The Frugal Living Pantry Challenge

By ERIN TURNER

One of the keys to success when you are couponing is to stock up when items are at ridiculously low prices and then matched up with a coupon for an even lower price.

I am stocking up every week on different items therefore my shelves and freezers are full. In addition, we had an abundant harvest from the gardens this year, a successful hunting season and raised a 300lb hog. Our freezers are full to say the least.

So, what does a family do when they reach a point of full capacity? Well, our family decided to enter into our own Pantry Challenge for the month of February.

A Pantry Challenge is an experiment which our family commits to eating only what’s in our freezer and shelves for an entire month. This means no trips to the grocery store except for special circumstances.

We’ve given ourselves permission to eat out if the opportunity arises but our overall goal is to use what we have so painstakingly worked to stock. Not that we don’t eat this way most of the year, but this month, we are taking it to the next level and limiting what else comes into our house. In a sense, we are living the life of a pioneer who, in the dead of winter, didn’t have a choice but to live off of what was stored and preserved.

Erin Turner's pantry gets ready for the challenge

Our main goal is to use up some items before they expire or go bad but secondly we are anxious to see what this will do to our monthly budget. I suppose the next step in all of this would be to calculate each meal based on the cost involved to see how much we were saving and compare that to actual retail prices.

Yeah, in my free time I’ll be sure to tackle that task! But we do anticipate having some extra cash at the end of this month as a direct result of our challenge – how exciting!

If you have been following me on Facebook about this challenge, then you know that many questions have come up about the basic items such as milk, bread, and fresh produce.

These are the items which draw us into the grocery stores each week. Retailers count on us coming in for those basic necessities, which is why they have you enter the labyrinth of aisles as you search for these basic items. Their hope is that on your way to the back of the store for milk, you’ll pick up a can or two of olives or a package of chocolate chips. Statistics show that the longer you are in a store, the more you will spend.

Well, we have been buying discounted milk and freezing it. I know, some people think that is weird.

But we have three growing boys! The level on my milk jugs shrink by multiple inches every day and I just can’t seem to keep up. By purchasing milk on sale and freezing it, we 1) Have reduced the amount of trips to the store 2) Stocked up at a sale priced item and 3) Have a constant supply of milk for the boys.

Erin Turner stocked up on cheap milk to freeze

Now, there has been some question about the milk itself. Since we buy 2% milk, we do take some of the milk out before freezing so the jugs don’t expand and crack. If you buy skim milk, you won’t have to do that.

When the 2% milk thaws out, the cream will have separated so you just need to give your jug a good shake to combine it all back together. After that, you’d be hard pressed to know the milk had been frozen! So, we’ve got our milk for the month frozen and ready to go!

When it comes to vegetables, we’ve got an entire freezer filled up with last year’s harvest. Beets, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, corn, squash, tomatoes, and peppers. Plus, we have potatoes, onions, squash, apples, and onions stored up as well. Oh, and we still have fresh brussel sprouts out in the garden that are so yummy!

The fruit is a little more challenging, since most of our fruit trees are very young so we have only been able to harvest our apples in the fall. So, two weeks ago I stocked up on blueberries (3 for 1!) and froze them, plus I freeze bananas for smoothies and last week I picked up eight pounds of oranges, which had been marked down 50% – and oranges last a long time on the shelf.

In September, we scored six pounds of strawberries for free, which I froze those, so we will be enjoying lots of strawberries this month. Fruit is one of those items which we all have become accustom to having at our disposal, yet that is a relatively new concept.

Prior to WWII, people only ate the fruit which was either in season or which they had preserved. Being dedicated to offering my family a balanced meal every day, I questioned whether I could accomplish the challenge when it came to fruit. But realizing what I had preserved in the freezer and canned on the shelf, I am now confident I can get by this month and still provide my family a healthy and well-balanced diet.

As far as bread is concerned, this should be an easy task.

First of all, I have some loaves frozen and I’ll be happy when they disappear since they take up so much room in the freezer. Once they’re gone, then I’ll get the chance to do my favorite thing – bake homemade bread! It’s cheap, healthy, and easy. It sounds like a daunting task, but seriously it is so easy: A little bit of flour, water, oil, and salt and, viola, you have bread. If you have a bread machine, it’s even easier. My family begs for homemade bread so this month they are going to be spoiled!

Even though we are only five days into this challenge, I’m already seeing a difference in our freezers and shelves. I’m focusing on using those pesky items which are in the way and trying to finish up items in the refrigerator (like that almost empty bottle of ranch dressing!). This challenge is testing my creativity as I gather a variety of random items and vision a menu plan from those items. Interesting and fun!

Beyond all of that, this challenge is forcing us to be more independent, less commercial, and ultimately more frugal.

I’m wondering how we’ll feel after a month. Will we continue the challenge? Or be relieved it’s over? I will post again at the end of the month with my observations and experiences.

I’ve had some people decide to do the challenge along with us! Feel free to jump on board and create the challenge according to your needs. I’m posting updates on Facebook regularly, so if you’re interested feel free to friend me at Erin Eisenman-Turner and follow me on Pinterest.

Are you up for a challenge??

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Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, and sticking to a budget in her previous posts: Save Money and Do It Yourself with PinterestLearn How to Save with a Couponing Class, and How to Create a Household Budget. Be sure to check out the Missoula Save it Club.

   Visit the Coupon Queen’s “Save It”archive.

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Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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