How An Organized Pantry Will Save You Money – Do It Now In 4 Easy Steps

Written by Frugal Nik

I was on an organizing roll!  I sat down with my recipes and planned my menu for a whole week. This is a good start.  No more screeching tires, pulling into the convenience store to grab something, anything, quick for dinner.  No more calls for pizza delivery because there is nothing planned for dinner.  I headed out armed with my grocery list in hand and smugly shopped my little heart out.  Oh, this year it’s going to be different… this year I am going to save money by having my meals planned ahead of time.  Great!

Then I got home and started to put my groceries away.  Lo and behold, I was staring at ten, count ’em, ten, big cans of chicken broth.  Okay, so I’ll use the chicken broth up, but I bought the ones I already had in my pantry at a great sale price a month or so ago, and the ones in my hand, I bought at full price.  I certainly had plenty of chicken broth already in my pantry for all my meals for the week, and more, and didn’t need to buy more, especially at full price!  Something I don’t need, that I paid too much for… that’s just throwing money away.  What went wrong?

If you are like so many other folks who are trying to rein in their grocery bill, you’ll appreciate the frustration that I feel every time I find something in my pantry that I forgot I had, has gone way beyond the expiration date, or for which I paid more than I should have.  When you don’t know what’s in your pantry, you find yourself throwing things in your grocery cart that you are GUESSING you may need.  Nine times out of ten, when you get home you discover you had that same thought over and over again, because you are now looking at six jars of mayonnaise, none of which were bought on sale.  Ouch!

I believe it’s time to make a plan so this never happens again.  In order for any organization plan to make sense, it has to be simply structured.  That doesn’t mean the plan won’t take some hard work, but with some habit-changing routines, it will reduce, or possibly eliminate, wasteful spending.  And if it means saving money, I’m in!  Here’s my 4 step plan to getting, and maintaining, control of your pantry.


Step 1:  Clean Slate. You need a couple hours to clear out and wipe out your pantry. Grab a few sturdy boxes, laundry baskets, or plastic bins, and your favorite hot or cold drink and begin.  Get all that stuff out of your pantry and into those boxes.  While you’re at it, don’t forget to examine the food, make sure nothing has gone beyond it’s expiration date, and take a damp towel and give each item a quick wipe down. I recommend you also set up a garbage bag close by.  Trust me, you’ll need it.  Now, fill a bucket with some nice, hot soapy water and a clean towel and wipe all the shelves and doors down.  Vacuum the floor, polish the glass, do whatever you need to do to feel like you are starting fresh.


Step 2:  Sort And Categorize. Summon all your organizational skills.  This is where you need to begin in order for the rest of the process to work.  Sorting your food items into categories will be the first step to knowing what you have in your pantry.  You’ll want to do this by groups that you use most often and are the most familiar with.  Simple categories could include canned soup, canned tomatoes, canned broth, canned beans, baking goods, cooking oils, barbecue sauces, crackers, cereals, and so on.  Your spices are a unique challenge.  Those little jars and cans can really get misplaced easily.  If you don’t have a spinning rack, you really should get one.  However, any kind of spice rack will do.  This may seem extreme at first, but consider arranging your spices in somewhat of an alphabetical order.  This way you can easily check for duplicates before you spend the $6 or more on another little jar.  Spices don’t last forever, contrary to popular belief, so be sure to check the expiration dates and throw out any spices that you know, or suspect, are old.  Give them a whiff test – if it doesn’t smell like it should, it won’t taste like it should.  Now, you’ll need to put everything back in your pantry in some sort of order as dictated by your categories.  This part will get tweaked a bit as you use your new system, so just start out by neatly replacing your food in some sort of organized fashion.


Step 3:  Inventory List. This is the part that gets some people bogged down, but you can do it. Make a list of the items you use routinely, sort of a “pantry staples” if you will, and clip it, tape it, or tack it to the inside of your pantry or cupboard door.  Using rows for the name of the food item and columns for the number of each item, you can make marks in the columns to indicate how many of each item you have in the cupboard.  Then, as you use one, draw a line through the mark, and when you buy some, add the appropriate number of marks.  Now you can keep a running tally of how much of any one item you have.  This seems more labor intense than it really is.  Remember, this is a basic list of the items you use over and over again, not an all-inclusive pantry inventory.  Of course, your list will change from time to time, perhaps if your diet changes and a food item becomes a staple.  So, this is not anything set in stone.  Keep it easy to read, and down to a dozen items or so for simplicity.


Step 4:  Shopping With Your Pantry List. Now when you make a grocery list for your weekly menu, think of the ease with which you’ll be able to check your pantry contents against your shopping list.  You can even enlist the help of your family.  As you go down the items for your weekly menu, your family can holler out “got it” or “need it” by just looking at the list on the pantry door for the “staples” or quickly glancing inside your newly organized pantry.  No more rummaging around the pantry searching to see if you have something or not.  However, I make one exception to this list procedure.  When you find a food item on sale that’s on your “pantry staples” list, items like diced tomatoes or chicken broth, buy it.  These “reduced price” items are always welcome in my pantry.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we always had a pantry full of the food we needed, purchased at a reduced price, and never had to throw anything out again?  Since we live very hectic lives, we can’t be expected to remember every item of food that we ever bought.  Let’s face it…we all have had food forgotten in the far corners of our pantry.  With an organized pantry and a list of your most used items neatly assembled with a simple check-list, you should never have to regret another over-priced, duplicated can of broth again!

We’ve got more ideas and tips to help you get organized… and save money at the same time.  Just come right back here to check them out!


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