My Frugal Pantry

Now that the wedding is over, I need a new project!  I’ve decided to research, design, and create the perfect frugal pantry for my family.  Over the summer, some of my “fun” reading including re-visiting the Little House on the Prairie series.  Now, as a child of the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was immersed in all things Laura Ingalls.  I read the books repeatedly and watched the TV series after school.  I even had my own sunbonnet and apron and was known to cover the swing set with my  mom’s sheets to simulate a covered wagon.  Not to mention that growing up in Missouri meant we were near her “Rocky Ridge” farm and a theme park that cashed in on nineteenth-century nostalgia.  On more than one occasion, I cursed my fate that I hadn’t been born a hundred years before.  

by combusean

by combusean

Now with the whole “urban homesteading” movement, I can live out my fantasies through my pantry.  I hope to revive the lost art of storing and wisely managing food over a long period of time.  Reading the Little House books again, I found Farmer Boy to be one of my favorites.  I forgot that part of what made those books so compelling was the level of detail Wilder includes about process.  It was easy to track what the family grew, stored, and ate throughout the year.  One of my favorite scenes was when the parents went to town for a week and left the kids to fend for themselves.  Of course, they binged on ice cream and sweets and were embarrassed by all the sugar they used by the week’s end.  In some ways, I feel like we’ve gone through a similar binge.  Now that I realize that local, honestly grown food makes me happiest, I’m pleased to put aside all the processed, manufactured food, just as the kids were happy to go back to healthy food after a week of ice cream.

by thebittenword.com

by thebittenword.com


I think this is a great season to start my frugal pantry because there’s so much to harvest and put up. I’ll track what I’m canning and freezing and hope that it will last us through the winter.  I plan to still use my own variation of the “Grocery Game” to stockpile toiletries, but I want to start buying beans, rice, grains, flour, baking supplies, and soup supplies in bulk.  My goal is to have a three-months supply of healthy food on hand that my family would actually eat.  Ideally, I’ll shop for bulk supplies four times each year.  Then, at bi-weekly trips to the grocery store, I’ll stock up on meat and cheese that’s on sale, get toiletries on sale, and buy the few perishables that I can’t get in bulk, like milk and spinach.  In the summers, I’ll buy extra produce to preserve so that I don’t need as much in the winter.  I also plan to build a nice repertoire of easy-to-cook meals that we can eat out of our pantry.  I like the self-sufficiency of the whole project, but I also like several bloggers’ suggestions that this contributes to the emergency fund.

Over the course of the year, we’ll track how much I spend and save on groceries.  Right now, I budget $100 a month for a case of wine and $400 a month for groceries, plus I spend a little extra at the farmers’ market in the summer, maybe $80 a month.  So, that gives me $5040 a year.  I’m going to plan $300 a quarter for bulk supplies and reduce my bi-weekly budget to $125, plus more in the summer for the farmers’ market. 

Now, my goal will be to at least stay on budget, but of course, I really hope that this will actually save us money.  I plan to use the old snowflaking approach here.  This time, though, I’ll decide what to do with the saved money next October.  Perhaps we can use it for gourmet foods during the upcoming year?  Or a foodie vacation?  Or monthly meals in new restaurants?  Since we can already afford our food budget, I don’t want this money to get lost in general savings.  Instead, it should definitely go to food-related treats!  What do you think?  Do any of you buy in bulk now?

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14 responses to “My Frugal Pantry

  1. I’m new to your blog…….do you include cleaning supplies, paper products, light bulbs, etc in your food budget? Those are all items I pick up at WalMart when buying groceries and I’m wondering if they need to be budgeted seperately.

  2. It’s so great to find another Laura fan. I thought I was the only one who recreated scenes. Visiting Rocky Ridge and the other home sites is on my ‘list of things to do’. You’re right about Farmer Boy. You really do get the whole visual of the organization, work and procedure it takes to get things we all take for granted.

    Just as a note to Caroline in the post above me, I’m new as well to budgeting but I made a household category which is separate than the grocery ones and the things you mentioned in your post, go into this category.

