How to do Your First Pantry Challenge

I know.  It was just Christmas.  But, this pantry challenge is coming and I want you to have this in the back of your mind as you go through the holiday season.

One of the big things about living an Enriched Life, is being able to feed my family healthy, delicious meals and keep costs low.

Soooooo…. It’s nearly Pantry challenge time, baby!  Round 3, we are just getting bettah & bettah!

Pantry Challenge 3
Pantry Challenge 3

January is right there.  Can you believe it?

As we’ve been on our financial journey, I’ve learned that a great way to make money work for us is how we do with the groceries.

Because you decide.

Because you can make a little protein go for 3 healthy meals.  All different meals.  All delicious meals.

But, ahem, the holiday season we’ve been a little more…frivolous, no, fancy, no, lazy, that’s not it either… we’ve just been more spendy on the groceries.

Spendy.  It’s a word.  Okay, not really, but you know that feeling.

We have been wasting food.  It makes me angry at myself.  And ashamed.

GoodCheapEats, one of my favorite blogs for healthy, budget-friendly meals walked me through a pantry challenge years ago.

Oh?  A pantry challenge?  Sounds a little weird at first.  I attempted my first pantry challenge two years ago and it was a real win for our family!  Last year was when more people got really excited about saving money on the groceries, paying off big bills, and really making some great financial strides.

Know what else?  A pantry challenge is seriously…FUN.  It’s like food Tetris.  Seriously.

You know you’ve got to make it work through the 31 days and spend as little as possible but still make sure your family is eating healthy, delicious meals.  I love the challenge part of it all!

A pantry challenge is:

  • a chance to clean out your kitchen,  make sure you eat the food you’ve already purchased to avoid waste
  • time to take inventory of what your family eats regularly to ensure they are getting healthy meals
  • one month (or the time frame that’s best for your family) to minimize the food budget and give your debt payments a nice boost
  • a chance to look at the small appliances in the house and eliminate them (giving you some prime counter space)
  • a pause to reflect on grocery shopping habits
  • a creative break to try new food combinations as you “shop your pantry”

A great way to clean out the kitchen, avoid waste, take inventory, and shop smarter AND can also help the family save some money?

Sounds like a perfect January project.  There’s something so refreshing about starting the year this way!

And, like seasons of the year, you’ll come to expect a good pantry challenge in your life.

Last year, my friend Amy,  sent me a message saying, “I think it’s time for a pantry challenge.”

My husband mentioned during December, “You know, hon, we should do another pantry challenge to start the year off…”

Uh, yes please.  I love it when the people around you are working together, setting goals and building each other up like a power team.  It’s so amazing!

Let’s make those dollars s-t-r-e-t-c-h.  So, those few days after Christmas, is the perfect time to look through your pantry and plan for a healthy January pantry challenge.

My Pantry Challenge Goal

Our usual monthly grocery budget is $300 per month.

My personal goal: Spend half of that and make sure that we eat well.

Half?!  Like $150 for the entire month?

We did it once.  I’m hoping we stay well below the 150 mark for the month.

How to Get Ready for your First Pantry Challenge

I know.  It feels weird thinking that you are going to feed your family healthy meals on half your normal budget.

But, you can do this.  And you won’t starve.  And you’ll be amazed at all the yummy things you can come up with to feed your family.  They will be amazed.

You’re nervous about this, I know.  I’ve got ya covered, girl.

I’ve created your Pantry Challenge Guide and I’ll send you my own insights.  Like, how to prepare for a month; food combos that have worked for us; and my best kept secrets.

Fill out the form and I’ll send you the Guide to help you through the month.  Print it out, keep it by your recipes, or in your phone.  We’ll be going through this together!

Get Your Pantry Challenge Guide

Pantry challenge 3

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Pantry Challenge 4

It’s the end of the pantry challenge… (cue the looming, ominous music.)

Pantry Challenge 2016 Report
Pantry Challenge 2016 Report

January is winding up.  Can you believe it?  What usually is the longest month of the year has zipped right by me.

We are winding up the pantry challenge and have lots in the freezer still.  Because we are planning to move to a different place this summer, we will continue on shopping the cupboards first and building meals around what we already have.  This will help us clean out the cupboards, and have less to worry about during the move.

This weekend we were out of town on a family get away.  Because we have stayed on track with our pantry challenge, we were able to pack snacks, lunches and treats for our road trip.  It was great to know that we were getting healthier choices while traveling.

The numbers and results

Here’s the receipt from last week’s shopping trip.  My husband and daughter

Receipt 5, Pantry Challenge
Receipt 5, Pantry Challenge

were able to get the essentials, and even a pizza, deli green salad for Friday night together so we could stay right on track.  As they left my husband said to me, “We’re on a pantry challenge so we don’t need to worry about all the extras.”

