Today’s post touches on some of the points I made last week when I talked about buying in bulk.  I want to make something clear; when I say build reserves, I don’t mean hoard food. I’ve seen too many Extreme Couponing shows to know that, that is a reality.  There are many benefits to building up a pantry and freezer that can help you off-set costs later. You might be wondering when it would come in handy.  Recently my hours were cut from full-time, 40 hours a week to 10 hours a week. This was a gigantic blow in our monthly budget. It took me several weeks to scale back up some other income areas to make up the money that was lost.  During this time we only had to grocery shop for fresh produce and some dairy because I had meat in the freezer, dry goods, and other staples in the reserves. I consider it my food emergency fund.  We were able to save about $500 in grocery costs over a 2 month period by using what I already had on hand.  You never know when something like that might happen.  It was a great relief not to have to worry about feeding my family or sacrificing the quality of food we were eating.

If you’ve ever watched the aforementioned TV shows, you’ll know that a lot of the “food”, and I use the term loosely, is frozen, processed food.  There generally aren’t sales on real food and the real food you can purchase doesn’t have a long shelf life in it’s purchased state.  That being said there are a lot of things you can freeze to extend their shelf life; cheese, milk, meats, spices, and nuts can all be frozen in the state you generally buy them.  While you can’t freeze fresh fruit and vegetables you can preserve them or freeze them after a quick blanch and cooling. Allrecipes has some great instructions and ideas for how to freeze produce.

How do you know what to add to your pantry?

This will really vary depending on your family.  For us, meat is always something that I will buy extra and keep on hand. I always keep frozen vegetables on hand.  If I have the choice between frozen or fresh and it’s not a time of “distress” as I call our lean periods, I will go with fresh and save the frozen.  Dry goods like pasta, beans, crackers I also tend to have a few extra on hand.  Jams, jellies, and other shelf stable condiments that I opt to purchase instead of make I also store.  The next question usually is, ok, so how much do you have?  I try to have no more than 5 boxes of pasta, 3 lbs of dry beans, 3 -5 boxes of crackers, and 2 containers of shelf-stable condiments.  Meat I don’t really limit because we have a large chest freezer.  I won’t pass up a good sale on free range or organic meat, how good the sale determines how much I buy!   Again, pointing out the point is not to hoard.  I like to have enough on hand to last 4-6 weeks if need be.

How do you make sure the food doesn’t go bad?  

This is important.  Just because I have the food in my reserves doesn’t mean we don’t use it!  I am constantly dipping into these items and using them, and then replacing them.  I have a small kitchen, so I keep some pantry items in my kitchen, but my reserves are stored on a stacking shelf that is on the landing of our basement steps. It’s out of the way, in a cool environment, but still accessible.  If I put this storage actually in my basement I would never go down to get things – leading to a lot of waste. You will have to think about and figure out a way to make this best work in the space you have.

So how does this save money?

Are you scratching your head on this?  How can you actually save money by buying more? This is the key.  I don’t buy extra when items are at full price. I buy them when they’re on sale. For example, a few weeks ago my store had an organic juice that we like on sale. Normally it’s $2.79.  The sale price was $1.69.  That’s a $1.10 savings! The juice is shelf stable so I bought one to drink now and 3 others for later.  Now, I won’t need to buy it again for awhile, and hopefully the next time I do go it will be on sale again. Grocery stores cycle their sales, this is true for most of their products, including organic and whole foods. It takes a little time to follow the sales cycles but it can save you big bucks! There are also more and more coupons available for organic products.  Sometimes I’ll get lucky and hit a sale and a coupon but it’s rare. If we look back at the buying in season principles with produce, you can see how buying fresh food in season coupled with freezing for your reserves can stretch your budget a little further.

Do you keep a food reserve?  What other tips can you share?