Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Save money with a 'pantry challenge'

Step 1: Look in your cupboards, fridge and freezer. Step 2: Get creative

By Donna_Freedman Sep 12, 2012 2:08PM
Image: Home kitchen (© Don Farrall/Photodisc/Getty Images)For months I've concentrated on using up my stockpiled grocery bargains. This has had two results, both swell:
  • Far fewer out-of-pocket food expenses -- I've had to buy only milk, eggs, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • A major clear-out of cupboards, fridge and freezer -- important, because in two weeks I'm moving to Alaska.
Your own reason for doing a "pantry challenge" may vary. But the result is the same. 

Sunk-cost cooking means a smaller grocery bill. Using up older ingredients prevents food waste. Once your freezer is emptied you can defrost it, so it runs more efficiently.

You even get to be more imaginative. How else are you going to turn out an entrée with a bunch of possibly unrelated ingredients?

'Renewed sense of creativity'

Not that a pantry challenge means eating badly. Jessica, of the Good (Cheap) Eats blog, says the experience produced "a renewed sense of creativity in the kitchen."

"I ended up throwing together some yummy meals that we revisited even once the challenge was over," she says. (Post continues below video.)
In my case, the meals haven't been particularly creative; fancy cooking isn't a priority for me. But I've used up a lot of odds and ends, finished last year's wild blackberries, and completely emptied the chest freezer, which I plan to take north with me. I've even gotten almost to the bottom of a 10-pound bag of dry beans.

I've spent very little money on food lately. The savings will be applied to the cost of my move. What you do with your own pantry challenge savings is up to you. Put it in the bank, snowball a debt, bulk up your holiday shopping fund or spend it all on your favorite hobby.

First, though, take a few minutes to feel smug. You saved money, avoided waste and maybe even created a new recipe or two. Bonus: You no longer to have to look at that can of smoked oysters.

More from MSN Money:

Sep 20, 2012 2:25PM

I stock up on items when they are on sale. Canned goods, veggies, soups etc will keep for a long time and some months I will go through times of "living off the shelves" especially during the winter when I'm trying to stay above water with the cost of fuel to heat my home.


Just a comment though. Did anyone else notice the people in the main article about the hungriest states in the nation? Few of those people looked like they've missed many meals.

Sep 12, 2012 3:34PM
I've done this as well.  It's amazing what gets pushed to the back of the pantry and/or freezer!  This is also the time I donate food to a food pantry, especially if it's an item my family doesn't particularly care for.  The savings I capture is used to stock up the next month and give a little headway to my grocery budget.  I just never know when my teenage boy will decide to take a growth spurt and eat everything in sight! 
Sep 20, 2012 1:33PM
Stockpiling food has been the current  suggested norm given the growing cost of food.    Much of the food will keep for many years.   End-of-the-world scenarios or what is commonly called "Chicken Little Scenarios" have as the first thing on their agenda to stock up food.   Obviously,  transporting the food to Alaska puts you in a different situation and may require you to dispose of the food.   There are many virtues in "stockpiling" food.    Ants do it,  bees do it,  squirrels do it, etc.   There is wisdom and safety in this.  They say you can't eat dollar bills when you are hungry and there is nothing to buy.     Saving for a rainy day has its many virtures.   Appreciate your enjoyment of the benefits of previously purchased food stocks.   Wish you well in Alaska as well. 
Sep 12, 2012 7:00PM
Much happiness in Alaska, I want to live there,too, for retirement, but hubby won't have it. Bet you will start a blog about catching and putting up fish and game, and let everyone  know how veggies do in that state. Gotta love a state that pays you to live there! Cheaper living, too.
Sep 20, 2012 3:03PM
I am currently working on snowball debt, so I am eating at home a lot more and packing my lunch for work a lot more.  I got some tomatoes and veggies free from a local farmer, I made a giant batch of pasta sauce base, I froze most of it, but then made a giant batch of spagetti, I've been eatting it for several days now, absolutely yummy.  I freeze smaller portions into containers, so I can have it at a later date.  I haven;t been to the grocery store for almost a month.  I am about to go to get eggs and milk.  I suppliment my milk with making powdered milk. Several times a month I go "shopping" in the pantry for things to make, rather than stop at fast food on the way home.
Sep 20, 2012 3:45PM
I would like to see a pantry challenge that challenges each of us to donate more food to food banks (called food pantries here in Alaska).  My idea is for people to buy in big quantities and donating a large portion of it. Sharing what we have with others.
Sep 20, 2012 10:46AM
All the best to you in Alaska Donna,this Caribbean gal will visit in August only. I'm off to check my cupboards and cook up the excess pasta,hope my son likes what's on the menu this evening....
Sep 15, 2012 11:33PM
Hey! Welcome, I am not sure I would move to Alaska in October, but that's just me, after 20 years I am pretty jaded about the weather.  Even if you've driven the Al-Can before be prepared for WAY fewer gas stations, the downturn really took a toll and some of my favorite stops are out of business now.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.