A deep pantry is vital if you’re trying to gain some control over the craziness of food prices.
I know – if you’re like most people, you’re often wondering how to make ends meet, and food is often one of the largest categories in your budget.
Well, let me give you one of my best ways to weather all of this and keep your family well fed on even a small budget. A deep pantry could be called a stockpile or food storage, but if you are looking to save money and reduce anxieties over cost and availability of food, you want to start building one.
One of the first things I hear when I suggest people start building up a deep pantry (or food storage – use whatever term works for you) is that they can’t afford to buy extra food for storage.
My experience is that you probably can’t afford not to.
When we decided to get out of poverty and start improving our life, the first change we made was simple.
We took control of our pantry.
If you do not have a deep pantry filled with foods that you use regularly, you are completely controlled by the whimsical swing of prices at the grocery stores.
As long as they are controlling your food budget, you are going to have difficulty getting hold of your finances.
You need to know how much you use in a year or, if you’re building a smaller pantry, how much you’ll use in six or three months. While this is less important for things like dish detergent, it is still something to consider, since everything you buy uses up precious storage space and costs money.
You don’t want to run out, but you don’t want to store too much, either.
Either way wastes your time, money and space!
If you’re worried about figuring this out, or a year seems just too much, focus on THREE MONTHS worth of food storage at a time. (See the ribbon at the top for the link to download!)
Why three months for one person? Because that is something anyone can manage and deal with, and it can scale up so easily.
Even if you have six people in your family and you’re aiming for a two year supply – it’s a simple matter of doing the 3 month plan 48 times. (Okay, that might seem a little lot overwhelming. Stick to three months at a time until it is no longer overwhelming! Honestly, you can do this.)
Keep reading for to learn one thing you really should never buy!
Fill Your Deep Pantry With Food You Actually Use
If you don’t (and won’t) eat that particular food, don’t buy it, no matter how cheap it is.
Yes, this seems obvious, but I’m going to repeat it because it’s very important. Do NOT buy anything for your food storage unless you already know your family will eat it – and that they will eat it in the quantities you’re storing.
That’s not a newbie tip – I sometimes get swayed by fabulous prices on things like mixed vegetables or dried split peas, we don’t eat either. And we’re still eating the three bushels of green beans that I pressure canned two years ago. They’re taking up space that could be used by spinach or corn or carrots, all of which we do use in great quantities.
Have you ever said, “Well, we don’t usually eat it, but it’s such a good deal! We’ll learn to like it.”
No, it’s not. And you won’t.
If you have extra money and want to donate that good deal to the food bank, go ahead, but don’t buy it for yourself.
Actually, don’t donate it to the food bank, either. Donate money to them – they can beat your good deal through arrangements they make with stores and manufacturers. (I know, that goes against “what everyone knows”, but the truth is that food banks, relief efforts and even people struggling in third world countries all need money far more than they need “stuff”.)
Okay, more about prices! Keep reading.
Know Your Prices
You want to aim to get everything for your deep pantry at the best possible price.
For most people, this means building, and using, a price book.
It’s simply a notebook (or a spreadsheet or possibly an app on your phone) in which you list the products you buy regularly and the best prices – per unit – that you have found. Across the top of the page, you’ll want a column for date, the store, the item (and brand) the size of the package, the price, and the price per unit.
Make sure that the price per unit is consistent for each item instead of recording the price “per bag”.
This way you can quickly tell if a sale is really worthwhile or not because you will eventually have a price limit. “I won’t buy XXXX unless the price is below $XX.” And when it is, stock up.
First you make a list of the foods you use most regularly. If you’re regularly using a back-to-basics cookbook like A Cabin Full of Food, then your list of items that you regularly purchase is going to be small and manageable. Organize them as you wish in your price book so that you can find each item quickly and easily. If you’re using a spiral notebook, consider a page per item so that you have room to list the price changes over time.
After they’re listed, pull out your grocery flyers and start filling in the blanks. It can take a little while to get set up, but once you have it, it’s a priceless resource.
Years ago, my price book assured me that white sugar sold for $0.97 for a 2 kg bag. When the news told me that sugar plantations in Australia and the United States were flooded or otherwise damaged, and the price of sugar went to $1.47 overnight, I knew to stock up. Sugar doesn’t go bad and 20 kg of it would last us quite a while. Two weeks later, sugar was $2.97 for 2 kg and mostly everyone I spoke to thought that it had always been that price!
Remember – the shortest pencil is better than the longest memory!
The next thing you’re going to want to look at is your storage space!
Recognize how much storage space you have. This is so important that perhaps it should have been the first tip.
There is no sense buying a year’s worth of flour, no matter how great the sale, if you lack a spot to store it. No one wants to have food containers stacked in the front hallway.
Perhaps you have a massive root cellar, a larder that can hold all of your preserved meats, a huge pantry and …. I’ll stop now, right? Because if you’re like the majority of us, you have limits on the amount of things you can store. Those limits might be quite strict, in fact, if you live in a small house or apartment.
Now, with that said, it’s amazing the places where you can store supplies, even in a small home.
