, by adding a few extra items each time you go grocery shopping. Most people are not going to go out and buy an entire six month or year’s worth of food in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, in the current state of the world, if you don’t currently have a stocked pantry, it may be a smart decision to allocate a bigger chunk of your budget now to save money in the long run.
15 ways to stock your pantry on a budget
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Stick with the staples
There’s a temptation to stock our pantries with a huge variety, because variety in our food is fun! But if you’re trying to stick to a budget, think about keeping your meals basic. You can add variety in with your herbs and spices, while keeping the main portions of your meals basic staples.
Specialty ingredients are more expensive, so keeping your meals simple will help you save money. Basic meals don’t mean bland or boring… they just don’t require fancy ingredients that you have to buy just for one meal.
Buy foods your family will actually eat
There is no point in wasting your money on foods that your family isn’t going to eat! Think about the top 5-10 foods your family eats each week and buy the shelf-stable versions. For example, canned or dried fruit instead of fresh.
So if your family eats peaches, consider stocking canned peaches. If your family eats chicken, buy canned chicken. If your family doesn’t eat pasta, don’t keep boxes and boxes of noodles in your pantry – because in an emergency situation, your family won’t suddenly love pasta!
Obviously, if there was an emergency situation or a circumstance like a job loss or significant increase in grocery costs, and you need to eat from your pantry for awhile, you may need to alter your meals a little bit. If you’re used to running to the store every few days and buying mostly fresh foods, you might need to eat slightly different foods. You may prefer fresh veggies over canned, but in an emergency or even just in a stressful time when you’re unable to get to the store, it’s incredibly helpful to have them on hand.
If you download my FREE guide to a prepared pantry, you’ll get a list of shelf stable items to include in your prepared pantry.
Buy foods in bulk
The price of food per pound or ounce decreases significantly when you can buy items in bulk. If these items are stored and sealed well (you can see all my recommendations for pantry storage HERE), they can often keep for a long time. If you don’t need 50lb of oats, split the bag with a friend so you can both get the discounted price.
But if there are grains (oats, rice, flour, wheat berries, etc.) that you can afford to buy in bulk right now, buy them. The price will very likely increase in the next few months, and grains may be harder to come by. This post will give you lots of details about how to store your bulk foods.
My favorite place to buy bulk foods is Azure Standard, but warehouse clubs like Costco or Sam’s Club are good options too.
Stretch your proteins
Meats can be one of the most expensive parts of your meal. We’re big meat eaters here, but we also know how to stretch our proteins. I will make a whole chicken one day for dinner, eat some for lunch the next day, and use the rest in a pot pie or stir fry for the next dinner. Sometimes we can even stretch the meat even further (depending on how hungry the kids were the first day ;)
Buying your meat in bulk and canning or freezing it can also save money. Using alternative protein sources is a great way to stretch your budget. We like to keep shelf stable proteins on hand like beans, canned chicken, canned salmon, quinoa, and hemp heart seeds. Buy dry beans in bulk to save even more!
Cook from scratch
Premade items are generally more expensive than if you are going to buy the ingredients to make those things yourself. For example, the cost of buying granola bars can add up compared to making bars like these no-bake protein bars or these PB&J granola bars. Buying bread is going to be more expensive than making your own sourdough. So if you can switch from convenience items to homemade, even a handful of items, you will be able to make a dent in your budget.
Choose canned or frozen over fresh
There is a belief that canned or frozen food is not as nutritious as fresh foods. But while the textures of course change, the nutrition is often not as compromised as we think. If foods are preserved properly, their nutritional value can still be quite significant!
I’m a big fan of fresh foods, of course, but I also know that our grocery budget would explode if we only ate fresh foods year round. Plus, I would be going to the grocery store every few days – and I don’t have time for that with a family of seven!
Be wise with your waste
Many things that we deem as waste are actually useful! Apple scraps can be used to make vinegar, citrus peels can be used to make home cleaners, and bones and veggie scraps can be used to make broth. Bacon grease can be saved for cooking. This saves money on buying other items and cuts down on waste in general.
You can also feed many animals food scraps. We give a lot of ours to the chickens (especially the bits of cereal and oatmeal that my kids abandon at breakfast).
Food waste can also be tossed into the compost bin and turned into good soil over time. Good compost is also expensive, so you can save money by making your own.
Dehydrate, freeze, and can
This goes along with the previous suggestion, because you can preserve your leftovers or foods that are on their way to going bad. If you make an extra large batch of soup or chili, put half into the freezer so that the next time you need a quick meal, you can just pull that out instead of buying takeout.
When you buy fresh foods in bulk, preserve half of it! This goes for foods you buy or foods you grow yourself.
