If you’ve done a pantry challenge, then you know the fun of creating a meal from a can of tuna, a bottle of mustard, and a wayward jar of jalapenos.
If not, a pantry challenge is when you choose not to buy groceries for a set time. (Often a month or so.) Instead, you use up the food in your house until there is not much left to eat.
It’s a chance to dig out those foods in the back of the pantry. The stuff lost in the pit of your deep freezer. The leftovers that have lingered in the back of the fridge for far longer than they should have.
Pantry challenges can be a great way to train your creative muscles. You’ll be using your imagination when you start to run out of family favorites.
This challenge can also encourage your family to appreciate food and discourage wasteful habits. And many times, a pantry challenge can save you a decent chunk of money.
Yes, pantry challenges can be great. Many frugal bloggers enjoy them.
But not me. My pantry challenge days are over.
Why I No Longer Do the Pantry Challenge
I work hard to try to keep my spending within our family budget for groceries. I meal plan and try not to stray from my shopping list. I look for items at their lowest price.
Over time I have been able to create some wiggle room in our grocery budget. I do that by feeding my family frugal foods like beans and meat-less (as in less meat, not necessarily meat free) meals on a weekly basis. I also try to start with leftovers first before I create a new meal from the pantry or freezer. For instance, that leftover chicken becomes a casserole or soup.
Mandatory Two Week Shopping Trip
After doing this for a while, I had enough food in the house to last us more than 14 days. But I continued to shop every 2 weeks, even when we aren’t out of food yet.
I do this for a few reasons.
- I hate shopping when we are out of everything. It makes me feel frantic, and I always overbuy.
- It cuts down on trips out for milk (because how often do you really only get milk?).
- No more missing out on great sales cycles.
- This method lines up with our paychecks, so it makes the most sense to spend the money earmarked for groceries at one time.
This method has meant more wiggle room in my grocery budget. Over time I’ve slowly built a cushion specifically for stocking up on sale items.
Now when I see an item at its rock bottom price, I can stock up on enough of it to last us a few months (and hopefully to the next big sale). For instance, when noodles went on sale for just 49 cents per box, I grabbed 20 boxes of them. I had the wiggle room in my budget because I didn’t have to buy food for that evening’s meal. That was already in the freezer from the last shopping trip.
The thought of using all those boxes before the next sale doesn’t appeal to me. So we ration them out.
Snowball Method of Grocery Shopping
Have you heard of the snowball method of paying off debt? The idea is that as you pay off bills, your money gains steam like a snowball rolling downhill. You are able to pay off the other debts faster and faster because there’s more money available to use.
Much like the debt snowball, the benefits of this shopping method gain strength the longer I use them. On my next trip, I’ll use the amount of “stock up money” that I used on pasta last time on another super sale item. On top of that, I’ll also use the money I usually spend on pasta each week.
So if coffee is at its best sale price, I’ll use my stock up money on extra packs of coffee this time. (Imagine the peace of mind, knowing that you are stocked up on something as important as coffee!)
If I were doing a pantry challenge, I would use up too much of that wonderful stockpile that took me so long to collect. And while I’d pocket the money I would have been spending at the grocery store that month, it would require a larger than normal shopping trip the next time I went.
That erases some of my pantry challenge savings right away. Plus it takes away the cushion I had created in my budget. I’d hate to start that process over!
Even more, I wouldn’t want to drain my pantry and then discover that I was too sick to shop, we were stormed in without food, or some other emergency caught us off guard.
Get the Benefits Without the Drain
Now, remember those benefits that you can get from doing a pantry challenge? The good news is that you can still reap these benefits, even if you don’t drain your pantry. You just have to be a bit more intentional about it.
Do a mini-pantry challenge every week. For example, I always try use up leftovers throughout the week before they go bad. You can find more ideas on that topic here.
Use up those bits of food that tend to get lost in the back of the pantry and the bottom of the freezer. Make it a point to clean those places out once a month. If you find 5 cans of olives that expire next month, check Pinterest for ways to use them up.
If you find multiple bags of partially used produce in your freezer, make a soup or smoothies.
And if you find things that you know no one will eat no matter how creative you are, donate to a local food pantry. But don’t just donate strange items like pickled pigs feet. Throw in a can of corn (if you’ve stocked up enough that you can spare some extra).
I may not participate in the pantry challenge anymore, but my grocery budget is stronger than ever.
My family never liked that tuna, mustard, jalapeno casserole, anyway.
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What’s your opinion of the pantry challenge? Has it saved you some big money, or do you prefer to keep a stocked pantry?