This is the third installment in my ongoing series, "Stocking a Pantry for 6–12 Months."
As I've started implementing my food storage plan, I've come to realize that it's not an event with a simple beginnng, middle, and end. In fact, it's a never-ending process of buying, storing, and rotating. Unless I've got a distant relative I don't know about who will bequeath me an unexpected fortune to use on a mad grocery spree, I'm building my pantry as I go and need to come up with ways to offset the costs of accumulating a year's worth of food.
Coupons. I'm not a big coupon user. I wish I was. Truly. I've kicked myself after reading about people who save copious amounts on their grocery bills simply by taking advantage of all the coupons floating around out there. I've spent a good portion of my Sunday afternoons clipping coupons, only to NEVER use them. I've tried the cute little accordion-file coupon organizers. I have gone shopping with coupons IN MY HAND, checked out, loaded the car, only to realize that I forgot to use my stinkin' coupons!! However, I do receive a couple of really good coupons in the mail from my local grocery store; they come once a quarter, don't expire for a couple of months, and provide me with significant savings at my store only. I keep them in my wallet wrapped around my membership card so that I'll remember to use them. If you're a coupon-clipper, then my hat's off to you, and I don't need to tell you that you can find tons of them online and in newspapers and magazines.
Bulk Warehouses. I shop once a week, without fail, at Sam's Club. My family of six needs and uses the cases of toilet paper and Kleenex and bleach wipes that I purchase there at a much lower cost than at my grocery store. The dairy, produce, and meats are so much cheaper it's not even funny—that is, if you can consume them all before they go bad. We can. Plus I like the big carts that seat both of my twin toddlers.
I understand that smaller families might not want to buy a vat of vanilla ice cream. And I appreciate that many people experience vertigo when they stare too long at the stacks of merchandise towering up toward the steel rafters. But if you've got a big family—and possess the willpower to resist the middle section where they keep the bedspreads and kitchen appliances and huge gift baskets—then a bulk warehouse may help you save money while stocking up on essentials.
Store Brands and Sales. If I keep my eyes open, I usually can find some decent prices in my grocery store. My store has its own brand, which is cheaper than specialty brands. Unless there's a specific product that I know tastes superior, I pick up the least expensive brand. Also, there is a sale rack at the back of the store where they keep day old bakery items, discontinued brands, damaged packaging (but not damaged contents) for little to nothing. I check the sales flyers in the newspaper for loss leaders—when a store deliberately takes a loss on something like milk, in order to get shoppers into the store—and I'll pick up those extra items when they're on sale. I also keep an eye on "family packs" of chicken and meat; if they're getting close to expiration, the store will put them on sale and I pick them up and then freeze them for later use. I use a black Sharpie pen and scrawl across the outside of the package, "Thaw and use in ONE day!!!!" Even though I feel like throttling my kids some days, I really don't want to give them salmonella.
Holiday Specials. Right before Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, many stores offer discounted or FREE turkeys and hams when you spend a certain amount on groceries. Since I am buying a lot of food for the holiday meal anyway, I usually meet the minimum requirement and am able to pick up an extra bird or ham for the freezer.
Pantry Fund. Since I have twins, I own two of every baby article you can think of. Even after passing on useful items to friends who are expecting, I'm still left with an inventory of gently-used child gear that would rival the contents of Babies 'R' Us . . . so I'm selling things on Craigslist and using the money to build a pantry fund. If you're looking to downsize, you might consider a yard sale, eBay, or the classifieds. Artsy or crafty? Look into creative outlets like flea markets, holiday bazaars, or etsy.
The economy is probably going to get worse before it gets better. Money is tight, and spending extra on groceries may seem counterintuitive. But I'm looking at it as an investment. The money I spend now to build up my pantry is money I won't be spending later. If necessary, I'll be able to go for a long while without spending much at all on food; we will be able to eat quite well from the contents of our freezer and cupboards.
The third step of this confusing and useless highly-informative series is pre-cooking meals. It shouldn't take long. I'll most likely name this final installment, "Shall I Bake Up a Batch of Cookies to Send Along With All My Tax Money?"
Dinner last night: oven-baked chicken, sweet potatoes