Wow.  It made me heart flutter.  (When did living frugally get to be so dang romantic?)

Total spent?  $32.71.

And yes, you can see he brought home some Dr. Scholl’s inserts for my shoes, $3.70  (He knows how to impress me…)

And, he even bought a small scoop of cheddar snack mix (think Goldfish meets trail mix) from the bulk food bins.  Total cost for her treat? 19-cents.


I found a recipe from another food blog I love for One Pot Taco Spaghetti.  We tried it Monday.  Not bad.

We had ground turkey and as I was cooking it hit me, I have been making my own Homemade Taco Seasoning, learning from Erin at Five Dollar Dinners.

I’m learning to be more frugal, take what I have and put it into better recipes and build menus that my family will enjoy.

This has been a major source of progress!  I am amazed the confidence that comes from knowing I can feed my family healthy, delicious meals on a budget.  Yesss!

Tuesday night after swim lessons we are usually so tired.  We took the rest of the pinto beans & rice, put them in a couple of tortillas with a little cheese & olives and had some killer quesadillas.

As in killah quesadilla.  Ho. Lee.  Yum.  That and fresh veggies & dip was a perfect quick dinner for the evening.

We also had ingredients to make krispie squares this week.  My daughter thought we were livin’ large taking time to melt some ‘mallows and put them all in a pan.

Oh yes.  This is the big time.

And, I guess that’s the point.  We don’t need A LOT to be very, very happy and contented.  This pantry challenge has helped me remember that.  We don’t need a Pinterest-recipe-of-excellence to nourish us and give us the strength to accomplish our daily efforts.  

I am so grateful for this month of learning.  In the future, I’ll spend more time menu planning (even though…I kind of…hate it.  Whew.  There.  I said it.  That part, for me is absolutely no fun.)

Now, here’s the math.

We had a goal of $150 to spend on groceries for the month. We have $13.14 for the rest of the week & month.  I am confident we can do it!

Pantry Challenge, Balance 5
Pantry Challenge, Balance 5

Through all the receipts you can see that most of our spending was on fresh fruits & vegetables and dairy needs.  I plan to shop this way for a couple of months until our freezer is completely emptied out.  I want to use the turkey roast we have and make enchiladas, turkey soup, turkey tetrazzini (which we would only have the week after Thanksgiving at our house growing up) so this is kiiiiiiiind of… a big deal.

I’ve learned that I’m far more creative in the kitchen that I allow myself to think.  I’ve learned that a pantry challenge teaches me about a lot more than just what to cook.

Kind of like all the great lessons in life.

Tell me now in the comments below, what was the one thing you learned from working through a pantry challenge?


Pantry Challenge 3

Another week of the pantry challenge.   Has it been getting easier or more difficult for you as the month has gone on?

Pantry Challenge 2016 Report
Pantry Challenge 2016 Report

As the pantry challenge continues, there are menus to cover,  shopping trips to make, and for us, it’s been really fun sticking with our plan.

Well, at least, now, after last week’s $9 meltdown, we are on the same team.  This week’s shopping trip was much, much better.

I had a package of frozen noodles (that taste like the homemade kind) and needed to use them.  We had chicken and chicken stock already in the pantry, plus onions and spices on hand.  So we bought fresh carrots & celery for the meal…

And it was deeeelicious.  It fed us for a couple of dinners and lunches.  I seriously love soups this time of year! I’m learning that soups are a great way to use up what is left in the produce container and make it scrumptious!

We also had an avocado, with which we used to make tater stacks.

One of my favorite bloggers Jessica at Good Cheap Eats,  calls them hashbrown stacks, but at our house, it’s a tater stacks, for weekend breakfasts.  Have you tried them?  Holy yum.  We use just regular tater tots (which, with a no name brand is like $1 for a big, big bag) and while they are cooking in the oven, we chop up onions, peppers, cook sausage or ham, and pull it all together in an 3-egg scramble.

Assemble that puppy like a tostada:  tater tots, then the egg scramble, top with fresh avocado, splash of lime and maybe a little salsa.

Seriously, give that a try.

We have enough vegetables that I could make another pot of soups for another week.  I love that I’m looking at the grocery list differently and using the food that we have first.  Making better choices in the kitchen means more money for our family.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Making better choices in the kitchen means more money for our family.” quote=”Making better choices in the kitchen means more money for our family.”]

Here’s our latest receipt for the month.

Receipt 4, Pantry Challenge
Receipt 4, Pantry Challenge

Only $14.37 spent for a week’s worth of healthy eating?  Oh yes.  I’ll take it.

It’s been fun to see the creativity fly as my husband, daughter & I are sharing our dinner ideas!

