A frugal pantry is one that is stocked with items that are less expensive but still of excellent quality. A great place to start stocking a frugal pantry is at the grocery store. A frugal pantry can be stocked with items such as oatmeal, beans, flour, rice, canned tomatoes, and other shelf-stable goods. Not only will a frugal pantry help you be prepared for any cooking need, it also helps you stretch your food budget during tough times. Having a wide variety of basic foodstuffs on hand can also make you a more creative cook.
Another great benefit of a well-stocked pantry is that it will save you time and you won’t pull your hair out because you’re missing that one ingredient you need. A stocked pantry means that you can toss together a meal in no time. We’ll be sharing some simple quick meals in future articles that you can make in 30 minutes or less that are also very frugal. Feel free to submit your own recipes by clicking here. One of Modfamily’s best frugal tips is to always have a quick and easy family favorite meal you can whip up so you can resist the urge to order take-out or delivery.
Staying home and cooking will always save you money and if you can toss together a meal in 20-30 minutes you’ll also save your sanity.
You’re also going to serve your family healthier meals and know that you are in control of ingredients, sodium content, fat content, and preservatives. That’s better for the entire family. We’ll be sharing a lot of plant-based meals in the future too because they are healthy, nutritious, and actually cheaper.
Personally, I’m not a meal planner. I have a few things I make every week and keep on hand but when it is time for me to cook I usually look at my pantry and let inspiration strike me. I have a very versatile pantry with your standard American staple foods but many Indian and Asian options as well. I’ll be writing articles and making videos to help you navigate the world of Asian and Indian grocery stores. Not only will it expand your horizons and your possibilities but you’ll also expand your culinary potential and get a robust pallet.
But first back to our pantry staples!
Building a Frugal Pantry
Keep the Basics on Hand at All Times
Always having the basics needed for any quick meal is a necessity. Buy these staples when they are on BOGO or deeply discounted and buy in bulk amounts. This is a HUGE money-saving tip. Many staples are put on sale during their respective holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. This is always a great time to buy. I’ll write an article about that very soon.
Having a stocked pantry also means it is much harder to justify eating out or ordering Pizza.
Think about your Grandmother and what she’d always have on hand. I personally think this is a healthier way of cooking and I know it is frugal. I come from a long line of penny pinchers!
Buy When Items are on Deep Discounts and Buy Plenty
When the grocery store puts items on Buy One Get One Free or my ultimate favorite Buy Two Get Three Free it is time for me to load up. This can be anything that will keep. Coffee, Pasta, Spices, Jars of Pasta Sauce, Canned Vegetables – You name it. I’m going to buy a bunch and line the shelves. If you can stack a coupon with these sales you can dramatically reduce your food costs.
For my family of 2 my coupon and loyalty savings, last year were over $6800!
Pro Tip: When stores have BOGO sales aggressive coupons come out 2 weeks before the sale and 2 weeks after the sale, on average.
Pro Tip: Rotate your Inventory when you replenish. Bring the older cans to the front and put the new ones in the back.
You can also use these canned good holders. My mother had an entire inventory system in custom cabinets just like this.
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Buy in Bulk
My opinion is that when using coupons, loyalty rewards, and BOGO sales at the grocery store you can often save more money than you’ll get in a big warehouse store. But I’m not always right. Sometimes the sale at the Warehouse store can be pretty aggressive as well. Your Mileage May Vary.
However, some things like brand name Annie’s Mac and Cheese, bulk spices, etc. Will be a better deal at the warehouse store. More on that later. Buying meat at warehouse stores and repackaging it at home using a vacuum sealer is often a significant cost saving. However, when I was a meat-eater I would buy the “yellow tag” meat that was at or close to the sell-by date and then vacuum seal and repackage it and put it in my deep freezer.
I’ve also participated in group buys with other families where we buy half a cow or an entire pig and then butcher and vacuum seal it for a significant discount. You can usually find a local farm to purchase from as well which can give you a much higher quality of meat. You can organize these kinds of buys at your Church or Community Center.
