For many years now, Matt and I have had a decent food storage cushion—at almost any given time in our marriage, we’ve had around a 1-2 month supply of pantry staples and shelf-stable food on hand, for whatever unplanned event might come up, whether that was a smaller-than-expected paycheck or getting sick and being unable to go to the store. However, as we moved last year (twice, in fact), we tried to take our food supply waaay down in order to have to transport less of it.
And now, one of our main goals as a family is to build up our food storage again (and do it more than we’ve ever done it before, so that we have 6-12 months’ worth of food) and have that be a major focus for us over the next couple of years.
Since this is such a huge topic, I’m breaking this down into a few different posts so that you’re not overwhelmed with information and I’m not spending 20 hours on one blog post :).
In today’s initial post in this Food Storage 101 series, I’m going to cover 1) why food storage is something we’re prioritizing now more than ever (and why you should consider it, too), and 2) how you can afford to actually do it.
Note: There are affiliate links to products and services mentioned below, which means I may get a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you feel that any of them would be a good fit for you and your family.
First: Why Should I Care About Food Storage?
Being self-reliant and prepared in case of emergencies or unexpected situations has always been a huge focus in my church, so the idea of food storage and its importance has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, my dad worked as a freelancer for years, which meant that our income was often pretty variable. To make ends meet, my mom prioritized food storage and meal planning so that no matter how much money came in that month, we were always good on food. I can’t tell you how much comfort that brought me growing up because I knew that no matter what happened, we had the equivalent of a small grocery store in the basement that meant we would always be well-fed.
Related Post: How to Make an Income Stretch with Six Kids: An Interview with My Mom
Now that I’m a parent myself and feel the great weight of responsibility when it comes to making sure my three children are fed and clothed and have a stable roof over their heads, I never want to be in a situation where something might come up that would mean that we wouldn’t be able to feed our family.
As we all saw last year, unexpected things happen. Jobs are lost. Natural disasters strike. Pandemics change everything about normal life as we know it, bringing unexpected things like food shortages, increased grocery prices, and a lessened desire to go out to the stores and be among crowds.
The fact is, we all like to be able to feel like we have some control over our situation in life, and while we can’t control what happens on the outside (nature, viruses, etc.), we CAN do our part to make sure we’re prepared. One of my favorite scriptures states that “if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear,” and I have found through my own life experience that that is true.
If we build up our emergency fund, we won’t fear financial setbacks like a broken-down car or a home repair so much. If we prepare 72-hour kits for our family members (or “bug-out bags,” if you prefer), we won’t be as panicked if disaster unexpectedly forces us to evacuate our homes. And if we have short- and long-term food storage in place, we won’t fear the possibility of not having enough food for our families in a crisis.
But How to AFFORD It, Especially Now?
In later posts in this series, I plan to cover the three types of food storage that our family is focusing on: Short-Term Food Storage, Long-Term Food Storage, and Water Storage (on top of the financial emergency fund we already have in place).
For now, I just want to talk about how to actually afford to do this, especially amidst drastically rising grocery costs and an uncertain economy.
1. Make it a Priority
There was a life-changing paradigm shift I read about once (though I can’t for the life of me remember where now), and that was this—if you’re struggling to start a new habit or complete a goal that you feel that you “should” or that you want to, try saying, “It’s not a priority for me,” and see how that feels.
So, for example, if you’re struggling to start an exercise program, you might say to yourself, “Exercising and taking care of myself isn’t a priority for me.”
See how that changes things?
With emergency preparedness and saving money into an emergency fund and collecting food storage, you might say, “Making sure my family is provided for in an emergency isn’t a priority for me,” or “Making sure my children are fed no matter what happens isn’t a priority for me.”
Totally changes how you think about things.
So the first step is that you need to decide that it’s important, and you need to prioritize it above other things, especially things that are “wants.”
If you’re not currently tracking your spending, START NOW. I personally use Mint and Personal Capital to track ours, which means that for any given month, I could tell you exactly where all of our money has gone because I’ve tracked it.
