Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Pantry Talk... Priorities when stock up money is available
Last week I was sitting in the kitchen at a friend's house, sipping coffee and chatting about such lighthearted subjects as the condition the world is in these days, food shortages, rising gasoline prices, and inflation. Thankfully coffee, a few tea cookies, and good company made such topics easier to swallow... literally. :)
My friend asked me given the fact I can only stock up when we have extra income (such as tax refunds or when hubby gets a week's work at the bookstore), then what are my priorities. I thought for awhile and named a few items but then I had to tell her that was a great question that I'd have to think about and turn into a post. Here I have written on the subject of deepening the pantry since the mid-1990s and I couldn't think of a list off the top of my head.
I did tell her that I prioritize those items I know are quickly going up in price because they are imported... like coffee, various sugars, etc. I would make sure I'm stocked up with flour regardless of inflation but I do keep my ear open to Fox Business News when they talk about inflation and shortages and there is a lot of talk now about the wheat crops suffering this year... so wheat and flour become a priority (remember just two or three years ago when wheat products went sky high due to bad weather and poor crops?).
Even though I grind wheat, my son and I like a little unbleached flour in the mixture when I make bread. My husband? He could eat sawdust, which is what we call the Ezekiel bread he buys from the health food store on Senior Citizen Discount Day. A former doctor recommended it to him for his health... blech.
I shared with her a few things I do when I know I'm going to be able to stock up a little. First, I have a priority list already written out and ready to remind me of some items when I make my grocery list, it is in my scrapbook journal but it has also been taped inside a kitchen cabinet before. I use that basic list as I look at what I already have on hand and what needs to be replaced (such as old spices) or repurchased (those essential items I'm out of or have just a few left).
The second thing I do is to look through newspaper insets to see what is on sale at the various stores. For instance, I look to see what is on a 10 for $10 sale (especially frozen veggies that cost a lot) and buy-one-get-one free sales. A reminder here... it is not a good idea to stock up on anything before trying it once. Ask me how I know? When I'm in town close to where the discount bread store is located, I like to stop by and see what they have... at huge savings. If wrapped carefully, bread freezes well.
The third thing I do is to look through the recipes I'm making the most in the current season. I told her I always need to have canned tomatoes on hand because they can be used to make all kinds of recipes. The same with high quality pasta (I've had dried pasta last two years when stored properly), some soups, canned fruit, canned and dry beans, and even items like salsa (which can be used in more ways than just Mexican food). That list will be unique for each family. If I have everything I need to assemble various recipes, then my pantry is servings its' purpose.
I also prioritize money for those items I can only purchase in a particular season. I try to buy all my honey at one of the two local farmer's markets in summer or early autumn. Most of it from the "Honey Guy" we've purchased from for years at the main market but we also purchased last year from an Amish couple at the smaller farmer's market (along with maple syrup from their trees). I'm hoping to do some freezing and canning of fresh fruit this year if possible, purchasing in season.
Another reason I plan by seasons when I can stock up is preparing for holidays and birthdays (especially important when one does not have a weekly income). During Thanksgiving and Christmas, so many items used for baking go on sale so I will budget money on these more than any other time of the year.
I am so happy we purchased a chest style deep freeze when I was still able to work at the beginning and end of semesters. There were three sizes available and we bought the middle size (I'd suggest the larger size for any family with children and/or a big garden). Chest style freezers are still comparably inexpensive and it is so good to be able to purchase meat on sale when I can do it. I have read they are the most energy efficient, although a stand up refrigerator style freezer is easier to keep organized (or so I've heard). :)
Even given our recent financial drought, I still have some whole chickens in the freezer, a few packages of veggies, and I just used the last of the bread I'd bought on sale. I have friends who store their grains in their freezers. In colder weather, I like to have everything needed for soups, stews, etc. in the freezer and in hotter weather I am more likely to stock up on deboned chicken breasts and such when on sale. I also buy butter on sale and freeze it.
Another area of stocking up we should always consider is a true emergency preparedness food stock up... those things to keep on hand which would be available if there is no way to get to the grocery store and an assumption is made that there is no way to cook (such as after a natural disaster) as well as water. My husband teased me when I stored a few gallons but he wasn't laughing when we were without electricity for awhile and our well pump couldn't work...
There are always the usual foods like crackers, graham crackers, peanut butter, Nutella, nuts, granola bars, etc. but I've also learned to think out of the box in this area for items like salsa, summer sausage (goes on sale during and after holidays), canned meat, etc. I'm always writing down what I see that would be good for the pantry. There are so many more choices of shelf stable foods these days than ever before, from taco shells to milk to tofu (have you ever tasted soft tofu whipped up with melted chocolate???).
These days I've been thinking of substitutes for more expensive items and what can be left out of a recipe and still have it taste great. For instance, I love dill pickles on my sandwiches and recently I switched from my favorite Vlasic brand to Great Value and didn't notice a difference on the sandwiches. I've found most store brands and most items at Aldis to be very good. I do prefer the better qualities of pasta but on sale they are the same price as the cheap stuff.
Recently on a frugal living blog, the writer mentioned they had found a great coffee and the reader wouldn't believe what it was... we were very skeptical. But the next time I ran out of coffee we purchased the Great Value 100% Colombian coffee at Wal Mart she recommended and we could not believe it either... it is good! It is far better than the other cheaper brands and "almost" as good as the pricier coffee. As I've mentioned before, most of the time I make coffee in the regular coffeemaker and use the K-cups only when I can find them on sale... albeit the K-cups makes the BEST coffee.
Thinking through our pantry purchases also helps us prepare the containers for storage if needed. I can assure you if I have a container ready to pour wheat into, it will be done quickly. If I don't, the wheat will sit in the garage until I need to open it and/or I'm appalled to see little teeth marks in the bag... shiver. We won't even think of it. Just trust me on that one and have any containers you need ready (from food grade plastic pails to Zip Lock bags!).
The price of food can only go higher and from what I've been reading... there will be shortages of some items. Using limited funds to deepen the pantry saves so much money in the long run and as I always say... it is insurance you can eat. Even if you can only put back a little extra (like us), it is worth it. My pantry is not very deep but it still helps to save money. If you haven't made a pantry shopping list, do so soon. It will help you prioritize!
Remember... for much more information I have lots of places you can go to under Pantry Links on the sidebar.
Please excuse any typos, I'm working quickly to post this today. :)