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05.12.2012 in Budgeting, Meal Planning by Lena Gott 22

How to Find Money in Your Pantry or Fridge

Recently, I unveiled my Ultimate List of Ways to Save Money. It’s a growing list of all the ways I talk about saving money around the house.

#9 on the list: Do a pantry challenge every so often

Soon after posting this, I received a comment that made me realize not everyone is familiar with the term “pantry challenge.” I’m not sure where I first heard that term. It’s highly possible I made it up, although I believe I heard about it in a local online deals forum.

Basically, it’s a simple tactic that I use to save our family $40 per month on groceries. It’s quite easy – all you have to do is be willing to eat leftovers.

How to Shop from Your Own Fridge to Save $40 or more each month

What is a Pantry Challenge?

A pantry challenge is where you try to use up the contents of your pantry. Some people do it to get by when money is tight, others do it when they’re trying to fulfill a “no-spend” challenge, and I do it when my pantry gets too cluttered and out of control.

For instance, you might challenge yourself to not visit the grocery store for three days while you utilize ingredients from your pantry, fridge, and freezer to make a complete meal. I can usually scrounge up a frozen pack of chicken or beef, some pasta, and ingredients for a sauce or cheese topping of some kind.

I also like to use random bottles of sauce, 2/3 empty bags of shredded cheese, fresh herbs on the verge of going bad, and leftover unused veggies from a meal several days ago. Really, anything goes. The ultimate goal is to avoid throwing away perfectly good food (and $$) in the trash for no good reason.

My favorite version of this is a fridge challenge when I feel like the fridge is crowded and we’re on the verge of throwing away some expensive ingredients like mushrooms, bell peppers, olives, basil, or meat.

Fridge Challenge Example

Here’s an example from a fridge challenge I did today. I made a lunch entree completely out of leftover refrigerator items and a $1 clearance whole wheat pizza dough from the grocery store.

Pantry Challenge Ingredients

  • 1 diced sweet red pepper (originally bought for stir-fry but didn’t end up needing this one)
  • 2 diced medium tomatoes on the vine (bought for sandwiches last weekend, but never used)
  • 1/2 package shredded Mexican cheese blend (from our spaghetti dinner last night)
  • 1/3 cup diced Kalamata olives (left over from making a pizza week)
  • 1 pre-made refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough (bought on clearance for $1)

This turned out so delicious that I’m kicking myself for not buying all of the pizza dough on clearance that day.  I forgot you can freeze this stuff. It was so yummy, and I truly did not feel like I was eating old food at all.

How Does a Fridge Challenge Save You $40 per Month?

On its face, it doesn’t seem like using up leftovers saves you much, but I like to look at it backwards. I like to spend approximately $10 or less on dinner for our family. So if I can make a meal without spending anything extra, I effectively just saved that $10.

Our family creates enough leftovers that I can easily do this challenge once per week, so I figure that’s saving me approximately $40 per week…money that I would have spent on more groceries AND perfectly good money I would have thrown in the trash can!

I love finding creative ways to save money! When I can feel accomplished by a savings goal, it doesn’t quite feel like deprivation and I don’t risk experiencing budget burnout. Are you the same way?

Now it’s your turn! Are you a pantry challenge genius? If so, please share your pics with me on Facebook!


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Lena Gott

I'm a CPA turned SAHM of 3 little ones ages 2, 4, and 7. I'm a mommy by day, blogger by night. Join me as I write about fun kids activities, family finances, and losing 50 lbs after baby #3.
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This article has 22 comments
  • krantcents 05.12.2012 9:33 PM Reply

    My wife occasionaly does that with a soup although it is using what is in the fridge. My wife is pretty good about just buying what she needs so we don’t have a huge inventory of items.
    krantcents recently posted..5 Awesome Money Saving TipsMy Profile

  • AverageJoe 05.12.2012 11:05 PM Reply

    I shouldn’t have come here before dinner!

    While I’ve never done a full fledged “pantry challenge” yet, I have taken over the grocery buying in our family and I’m on a mission to use about 1/2 of each meal from the pantry and the other 1/2 from the store each time to solve our problem. I think your idea makes a WAY more creative meal!
    AverageJoe recently posted..Year End Tax Planning: A (Surprising) System of Cleaning My ClosetMy Profile

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar 06.12.2012 4:02 AM Reply

    I never used to do this, but since I’ve been playing the grocery game with Canadian Budget Binder, I usually get to the last week of the month and have to scrounge, but it has been such a good experience. We hardly throw any food away now. Funny, when I first saw this I thought is said panty challenge!
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Do Your Purchases Reflect Your Values?My Profile

    • Lena 06.12.2012 3:52 PM

      Oh my gosh! You had me looking for typos! That would be a pretty big one to make. I would have been mortified. :)

  • Money Beagle 06.12.2012 1:13 PM Reply

    We keep a pretty stocked pantry (actually we have a small pantry upstairs and then a shelving unit at the bottom of the stairs in the basement to hold the rest. We rarely throw anything away. Once a month, I re-organize everything, making sure to group like items together and put the stuff that expires first toward the front. If anything is near the date, I’ll let my wife know and she’ll start to plan things that include that. It is nice that if we want to cut our spending for a week or two that we usually have enough on hand to use. The long term issue is that eventually you do have to restock what you use.
    Money Beagle recently posted..Combat Smaller Size For Same Price GimmicksMy Profile

  • Kathleen, Frugal Portland 06.12.2012 4:33 PM Reply

    My pantry is so small that I’m not really able to do this. HOWEVER, sometimes when I really don’t want to go to the store, dinner is “eggs and whatever” so I get your point! (I, too, have a hard time with the word pantry!)
    Kathleen, Frugal Portland recently posted..How Decluttering is Like Getting Multiple TattoosMy Profile

    • Lena 06.12.2012 5:51 PM

      Yes! I make sure to always have an extra carton or two of eggs on hand for nights when I don’t feel like cooking yet we still need something nutritious and delicious. I also pick up extra bacon or sausage when it’s on sale to freeze for the same reason.