    Thanks for the great nostalgic post!

  3. My favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder book is “The Long Winter.” I lived through the Blizzard of 1977 and the Great Blizzard of 1978 in Ohio, so I could certainly relate to those stories.

    If you want to understand desperation, imagine what it was like to live on in frontier town and learn that the next supply train would not arrive until spring because nobody could keep the route open.

  4. Now in response to Caroline … I include routine cleaning supplies such as trash bags in my grocery budget.

    More long-term or occasional purchases such as light bulbs and batteries are recorded under “household” budget.

  5. mydailydollars

    Glad to hear from fellow Laura Ingalls Wilder fans! I know, the scene in “The Long Winter” where they know no more food comes until a train gets through was really harrowing to read as an adult.

    Caroline, right now most tolietries, cleaning supplies, and paper products do go into the food budget. I have a $90 “Target” budget that I can use for overflow, but I’m trying to eliminate that category entirely. So far this month, I’m on track!

  6. Pingback: To Buy In Bulk: Long-Term Meal Planning « My Daily Dollars

  7. The only problem I have found, in buying in bulk, is that it is very easy to go overbudget because it costs a lot to buy a particular ingredient. You’re making bread in bulk, or soup, but you have to pay 12$ for a gallon of olive oil, or $15 for a block of cheese, etc. Every time I go to to Sams Club, I easily spend $100 with no problem, and then I need to go to the store for specialty/perishable items!

    So just consider going back to weekly trips to the grocery store, and buying generics, if you have trouble sticking to budget. You can still do the “urban homesteading” thing rather well, if you have a good organic grocery store.

  8. I remember a scene in the Little House books where they had no other food and decided to store their corn “like the Indians did”–turned out to be a drying process where they made their own popcorn. I remember Laura describing the first time she’d ever seen it cooked (the “pops”!) and the first time she tasted it. Hm. Something to try, Daily Dollars? 🙂

  9. Penny and Buck

    Another Laura fan, chiming in! I still reread those books – their values are timeless. The parts about food were always my favorites. Loved this pantry post, and I’m going to take some advice from it. Best of luck with it!

  10. threadbndr (karla)

    If you are in the midwest (I’m in KS), there should be a custom cutter/butcher in the area. If you eat meat, you can get a “quarter” or a “side” of buffalo, beef or pork, cut to your specification and sometimes delivered. I hardly ever buy meat from the grocery, as I know a local farmer who raises non-feedlot beef and bison and I buy into one of their steers and buffalo every year.

    It’s better for the animals, too. They aren’t stressed in feedlots and processing plants, and this is local and sustainable agriculture. This meat isn’t quite organic, as not all of his pastures are organic certified, but it’s antibiotic free.

  11. mydailydollars

    @riddlej. Thanks for the input! Overbuying is one thing I’m afraid of. I think if I start with the non-perishables, at least it will be stuff we can eventually use.

    @threadbndr — that’s a great idea! I’m sure we can find someone around here. I’ll just have to look into it. One question. . .do you have an extra freezer?

  12. threadbndr (karla)

    I do have an extra freezer. I have an Energy Star chest freezer in the basement. I know that a lot of people don’t like the chest ones, since it’s easy for food to get lost in the bottom.

    I will admit that it’s a bear to clean out and defrost, but with a freezer inventory and some boxes and bins to corral the food, it’s not too hard to manage.

  13. I love the “Little House on the Prairie” series! You might enjoy the “Sarah Plain and Tall” series as well.

    I had a goal to learn to can/preserve this year, but it seems the season has just about gotten away from me. I grown some of my own veggies and picked up a water bath canner last year. Looks like a good goal for next summer. Thanks for the motivating post!

  14. mydailydollars

    Thanks for the feedback! I think we’ll look into a freezer down the line, but for this year I’ll keep at it with our regular fridge/freezer. The freezer is surprisingly roomy, so I’ve managed to cram a lot in there.

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