How to Save Money with a Pantry Challenge

One of my goals with the no spend challenge month was to cut my grocery bill to only $100 for the month for our family of four and use items in the pantry and freezer. I often forget what I have on hand and then buy more, or stock up on a good deal, but then never use up what I have. {If you are curious about the details of a no spend challenge, start here.} The interesting thing about a no-spend challenge is that there really are no rules. Every family is different in how they go about tackling the challenge. 

Want to know our family rules for the no spend challenge? Check out this post

For me, I knew I had a stocked pantry and freezer that rarely get used up. I knew taking the pantry challenge would help me focus on using what I already had. Regardless if you are joining me on a no-spend challenge journey or not, you may want to try a pantry challenge. Here are some tips on how you can save money with a pantry challenge.
no spend challenge success tips

How to Save Money with a Pantry Challenge

no spend challenge money saving tips

What is a pantry challenge?

A pantry challenge is a focused amount of time that you set aside to limit your food spending and eat food that you have on hand already in your pantry or freezer. The goal is to waste less food and to save money by using what you have.

What are the rules for a pantry challenge?

Similar to a no-spend challenge, there are no hard and fast rules. You will be setting your own rules. For me, I wanted to reduce my grocery spending and encourage using what we had, so I set a cash budget of $100. Using cash is an easier way for me to track my spending and visually see the money going out. This is a much tighter budget than I normally am on, but it still allows me enough room to purchase the essential items we will run out of {milk, eggs, producs}, while allowing me to examine the non-essentials that have snuck into my weekly spending {LaCroix habit anyone?}.

How to succeed with a pantry challenge

Meal Planning

Meal planning is key. I won't say that this has ever been a strength of mine, but in the past few months, I have started to meal plan on the regular. I write out the meals we are planning on a daily basis taking into account our schedules. 

Some things to consider when meal planning

  • how many people will you be cooking for
  • how long do you have
  • what do you already have in the fridge or freezer
  • can you combine meal prep on one night with dinner the next {for example making shredded chicken for tacos one night and having enchiladas or taco soup another}

Get creative

I am literally the only person in my family that will eat leftovers. I have to get creative! Steak one night can become vegetable beef soup the next night, a rotisserie chicken can become chicken pot pie, you get the idea. Get creative so you aren't wasting leftovers.
In an effort to not waste food, you can also get creative with your meals. Produce will eventually go bad or get a little rough looking. Add it to a soup or make a homemade pizza with some toppings. 
no spend challenge money saving tips

Go back to basics

It's easier to buy pre-packaged pizza dough or crust, but it's not that hard to whip up your own. You can buy a loaf of bread, or you can make it. A bag of flour can go a long way to help you get back to basics. 

Try something new

We eat the majority of our meals at home and I'll be the first to admit that I get into a rut in my cooking. We rotate out the same handful of meals over and over again and I typically make sure I have most of the ingredients for those meals on hand, so they are easy to make. The pantry challenge gives you a reason to try some new recipes using what you have already. You might be surprised at how much more diverse your meal planning gets when you are doing a pantry challenge.

Can you spend money on groceries during a pantry challenge?

Yes! I did set a budget for our family for the month, mostly for limited ingredients for recipes, fresh produce, milk, and eggs. I wanted to use up items in my freezer and pantry that had been getting pushed back to the back, but you can spend money on your pantry challenge. Remember, there are no rules!  You make the rules! The goal is to use up what you have. If spending a few dollars on an ingredient for a meal helps you do that, then go for it!
no spend challenge money saving tips

How do I save money on a pantry challenge?

Food is a necessity. We all need to eat, so it is an expense that we budget or plan for. However, we fall into the trap of stocking up when we see a good deal {guilty}, picking up food or drinks that aren't necessary {guilty}, and grabbing pre-packaged food to make life easier {guilty}
If you are using up what you have already, you are saving money by not walking down those grocery store aisles loading up a cart with things you don't need because you already have a pantry full of food you can eat. 
By examining your normal food spending, you are also looking at items that have snuck onto your list that have become necessary but are really more of a splurge item you should be saving for special occasions. 
You're also looking at items that you have purchased that aren't getting eaten by your family because they just don't like them. You can start taking stock of what your family really eats and cut out the unnecessary spending on things they don't. 
Using items in your pantry, freezer and fridge help to use up items that otherwise might be forgotten and then go to waste. You might also learn a few new recipes in an effort to cook with those items that you wouldn't have made otherwise.
Creating a pantry challenge and sticking with it also helps you form disciple if your food spending has gotten out of control. A set cash budget has helped me see the actual dollar amount I have set aside for the month and has kept me sticking to my grocery list when I walk into the store. 
How to Save Money with a Pantry Challenge
The pantry challenge can help you develop some new habits that you can take beyond our monthly no spend challenge in an effort to reexamine your unnecessary spending. After doing a pantry challenge, I know I'll be looking at my stocked shelves a little differently in the future and will be using up what I have before buying more of what we don't need.
Have you ever tried a pantry challenge? What helped you be successful?

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