The Great March Pantry Challenge Kickoff

by Melody on March 5, 2012

Week 1 Update
Week 2 Update

Week 3 Update

Apparently our family did not get the memo that February was the shortest month of the year.  We went completely overboard and blew our grocery budget out of the water.  However, we now have an excellent problem. We have a pantry stuffed to the brim with just about anything we need to make a solid meal.  We have a freezer completely full of chicken and ground beef and a few freezer meals from our last cooking day.

We do have a little wiggle room in our budget and I have actually increased our budget a few times, just due to the fact that we are adding in more organic options and trying to buy less processed foods.  This time, instead of increasing the budget, I want to try to be a little more disciplined about how we spend our money.  I’m going to implement a few changes that I have been tossing around in the back of my brain.  These are things I know we should try but I just never get around to doing it.

  • Pull out weekly cash – I have been meaning to do this for centuries.  Right now, we have our entire month’s grocery budget in one envelope which makes it super easy to blow through a huge amount in the beginning of the month.  For March, I’m going to pull out just what we need each week and leave the rest in an envelope in my dresser.  This seems like the perfect month to make this change.
  • Serious kitchen inventory – I went through the pantry, fridge, freezer, even the spice cabinet from top to bottom.  Even though I have been donating and getting rid of things we just don’t eat, we still have some things lurking that are edible, just not on the top of my priority list.  I made note of all the basic ingredients we have (read: things that when put together will actually resemble a meal).  I even wrote down the few freezer meals we have left.  I’m going to incorporate these on days we are super busy this month, plus make some space for a new round of freezer meals (hopefully coming at the end of the month).
  • Weekly menu planning – My nemesis.  I have attempted meal planning in the past.  I have thought long and hard about doing it because I know it helps, but have just never been able to stick with it.  This month, it’s going to be a necessary priority.  My first step was to transfer all my appointments, evening commitments and other activities from my Google calendar to my write-it-down-on-paper planner.  Next, I went through my new Favorite Recipes Binder and my zillions of Pinterest recipe boards to find ideas for meals.  Now that I have my list, I can plug them into the corresponding weeks hopefully keeping the need-to-buy items to a minimum.  I might even make 1 or 2 of the recipes I have been “Wanting to Try But Can Never Get Around To”.
  • Substitute or do without – I am already pretty fantastic at substituting.  We rarely have all the ingredients for any given meal and over the years I’ve learned what can and can’t be swapped out.  Sour cream for yogurt.  Seasoned tomato sauce for enchilada sauce.  Mashed up black beans for refried.  Often times, it’s very easy to just leave out an ingredient.  For example, this Lasagna Soup is on the meal list.  It calls for ricotta cheese just as a topping.  I love ricotta, but am not going to sacrifice the budget just for a dollop on top of my soup.
  • Making it myself – I’ve been really wanting to start making my own bread, but am always sucked in by the good prices on our favorite store-bought bread.  As we don’t have much bread left but TONS of flour, now is my chance.  We’re also low on tortillas, so I will probably give those a shot too.  This month should give me the chance to try out a few new things or see what it’s like to live without bread.

We have four full weeks left in March and the amount I have to spend each week is.  Are you ready for this?  $17.  What in the world did we do last month?  Each week we will need milk, fresh fruit and possibly some fresh vegetables.  To make it even easier, as of March 1st we have officially switched to organic milk which is good for our bodies, but not so good for the budget.

We’ve been really trying to pare down our pantry and only have on hand what we truly will eat and not just what is a good deal.  We’re trying to be more simple about our menus, so this month should give us a good idea of what we truly need and use.

I’ll keep you updated each week with our progress.  I’ve tried doing this a few times in the past, but have never been very successful.  I’m hoping by arming myself with more tools this time around, we’ll be able to stay on track.

I’d love to hear if you have tried something similar?  Please share any tips or tricks you have.  How do you stay on budget during some of the slimmer months?

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