That Time I Stopped Buying Groceries to “Eat What We Had” In an Attempt to Save Money

If you look at my stash of food, you might decide, “This woman is crazy.”

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You’d be right, of course. I mean, who buys 24 packs of cream cheese at once? Why do I need 36 pounds of pasta, seeing as I do not own an Italian restaurant? And what is up with the three cases of salsa? The 50 pound bag of oats? An entire shelf full of cocoa powder?

Dude. Never question a woman’s supply of chocolate. This is a necessity, much like water and air.

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Some might think I have a food hoarding problem. Some may be concerned that I have an unhealthy fear of running out of food. But the truth is:

My family eats a lot.

Also? Cooking is one of my very favorite things. It’s also a big part of my writing career – experimenting and coming up with recipes to share here. So basically, I like having my very own grocery store out in my storage room. When I get a new recipe idea, I almost always have the ingredients on hand that I need to work with. And I’ve almost always purchased them on sale in bulk. That’s how I roll. I find a good deal on an ingredient I use regularly, I stock up, I always have it on hand, and I have rarely paid full price.

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Which leads me to the time recently I decided, “Hey. I spend a lot of money on food every month. I have a lot of food already (ridiculous understatement). I wonder how long I can go without buying groceries. I bet I’d save a few bucks if I stayed away from the store. I should try it.”

This resolution lasted for two entire weeks. That’s how long I stayed out of the store. Then I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to go shopping.

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What happened when I stopped buying groceries

Had we run out of food? Goodness, no. But suddenly I found we were down to frozen meat, several jars of homemade applesauce, and a pitiful can of olives, the brand of which I will never buy again.

I exaggerate. You can be sure we still had bags of rice and wheat and oats. I most definitely had a decent stash of butter in my freezer. But as nice of an idea it was that I use up what I have before I shop again, I learned very quickly that this doesn’t work for me at this season in my life.

Why I can’t avoid grocery shopping longer than two weeks

1. In only two weeks, my stock pile shrunk rapidly.

No, of course we didn’t go through 24 packages of cream cheese in two weeks. But I was amazed at how quickly my supply of food started to vanish and I began to feel uneasy about running out of essentials. Part of this is because we eat a lot. Actually, all of this is because we eat a lot. What can I say?

2. I stock up when the price is right.

If I use up what I’ve bought on sale, then I’ll have to pay full price when I need it again. Wham, bam, no thank you, ma’am. It works much better and saves us a significant amount money if I continue to stock up on needed items when the price is right – before I wait until my stock pile has run out.

3. The fresh produce only lasts so long.

Buying fresh fruits and vegetables in season is one of the main reasons I need to go to the store every week. After I’d avoided going to the store for longer than normal, we were down to two carrots and a few pears in the crisper drawer. I still had some frozen veggies too, but man shall not live on green beans alone.

4. I don’t have time to run to the store every time I run out of something important.

Having a nice supply of all the basics on hand not only saves me money, it saves me time. Running to the store for one or two items here and there is really a time waster for me. I can’t even tell you how nice it is to simply “shop” in my pantry and freezers when I need to make something at the last minute.

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There truly is something to be said about eating up the odds and ends that get shoved to the back of the freezer before they gets wasted. That’s the best part of committing to staying out of the store for as long as possible – it really challenges a person to make do with what she has.

But as for me and my household, I’m going to need to shop regularly and keep a good stockpile of the basics at all times. It helps keep my grocery budget under control and I think we all know I need as much help with that as I can get.

How about you? Have you found that it works well to take some time to avoid the store and instead work on eating up what you have on hand? What saves you the most money?

Comments

  1. Jessica says

    Honestly, having a meal plan is what saves me the most money :) I look at the weekly flyer for what is on sale, and make plans around that. (I will also try and stock up a little as the budget allows) Also, we don’t have nearly as much waste as when I didn’t meal plan. We use up most of the food I buy and the produce which has always been the hardest for me. But when I have a plan for it, I find that it gets used more often than not.

