Jan 10 2008

Stock your pantry? Or shop for your menu?


 Update: This has been a great, popular discussion! Please Stumble It and let us know your opinion about the topic!

 Meredith asked a great question:

I am trying to decide which philosophy works best…shop for what is on my menu for the week, or shop sales/deals and stock up. What are your thoughts?

I think results will vary based on your family size and the stores available in your area. Also, it’ll depend on how often you shop. For me, I’m at the grocery every Thursday. Others might prefer monthly shopping trips.

I use the "shop for my menu" strategy.


  • I can easily spend a small amount on my weekly groceries, since I’m buying roughly 7 days worth of food.
  • I’m forced to plan a dinner menu for the week. This strategy saves time and a lot of money.
  • Waste is minimal. No canned goods sitting on a shelf for years, no things hiding in the freezer.
  • Less food to store in my small kitchen.


  • I don’t have a huge supply of food.
  • I *might* miss out on good sales

If something is truly a good sale, such as good toilet paper at less than .20 per roll, I’ll stock up to last me awhile.

If it’s something regular, like pasta sauce, I’ll buy a few jars but won’t go overboard. That sort of stuff goes on sale fairly often.

I do quite a bit of my shopping at Aldi. The prices are pretty much the same each week, though there are some sales. [If you’re wondering about Aldi…GO! Take a quarter for your cart, and some bags, and have a good time] But anyway, there’s no reason for me to buy 10 cans of corn at Aldi. I might eat one or two cans per week, so that’s what I’ll buy if it’s on my menu.

As a general rule of thumb, I only stock up on incredible deals on things I’ll absolutely use (TP) or on staples that don’t go on supersale often (peanut butter).

[Edit: I should have made this point a little more clear]: I don’t just buy what I need for the week, and that’s absolutely it. I do it sort of the way Lynnae has described in the comments below.

So, there are assorted things on my shelf that aren’t on a menu just yet–boxes of macaroni & cheese, rice, jello, etc.

I base my menu planning and shopping list based on things I already have, and things that are on sale.

In the past, I considered trying a bulk-buying method, but it didn’t work for me. I had to put more money out there upfront, I don’t have a lot of storage space, and it’s too easy for me to forget what I have.

Maybe I’ll go back to pantry-stocking in the future when I have less time, but for now, the menu approach works best for me.

Which strategy do you use?

Posted under Uncategorized | 23 Comments »

23 Responses to “Stock your pantry? Or shop for your menu?”

  1. I use a combination of both approaches. I make a menu, do the shopping, and with whatever I have left over in my weekly budget, I stock up on the great sales.

    Then next week I make my menu, trying to base it on stuff I’ve stocked up on, and use the same approach. Slowly I’m spending more money on stocking up and less on regularly priced items.

  2. I totally go with the keep-the-pantry-stocked method. I don’t tend to stick to a meal plan (I’d rather cook what I feel like eating any given afternoon!), and I don’t like shopping for unusual ingredients just to make one dish, so I keep a variety of ‘staples’ in the house, and a list of things that I can make with what I have in the house. As things get used up, they go on a shopping list.

    Because I work outside the home, this works best for me- having staples in the house with lots of options for simple meals.

  3. I do a little of both. I make a monthly meal plan by looking at what we have going on that month and writing down a dinner (or left overs) for each day. But I write in pencil. So if something happens I just switch meals up.

    When I look at the weekly grocery flier, if there’s a great deal on something, I change a meal or two that week or the next and buy the great deal. My monthly menu plan is always in penci so I can make it work for me. But I like having a plan so I’m never sitting there thinking, “what should I do for dinner?”. I just look on the calendar…

  4. I’ve done weekly planning, monthly planning, and “dinner is in 5 minutes, what are we having” planning. I’m currently weekly or bi-weekly shopping. I make a weekly menu and head to the store with my list. If I find something super cheap that can be a main dish and know I already have things in the pantry to put with it, I’ll change the plan. Just like everyone else, extra money goes to stocking the pantry. I’m liking the current method a lot and the grocery bill is lower than ever.

  5. I do weekly menu shopping. Sometimes I stock up on a few deals, but I normally don’t have the money in my weekly budget to stock up. However last week when I did the groceries Food Lion had a GREAT sale on meat and we stocked up for about three weeks!
    I normally do one big shopping trip with some of our income tax money to get things that wont go bad, so I normally get canned goods and pasta and even fabric softener. :)

  6. My family is very large. I have 7 kids, so we use a lot of everything.

    I usually stock up on necessities like shampoo, anit-perspirants, hair mousse, gel, toilet paper, paper towels and other necessities when they are on sale.

    For the grocery shopping, I plan a weekly menu. I find it’s easier and more cost effective to use the ingredients I already have. I always have to keep extra quick meal starters (and goodies) at home. I have 4 teens, a 12 yr old, a 9 yr old and a 6 yr old. Add another adult and more kids on the weekends and that’s my life! Oh yeah, we also have 7 cats and a dog….(don’t worry I have a very large home.)LOL!!!

    Great post.


  7. I am a stock the pantry type. I don’t always shop weekly, but I will hit the sales and stock up when there is a great sale on something. I do plan a menu weekly. I like having a well stocked pantry in the event I change my plans or we deicde we want something different.

