antry challenge is one that many people even money-savers haven't heard of. But it works. In this post, you'll learn how to save money on groceries with what you have now. You'll also learn tricks to cut down on your food bill with such ease.
To learn how to save money on groceries isn't a walk in the park.
Here's a fact:
In the U.S., the average monthly food bill is around $550 for 2.5 people in each household. That's a lot of money.
Believe it or not, just last month we almost spent nothing on our food budget. We probably spent $10 or even less than that.
Here's the reality:
Truth be told, it's hard to cut down on food expenses. I know what you feel right now. My family has been there in the past, and we've tried all the tricks in the book.
And we've also tried this so-called Pantry challenge. It worked.
If you're curious what this challenge is:
What is the pantry challenge?
The pantry challenge is focused on not purchasing any food supplies for a fixed time period and make every single meal based completely in what you have in your pantry.
If you've been one of those people who seem to buy things again and again without checking your pantry first, then, this is for you.
Doing this challenge, can help you save money, avoid buying duplicates, and avoid wasting money through spoilage.
Others, sometimes, refer to this challenge as a no-shopping challenge. Believe it or not, you can do this for a week, two weeks, or a month – all depends on how you look at this challenge.
One thing is for sure, that is, you won't need meal kit services to make this challenge work for you.
Why do you need this challenge?
The simple answer is to save money by not buying things:
- You already have
- That might expire or get spoiled, if not use
- Because you need to consume everything that you already have before buying other things
Let's face the fact:
We buy items or ingredients that we more than need. For example, we can't just buy half of an onion because it comes in one piece. So, what happens to the other half. Sometimes, we forget to use it, and it rots.You need this challenge to train yourself to use up everything you have in your pantry first before spending money in the store.
A pantry challenge helps tremendously in interrupting the cycle of buying things again and again (in excess) and not using them. With this challenge, you get to clear out your stock, use the items before expiration, and helps you save money in the process.
This is a good challenge to try if you want to train yourself on how to live cheap.
What this challenge is and is not
As I was searching over the internet about this pantry challenge, I found that a lot of people are confused as to what really this challenge is about.
So, here's a summary of what this is and is not:
- designed to help you eliminate food waste and use what you have in your pantry
- a challenge that can be done weekly, monthly, or even yearly
- for those who like to clean out their pantry to avoid food waste
- designed to teach you on how to make a budget for food or plan at least (if you're on a budget like a Thanksgiving budget, you need to try this)
This is not:
- for those with a special diet. Since you're limited to what's in your pantry, this challenge may not be applicable to those with special diets
- just not limited to the pantry. While it's called a pantry challenge, you can also include what's in your fridge and freezer. The main point here is to not buy grocery items once the challenge has started.
Benefits of a pantry challenge
This challenge comes with a ton of benefits. You wish you knew this before so you could have started getting all these benefits.
Here are they:
1. Save money on food
Haven't I been clear as the sun on this?
When you follow this challenge, you're bound to save money.
Whether you do this for a week or a month, you're going to see savings because you stop buying products (i.e., you used up all that you have in your pantry first).
The benefit of this challenge doesn't get any simpler than that.
2. Clear out clutter
When you buy things constantly especially those same products, you're bound to create clutter.
What does this mean? It means that you'll find yourself pushing some items all the way to the back of your pantry and not realize that you have those items there.
When my family first tried this challenge, we found 2 bags of whole-grain rice we thought we didn't have. It saved us $10 by not buying 2 bags of that type of rice.Following this challenge will help you see what you have in your pantry (i.e., helps you see what you already have since you're not stocking up on too many products).
3. Avoid spoilage or waste
When you let your food products stay long in your pantry without using them, some of them are bound to expire or get spoiled.
You don't want to do that because that's simply a waste of money and food.
In the U.S. alone, there are about 70 billion pounds of food that's wasted every year while millions of people go on their day with an empty stomach.
With this pantry challenge, you're minimizing or eliminating that concern, and you're contributing to the big food problem/hunger in your own small ways.
4. Be creative
Using what you only have helps you to be more creative in what you can do with those ingredients.
You'll be like the Master Chef who's only given a handful of ingredients to choose from.
Believe it or not:
People become more creative when they are pressed with challenges in front of them.
5. Save time on shopping
You don't need to dress up, go to the store, pick up the items you need, wait in line, pay at the counter, etc.
You can simply go into your kitchen, and start creating a menu based on the ingredients you already have.
Here's a fun fact:
The average trip to a supermarket is around 43 minutes. That's 43 minutes that you can use for something more important.
If you're a busy person or have kids and family to be with, this amount of time is golden.
6. Put your stock in use
Some people stock up on goods and other products because they get those during promotions, deals, and special discounts.
Or if you are an extreme couponer (learn here on how to become an extreme couponer), you'll find that you'll benefit the most in this challenge.
Excluding money savings, you'd be saving a lot of time. Why? That's because you won't need to clip coupons, research different stores to find the best deals (see here for the best shopping apps to use) , among others.