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  2. Cathy says

    My results when I’ve tried this are much like yours. I can use my stocked up supplies to keep the grocery budget low for a month, but then need to spend extra to build it back up again, so I come out about the same financially but also hate that feeling of seeing it low in the meantime. I shop much the same, buying enough of a great deal to hopefully last till the next great deal. Or as with Aldi, buying enough of items like the light tasting olive oil to last till they carry it again.

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  3. CJ says

    I keep a good stockpile from sales as well. It is a 20 minute drive to the store, so there is no running out for something at the last minute here. I just bought 15 cans of tuna today even though I already had 10 cans because it was on sale for half off. I have 25# of flour, 30# of sugar and 100# of wheat. About 50 cans of soup . . . You get the point. When it is on sale for half off or better, I try to buy 6 months worth or so . . .

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  4. Pat says

    I have been doing a pantry challenge since January 1st and have significantly lowered my grocery bill by using what is in my freezers and pantry. You get to make your own rules for what you will buy. I buy dairy, bread, eggs, fresh fruit and produce. By using up the frozen veggies and meats from the freezers and the canned goods in the pantry for my meal plans I have saved over 50% of my budget each month.
    Obviously we had way to much meat and frozen veggies.
    I do plan on allowing myself to spend up to my full budgeted amount if necessary in March because I need to replenish my flours, sugar, tortillas, potatoes. Also I’ll be buying the fresh items as well.

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  5. Ashley says

    I’m with you, Laura. What I do find helpful is to take stock of my freezers every couple of months or so and see if anything is languishing in there that I need to make a priority to use. (“Oh look, I have gobs of shredded zucchini from last summer that I need to work into my meal rotation so it doesn’t go to waste.”)

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    Pat Reply:

    I feel you on the zucchini stockpile. We ended up with 48 cups of shredded zucchini from our garden. That doesn’t count what we used fresh during the summer.
    I make bread or muffins with it once a month and add it to any sauces soups and casseroles I make. Added vegetables and no one knows but the cook!!

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    Molly Reply:

    I like to add zucchini to cornbread. I add cooked onions and frozen corn, too, and it ends up much more filling than just plain cornbread.

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    Pat Reply:

    When you add it to cornbread do you reduce the liquid?
    Thanks

    Molly Reply:

    As far as I can remember, I don’t reduce the liquid – I’m adding lots of extra filling – but I think it bakes a little longer.

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    Pat Reply:

    Thanks

  6. Debbie says

    Just wondering what your food storage areas look like? And how many freezers do you have? I have five boys (ages 9 and under), so I know they’ll be increasing their food intake in the next few years!! ???? Meal planning has also helped me tremendously, plus a weekly trip to Aldi. ????????

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  7. Emily Adams says

    How do you keep 24 packages of cream cheese from going bad? Can you freeze cream cheese?

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    Laura Reply:

    The expiration date on cream cheese is usually two months out. We go through about 24 in one month (we make lots of dips and fruit parfaits!) so we never have trouble with it going bad. You can freeze it, but it changes the texture and we don’t like it that way!

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    Emily Reply:

    I often freeze cream cheese if it is getting close to being outdated. Then I make sure and use it in soups and casseroles – you don’t really notice the texture as much as when you use it in a dip or cheesecake or parfaits. :)

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  8. Carol Steinbach says

    My roommate and I did this once yeas ago and had so much fun! Of course, with only two people it was a completely different situation. The last two days we resorted to spreading frozen mixed vegetables on a cookie sheet and picking out the peas to make for creamed tuna and peas on toast. Our friends thought we were nuts, but we have had many good laughs about it over the years.

