Here’s a story that might sound familiar to you. It’s the last week of the month, and you only have a few bucks left to buy food. You’ve looked for ways to stretch your grocery dollars, but you just can’t see how you can get a whole week’s worth of meals out of them. You check the pantry to see what else you have to work with, but as far as you can tell, it’s just full of miscellaneous junk — a half-empty sleeves of crackers, a few odd cans of beans, a bag of lentils you bought for some reason you don’t even remember. There’s no way you can turn that stuff into dinner, is there?
Actually, there probably is. And a pantry challenge could help you figure out how.
The pantry challenge is the brainchild of Jessica Fisher, who runs the website Good Cheap Eats. The idea is to buy no groceries for a fixed amount of time — anywhere from a week to a month — and make all your meals entirely out of what you already have in the pantry and freezer. It offers a way to clear the clutter out of the pantry, avoid food waste, and save money, all at the same time.
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Benefits of a Pantry Challenge
A pantry challenge serves many different purposes. The benefits of staying away from the supermarket for a month include:
1. You Save Money on Food
It stands to reason that for every week you don’t buy any groceries, you’ll save a week’s worth of grocery money. Becky Worley of ABC says doing a two-week challenge with Fisher’s help saved her around $200, and various contributors on Good Cheap Eats say they’ve saved anywhere from $50 to $400 per month. Fisher says her yearly pantry challenge helps “even out” her grocery spending for the year, so she can afford to splurge when she needs to.
2. It Avoids Food Waste
Some people argue that a pantry challenge can’t really save you money because you’ve already spent money on what’s in your pantry. That’s true, but on the other hand, that money is wasted if you don’t actually use the food. Let’s face it; it’s a rare shopper who never buys anything at the store that ends up languishing at the back of the pantry.
If you don’t see that as a problem, consider this: According to Feeding America, about 70 billion pounds of food is wasted in America every year, even as millions of people go hungry. By clearing out the unused food in your pantry, you’re doing your own small part to fix this problem.
3. It Puts Your Stockpile to Use
Many extreme couponers have large stockpiles of food they’ve acquired for little or no money. They often object to the idea of a pantry challenge because they’ll use up all these bargains. However, they’re looking at it backward. The whole point of buying all that cheap food was to eat it; if it just sits there in the pantry, it does them no good. This makes the pantry challenge an opportunity to make sure all those stockpiled groceries get used and to free up storage space for new bargains.
4. It Saves Time on Shopping
Buying groceries takes time as well as money. According to a 2016 paper from the Time Use Institute, the average trip to the supermarket takes 43 minutes. That means a one-month pantry challenge could save you three hours of shopping time, which you can devote to anything you’d rather do — for work or fun.