Eat What You Have So You Can Save Money

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Wondering how you can save money on food costs? Eat what you have.

We’re blessed to have an abundance of food. That’s not the case in many parts of the world. Your mama’s stories about children starving in Africa, well, she was right.

I live a very affluent life. I know this. It might not seem that way to some people. I drive a car that is older than my sixteen year old son. Some of my clothing is older than my marriage.

But, I have a warm bed at night, 5-bedroom/4-bath shelter, and enough food in my pantry and fridge to last us awhile. The funny thing is about me, and maybe you, is that even though there’s food in the kitchen, we still go shopping for more. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I know that our household, and maybe yours, too, often has so much food that some goes to waste.

One of the ways we’ve been saving money on groceries this month is by eating what we have. Also, known as The Pantry Challenge, this practice of eating down the pantry can save money, reduce waste, and help clean out your kitchen. 

I spent two weeks this month, cutting our grocery bill in half for those weeks. The month’s not done yet, but I think it’s fair to say that we saved a couple hundred dollars just eating what we already had.

  • Was it all fun food? No.
  • Did I refuse some of my kids’ requests when shopping at the store? Yes.
  • Did we do just fine? Absolutely.

You can read more about our experience with the Pantry Challenge here.

How can you save money on food costs? Eat what you already have.

Have you ever done a Pantry Challenge?


This is Frugal Friday. In an effort to make these weekly financial discussions more interactive, I’m no longer posting a link-up. Feel free to leave a link in the comments. But better yet, chat with us on today’s topic.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe you can get great meals on the table -- and still keep that pretty smile on your face.

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  1. Karen S. says

    I need to do this!!!! I must admit ~ I could probably fill a food closet with the amount of food I have in both of my pantries…..

    • Jessica Fisher says

      You’d be surprised how far you can stretch things. My cupboards weren’t even that full and we got a ton of meals out of what we had.

  2. We often do a pantry challenge week or so whenever we have something we want to do that isn’t in the budget. For instance, a weekend of camping. That way eating plain meals isn’t as hard since we have a fun goal in mind.

  3. I am always amazed at the meals I can cook up when we’re down to nothing. You can open the fridge at our house sometimes and see bare shelves and we can still last several more days. I think we just forget what is in the cabinet and the things you have to cook and are hoping for something quick all the time. Our food budget is definitely where we can cut back the most.

  4. Cheri A says

    I’ve been doing that this week. It’s been a particularly tight time lately with extra expenses, and we’ve gotten through it just fine. We are down to the bare bones now, though.

  5. Sally McQuaid says

    We have been doing this the last couple weeks. I set a very strict (tight) grocery budget for this month. I planned most meals around the half opened containers or bags in our frig. I was amazed at how well we ate this week. Plus our kids tried some new meals and loved them.

    Note: my favorite surprise from the week was Buffalo hummus. We had cooked up a bunch of garbanzo beans and not used them. We love making hummus to snack on. I came upon this recipe (thank you pinterist) and made it immediately. Its SOOOO yummy. Plus only 5 ingredients.

  6. Out of necessity that is currently what we are doing, and the challenge is some what exciting! I’m amazed at what concoctions we can come up with.

    We are traveling (slow, long-term) so our ‘pantry’ is a couple of Rubbermaid boxes and doesn’t amount to as much as we would have stored if we were in a house, but still its helping cut down the money-going-out. Some of that food I had forgotten we had.

  7. I look at this like a game – what can I make out of the odds and ends that I already have. I am always amazed at what comes out of it. Thanks for the inspiration this month. We did the pantry challenge for 2 weeks and ended up saving about $180 which went straight to my daughter attending church camp. It was truly a blessing in more ways than one!

    • Jessica Fisher says

      My husband calls it a game of Chopped. At the end of the meal, he and the kids let me know if I move on to the next round. 😉

  8. I mostly committed to the challenge this time around — I’m down to less than one page of paper between my freezer and pantry. As frightening as it feels when my fridge shelves are empty, seeing the pantry that way was liberating. I “cheated” on full commitment because I occasionally bought fresh meat when I knew I still had some in the freezer. I’ve always had a problem with defrosting items in advance because it seems like something comes up and I miss the safe window to eat what has thawed. I also cheated by replenishing our cereals when I was at Sam’s this week buying things for work. With three kids, I have to keep at least two kinds of cereal because they can’t come to a consensus.

  9. Heather H says

    I joined in the January pantry challenge, and it went over OK. However, we shop the pantry first always, and I’ve found that my chest freezer is now empty and my fridge freezer is getting that way too. Oh yeah, now I’m out of money and out of meat in the freezer. Our challenges are great in our eyes, but no nearly as great as those in Africa.

    I want to note that right now my Mother is in Ivory Coast, Africa and its the “rainy” season and it has hardly rained. The people she is with might feed 15-20 at one sitting, but they know that their are family members of those at the table who haven’t eaten in a few days. She will be back next week after a 5 week trip, but has requested funding for basic needs such as onion sets which after harvest are sold for school supplies, and a glass baby bottle for a mother who’s milk supply as decreased due to mastitis.

    Last year South Sudan had a horrible drought, our church bought money for some food for the village they associate with. And tensions in South Africa are heating up between the blacks and whites and their is a high probability that a war will be breaking out soon.

    FeedMyStarvingChildren is one way that you can help feed those in need around the world. They have local sites all over the US to help package food to be shipped out into daily meals for a family. But don’t forget your own food pantries and Women’s shelters they are running low right now too. if you can’t figure out how to use that can of celery you could donate it to the food pantry, or if you are changing your diet to less processed and cleaning out your pantry take those foods to the food pantries instead of tossing them into the trash.

  10. Just found out we have to replace an entire bathtub/shower in one bathroom (leaked into the wall) and have a major fix on our AC. While saving money on food won’t fix the problems, it did help me feel like I wasn’t drowning. While I will need to pick up a couple of things from the store this week, I am going to continue to eat what we have. It keeps me sane – and that extra $40 can go to one of the replacement items this week.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Yep. Doing “something” always helps. Good luck! May the last of the oil and flour stretch to meet your needs!

  11. Tiffany K says

    I saw a link to your website(s) on Pinterest and I have to say I’m loving them! The idea of the pantry challenge is something we were desperately in need of! My family has been on a pantry challenge since July 1 and we will continue through August. So far we’ve saved close to $700 in the last month sticking to the “only buy what you need, use what we have plan”.
    Thanks for the inspiration 😉

  12. Lizzy says

    To be honest, I have been having the opposite of a pantry challenge at my house. OK, not exactly. Here’s what I mean. I have a baby coming in “six weeks…” whatever that will actually turn in to. I’m a school teacher, and I go back to work at the end of next week. So one of my plans for the summer was to stash away some foods for the leaner season–namely the season of teaching while 9 mo. pregnant and still needing to take care of the family. In addition to storing up, July is when the fresh produce in Tennessee starts to hit its peak. I would love to have time for more freezing and canning, but see above comments about pregnancy and add a 2 year-old. However, I always ensure that I spoil myself and my family with loads of the good stuff while we can get it, and at rock bottom prices. In terms of main meals, I have tried to eat down things I’ve had a while or use inexpensive ingredients like beans. But with everything thrown together, I’m over this month’s budget by at least $100. Last time I checked, I’m still under the food budget for the year, and next month when I start hitting those freezer meals, things will most likely come out even. So that’s what I mean by the opposite of a pantry challenge.

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