One of the easiest ways to cut your monthly expenses is to take a look at your food budget. Obviously going out to eat adds up quickly but you’d be surprised how many homemade meals are still pretty pricey.
Stocking your pantry with the right ingredients can set you up for success in living a more frugal lifestyle. Here are some of my must haves:
- Dried beans- Canned beans are great too to save you time but dried beans will be more cost effective so I usually have both on hand. Dried beans for when I plan ahead and have time, and canned beans for last minute meals.
- Rice- You can usually find brown rice in our pantry because it works great as a side dish or in a casserole and it’s super versatile besides being cheap and relatively quick to make.
- Potatoes- It doesn’t matter what kind. Russet, red, sweet, they’re all usually pretty inexpensive and there are endless recipes you can make with potatoes. And if you’re worried about them going bad you can always cook them up and freeze them for later.
- Dried lentils- Just like beans you can buy cans of these or get them dried but either way lentils are high in protein so they’re a great option for a vegetarian dish and it’s also a cost effective way to get protein as opposed to more expensive meats.
- Dried chickpeas- Another dried or canned option, chickpeas are my go to snack. Way cheaper than buying crispy roasted chickpeas from the store, you can make them at home as an inexpensive snack, use them as a salad topper or in a wide variety of pinterestable recipes. They’re also a great source of protein you can get much cheaper than meat.
- Pancake mix- Making your own pancakes usually tastes better than frozen, plus it’s much cheaper. We also use pancake mix to make so many other things with it. Everything from muffins to biscuits to pastries to all kinds of breakfast casseroles.
- Chicken broth (or any kind of broth)- I use this all the time with slow cooker recipes so we always have this in stock for quick meals. It adds a lot of flavor without needing tons of ingredients so it’s a must for your pantry.
- Tortillas- Besides the obvious Mexican food meals, tortillas are typically more cost effective than sliced, store bought bread so we use them all the time for wraps for a more frugal lunch option. They also freeze just fine so you can buy a big pack if it’s cheaper per tortilla and then freeze what you’re not using right away.
- Pasta- One of the easiest cheap meals you can make is pasta. Depending on the size of your family, you can usually make multiple meals out of 1 box of pasta that costs about $1 and just add some tomato sauce and a protein for a complete cheap meal.
- BBQ Sauce- Never underestimate the power of a good selection of condiments. We do leftovers a lot at our house but we can switch it up by changing up the condiments. We often just take some frozen chicken and throw it in the crockpot with some BBQ sauce for an easy, cheap pulled chicken recipe. Then we can use it for sandwiches for lunches or with potatoes for dinner, or even BBQ chicken pizza!
- Canned tomatoes/Tomato Sauce- Canned tomatoes are an easy way to add flavor to your dishes or to make your own tomato sauce in a more cost effective way than buying a jar of pre-made sauce.
- Salsa- Tons of flavor to add to your salads, or dinners. If we’re making Mexican food and don’t want to add a ton of toppings because the cost adds up we’ll at least add some salsa.
- Peanut Butter- There’s not many options cheaper than a PB&J for lunch but we also add peanut butter to smoothies for extra protein and creaminess, and we’ll add it to pancakes or muffins to make them extra hearty.
- Oats- It’s usually much cheaper to buy plain oats and make our own oatmeal than buy the packets. Plus we avoid all the extra added sugar and sometimes chemicals they put in flavored oatmeal packs. We also use the oats to “hearty up” pancakes or muffins like we do with peanut butter.
- Onions- Another easy way to add flavor to your meals. We use them in all our soups, casseroles, pasta sauces, etc.
- Lemon- We usually end up using the juice for one recipe and the zest for another and then you can put what’s left in a pitcher of water for some lemon water. Nothing goes to waste!
- Vegetable Oil- A lot of baking recipes call for vegetable oil and it’s pretty inexpensive so it’s great to keep on hand.
- Olive Oil- It’s not as cheap as vegetable oil so if you can only pick one, go with the vegetable oil but if you can do both, olive oil is great for cooking a wide variety of recipes and we use it daily in our house.
- Garlic- Lots of flavor without breaking the bank.
- Flour- Not only is it great for baking treats but you can use it for a lot of cooking as well. Fried foods and homemade gravy are just a couple things we use it for when we cook.
- Sugar- We like to bake in this house but besides baking you can use sugar to make sauces for your recipes and you’d be surprise how many savory recipes actually call for sugar for just a little bit of sweetness.
- Baking soda/Baking Powder- Everything from cookies and cakes to quick breads. Having these in stock helps so you can make things from scratch instead of overpaying for premade at the store.
- Yeast- You can make bread from scratch for next to nothing if you have just a couple ingredients including yeast.
- Spices- Building up a spice collection will help immensely with adding flavor to your recipes. There are so many to choose from and if you’re looking to start from scratch I would start with: salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, oregano, cinnamon, chili powder, cumin, paprika. You can usually get by with those and then start incorporating more.
If doing a major pantry shopping trip isn’t in your budget, try setting aside $5-$10 each time you go shopping to start building up your pantry with these staples. It has saved me so much money over the years to have these items on hand so it’s worth it to build it up whether you’re able to do it all in one shopping trip or slowly build it up over time.
What else would you add to the pantry staples list?