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The Budget-Wise Pantry

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No matter how much money you make or how secure your job is, all of us are trying to start saving more money. Maybe it’s for a rainy day, or maybe it’s to pay off that mound of debt that we’re keeping at bay.


Your food budget is usually a great place to shave a few dollars off. Most of us (me included) splurge more than we need to when it comes to food. Menu planning, only going to the grocery once a week, and buying what you can in bulk is a great start. It’s good for the environment and for your wallet.


But what about those weeks that you’re waiting on a check to come, or you have to get a new furnace? An emergency tends to happen during the leaner times. Having a stocked pantry and freezer can really be handy.


For this post, I’m assuming that you have a few dollars that you can use to stock up. If you don’t, you may be able to find a food bank in your area that can help you right now. Feeding America is a Web site that can help you find out what’s available in your area.


It’s easy to build up your pantry over time once you get into the habit. First, you have to really think about what items will last almost indefinitely. Then when you see them on sale, get as many as your budget will allow for that week. If you do this little by little, you will find your cabinets overflowing in a few months.


I keep the following stocked up by buying in bulk, looking for sales, and even using some coupons. It’s important to keep an open mind. In the beginning it will seem like more work for you, but there is no better reward than having what you need to take care of yourself and your family.


You may want to take a look at ebay for organic coupons. Some are the Mambo Sprouts coupons you can pick up yourself at Whole Foods, but others are from the newspaper and you can pay someone for their time to cut them out. It’s much cheaper than buying ten newspapers. I have gotten coupon for Muir Glen, Cascadian Farms, Newman’s, and more through ebay. Only buy coupons for the products you know you will buy.


Dry Beans of All Kinds
This is the where people start to get nervous. They think that beans offer no variety. But once you start to look at recipes from all over the world, you’ll see how many flavors you can get using this cheap staple. Mexican, Indian, Ethiopian, English, Creole, Brazilian, French, and more all use beans as a staple. You can also make your own burgers or bean balls, add to soups, and much more.


Bean prices seem to vary from place to place. I find buying them in bulk or at international stores to be the best value in my area. Do you have an Indian food store? You’ll find great prices on spices and rice, as well as some beans.


Here are a few places to get some ideas about cooking beans:



Pasta of All Shapes and Sizes
I try to get whole wheat or multi-grain pasta whenever possible. I find that the mainstream groceries are carrying healthier pasta and there are more coupons in the newspaper for them. If the grocery has a sale and you use a coupon on top of it, you can sometimes even get some free or close to it.


Pasta is great because it’s so easy and with some pre-made sauce you have an almost instant meal. It’s also good in soups and helps stretch that last bit a little further. Lasagna is a great thing to make ahead and freeze in portion sizes for lunches, future dinners, or even have a pan in the freezer for an impromptu dinner party.


Transfer the pasta that comes in cardboard containers to an air tight glass container or zip lock bag to insure freshness and keep the bugs out.


Brown Rice and Other Grains
You can make a meal of rice and beans, or mix with leftover veggies and a sauce and have a great casserole. There are so many different kinds of grains you can use to vary your diet with. Be adventurous and try a new one each month.



Whole Wheat Flour
Having flour on hand allows you to make things from scratch that you may not be able to afford some weeks. It’s needed to make gravy, bread, muffins, cookies and more. It’s good to always have on hand. Keep it in an airtight container to keep any bugs out.


Try getting your flour in bulk or on sale. This is one staple I’ve noticed the price going up a lot on.


Canned Pasta Sauce
I use coupons and sales to stock up on organic pasta sauce. Most bottles and canned sauces are fine, but check the ingredients to make sure you know what you are getting. I have gotten bottles as cheap as fifty cents each during triple coupons if a sale was going on.


Also keep an eye out for organic canned or frozen veggies to go on sale. I keep a few cans of pumpkin, corn, green beans, and regular beans. These are good when you are in a hurry. Frozen vegetables are a great time saver and they go on sale fairly often. Cascadian farm coupons come out fairly regularly and they have a great selection of frozen organic fruit and vegetables.


I like to buy shelf stable milk (soy, rice, or almond). It keeps for about a year and you can usually get a case discount from most health food stores. Costco also has good prices on cases of soy milk.


In addition to your pantry, buy produce that is in season. Many grocery stores have sales on potatoes right now and it’s also a good time to stock up on winter squash. These last all winter and go great in soups, casseroles, and create an elegant meal when you stuff them.


Don’t forget about stores like Big Lots, or other closeout stores in your area. I’ve gotten some great deals. Just check the cans and look at the dates before you buy. Some of the items are there because they are close to their expiration dates.


What are some of your favorite budget friendly recipes?

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