You don't have to do all those.
Pantry challenge rules
Because this is really your own challenge, there are no fast and hard rules.
Some people will stick with using up all that they have in their pantry. Some will do a combination of what they have in their pantry and still buy fresh produce.
But if you're truly sticking with the whole concept of the pantry challenge, then, I would stick with consuming what's already in your pantry.
Some people take this challenge to heart, and really stick with it. That may be a good thing but not always.
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If you're like me who wants a break from time to time especially when it comes to challenges, you may want to set a day where you can eat something else other than the ones in your pantry.
Just think of it as dieting to get your body shaped. You don't have to eat healthy every single time. You can always have a cheat meal or two to put into your diet.
The same thing goes with this challenge.
Set a goal for your pantry challenge
As with any challenge, you should set a goal for this challenge. There are different goals you need to set, depending on the season of the year.
For example, what works during the wintertime may not necessarily work during the summertime.
Goals tend to be set in stone. That's really the whole idea about goals. For example, if your goal is to pay off debt, then, you'd set a goal as to when you would pay it all off.
Pantry challenge goals can also be well-defined, but they don't have to be so strict like the one I mentioned above. That said, I recommend that you consider the following goals for every pantry challenge you have:
1. Financial goal
Ask yourself how much you want to save. This will be dependent on how much stuff you have in your pantry. Or put it this way, you can start a pantry challenge even when you don't have a lot in your pantry.
Here's how to do it:
Set up your budget and buy all the things you need for your pantry. From there, you can start your challenge.
Here's a step-up goal:
You could quantify your would-be savings every week, and you could reward yourself once you're done every week. You could do this using Qapital app.
It's one of those best rewards apps you could use to give yourself a financial pat on the back.
2. Time goal
Ask yourself how long you want to do this challenge. Is it a week, a month, or a year?
If this is your first time doing this challenge, I recommend setting up a goal for two weeks, and see how it goes.
If it goes well, then, add another two weeks, and go from there.
You don't want to set an aggressive goal that you may not necessarily be able to fulfill.
3. Food goal
Ask yourself how much you eat or want to eat. This will dictate how long the foods in your pantry will last, which is tied to your time goal.
Here's a guide on how to stop overeating.
If you eat a lot, and you don't have enough to last you a week or two or whatever your time goal is, then, you either buy more items to meet your food intake or shrink your time goal.
How to start your challenge
Here are some of the things you need to pre-plan before you jump into your challenge:
1. Set boundaries
This is where your goals come into play.Before you start with this challenge, you need to define your goals. You need to know what the limitations and rules are of this challenge.
Knowing this will allow you to stay within the parameters you set for this task.
Second, define what you can eat and not eat. For those who are just starting out, it's best to include both the foods you have in your fridge and freezer on top of what is or will be in your pantry.
While the challenge is really geared towards using what's in the pantry, it's never easy to just limit yourself to the pantry portion.
Why even bother doing this challenge if you're not doing it the way it should be?
That's because you don't want to feel this challenge as a hardship.
Other things you may want to consider include:
- Whether or not you'd want to avoid buying new groceries during the challenge or just limit the amount you'll spend on buying new groceries.
- How much you'll eat during this challenge.
- Whether you'll incorporate cheat days in your challenge to give you time to breathe, relax, and take time away from this challenge
2. Take inventory
Once you're done with establishing your boundaries, it's now the time to take inventory of what you have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer.
This step is probably the most important or crucial of any steps.
You need to exactly know what you have and don't have. Go through every side of the fridge, freezer, and pantry to ensure you go through each of the items in there.
Discard the ones that are expired or spoiled because you want to start fresh and right.
One great thing that comes out from this challenge is your chance to see what's in those areas. You'll be surprised that there are items you bought but haven't used in a while. In a nutshell, that's free food, which equates to free money.
That's basically what happened to us when my wife and I first did this challenge.
3. Plan your meals
Once you've taken the inventory, it's now time to plan your meals.
If you're not a fan of meal planning, then, you will need to get on board. No kidding, you don't want to be going on your day, and blankly stare in your pantry, and all you want to eat are oatmeals, popcorns, and the likes. See meal planning tips for beginners for more info.
Here are some tips to make the most out of what you have in your pantry:
- Search for recipes. Even when you think you don't have enough to make a meal, try to search online and find meals that match the ingredients/products you have in your pantry. You'll be surprised that there are plenty of recipes out there that only use a few ingredients.
- Be mindful of what you have. When you are on this challenge, chances are your food resources are limited (that is, limited to what you have in your pantry, freezer, and fridge). Make sure you wisely use your resources.
- Use the perishable ones first. Use the ones that easily get spoiled or are about to expire. This way, you aren't wasting food. These include milk and the greens.
Other tips include:
- Think outside the box. When it comes to any challenge, you sometimes need to think outside the box. You need to go out of your comfort level. The same thing goes with the pantry challenge. If you have products for breakfast, you may use those for lunch or even for dinner.
