I feed my family of 5 on $150 or less each week, and that budget includes household supplies and things like cat litter and pet food. I’m often asked how I do it, and I attribute much of those savings to yearly budget prep work. If you can, use your tax return to reduce your grocery budget with a yearly Pantry Restock.
My Quick Tips
- Don’t fall for the BOGO; compare prices!
- Look at unit price instead of the total price
- Shop at discount groceries like Aldi—who sources most produce locally!
- Buy name brands sparingly
I started my yearly pantry restock when I was a stay at home mom. My husband lost his job, and I had no idea how we’d pay the bills—much less feed our kids. We had been living paycheck to paycheck (as nearly 80% of workers are according to a survey by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder) and had no money in savings.
Our tax return was a blessed windfall, but I had no idea how long my husband would be out of work. The first chance I got I stocked up on everything I knew would either keep without spoiling or could be frozen for 3-6 months at least.
Meat in Bulk
Whether you’re a family of hardcore carnivores or mostly vegetarians like us, buying meat in bulk can seriously reduce your grocery budget. Meat is two to five times (or more) as expensive as vegetables. Buying in bulk can bring that cost down and save you big.
Split large packs of meat into individual portions to easily control meal sizes. I also do this with salmon, cutting a whole fish into 2-3 oz portions. Freezing individually can be done in two different ways.
Method 1: wrap each portion in cling wrap and place in a freezer bag to freeze. This is perfect for food you’ll be eating in the next 1-2 weeks.
Method 2: use a vacuum sealer to keep food at optimal quality. This method is ideal for food you plan to keep frozen upwards of a month.
I personally use Method 2 most of the time and recommend the Vacuum Sealer By NutriChef. It’s a bestseller on Amazon and gets rave reviews—nearly 5 out of 5 stars!
Stock Pantry Staples
Pantry goods are some of the best ways to save money. While they are typically low in cost as a rule, their shelf life means you can really buy in bulk. I generally buy the largest size I can find; I’ve even been known to walk out with a 25 lb box of rice.
Example Pantry Staples to Stock
- Baking Soda/Baking Powder
- Salt, Pepper, and Spices
- Bullion cubes (beef and chicken)
- Canned goods
- Fruit cups
- Kids snacks
- Pasta sauces
- Condiments (prior to opening, many don’t need refrigeration)
- Dried fruit
I’ll also wait for things like diapers, baby wipes, medication (like ibuprofen), toilet paper, and paper towels to go on sale at bulk retailers like Costco or Sam’s Club and stock the extras in my garage.
AmazonFresh (Try AmazonFresh Free Trial) is also a good place to find budget friendly ways to stock up your pantry. Wait for items to go on sale and grab them up quickly! I once bought 10 bottles of detergent for $0.99 each, spending $10 on around $50 worth of laundry detergent.
Buy and Freeze
Stocking your pantry also means stocking your freezer. Many items like bread, butter, and deli meat freeze incredibly well. I even prefer wheat bread after it’s been in the freezer—it just seems softer to me.
I normally have 2-4 boxes of stick butter, a loaf of bread, dinner rolls, ready-to-use pie crusts, and 1-2 packages of deli meat in my freezer at any given time.
If you can… search Craigslist, SwipSwap, or Facebook Marketplace for a second fridge or deep freezer. We found one for $100 that was older and ugly but still in great working condition. It lives in our garage and stores extras.
Quick Tips for Tax Refund Budgeting
- Pay off anything negatively reporting on your credit first! Make sure to work with your creditors to have that reported as paid in full.
- Put aside some money in a grocery reserve. I use this to help offset costs throughout the rest of the year when my grocery budget goes over just a bit.
- Use a reloadable card like MyVanilla Reloadable Prepaid Card and load your total grocery stock-up budget onto it. This will help make sure you get all you need to stock your pantry while keeping your savings or remaining refund balance safe. Grab yours at Walgreens!
This post was originally published on February 12, 2018. Last updated March 1, 2019.