Here’s where it gets so cool to see what is happening with the financial side of life, too.  We have our bank transfers set up that when each paycheck comes in, an automatic transfer is set up to move the money for groceries to the proper account.  (More coming on this later….)

The transfer had already been made so as we were discussing our options for the rest of the month, we took $300 and put it back into our main account to use for other items coming up.


Can you believe that?  Just by paying more attention, we gave ourselves an additional $300 to use for something else!  Think with me right now…what would you spend an $300 this month?

Is it a bill that’s been haunting you?

Is it a power start to your Christmas fund?

Would you give it to a family in need?

Are you the family in need and could use it to buy school clothes, a few new pairs of socks, and catch up on the shampoo & conditioner?

This is how you get serious about money.  Think about what you would do with the money you are saving.  And once you are very, very specific, so specific that you see it in your mind, then you have the vision to stay to your goal.  Meals can get a bit more creative.

Meals get more creative.  And simple.  (Ironically, as it gets more simple it usually becomes more healthy.  Who knew?)

Because you have the drive.  You the vision.  You are the one maximizing the ingredients.

My sis, Jac, sent me a link this week of a talk I must see.  My favorite quote was the old adage of:

Fix it up, wear it out.  Make it due, or do without.

Society tells us to buy now.  Society wants us to get some new clothes, or kitchen tools, or a new car…all. the. time.  It’s a buy, buy, buy world.

Fix it up
Fix it up,

I’m not buying it.  Neither are you.

We want to be smarter about what we choose to have in life.  We don’t want “stuff” everywhere.  It makes the house messier.  It gets in the way.

We want the freedom to breathe.  We choose to do more with less.

Which is what a pantry challenge is all about.

Here’s the running total on our monthly goal to spend $150 or less this month on groceries.

Pantry Challenge, Balance 4
Pantry Challenge, Balance 4

We have a $45. balance for the rest of the month?  Yes!  We still have half of a ham in the freezer, plus some other proteins on which to build meals.

So much that we have decided to make this an extended pantry challenge.  So what does that mean?  This summer, we’ll be moving to a new location.  We don’t want to have a fully stocked pantry, and a fully stocked freezer to move, especially since we are downsizing.   From now until then, we will make grocery purchases based only on what we need, what is fresh and what we will eat in the next couple of weeks.

Is that how we are supposed to be how we should grocery shop? I have more to learn in this department.

Tell me, how has your pantry challenge gone?  What are you learning?




Pantry Challenge Report 2. You Don’t Have to Be Miserable

So I knew that this pantry challenge would help us learn.

Pantry Challenge 2016 Report
Pantry Challenge 2016 Report

I knew that we would be eating through the pantry and spending  less than normal.

What I didn’t realize is that I would learn more about me, and…ahemmy limitations.  I’m not patient.  I know how I want things to go, and it really got me into some trouble this week.

One day we’ll sit down and talk about this in real life, we’ll call it the $9 meltdown, so I can remotely maintain my dignity while discussing it, okay?  Cool.

After last week’s multiple trips to the store, I really hoped and planned to make this week work as we got ourselves on the right plan.

Saturday morning we worked on our family budget, paid the bills, and my husband and I went through the pantry, freezer, & fridge to see what we have on hand and made a menu for the week from there. (Which, quite frankly, is what we should have done a couple of weeks ago…) but I had gotten us started.

I was pretty excited that my husband was on the exact same plan and vision as I was.  Part of the menu included using those last 4 burger patties we’ve had since summer.

So remember, the goal is to stay in the $150 for the month range, so we should be spending $35-40 per week.  I reminded my husband that we need to stay focused on our pantry challenge before we went into the store.

And here’s the receipt.  Total spent $49.05.

Receipt 3, Pantry Challenge
Receipt 3, Pantry Challenge

Close, but no dice.

I was keeping a ballpark accounting in my mind as we were going through the store.  We ran out of paper towel, which we usually purchase at Costco, so we decided to get some here to last through the next week or two and stock up next month.

But here’s what really happened.

The Saturday evening rush was in full effect at our store, so while my daughter and I waited in line to check out my husband went to get the paper towel.  He also chose the buns for the burgers.

He came back with a 9-pack of paper towel and some beautiful, buttery, brioche hamburger buns.

When he put them in the cart I could literally feel myself tensing up.  I was clenching my hands and thought, “Well, we were really smart on the other things- we should be all right.”

When the total came to $49.05 I was livid.

In the store, I didn’t want to make a scene. But when we got to the car I didn’t care.  I (not so gently) reminded my husband we were on a pantry challenge.

Receipt 3, The Real Story, Pantry Challenge
Receipt 3, The Real Story, Pantry Challenge

I told him that this is about integrity and staying within the limitations. His response was, “Are we really doing this?  Are you seriously freaking out because I got the good buns?  What is your deal?”