- Find substitutes. The difficult part of being in this challenge is that you're limited to what you have. If you need chicken broth to make your meal, but you only have vegetable broth, then, use that. Your meal may taste different but it works.
4. Learn and repeat
This challenge is also about learning and becoming better the next time you try this challenge again.
This means that you will benefit from taking the time to learn as much as you can from this challenge.
Those lessons will help you make better meal planning decision, choices on products/ingredients, among others when you repeat this challenge.
Next thing you know you'll be a pro at this challenge and it will be second nature to you.
Three common questions about pantry challenges
Here are some of the questions people have regarding this kind of challenge:
1. Does it mean that I won't be spending money?
The answer is yes or no – depending on what route you choose.
The answer is no if you're just going to entirely use what's in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. That means that you're exclusively going to use what you already have until you've used (almost) everything.
The answer is no if you're going to start from scratch and don't have anything in stock right now.
This means that you're going to buy all the products and ingredients you need, which are the ones you're going to use for this challenge.
2. Is doing this challenge like living a poor life?
It depends on how you look at it.
It may look like you're living a poor life because you're only boxed into using what you have, and not freeing yourself to spend money outside to eat out, for example.
You may feel like you're depriving yourself of the things that make you happy.
Taking on this challenge, on the other hand, will help you save more money. More than that, it can help you learn some great lessons that you'll treasure for the rest of your life (i.e., dedication, discipline, and frugality).
All these lessons can and will help you live a better and bountiful life in the future.
3. How are you saving money when you're eating food you already paid for?
That's a great question.
When you're in this challenge, you typically use products that you already have. You consume these products until they are all gone.
This means that there will be weeks or even months where you won't have to shell out extra money to buy new products. That's because you're in the phase where you're exhausting the ones you already have.
In addition, imagine buying products again because the ones you already have are expired.
In this challenge, since you're using up everything, there's a little to no chance of food spoilage or expiration.
This means that you're not spending money in the process.
That in a sense is a way to save money.
Typical meals cooked during this challenge
So, a lot of people ask what meals are typically prepared during this challenge. That's a great question. Here are some of the meals you can make during this time.
Just about anything can be made into a soup.
As long as you have broth, veggies, some beans, and meat, you can make soups out of these ingredients.
You can also add spices to bring your soup into another level and/or give it a new taste and added flavor.
2. Protein-packed meals
You don't always need meat to create meals with high-protein. Truth be told, some people prefer to use other ingredients to get their daily dosage of protein.
You can opt for beans as a substitute for meats. Not only are they healthy and packed with protein, but they are also cheap. You can get a pound of black beans for just 99 cents.
If you have quinoa, you can use that or add that to your existing meal to add another source of protein.
3. Vegetable meals
If you want to eat healthy even when you're in this challenge, you need to incorporate some greens and other vegetables in your pantry.Of course, fresh vegetables are perishable. To solve that problem, you can use canned vegetable goods instead. They are as healthy (although they may not be fresh).
You can use these canned goods alongside your chosen meat to create a complete, nutritious meal.
4. Baked goods
Just because you're in this challenge doesn't mean that you can't have some desserts or baked goods.
If you have a bag of flour, baking powder, and other baking essentials (even in low amounts), you can easily create bread, biscuits, and other starchy foods.
You can even make pizza or bread soup (if you're baking/cooking skill is on another level).
What people learned about this challenge
Aside from listing down what my family has learned from this challenge, I also researched other people's experiences on this challenge. Here's what I found:
1. It's possible to save money
My family spends around $400-$500 per month on groceries. Last month, we spent around $20 on groceries (not including foods/snacks for our little kids).
Other families that have gone through this challenge also said the same thing, that is, that they were able to save money.
That makes sense though. That's because we didn't buy additional groceries other than what's in our pantry. That meant we didn't shell out money for food.
2. There's so much stuff in the pantry
I didn't think we had a lot of grocery items in our pantry until my wife and I went through our food inventory.There were items that were hiding in plain sight, and there were some that were all the way back that we didn't know they where there.
In short, going through our inventory allowed us to see what we had, and there were plenty that we didn't think we had.
3. Willpower is legit
Boxing ourselves to what we only have in our pantry was tough. I'm not going to lie about that.
There were times that I was tempted to buy additional groceries because some of the ingredients were not in our pantry, but we stuck with the plan.
Yes, we had to substitute other things to make meal and, sometimes, the results were not up to par with our taste, but we stuck with the plan.
The willpower in us took over and the temptation went down the drain.
Pantry Challenge: Conclusion
There are savings to be had in this challenge. More than that, you'll learn some life skills you didn't think you'd learn from this simple task.
It may be hard, at first, to work through this challenge. That said, things will get better as you learn from it and learn experiences from it.
Are you ready for this challenge? What do you think is the biggest concern you'll have going through this task?