Look up, look down, and look behind. There are places in closets, under beds, and behind couches.
When we were living in a small apartment, we had food storage behind the sofa – you can put a nice board on top, cover it with a cloth and it will look just like a fancy sofa table.
Our current pantry is about 12×10′ and holds an incredible amount because of how we organized it. Each shelf is built to hold two lidded plastic bins, stacked atop each other. This means that I never need to remove more than one bin to get the one beneath.Each bin holds 12 pint jars of home-preserved food. One wall holds 91 bins, or almost 1100 pint jars filled with food!
With a little planning and thinking, you might find you have far more food storage space than you think.
Keep reading to learn about cherry picking. No actual cherries involved!
When your local grocery store has a loss leader that will store well and that you use often, buy as much as they will let you (constrained, of course, by how much you use in a year and how much space you have.)
Yes, that’s what cherry picking is.
How can this work when dealing with farmers?
I really hate haggling with them because they put a lot of effort into the food they provide.
In general, if a farmer I trust tells me that cauliflower costs $5.99 this year, I’ll believe them and either pay it or adjust my recipes.
However, every farmer I know has ‘seconds’ that they will sell cheaply by the bushel. A box of carrots might cost me $35 if I want them to be pretty enough for the table, but only $15 if I’ll accept rodent damage, split roots and other ugliness.
Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of building your deep pantry? Build your food storage in small, manageable amounts. You can do this.
But – what if you have limited “extra” money when you are starting out? Let’s take a moment and set our buying priorities. You probably can’t just run out and buy it all, can you? Keep reading!
he first few items you buy will be on your menu constantly, especially if money is very tight.
Make sure you like them.
This is more than just making sure your family will eat them. The first few things you buy need to be items that you are able and willing to eat frequently.
When we first started building our deep pantry, our first purchase was a case of Kraft dinner. Hey, no judging – everyone has to start somewhere. It was half price for a case of 24 boxes.
We had a lot of KD that week, mixed with store brand flaked tuna, margarine and powdered milk. It sure wasn’t glamorous (or particularly healthy, for that matter) but it filled our bellies at about $1 a meal for the two of us. Add in inexpensive oatmeal for breakfast and we had food to eat … and we spent a lot less than usual that week on groceries.
The next week chicken thighs were on sale, and so we had KD and chicken legs … a very monotonous diet that allowed us to save up some money and buy a family pack of on-sale ground beef.
After that, the variety in my pantry and freezer grew regularly.
However, it was KD and chicken legs, with oatmeal for breakfast, for nearly two weeks! There is a wide variety of staples with which to start your food storage.
Now what about expiry dates? How much do they matter?
Pay attention to expiry dates and know how long your purchases will last.
Baking powder has a shelf life of about 18 months (if kept well-sealed it will work for quite a while longer), while mustard, honey and white sugar last indefinitely. Even if they have an expiry date on them for legal reasons, those dates can be safely ignored.
Commercial mayo, on the other hand, only lasts a few months. Spices last up to three years, if stored properly (and whole spices, ground when needed, last longest).
Dried pasta lasts forever, but flour will go rancid after a while, especially whole wheat flour.
Home-canned pickles will last a year or two and then begin to go soft. Use them up before that time to save your investment.
Do not ever buy more than you can use before the product is unusable. No sale is worthwhile if you just end up throwing the money away.
If you have misjudged somehow and end up with something your family will not use, consider trading it with a family member or donating it to a food bank or lower income family BEFORE it expires.
Not as it is expiring or, worse, after it goes bad.
Use what you store.
Or, as it is commonly said among people teaching food storage – store what you eat and eat what you store.
Now, the final thing to consider is — what about storing items that are NOT food? Should they have a place in your deep pantry? Keep reading!
Consider including things like socks, undershirts and underwear in your deep pantry when you find them on sale, which now broadens it from a deep pantry of food to a small and growing stockpile of necessities.
These are, after all, items that wear out and need to be replaced fairly regularly.
This works better for adults, since you know the size you will (probably) be in a year.
When something is on sale, and it is something you use regularly, consider whether you have the space to store enough to last several months.
When the stores are getting ready for back-to-school, we buy up pencils, erasers, sharpeners (my children are always losing or breaking them), notebooks and more at rock bottom prices. It just kills me to spend $5 on a notebook in January when I knew they were selling for ten cents in September.
And finally .
Use what you store.
Or, as it is commonly said among people teaching food storage – store what you eat and eat what you store. I can’t stress how important it is to use the food stored in your deep pantry.
Get into the habit of dating everything, unless it already has an expiry date, and constantly check your dates. Better yet, have a spreadsheet, or paper in a clipboard, or a whiteboard, on which you record your food storage (and its location) and the expiry dates.
Once a year, perhaps during Lent, have an extended pantry challenge in which you commit to eating only what is in the house. This will help you discover – and clean out – any forgotten food. “Ooops, do we still have three year old pickles?”
And as a side benefit, an extended pantry challenge can really save you some money.
Far too many people buy a bunch of canned food and stick it away in a closet “for an emergency”. By the time that emergency arrives, the food is inedible.
Are you ready to start building your own deep pantry?