Don’t Be Afraid of Aldi and LIDL
Both these stores offer tons of pantry staples at significant discounts. I have spent $100 and had two entire carts full of great high-quality items before. We’ll write more about our favorite Aldi and LIDL items in the future. If you don’t have one nearby try another discount grocery chain.
Learn to Cook from Scratch
We can’t say this enough. The more prepared food you buy the more expensive your food is going to be. You also are consuming way too much salt and excessive calories. It is just bad for you.
So you have to cook from scratch. If you don’t know how to cook from scratch stay tuned because I’m going to teach you the basics just like I learned them from my mom. I actually love to cook and make up new recipes and try new things. I find it very relaxing and fun. If you’re anxious in the kitchen don’t worry. I’m going to be doing Zoom lessons with Britney, the founder of Modfamily, and going over some of the basics one module at a time. I’ll make it logical and simple but most of all fun!
Buying pre-made things like pasta sauce, frozen pizza, frozen lasagna, frozen pies and cakes, and other things like that is a very expensive habit. Sure it’s convenient. I keep one or two jars of sauce on hand for when I just really don’t have time BUT I promise I probably paid less than $0.50 for it! I’ll give you several 20-minute pasta sauce recipes plus some great salad dressing, dipping sauce, and other basic recipes in the coming posts. Make sure to subscribe to our email list here to get all the updates!
I really don’t recommend things like Instant Oatmeal, Instant Grits, Fast Cook Rice, and other things like that because not only are they more expensive but the process the food manufacturers use to make it “Instant” also destroys the nutritional quality of the starch and that results in a spike in Insulin and that causes Weight gain! We don’t want that. I’ll explain this in a later article about weight loss.
You can make a big pot of rice and bake a few potatoes on Sunday afternoon and have the base for many meals. I don’t recommend pre-cooking pasta. My stove can boil water in about 2 minutes because it is induction but if you don’t have an induction stove the hotplate below can boil water very quickly so you can get your pasta on quickly.
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Buy your rice at the Asian Grocery Store If You Have One
I strongly recommend buying rice at an Asian Grocery Store or Indian Grocery Store because it will save you a small fortune plus the varieties of rice available are vast. If you’ve never tried extra long grain basmati rice or jasmine rice you’re in for a treat. Try lots of varieties and find your favorites. Different rice types go best with different types of food. Just say no to Uncle’ Ben’s unless it is a recipe that specifically requires it.
Grow Your Own Herbs
You can grow the basic kitchen herbs like sage, rosemary, basil, mint, and thyme at home in a small amount of space year-round. You just need pots and dirt and sun or a LED Grow Light if you don’t have bright sun.
We keep our herbs growing year-round in a staked window planter. We move them outside during the summer. I harvest the herbs regularly and dry them in my dehydrator and store them myself. I literally give away packages of my homemade spice mixes as housewarming presents and to my loved ones. It is a lot of fun!
Learn to Can and Preserve
I harvest from our container garden where we grow tomatoes, peppers, squash, bell peppers, zucchini, and herbs. I make pasta sauce with tomatoes and can it. I didn’t know how to can for a long time but I reached out to my local cooperative extension service and they were having a class. I’m so glad I did. I also dehydrate the hot peppers and then grind them and store them in my vacuum sealer. We have spicy peppers all year.
This saves a ton. You can make it into a family event that is also a lot of fun.
Here’s my list of frugal staples. If you don’t know what something is you can comment and I’ll do my best to explain.
If your family doesn’t like one of these items feel free to skip it. I’ll also include some of my favorite vegan items that you’ll see me use in future recipes.
If you’re not a baker you’ll still want to have small amounts of these things on hand because they are used in other recipes.
I keep white and wheat flour on hand. I also keep a wide variety of gluten-free flours like teff, almond, corn, and coconut on hand because a family member is allergic to wheat. Even if you don’t bake you’ll need them for some processes and for thickening sauces and soups. But I’ll show you how to make pancakes from scratch soon!
