How to Stock a Pantry from Scratch on a Budget

There are various reasons why you might need to stock a pantry from scratch on a budget. You might be just starting out on your own. Or you might be like me and need to start over. I had to flee my husband and ended up in a homeless/women’s shelter. 

Grabbing food to take with me was not at the top of my priority list, so when the time came for me to leave the shelter, I needed to buy a whole new pantry. 

Not only a “dry” pantry (which is normally what people think of when they think of a pantry, think shelf-stable food.) But also food found in a freezer and a refrigerator. 

There is some debate on whether a freezer and a refrigerator should be considered a pantry. I do because for me a pantry is where food is found. And the food is found in your freezer and refrigerator.

Honestly, it can feel a little overwhelming when you need everything. And it can also be expensive if you need to buy everything all at once.

So, it may not even be possible to buy absolutely everything you need all at once. And that is okay. 

The key is to slowly build your pantry. So you don’t overwhelm your wallet. But you still have food that you can eat and make meals from. So, if you are wondering, how the heck to stock a pantry completely from scratch, keep reading. 


How to Stock a Pantry from Scratch on a Budget

How to Stock a Pantry from Scratch on a Budget - Food in a Pantry

1. Try to Get Food for Free 

If you can get food for free first before buying anything, then it is the food you don’t have to spend money on. Which is obviously ideal when dealing with a limited amount of money. And it is totally okay to ask for help as well as food. 

  • Ask Family and/or Friends If They Have Something They Don’t Want

There might be some food items inside of your friend’s and family’s pantry that they have forgotten about and no longer want. Or maybe they have a surplus of food. Or maybe they bought something that no one in their family likes so they don’t want it.

  • Maybe Family and/or Friends Have Something They are Willing to Share

Even if you get a few eggs here, a sandwich bag full of spice there, it is still something you don’t have to worry about buying. Plus any items that are shared with you will help you until you can buy more of that particular item. 

  • Consider Getting Food From Your Local Food Bank

Food banks are there to provide food to people who can’t afford to buy food. If you have an empty pantry and can’t afford to buy food then generally you would qualify to receive food from a food bank. If you go this route, you would need to ask the food bank what their requirements are getting a basket. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it. 

2. Prioritize

Now if you are able to completely buy absolutely everything you need for your pantry all at once, then you can disregard this tip (and possibly the whole article.)

But if you are on a budget and are needing to know how to buy what you need but only have so much money to do so each month then you need to prioritize. 

The first thing you need to do is figure out exactly what you and your family like to eat. There is no point in buying something that you think you should buy if no one in your household will eat it. That would only be wasting food and money. 

And because these are things you know your family likes to eat, then you know that the ingredients needed to make these food items are something that will keep popping up on your grocery list month after month. 

Essentially, these items will become your list of go-to foods. Things you should always keep stocked so you know you always have something on hand that everybody likes. 

Also, be honest with yourself and don’t be embarrassed by what you like to eat. (Because your list might seem a little embarrassing. Like my list that I am about to share. But I am truly not embarrassed by it. We like what we like. But I digress.)

For me, some of the things on my list include; quesadillas, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, pancakes, nachos. So, right off the bat, I knew that buying the items that would make these food items were needed to be my first priority. Because I knew that they were and are things I and my family likes. 

Depending on your budget and sales at your grocery store, you might only be able to buy the ingredients needed to make your family’s favorite foods for that first month. But if you find you have extra money, then if you choose to spend it, it needs to be spent again on items that you will actually use. 

3. Buy What You Need to Stock Your Pantry 

Again you don’t need to go bananas and buy everything that is recommended for you to have in your pantry. First, don’t forget about the budget you may have. 

And second, there might be things that “experts” say you must have in your pantry, but they would just go to waste. For example, according to these experts, you should have baking supplies in your pantry, but for me, 

I only bake once in a blue moon. So, keeping these items handy waste space and money. Here are my tips for buying items for your pantry: 

  • Shop Sales

What are the sales at the grocery store the week that you are shopping for? Depending on the items on sale, you could buy more than you normally would. Just make sure that you aren’t tempted to buy something that is on sale that you won’t end up eating. 

Plus, now is not a time to experiment with buying food you have never tried before. Because if you like it, then great. But if you don’t, then you will waste money. 

  • Meal Plan

Whether you use a meal planning service or figure it out for yourself, planning your meals ensures that you will be using the food that you buy. And it makes the most of your budget if you plan meals around what is on sale. 

Now your budget might be so tight that you can only afford to buy enough food to last one week. But if it allows, try to buy more pantry staples in addition to the food you need each week or every other week. This way your pantry stockpile will slowly start to grow. 

This is why meal planning is extra important because you will be working with a bare-bones pantry for awhile. Depending on how tight your budget is, you might want to refrain from buying any extras. When I say this I am referring to buying junk food, sweets, and fancy sauces. You might want to wait to buy these items (if you decide to buy them at all) after your pantry is well-stocked. 

  • Use Cash Apps

It is important to note that coupons will only actually save you money if you were already planning on purchasing the item. 

Checkout 51 (1) and Ibotta (2) are great options.

  • Get the Bare Minimum

This is where your meal plan comes in handy. If you are only able to get so much, then only buy what you need to make your meals for one week or two if you are able. 

  • Look into Other Options for Your Spices

Spices are pricy and are used in small amounts. So, instead of trying to buy all of them all at once, try buying them in stages. Buy the ones you use the most first.  

Sometimes grocery stores will have a sale on spices, so you can buy them there. Another option is to buy them at a bulk food store. That way you only have to buy a small amount. Just make sure you properly label the container you put the spice in. 

Another option is to buy them at the dollar store. This is the way I bought my spices when I had to restock my pantry. I always check the expiration date, but I have never had a problem with expired food at the dollar store. 

  • Buy Inexpensive Pantry Items

Pantry items that are inexpensive might vary depending on where you live. But generally, oats, rice, flour, dried beans, canned tomatoes, canned beans, and dried lentils are quite affordable.

Wrapping Up

It took about 6 months for my pantry to feel pretty stocked. Because I had money constraints, I had to build it slowly. I bought the bare minimum. I bought all of my spices at the dollar store. 

I had a meal plan, which at first I only bought ingredients to make that food. I didn’t but any extras and then once my pantry began to be more stocked and I was starting to have a stockpile, I started to buy them here and there.  




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