Once you start tracking, you can see where there is low-hanging fruit when it comes to freeing up extra money, whether that’s from cutting down on takeout, unsubscribing from your favorite store’s emails so you’re not tempted to buy more clothes/home goods/books, or pushing pause on a subscription box. You can also take a deeper dive into areas where you can save money on a monthly basis, such as shopping around for car and home insurance, calling your Internet provider and trying to negotiate a better deal, or keeping just one streaming service (if you have multiple) and then switching between them every few months.
If there’s not much wiggle room to cut things down further, never fear—there ARE ways to build up your food storage, no matter how small your grocery budget. The key is going to be to get your REGULAR grocery spending as low as possible, and then focus the REST on food storage.
2. Stay out of the stores as much as possible
Perhaps you are one of those self-disciplined superhumans who can go into a grocery store, list in hand, and never buy anything that wasn’t on it.
If so, I applaud you, and I encourage you to look at the other tips more closely.
However, for the rest of us mere mortals, we need to recognize that if we don’t go to the grocery store, IT’S A LOT HARDER TO SPEND MONEY ON THINGS WE HADN’T PLANNED ON BUYING AND THEREFORE MAYBE DIDN’T REALLY NEED.
Here’s my problem: I make a haphazard grocery list on my phone as I start to run out of things in our pantry, but I’m not always 100% doing a great job when it comes to meal planning and then sitting down with my grocery list AND my meal plan before I go to the store. So what often ends up happening is that I’ll go to the store with my list, but then I’ll see all these things that I think, “Hey, that would be nice to have” or, “That sounds good–I should buy some and make that for dinner tonight,” and my cart suddenly has 48 items in it even though only 27 were on my list.
I also find that when I take all three of my children grocery shopping with me (which is often the case), I am often so distracted and maybe a little stressed that I don’t even have much of a chance to listen to the small voice in my head that’s trying to say, “Hey lady! Stick to the list!”
So, for me, the key is to stay out of the stores as much as possible.
When I was first married, I went to the grocery store 2-3 times a week because I didn’t know how to make substitutions in recipes and was forever running out for “just one thing.” Later, when I got more comfortable with cooking, I could easily get by on just shopping once a week, especially as I started planning out my meals better.
Now, for the past couple years, I’ve been able to basically do one major grocery shopping day for the whole month, supplemented by one or two (very small) grocery trips later in the month for things like milk and bread (which I often have my husband make for me, since he IS able to actually stick 100% to just the things on the list).
Now that we live more out in the country, I’m literally hardly ever in the store, and it shows—we’re spending way less on our regular groceries, and we’re overall wasting less food, too.
However, I do recognize that it’s difficult to go a whole month without shopping for fresh food. While there are still ways around that (like learning which produce can stretch for the month—think apples, oranges, squash, potatoes, onions, carrots, etc.), I’ve found an easy solution for our family that works really well.
When we moved to this new area, I tried out Misfit Markets, which is a produce subscription box that you can get delivered to your house every other week (although you can skip as many weeks as you want, too). We usually get their biggest produce box twice a month, which is $30/time plus $5 flat shipping. That means that we spend about $70 on produce for the month (hardly needing to supplement with produce from the store at all, except bananas), and I stay out of the stores. This seriously has been a game-changer for us because it doesn’t give me the excuse to go to the store “just for lettuce and bananas” and then come out with 20 things I hadn’t planned on. THIS HAS SAVED ME SO MUCH MONEY!
***If you want to try out Misfits Markets, I have been HIGHLY satisfied with them and give my full recommendation. If you go through my referral link, you can get $10 off your first box.
Another way I stay out of the stores is to get things shipped to my house directly, which saves me gas money as well (especially as my nearest Sam’s Club is over an hour away). Now, I know this isn’t the case for everyone, but I find that I’m much less impulsive when it comes to grocery shopping online versus grocery shopping in person. Therefore, I usually have everything shipped to my house that can be, and I save on shipping costs by making sure that my order is the minimum $35 from Walmart or by going through Sam’s Club, which I get free shipping through because I’m a Plus member.
So if you’re regularly going to the grocery store, try seeing how much you can cut it down and watch what it does to your budget. If you go twice a week, try going once a week. If you go once a week, try going once every two weeks. You’ll be amazed at how much money you’ll save just by not allowing yourself to actually step in the store!
3. Frugalize one meal
Have you ever sat down and calculated out the cost per serving of what you’re serving for various meals? Now, my nerdiness doesn’t *quite* extend enough that I’ve done this very much, but I actually LOVE reading magazine articles and blog posts where people do.