I keep regular white sugar, brown sugar, and sugar substitutes on hand at all times. They don’t go bad but you do want to store them in an air-tight container.
Buy a small amount of dry yeast because it doesn’t keep forever.
I use this pretty often even in some non-desert recipes.
Sometimes you need milk for a recipe but you’re out! Well, keep a mix of powdered milk on hand for use in recipes. I wouldn’t drink it!
When you are cooking something that requires eggs and you’re out of them you can replace it easily with powdered eggs. You can also use chia seeds mixed with water, banana, and some other egg replacements in baking. I’ll post more about that in the future.
Baking Powder & Baking Soda
You should always have at least two boxes of Baking Powder on hand at all times. Not only is required in some recipes but it is also very useful around the house for cleaning and deodorizing. Baking Soda is also a great mild abrasive.
We don’t cook with oil in our house but sometimes you need it. The oil that has not been opened has an extremely long shelf life. I’d recommend buying generic and keeping Vegetable, Olive, and Coconut Oil on hand.
Pasta is versatile and can be used to whip up a filling and easy meal in minutes. It doesn’t really go bad. I keep a variety of shapes on hand all the time. Again, I don’t recommend using any of the “fast cook” pasta. In our household, we buy Lentil and Chickpea pasta because of gluten issues. I don’t like corn-based pasta at all. The biggest pro-tip I have for pasta is that you do not overcook it. It should have a little chew to it. The only exception to these is when you’re using it in a cold salad.
Rice is a versatile base for many meals and side dishes. I highly recommend keeping multiple varieties of rice on hand in air-tight containers. It keeps for an extremely long time. You also want to keep moisture and bugs away from it. If you buy it in bulk at the Asian store as I recommend you’ll want to rinse it before cooking it because it is a farm product that is packaged at the point of harvesting.
Dry beans are extremely versatile and inexpensive. You can keep a wide variety on hand. Because they are dried you’ll either have to soak them overnight or if you don’t plan ahead you can use your Instapot to make them in as little as 20 minutes right from the bag. Again, you’ll wait to rinse any dried beans and take out any pebbles or debris because they are also a farm product. I’ll give you a ton of bean-based recipes to help you dramatically reduce your food budget while also promoting a healthier diet and weight loss.
You’ll want to keep several tetra packs of vegetable and chicken stock on hand. Rice is dramatically better when it is cooked in a good stock. You can also use stock as a base for soups and sauces.
Steel Cut Oatmeal
Old-fashioned steel-cut or rolled oats can be used in a ton of different ways. You can make a quick breakfast with oats and some berries. I use it in several casseroles, meatloaf, meatballs, and baking. It is very inexpensive as well.
This is used to coat things for frying and as a thickening agent. Airtight storage is recommended.
Used for thickening sauces and binding, a box of corn starch is pretty indispensable! Airtight storage is recommended.
Coffee & Tea
If you’re a coffee or tea drinker you’ll want to buy these items when they are on sale and keep them in your pantry in sealed containers.
I keep bread crumbs on hand in a sealed container. I usually have Italian style and panko style. You never know which you’ll need.
Canned goods are an essential part of my pantry. I don’t buy many things like canned soup but I do keep a few around for use in casseroles and other dishes. I don’t use them for much else because they are usually high in sodium and other mystery ingredients. I do recommend having a couple of lighter cans of Cream of Chicken, Cream of Broccoli, and Cream of Mushroom soup on hand for use in a variety of fast meals.
I keep a variety of low-sodium canned beans on hand at all times. I try not to let my stock of any of these varieties get below 6 cans.
Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas) are an extremely versatile item. You can quickly whip up your own hummus, a healthy mock tuna salad, and wait until I tell you all the ways you can use the juice in the can!
Kidney Beans – are also a great staple to keep on hand. Dark Red, Light Red – I love them all.
