Stocking your pantry at rock bottom prices is a great way to save on your grocery bill. Today, I want to talk about saving money on groceries using the pantry principle. While the idea is not original to Amy Dacyczyn, she coined the phrase in her fabulous newsletter, The Tightwad Gazette. (The newsletter is now available in book form, and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in thrift, but I digress.)

By and large, frugality writers suggest planning a menu based on the deals found in the store circulars. While it is a good place to start saving money, the next level beyond is to buy in bulk the cheapest things you can find. “In bulk” does not mean in giant containers from the local mega warehouse store. Bulk can mean buying multiples of one item, such as several one pound packages of mozzarella cheese. Like, say, thirty. Yes, I have proudly walked in my local salvage store with two shopping carts packed to the brim with only two people to feed.

When it comes to planning your menu, you just look to your pantry, freezers and other storage places, determining what you have. Create your menus based on what you have already bought. You can be secure in the fact that you paid the lowest possible price for any food that is residing in your home. It is helpful to keep a current list of the foods in your home, but I find that I am not diligent enough in recording incoming groceries.

Some people like to plan their meals the night before, but I like to do it once a week, on Sundays. I keep in mind things that need to be used up, such as the pork from June or the fish from the spring. On days when I know I will be busy, I use slow cooker recipes, which makes life much easier. I also make sure that I include at least two days of vegetarian meals, usually beans and rice, because they are extremely cheap, in addition to being tasty! In order to keep it as simple as possible, I have a few websites and books that I use for tried and true recipes. However, because I like to cook, I will usually throw in a recipe that I’ve never tried. While this process sounds cumbersome, it usually only takes a half hour while sipping on tea.

I know you could always write it in list form on a piece of notebook paper, but presentation is important for your psyche. I recommend using an actual calendar or printing out a menu from your computer. Putting graphics on the calendar really makes it special, or at least the Easterseals Christmas stickers on my December menu make me happy. Remember to write in pencil, because you will change your mind at least a few times.

As the saying goes, “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” By planning meals in advance, you will remove the stress of not knowing what to do for dinner. It will help you to avoid eating out, because you will have food waiting in the refrigerator or slow cooker. It’s hard to justify the expense when you have a thawed roast giving you the proverbial hairy eyeball from the refrigerator or soup ready in the slow cooker. Trust me, while it seems like a lot of work, you’ll find it fairly simple and even fun. Besides, using the food that’s already in your home will save you money and that’s worth the effort.

Do you use the pantry principle? Has it worked well for you?

Photo by Incase Designs.