Frugal Kitchen Organization for Big and Small Spaces

In September my family moved from a 1000 square foot duplex with a tiny, tiny kitchen to an almost 1800 square foot house with a huge (to me, at least) kitchen, complete with an island, pantry, and freezer that I bought on Craigslist. You’d think that it would be easier to practice kitchen frugality in a larger kitchen, right?

Well, in some ways yes. But in other ways no. The one thing I have learned through the process of moving kitchens is that organization is essential to saving money in the kitchen.

Money Saving Organization in a Small Kitchen

Our old kitchen was tiny. We had a small refrigerator/freezer combo, a cabinet under the sink, one for pots and pans, two cabinets for food, two for plates and glasses, the cabinets above the refrigerator and stove, and five drawers. Our washer and dryer were also located in the kitchen, and we had no wall space for a moveable island or anything of that nature. Our counter space was also limited. We had a small counter next to the fridge, just big enough for the coffee pot, a counter on one side of the stove, just big enough for my Kitchenaid Mixer, and one slightly larger counter, where the microwave resided.

In order to save money in the kitchen, I had to do a couple of things.

1. I used every inch of space I had, and then some.

I try to stock up on food when it’s on sale, but it’s hard to stock up, when you don’t have space. So to add more storage space, I added shelves to our coat closet and turned it into a small pantry.

2. I got rid of what wasn’t essential.

I love to bake my own bread. I used to do it in a bread machine, but it took up way too much space in our kitchen. So when I got my Kitchenaid mixer, the bread machine was given away on Freecycle. The Kitchenaid had the ability to knead the dough (the worst part of making bread), along with many other uses. When you have a small kitchen, look for small appliances that do more than one job.

Money Saving Organization in a Big Kitchen

When we moved, I breathed a sigh of relief. No more trying to cook on one small counter. Now I have one long counter, an island, and three medium sized counters that are each about the same size as the one cooking counter I had at our old place. Not to mention I have a dishwasher to store dirty dishes out of sight! So I should have been on top of things, right? Well, I had a couple of things to learn.

1. I need to keep better track of the food I have on hand.

At our old place, I just needed to open the cupboard or the coat closet, and I could see what food I had. Now, I need a system for keeping track of the great food I find on sale. The pantry and stand alone freezer are too big to just glance and go. Inventory and food rotation are important now. I’m working on developing a system that works, but it’s still in progress.

2. To save money on the energy a freezer uses, I need to keep it full.

Jugs full of water take up space to save energy in the freezer, but to fully utilize the freezer, I need to keep it full of food. That means planning my cooking, so I can keep plenty of defrost, heat, and eat casseroles ready for busy nights.

In the end, whether you have a big kitchen or a small kitchen, there are organizational problems you have to overcome to be able practice frugality to the fullest.

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to saving money in the kitchen? Do you have anything you’ve learned that you’d like to pass on?


By , on Feb 17, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. loveydoveykel:

    If you live in a rental house like we do, I bought a cheap four-shelf bookshelf for the guest closet and use that for extra food staples. This way we have the extra room without attaching new shelves to the closet.

  2. We love our freezer, but you are right, it has to be managed. I use the water jugs trick too. They also make nice ice packs for the cooler . . .

    Here are more of my thoughts on the topic:

  3. Courtney:

    I have a freezer, and what I’ve found is that buying frozen foods in bulk is fabulous. I bought a half an organic pig from my local CSA farmer for about $2.20/lb. I got bacon, ham, roasts, chops, ribs, etc. I don’t have to “plan” per se, but I have good quality food ready when I need it. I also used it to freeze vegetables from the garden, as well as cheap summer produce from the CSA and grocery store. Rather than can my food, I freeze it. Plus, I keep candy in there from sales like after Christmas/Halloween/Valentine. It stops me from reaching for it without thinking, but also it’s super-cheap when I want some. Rather than can my food, I freeze it. FYI, you can freeze milk.

  4. Marci:

    I use a freezer inventory by shelf, and each 1/3 of the shelf has a spot on my page – like large blocks of space, plus a section for the door shelves. I add the date also. Go thru every 2 months or so and highlight or circle the stuff that is oldest – and it reminds you to use it up soon!

    I keep all my baking supplies in one cabinet – extra flour and sugar, marshmellows, choc. chips, plus the loaf pans and other baking necessities – makes it so much easier when I go to bake. I also use plastic bins in the bottom cabinets. I pull one plastic bin out and have all the little baking stuff in it at once. Easy!

    For those with a small kitchen, I converted the little broom closet – about 14 inches wide and 5 ft high into shelf space by buying some metal shelf strips and cutting boards to fit. Now instead of dead space, I have 5 nice shelves that can be rearrange with the metal clips to fit the can sizes. The broom and dustpan fit easily between it and the frig, so there is a space for them also.

    Those occasionally used appliances, but ones I need, are in a cupboard in my laundry room – out of the way until needed. These are the dehydrator, huge crockpot, food processor, blender, etc. Sure has cleared up space on my countertops :)

    Also on the front of the frig is one of those dry erase boards. I use it to list leftovers that I might not be eating the next day, so I remember they are in there. A separate space on the top shelf for leftovers also helps – in the way, they are more likely to get used right up!

  5. Doug:

    About five years ago my wife and I moved from a 900 sqft house to a 1940 sqft house and have since added 230 sqft for a shop. We love the extra space with each of us having our own room for projects.

    For the freezer I find the best is to try and freeze things in portion size if possible. At CostCo I picked up some plastic wrap which I use to portion everything I can. I then put like things in a larger plastic bag. I might stock up on three types of vegetables, blanch them all, freeze them all in portion size, and put all the vegetables in a large plastic bag. That way they are together and I don’t have to chase a little portion around the freezer. We now have our choice of vegetable and can grab a portion or use it in stews or soups. I do the same with meats but they are a little tougher to make this happen. Two weeks ago I bought three whole chicken and cooked them all at once and divided them in portions and froze them. There was chicken everywhere. It makes dinner cheap, easy and fast.

  6. Jean:

    Great post – and your new kitchen is beautiful, Lynnae. So tidy! I tried keeping a freezer inventory once and it took so much time to keep updated, I just don’t anymore. instead I eat out of the freezer and pantry for at least 1 week every 2 months or so – makes me see what’s still in there and makes lots of space when the week is finished.

  7. Thanks for sharing your tips. We currently in a kitchen like your old one. Hopefully, when we move within the next few years I can use your new kitchen ideas!

  8. AngelSong:

    When we lived in our last apartment, the microwave was on one of the kitchen counters, so when we moved into the house, we put it back on the counter here. Bad move. The microwave just took up too much space. One of our neighbors at the apartment gave us a rolling microwave stand she didn’t want any more, and we put it in the office at the apartment, because the kitchen was too small for it. Here, we initially did the same thing with the microwave cart, which was used to store office supplies and reference books. One weekend, we decided to move the cart back into the kitchen, to use it the way it was intended. That immediately freed a lot of counter space, so we could declutter the counters. End result is that now, we have a huge amount of counter space next to the kitchen sink to use for food prep and as a “staging” area when we cook for the holidays. We do not keep a lot of unused kitchen equipment, and we do tend to look for multi-use appliances and tools. I would be very interested in what the final, working version of your food inventory looks and works like, as I would like to develop one also. Keep up the excellent work.

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