  8. I shop the menu except for spices. If I had some more money I might stock the pantry, base my menus off what was in the pantry.

  9. I shop and base my menu on what’s on sale and what I already have in the pantry. Eversince I started doing this, I don’t think I have paid full price for anything except milk and maybe eggs.

  10. I generally go for the menu approach as well. But I guess I do a bit of both. Sometimes a good deal is too hard to pass up!

  11. I use a little of both! I try to keep a little money back for marked down meat at all times. I keep my pantry stocked with “our” staples and try to have some chicken breasts and ground meat in the freezer at all times. Thanks to your site, and a few others, I’ve been stocking up on a few things each month–dish soap and kleenex in December, canned goods at Aldis or Save a Lot this month. [That usually means a “tray” of each kind of canned food we use] Next month Kroger should have 10/$10 on frozen veggies again so I’ll stock up again. When I plan menus I have always looked to see “what we have” first. Then I look at what’s on sale. Then I add in a few “wants”–either that I want for dinner or the kids have asked for. Snacks in our house are pbj, boiled eggs or fresh fruit. I don’t keep junk. I also keep a grocery list on the fridge door. Right now I don’t have enough to bother with a freezer inventory sheet, but when it used to full I did.

  12. I do a combo of both, but usually stick to the pantry plan.

    With my family, we tend to lose interest in a “menu”, so I like to have a few options available and let the kids and my husband pick which one they want.
    I am a huge fan of stocking up, in part because I live so far from the grocery store, so maybe if I had one closer I could shop more often, but at this point this pantry plan works for me and seems to be the most cost-wise for us.

    Take Care


  13. I actually use both strategies. I shop for the items on my weekly menu and I view the local circular ads for sales before I shop(which I base most of my menu on). If there is an item on sale that we frequently use, I’ll stock up.

  14. I mostly shop to stock the pantry. At any given time I have a stockpile of various pantry items. Right now I have a stockpile of cereal, tea bags, and canned green beans to name a few.

    I find that I sometimes will have to go on a large shopping trip if the deals have been a plenty for awhile. For these trips I usually buy at wal-mart.

    Overall, I try to keep buying as much of loss leaders as I think my family will need between sales and fill in the rest of the menu plan with cheaper items not stockpiled.

  15. I use a combination of both as well. I keep a pantry for all things canned and dried (pasta/rice/beans/pita/flour etc)I only restock the pantry when things are on sale. When making my weekly menu I take the shoppinglist and check off everything I found in the pantry the rest of the items I check the fridge/freezer and cupboards when found check them off too the rest is on the list for grocery shopping. Wehn shopping I still have the list with items checked off so if any of those are on sale I restock.
    As for the menu I do match a recipe to a day but I switch around for comfort.

  16. I end up doing a combo, too.

    Because I’m partial to shopping at Costco but have learned it’s a big box into which to stuff money, I try to limit trips there to one a month. That really helps, since you can’t get out of the place for under two hundred bucks.

    Mostly, I buy staples, meat, and cleaning goods there. My fridge list has two columns: one for grocery stores and one for the monthly Costco run. In the Costco column I note things that are running low–if I run out of, say, dishwasher detergent before the appointed monthly shop, I buy a small amount at a grocery store rather than tempting fate (and bankruptcy) by making an extra trip to the place. At the end of the month, I reconnoitre the pantry, freezer, and cleaning closet, add anything that’s missing to the list, and then as soon as the paycheck is deposited, I make the expedition.

    Though their meat is not cheap, it’s far superior to anything you can get for the price around here, so I think it’s worth the cost. One of their steaks can be cut into three servings, and so a package of four steaks = twelve meals. Based on how much meat, chicken, and fish I’ve bought at the big box, I then figure out the menus. From there I build weekly grocery store lists, which are far smaller and less frequent than they were before I started this system.

    By spending a lot at the big box once a month–and often getting very good prices on products purchased in bulk–I spend less at the grocery store. Overall my grocery spending has dropped about $100 a month since I started doing this.

  17. I shop by the sales. We don’t plan any meals so we just eat what we have. I’ve found for us (just my husband and I) this works, we always have loads of food and lots of choices.

    Besides for milk, cheese, and espresso.. If it’s not free or cheap were not eating it this week.. :)

  18. I mostly use the menu shopping approach. I find that this helps me make sure that I eat at home more. If I see something that is a really good deal I will buy it for the pantry or freezer. That way, if I have unexpected guests or absolutely don’t feel like what was on the menu there are other options available. I also try to plan my menu around things that we have in the freezer or pantry.

    After I make my menu I plan out a very detailed shopping list. If it is not on the list it better be a great deal or it isn’t going into the basket. I even organize my list so that I am not running around in the store. I’m a little bit grocery shopping list obsessed I guess!

  19. I use both the stock the pantry and the shop by menu approaches. I will stock my pantry on sales of canned good and other non-perishables as I’ve got a lot of storage space in my basement pantry. I tend to buy my meats weekly as well as other perishables and some non-perishables when they are needed for the menu for the week. We also shop based off of the weekly special circulars, with coupons, and we also go to Sam’s Club once a month to stock on bulk items like TP, detergent, paper towels, etc.

  20. I shop once a week according to my menu. I’ve discovered this works best for me.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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