Navy Beans – these are great beans to use to make a quick sauce or add to a salad
Green Beans – although canned green beans aren’t my favorite they are a quick addition to a lot of recipes and they are very inexpensive
Green Peas – another staple I have to keep on hand. I use them as a side dish and use them in a ton of cold salads
Field Peas – these are great when you mix them with some rice or serve them as a side with a little vinegar drizzled on them
Pinto Beans – these are a great staple and go well with rice-based dishes and in cold salads. They are also protein-packed.
Black Beans – one of my go-to beans for tons of meals you always want these on hand
I make most of my own pasta sauce so keeping a variety of low sodium or no salt added diced tomatoes in various sizes is an essential thing in my household. I also like to keep stewed tomatoes on hand because they go great in soups and mixed with rice. A few jars of tomato paste are also nice to keep on hand. I stay away from the more expensive “recipe ready” pre-seasoned tomatoes because I prefer to control my ingredients myself.
It is a great idea to keep a few jars of mushroom stems and pieces on hand. They are used in all sorts of recipes from pasta sauce to meatloaf.
I always keep a few jars of diced green chiles on hand. They can add a little spice to your meal at the last minute.
I always keep a jar of whole green olives in the fridge and in the pantry. Buy jarred not canned.
I always have a couple of cans of black olives on hand.
Tuna & Canned Chicken
Having a few cans of chunk light tuna in water and canned chicken breast in water leaves the door open for all sorts of quick meals.
Condiments & Bases
I am going to be sharing a ton of recipes to make some of the more expensive things I see people buying for no reason like BBQ Sauces, Dipping Sauces, Tartar Sauce, and Salad Dressing. All of these require some basic ingredients that you’ll need to have on hand. These things are also best purchased when they are on sale to help you save money. When you’re making your own specific sauces, you’re saving a ton of money.
Unless indicated most of these do not require refrigeration even after they are opened so they are saving you valuable fridge space!
I always have peanut butter and almond butter on hand. If I get a great deal I’ll also buy cashew butter. You can make a quick sandwich but you can also whip up a variety of sauces in no time! I recommend buying these when they are sale. I also like to keep a jar of dried peanut butter on hand for specific recipes.
I keep this around because I use it in a lot of my sauce recipes. I’ve never poured it on my pancakes. You do want to buy it when it is on sale and if you catch a good one stock up!
Vinegar is used in a ton of my recipes. Apple Cider Vinegar is a staple of southern cooking. You can put hot peppers into vinegar and let it sit forever to create a flavorful hot sauce you can use in a variety of meals. Rice Vinegar is also a staple in my home. It is much cheaper at an Asian market than it is in the standard grocery store. It is slightly sweet as well. I rarely use White Vinegar in cooking but it is great for cleaning. Many of my dressing and sauce recipes involve a generous amount of vinegar so stock up!
There is a lot more to Mustard than yellow mustard! I keep a variety of mustards on hand. Yellow, Stone Ground, Dijon, and powdered hot mustard are forever useful!
I do like to keep a standard bottle of a Mexican-style hot sauce on hand. It can be used in a variety of meals and in many sauce recipes.
Refrigerate after opening. A bottle of real lemon juice should be a staple in every kitchen. I buy it in large bottles because it keeps for an extremely long time and I use it so often! Try soaking fish in lemon juice before grilling or baking!
I can’t make this one so I keep it on hand. It’s great for marinades and adding flavor.
I prefer Duke’s by a long shot but when Mayo is on sale stock up. It will remain good on the shelf for a very long time. Of course, refrigerate after opening.
Powdered Sauce Packets
I keep a variety of powdered sauce and spice packets on hand. Everything from a spice packet for cooking meat to a spice packet for meatloaf. They don’t go bad and they can make your meal better in no time. Just watch those ingredients!
This may seem like a lot to do at one time. Just start slowly. Buy when these items are on sale and keep your pantry filled. I personally love using Alexa to add things to my list. Just say “Alexa add canned black beans to the shopping list” and then open the Alexa app on your phone to see all the items you need to pick up. When you have these items on hand you can toss together a filling budget-friendly meal in no time. Stay tuned for more tips on saving money, recipes, and other household management advice coming soon.