Treasures in the Cupboard

My wife and I have an overstuffed pantry. Sometimes, it’s almost difficult to get the door closed because we have so much food stocked away. And, to an extent, I’m proud of this: I often view our pantry as one of the most frugal places in our home.

This often comes as a surprise to people who visit us – and is perhaps a surprise to you as well. Doesn’t food get old in there? Isn’t it wasteful to have such a huge amount of food on hand? What can you possibly keep in there that isn’t wasteful? Aren’t there just tons of things in the back of the pantry that are out of date, just waiting to be tossed (and wasting money along the way)?

We actually use a number of tactics for stocking, rotating, and utilizing our pantry so that the food kept inside has maximum value. Here’s how we do it.

How We Effectively Utilize Our Pantry

We eat virtually every meal at home

I actually believe this is the key to the whole equation. Our pantry is full, but the stuff inside the pantry gets used all the time. We eat 90% of our meals at home with the four of us seated around a table eating something we’ve prepared with the food in our pantry.

We focus mostly on staples with a long shelf life

So, what food is actually in our pantry? Most of our pantry is filled with staples that have a long shelf life. Here’s a quick checklist of the items that take up more than half the space in there: baking powder, baking soda, sugar (brown, white, etc.), pasta (many varieties), corn meal, corn starch, flour (all-purpose, white, wheat, rye, pumpernickel, etc.), rice, salt (table salt, sea salt, etc.), spices (a huge number), vinegar, and dry yeast. Virtually all of these items last for years – we buy them and use them until they’re gone.

We buy those staples in bulk

We buy the staples listed above in large quantities – big bags of flour, rice, and so forth. By buying them in bulk, we’re able to save a lot of money on the purchase of such items, reducing the cost of each and every meal that we eat. And, since these items don’t get old or wear out (well, at least not over a short period), we almost never throw away any of the bulk.

We use airtight containers for many items

One concern that many people have with large quantities of staples (like flour, sugar, and rice) is that they’re targets for infestation – mold, mice, and so on. Our solution? We store all of our materials in jars and buckets that are tightly sealed. This keeps the staples as fresh as possible and keeps them from being infested.

We recognize the foods we like and eat them regularly

We like eating pasta dishes. We like homemade bread and breadsticks. We like simple stir fries with a variety of spices and some rice on the side. We like tacos and enchiladas. We’ll eat these things over and over again – everyone likes them and as long as we don’t eat them every day, we don’t get tired of them. Thus, it makes a lot of sense for us to have a lot of the staples for these recipes on hand.

We rotate our entire pantry regularly

Of course, many items in our pantry aren’t such staples – they’re other items, purchased for specific recipes or because they seemed intriguing. Often, these items will gradually find their way to the back of the pantry. Our solution to this is simple: about once a month, we rotate everything in the pantry. We pull everything out and put things back in a new order, bringing forgotten things to the front. This usually inspires a few days’ worth of dinner recipes and also keeps us from wasting things.

We plan ahead for major disasters

We also keep several gallons of water in our pantry and also some “ready to eat” meals. Why do we do this? In the event of a major disaster, where we might be left without power for a week or two, we want to be prepared with the food and supplies on hand that we would need. This takes up some pantry space, of course, and we’re lucky in that we’ve not had to use the supplies since moving to our home, but if such an event happened, these items would be worth their weight in gold.

We share

Last summer, on a whim, I made six loaves of zucchini bread and gave them to our neighbors. Why? I was in the mood to cook, we had an abundance of fresh zucchini, and there was plenty of ingredients in the pantry. When I gave over these loaves, virtually all of the neighbors were very happy to receive them – and it helped us to build a good relationship with some of the ones we didn’t know as well. If you have an abundance of food and an abundance of time, you have the opportunity to share the food you make with those around you – and build valuable relationships along the way.

That’s how our pantry rolls.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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