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  9. Shelley says

    I have a good amount of food storage including 3 freezers. I buy in bulk from Country Life Natural Foods, Azure Standard or Aldi in an amount that I know won’t spoil before we eat it up, along with our once a year local beef, pork, chicken purchase and venison from the fall hunt. I can and freeze produce from summer also. I only go to town usually once a week for fresh produce for the week, but if I don’t we just will eat what we have in frozen or home-canned until then. I’ve gotten into a rhythm now that we eat everything up before it spoils or gets outdated, but I made some mistakes before I got to this point such as buying things in bulk that were cheap even though we didn’t eat those items regularly. I like the security of knowing that whatever comes up we have what we need to survive for a while, and we’re saving money this way.

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  10. Jill says

    I’m with you. I stock up when I catch a good sale. Plus, we try to make the bulk of our food consumption come from fresh meat and fresh produce and as proud Wisconsites, we love our cheese. That stuff only lasts so long! And, living in a state that has winter/snow about half the year, no way am I going to get hit with a blizzard and have empty

    I did stop shopping about 3 months – yes MONTHS before we moved. Between the freezer and the shelves, we had plenty to eat and I still moved a ton of food to our new house. I would suggest eating up the pantry at least once a year because you learn a great deal about what your family *doesn’t* like. I no longer stock canned tuna, for example, because in the three months before the move, we never gravitated to it. Why stock it if no one will eat it. I also learned that my basement, sadly, is not cool enough to keep oily nuts like walnuts fresh. Much of my stash turned rancid without me noticing. :(

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  11. Molly says

    I saw the title of this post in my email and started laughing. I was expecting you to last like 3 days and then realize there are no fruits or veggies anywhere. So two weeks is pretty good!

    I’m chiming in to the other requests to see your food storage room/freezers/fridge/pantry, please.

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  12. says

    I agree with the trying to use up what we have on hand, mostly. I haven’t seriously tried this, but have on rare occasion tried to skip just one week, and it’s hard. It seems there are things we go through each week (cheese, milk, produce, some snacks), that it’s really difficult to skip buying them even for a week. I think I should try this again, but I’m more in agreement with just plodding along, staying within our grocery budget, and keeping stocked on the sale/bargain items.

    I’ve found that also in household life in general, you can only stop all buying for so long, or you really run out of everything all at once (items such as throw rugs, clothes, small household items). So it can be helpful temporarily, but the longer we hold off often leads to a big stock up time later.

    So in the end I’m not quite sure what saves the most money, but both ideas (not shopping for a short time and shopping weekly), have their ups and downs. What truly WOULD save the most money would be in my family would stop eating…

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  13. Heidi says

    We are getting ready to have 2 pigs slaughtered so I am not buying meat so we can “clean out” our extra freezer. And yes, I need to get more diligent with meal planning so I can use up the last of the frozen garden surplus and not default to the salad or canned veggies that are so easy to grab.

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  14. Sarah Kind says

    I do this. All. The. Time. 3 boys here. And a husband who works all his food off during the day (he’s a plumber and running his own shop). I shop at Costco (45 minutes away) every 3-4 weeks. Aldi every week (25 minutes away). Something about having to drive so far for food, when you can head to your basement stock room and get it. I once bought 3, 5 pound bags of organic frozen blueberries (they rinse and eat them frozen for snacks) and 2, 3 pound bags of organic frozen mangos at Costco and the LOOKS I got from people was amazing to me. (But I didn’t have one ounce of candy or sweets in either of my carts-yes, 2 carts). I am very, very particular of the food I bring into our home for my growing boys (who don’t even play sports-Lord help my budget if the do). 90% are oranics and always always bought on sale and in bulk to take advantage of the prices. We made this switch about 11 years ago, and haven’t look back since. Yes, our grocery bill can be a bit more expensive than someone else’s, but I rarely buy convineince foods (we all need a frozen pizza every now and then for sanity sake) but we are rarely sick or at the doctors office. I truly believe it’s because of the food I choose to purchase. And every time I shop or cook, I am forever grateful to God that he provides for my family and gave me the knowledge to research the foods we buy and make. Because Lord knows I can’t do it all myself ;)

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