There are tons of ways to “frugalize” (go with it) your meals, depending on what your starting point is. The easiest way to do it is to avoid having to purchase your meal from somewhere if that’s something you’re currently in the habit of doing. So take leftovers to work for lunch (and have your spouse do the same) if you’re in the habit of buying lunch, or if you’re in the habit of buying expensive pre-packaged options, substitute it with cheaper things you’ve made yourself from scratch. Pack your kids’ lunches rather than buying them from the school. Eliminate that late afternoon soda-and-cookie run.
The next step is to take one meal and start replacing your more expensive options with cheaper options. For breakfast, you can’t get much cheaper than oats (not the instant oatmeal packets—oats in bulk). If your kids (or you) regularly have cold cereal five mornings a week, try replacing two of those mornings with oatmeal. Boom, instant savings. If you have meat for every dinner, make at least one or two of them meatless every week. If you’re buying prepackaged lunches for your kids, pack them pb&j’s, which are pretty darn inexpensive. Rather than going out for ice cream, pick up a half gallon for the family.
The goal is not to take all of the fun stuff out—it’s just to make easy swaps that will save you money in the long run.
4. Go for bulk, and go for unprocessed
While time-saving options are nice (think: prepackaged snacks for your kids, pre-cut up veggies for dinner, salad mixes, etc.), you will pretty much almost always save money by buying the unprocessed, “raw” version yourself and doing the work.
Now, I don’t make ALL of our food here. For instance, I do buy the kids’ bread rather than make it myself (although I DO make our own gluten-free bread rather than buy it, because it’s MUCH cheaper, not to mention way better-tasting). However, I pretty much almost never buy pre-cut veggies or fruit or salad mixes, because those are relatively easy to prep myself and cost way less to buy whole and assemble.
Look at where you can afford to put in a little time and effort and cut out one pre-prepped food at a time.
Related Post: 3 Different Ways to Make Homemade Mac & Cheese That’s Better Than the Box
5. Plan your meals, at least loosely
While I go through phases of being better at meal planning than at others, I still always have ideas in my mind of what we can make for dinner based on what we have. At this point, I’ve been cooking for my family for so long and have made so many different meals that I always have an idea of different meals I can make based on what we already have.
Probably the most successful I’ve been with this though is when I plan out my meals for the whole month based on the shopping trip I make at the beginning of it. I simply open a Word document, come up with 22-24 dinners based on what we have, hyperlink to the recipe if it’s online or write down the cookbook and page number if it’s not, and then cross each dinner out as we have it that month.
Seriously, it works like a charm.
Meal planning before grocery shopping also saves money because you’re giving each thing you pick up a job. You’re not just buying hamburger meat to buy it or buying some random bag of peppers because they’re on sale—you’re giving each item in your cart a purpose and a deadline, which means that you’ll not only waste way less food, but that you’ll also save a ton of money because you’re not buying random ingredients that don’t go together.
6. Plan ahead for your burnt-out days
Pretty much nobody is going to want to cook every single night. So rather than just throw up your hands every time you’re burned out and order takeout, plan ahead for those times (because you WILL have them).
Stock up on frozen pizzas. Make (or buy) some freezer meals. Grab something ridiculously easy–like premade meatballs and a package of Minute rice–the next time you’re grocery shopping for the month.
No, these are not the healthiest options. No, these are not the cheapest options. However, it is certainly cheaper to buy a $15 pan of fettuccine alfredo from Sam’s Club or a $12 frozen lasagna than to spend $40+ at a restaurant. The trick is not to over-rely on these meals (aka, having them all the time rather than cooking at all), but rather to plan to eat one of them per week or two (or however often you were just throwing up your hands and going out to eat before).
Obviously, there are infinitely more ways to save money on groceries and food than these, but this is what we’re currently doing to free up $100-200 a month to spend on building up our food storage, which I’ll be covering more of in later posts.
P. S. If you just can’t wait and want to get started right now, we’re using this book as part of the basis for our own food storage plan (which is only $5.99 on Kindle!).
I would love to hear if any of you are food storage pros or what you do to cut down on grocery costs, so drop a comment below and share your thoughts!