Dear Home-ec 101:
I hate going to the grocery store each week and spending so much money. I’ve heard that I need to have a stocked pantry, but I don’t understand how that will help me. If I buy twice as much food so that I have some in the pantry for next week, won’t that just cost even more?
Going pantry-less is just asking to get caught with your pants down! Having a well-stocked pantry can be life-saving when money gets tight. However, building a pantry is not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. It can be stocked in relatively painless steps. First, take a look at your average menu. What are the non-perishable foods you find yourself buying regularly? Make a list and find your store’s current sales flyer. Many stores even list them online. Most chain supermarkets offer “loss leaders” in their flyers as a lure to bring you to their store. Loss leaders are items often priced near or at cost. The store owners are willing to profit on some items as most people will purchase other items at their normal cost. Loss leaders are usually offered in a rotation, and smart consumers stock up when they know they are getting a good price. The goal is to build up your pantry enough to make it until your item is on sale again.
Are any of your staples on sale? Some believe they should stock up on everything, even if they don’t eat the item regularly. If you hate tuna, save that space (and money!) for something you do like.
Don’t forget your freezer is an important extension of the pantry, especially for meat and vegetables. Recent studies have shown that frozen vegetables retain more nutrition than those picked too early, artificially ripened, and shipped hundreds of miles to be sold “fresh.”
With a little practice and planning, it is possible to buy most of your needs only when they are discounted. Fresh produce is a notable exception, but there are ways to save even in this category. When possible, peruse Farmers’ Markets and produce stands to take advantage of local crops. At the peak of the season, you may find some deep discounts. If you have space, consider freezing or canning your finds.
Last summer, we picked blueberries and froze them in one cup portions. I can now laugh at the produce department’s price and still enjoy blueberry waffles and the occasional cobbler. For my family, another great buy is the bags of bananas on the verge of being overripe. I peel them, portion them, and freeze them in ziplock bags for smoothies or baking. A little forethought and creativity can really stretch your grocery dollars.
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