  • Great concept my wife and I will definitely have to try this out. We coupon as well so this would be perfect!

    • Lena 07.12.2012 3:17 AM

      Yes, if you coupon, it’s a great way to use up all the random stuff you might have gotten on sale. Another version of the pantry challenge is to buy everything on sale when you see it, then hit the pantry and freezer when you’re planning dinner.

  • Catherine 08.12.2012 11:40 PM Reply

    We did this so well earlier this summer we actually pretty much ran out of food! That’s the point though, right? I now try and only buy what we need to we don’t have much in our pantry.
    Catherine recently posted..Weekly Reads 06.12.12My Profile

  • Greg@ClubThrifty 11.12.2012 1:57 AM Reply

    We are currently participating in a fridge challenge, I suppose. We are going to be out of town, so we need to get it all eaten up before we leave. Wish us luck!
    Greg@ClubThrifty recently posted..Enter Our iPad3 Giveaway!!!My Profile

    • Lena 11.12.2012 5:50 AM

      That’s the essence of a fridge challenge! It can get boring real fast, so stay motivated!

  • mbhunter 14.12.2012 4:41 AM Reply

    Ahhhh! That’s cool! Don’t think we’ve tried that yet, but we do check the contents of our pantry more regularly than we used to.
    mbhunter recently posted..Save money when you cut the cheeseMy Profile

  • Elizabeth @ Simple Finance 15.12.2012 11:08 PM Reply

    My husband is a pro at this! He regularly does this with our fridge/freezer – but not so much with our pantry. Our pantry is VERY small so we tend to only stock it with things we plan on using in the near future in the first place!
    Elizabeth @ Simple Finance recently posted..Five Little Luxuries I Couldn’t Live WithoutMy Profile

  • Steve Stewart 27.03.2015 5:00 PM Reply

    I think we all kinda know this but WOW, you presented it in such a cool way.

    I shiver whenever my wife throws out something that went bad. I feel I would be a more efficient shopper if left in control of the kitchen – but she’s so creative and amazing that I’ll gladly forgo the savings for her awesome dishes.

    Well done Lena
    Steve Stewart recently posted..Dan Miller; Helping People Find Work They Love for a Decade – MPSOS180My Profile

    • Lena Gott 27.03.2015 6:45 PM

      Thanks, Steve! I know it seems simple, but I clearly recall the days when we threw out quite a bit of food on a weekly basis. It makes me shudder to think of it now! LOL
      Lena Gott recently posted..Weekend Wind Down #64 – Welcome, Spring!My Profile

  • Kara 27.03.2015 11:12 PM Reply

    This is kind of how we live. We only go to the grocery about once a week, when we are out of fresh produce and milk and such. Most of our meals are cobbled together out of whatever we dig out of the refrigerator and cupboards. Admittedly this lifestyle is much easier when you don’t have kids. :)

    Great post! Thank you!
    Kara recently posted..The Minimalist KitchenMy Profile

    • Lena Gott 28.03.2015 2:09 AM

      Oh wow, yes if I didn’t have kids, I could rock the pantry challenge almost every day!! LOL

    • BeckyJo Middlebrooks 28.03.2015 8:41 AM

      I grew up much like you live and therefore live my own life much the same. My Mom always had a well-stocked pantry and refrigerators/freezers as do I. Some people come to my house and upon seeing my food supply tell me that I have more food in my home than some small grocery stores. Although living out in the country/rural setting as we do, we only need to grocery shop when milk,eggs, produce items are getting low. And when it’s just my husband and myself here we can get by for approximately an entire month w/o shopping. But I do like to catch the weekly sales. My kids are grown and have lives of their own however I recently let 2 (under 30yrs each) individuals move in, to help us care for our home/farm and they can certainly go thru. a LOT of food. So most days/nights there haven’t been any left-overs. Plus no food ever goes into the trash.

    • Lena Gott 28.03.2015 3:59 PM

      That’s wonderful, Beckyjo! We go through a lot of food, too, and my kids are still little, so I can only imagine how much food we’ll burn through in the coming years!

  • Sara 29.03.2015 12:21 AM Reply

    We have a leftover day as well. Usually I bake potatoes and we put the leftovers on the spuds with cheese. It works well for my family. :-)
    Sara recently posted..Visualize Your Family’s Perfect Homeschool DayMy Profile

    • Lena Gott 29.03.2015 1:07 AM

      I like that, Sara – a standard way of using up leftovers! We’ve done that with chili before. Sometimes the sum of the random parts is better than the original dish(es). :)
      Lena Gott recently posted..Summer Playdate IdeasMy Profile

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