Grow your own
Honestly this is my top recommendation, especially as we go into the growing season. Growing even a portion of your own food can make a significant impact on your food budget. If you are a beginning gardener, don’t try to grow everything. Pick 3-5 foods that your family will eat and especially plants that will produce a lot of food. If you have the space and time, add more than that!
Last year, our family was able to grow all of our tomatoes (and tomato sauce), greens (lettuce, kale, etc.), zucchini, and herbs for the year. We grew most of the produce that we ate during the growing season, so that we didn’t buy much at the grocery store at all. So even though we didn’t grow all of our beans or peas for the year, we grew enough to keep us out of the grocery store all summer long! We were able to store and preserve many things (squash and pumpkins, tomatoes, herbs, celery, potatoes, berries, etc.) that didn’t take us through the whole year, but were able to make a big dent in our budget.
We also continued to grow greens in the colder months – some of them we grew in our greenhouse and we also grew sprouts all winter long in our house (I have a detailed tutorial for growing sprouts in the Cultivate Your Home membership).
This year is our third season in our current home, and we have a better idea of what we’re able to grow and have put a lot into our infrastructure, so we plan to up our food production significantly.
While raising chickens for eggs doesn’t necessarily help your budget (because the cost of feed tends to offset the “free” eggs), it certainly helps you to shorten your supply chain and give you a reliable, consistent source of food. This is especially necessary in times where supply chains are struggling!
Don’t be brand loyal
Name brands usually cost much more than generic or store brand items. So even if you usually buy a name brand, try switching to an off brand. You can typically save a significant amount of money, especially over time, by buying generic.
Shop unconventional stores
You don’t need to just shop at your local grocery store to stock your pantry. Dollar stores, farm supply stores, or hardware stores aren’t typical places to buy food, but you’d be surprised what you can find there! I can usually find canned foods and snacks at a better price. I just recommend that you make sure you read the labels and check ingredients, especially if you typically eat a real food diet.
This goes for stores also. You may be used to shopping at stores that aren’t the least expensive options, but switching the a grocery store that has lower prices will stretch your dollar further. In our area, the grocery store chain that’s owned by Kroger is much more expensive usually than Aldi or other local grocery stores.
Keep foods that will last
Many foods can be kept on the shelf, in the fridge or freezer, or in a cool space for a long time. Some produce (like potatoes and squash) can be kept for months in a cool area of your basement. In the winter, I like to use my unheated mudroom like a root cellar. ;) You can store or preserve foods you grow in your own garden, grab from the farmstand down the road, or buy in bulk.
You should definitely keep flour on hand, but grains in their raw form that aren’t yet ground (like wheat berries or oat groats) will last a long time. A grain mill + grains = food security!
Canned foods, dried fruit, dehydrated veggies, pasta, etc. can last months (or sometimes years) before you need to eat them. Buy any of these things on sale or in bulk, then you can save them for when you need it.
Buy at a discount
Watch for sales or use coupons/coupon apps and buy from clearance bins. Many grocery stores will post their produce at a discount when it’s about to go bad. If something your family eats is on a BOGO deal, grab a couple extra. Some grocery stores even have bins where they sell nearly expired produce or other foods at a steep discount!
I’ve also saved some money shopping through the Rakuten app that gives you cash back or extra discounts for shopping at stores where you already shop. I most consistently use it to place orders for Vitacost, but you can even use it for places like Walmart, Target, or Sam’s Club.
Shop directly from a local farmer
While some foods are more expensive to buy directly from your local farmer (like organic, free range chicken), there are many ways to save money when you buy from local farms. Many times, if you buy in bulk you can get a discount on produce or beef for example. Visit your local apple orchard at the end of the season for a discount on fruit.
Learn to forage
Public lands are often great places to find raspberries, ramps, elderberries, mushrooms, etc. Do your research to see what is available, where you can find it, and when they are in season. Make sure you are following any local laws (and not trespassing on private lands) and harvesting sustainably.
Not exactly foraging, but you may have a friend or a neighbor who has an apple tree they don’t pick. Tap your maple trees in the spring to make your own maple syrup. Plant perennial herbs or fruits that will grow every year, so you don’t need to purchase and plant over and over.
Stocking six months of food may not be possible for you right now, if you havne’t been building a prepared pantry already. But can you add $10-20 worth of shelf stable items like rice, oats, and flour, pasta, or canned goods that will last for awhile, to offset the cost next month? Can you buy one bulk bag of grains, swap one convenience item for homemade, or grow some sprouts for cheap and easy greens?
Whatever you can do right now to stock your pantry will be helpful! Things we’re buying now will cost more a few months from now. So these tips to help stretch your budget will hopefully help you to still get food on your shelves in the midst of rising prices.