Money & The Economy

Optimizing Your Dollar—A Well-Stocked Pantry

This week our dollar stretching idea looks at the well-stocked pantry. optimize your dollar 1

Quick and easy to prepare meals mean less temptation to eat out and leftovers often make a great lunch at work.

Often packaged foods have higher levels of salt, unexpected preservatives and other additives, fats you don’t want. But then, the same could be said about many meals at fast food restaurants. Still, a packaged side dish, some a protein, vegetables and a salad make a pretty nutritious meal. You’ll have to make your own choices.

I know what you’re thinking. How can I possibly stock my pantry when I can barely afford groceries each week? And you’d be right. The first few weeks will be a bit more of a challenge. But with a little practice and perseverance you’ll soon have your pantry filled.

To begin you’ll need to take a percentage of your weekly grocery allowance and set it aside. Even if you can only find two or maybe five dollars you can start.

Use this money to:

  • Buy loss leaders at your local grocer.  Buy non-perishable sale items. Every store I’ve ever shopped in, big city or small town, offers something sale each week or month. If you’ll use, it buy it. Save your money if it’s something you won’t fix or eat, don’t buy it.
    A few ideas: Our family loves Zatarain’s Yellow Rice. Generally it is $2.50 a box. But at least once every three or four months it will be on sale for $1. I stock up then. You’ll find the same with spaghetti sauce. It’s often $3 a jar regular price but will be on sale for half. And cereal…if you have kids you know how fast it goes. Always watch for cereal sales.  Do you like to make cupcakes for the kids instead of buying packaged snack cakes? Start watching for cake and brownie mixes to be on sale. Don’t wait until the last minute, they’ll last.

    Just because it’s stocked, doesn’t mean it’s neat.
  • Buy seasonal. Yes, this goes especially for fresh fruits and vegetables but there’s much more. For instance if you like to bake from scratch watch the holiday sales. I try to buy enough sugar at the super sale prices of Christmas to last the year. It’s the same with pie filling. Instead of $4 a can you can get it for $2.50 and it lasts.Pick up the makings for tacos including refried beans and cans of olives during the Cinco de Mayo sales.
  • Stock your freezer too. Do you have room? If so, consider buying two Easter hams and doing the same at Thanksgiving with turkeys. They freeze well and both make great leftover meals.
  • Buy Beans. Dried that is. If your grocery budget is already stretched to the nth perhaps you need to add something that is inexpensive, goes far, is good and is good for you. Dried beans, while not often on sale, are a great bargain. They are super easy to cook in a crockpot. I recommend a 4-6 quart for a family of 4 and if you don’t have one, ask around. You may be surprised and find a friend or relative with one that you can borrow. Take them a bowl of your tasty dinner in appreciation. Seriously, there are a blue jillion bean crockpot recipes. They can be as simple as plain with a few seasonings or greatly embellished. They are a good source of protein and will fill up a hungry kid. You’ll thank me later.

If you take advantage of these tips, in no time you’ll fast and easy meals and can look forward to a well stock pantry for your next meal.

If you have suggestions to stretch your shopping dollar or questions please let me know.

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Teresa Wendt

A stay at home mom who runs a household, manages the finances, cares for a young adult autistic son, and cooks from scratch. Traveling from Arizona to Alaska summer of 2013. Visit my blog at and follow along.

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  1. Good job, good ‘tips’. Thanks Teresa ! Another thought is …If you have (or know someone) with a Sam’s.. or Price Club card…team up & ‘split’ a flat of green beans etc. Even add a 3rd person. I do this with a neighbor even on the ‘huge’ pkgs of frozen veggies that we divide up into freezer bags. Also most generic/store brands are close to equal the name brands.

    1. Splitting large quantities is a great suggestion! I used to hear about people joining to form co-ops where they’d divvy up large quantities of food. It’s another great money saver, as long as one person doesn’t have to do all the work.
      You are also right about generics. I think that is worth a whole conversation, maybe in a couple weeks.
      Thanks for reading and for sharing your ideas!

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