We got home and I added up the two items that were, in my mind, absolutely frivolous.

$5.98 (for the excessive paper towel load) + $3.98 (for the fancy, buttery buns) = $9.46.

I graciously, or snarkily, reminded my husband that these two items alone would have kept us right within  the budget and he. chose. to. overspend. He told me he would be happy to pay that back to our grocery budget from his extra spending cash.

Needless to say, we didn’t talk much more that night.

And that’s when it hit me.  I had become an extremist.

I crossed the line.  I put the numbers, the budget over the people I love. I was flippin’ out over going over budget.

$9.46 became more important than my loved ones.

This is a pantry challenge to help our family.  Not for me to win a goal.

What was I doing?

Ashamed.  Embarrassed.  Feeling like a fool, and so, so sorry for letting it get to me- we had a long conversation the next morning.

Find the happy medium

How did I get to this point?  Just three years ago I was spending frivolously all. the. time.  I didn’t want to think about money because money was hard.  And scary.

Now I was at a level 7 on the anger management scale over $9.46 at the grocery store. Like, flippin’ out over the fancy buns!

You know that lady.  I don’t want to be that lady.  I don’t want to step on toes and hurt people for a deal.

My husband, in his infinite patience and love for me listened and finally said,

We don’t have to be miserable.  We can still live while we are doing all of this.

Somewhere in the midst of this journey, I missed it.  I passed the happy medium of finding what works for us and taking it way too extreme.

And guess what?  The $9.46 won’t kill our grocery budget.  We still have ham, turkey, salmon, ground turkey, ground beef, and other items in our freezer in which to build our meals.  We will be okay. We will continue to eat well. But in that moment, I wasn’t okay.  I had gotten way too involved on the details and quit looking at the big picture.

Here’s the big picture, by the way.

Pantry Challenge, Balance 3, The $9 Meltdown
Pantry Challenge, Balance 3, The $9 Meltdown

We still have $60 to eat well for the month.  That’s a lot to work with considering we have plenty of rice, potatoes, onions to build side dishes with and our freezer full of good items.  Really, we are purchasing milk, eggs, and produce.  I can make this work.

I missed the point of this challenge and got way too caught up in the numbers.  I just missed it this week.

Abundance Mindset & Your Budget:  They Work Together

Precisely when my husband told me we don’t have to be miserable it hit me.  I’m still living scared.  I’ve worked so hard to get where I am, think through purchases, plan ahead of time, and make sure that every item “fits nicely” in the package of our budget- that I’m afraid I will go back to being a financial mess.

It reminds me of The Biggest Loser, every year, these people work like crazy devoting their entire lives to becoming healthy & fit that by the time they go back to real life they have that fear.

They don’t trust themselves.  They don’t understand the new level of normal.

I haven’t been trusting myself.  I don’t know this new normal.

In fact, our ten year anniversary is next month and for the past few weeks I’ve been wondering aloud if we should even do anything to celebrate.  “It doesn’t make sense in our financial plan…” I would share.  “I’m not sure we’re being consistent in our financial journey…”  I would tell my husband.  I thought I was being frugal- turns out, I was just being a martyr.  “Is this the right choice for us?  Maybe we can just go to dinner one night instead…”

Oh, please.

After weeks of conversation about this, I realize, it’s not like we are traveling across the globe.  It’s not like we are going to be gone for weeks, and we will probably take our little girl with us for a weekend away…  It’s okay.

It’s okay to have fancy, buttery buns because they take a burger up a notch.  It’s okay to go away for a weekend for your ten year anniversary.

It’s okay to live.  In fact, that’s what all of this is about.  But the beginning of this new phase of our lives is that I have to trust myself.  I have the numbers in order, it’s time to live it out and enjoy the decisions that we are making.

I need to own this new normal.

Living on a budget doesn’t mean we sit on the sidelines of life watching everyone else have all the fun.  (But that’s what most people think it is.)  It’s about choosing what we want to do to really live.  

I had forgotten about that part.  And my family has been made to suffer.  A change has been made and I’ll give myself a little more breathing room, too.

This has been a particularly difficult post to share as it makes me look like a fool.  But, far more important than my ego, is the need that we address this topic.

When we put the budget above the people we love we are doing ourselves, and our loved ones, a real disservice.    So where do you find the balance?  Where do you draw the line and say, “This is it.”

That’s the real magic of all of this.  You get to decide.  You make the boundaries.  You set the standard.  And you get to live gloriously, comfortably, unabashedly in those boundaries!

Besides, the burgers were delicious.

Tell me now, have you ever gone from one extreme to another?  What did you learn? How did you find that happy medium?