Give yourself a present for Christmas 2011: A well-stocked pantry.

The food ads are mighty attractive at this time of year even up here in Anchorage, where prices are noticeably higher than in the Lower 48.

A few of the items currently being offered at decent sale prices: bacon, eggs, cheese, soup, canned tomatoes, flour, chicken broth, coffee, yams, canned and plain frozen vegetables, crackers (I’m partial to the cracked pepper and olive oil Triscuits), potatoes, butter, apples and canned beans.

The idea is to get us to buy extra ingredients for holiday meals and those homemade sweets. But why not buy extra ingredients for ourselves?

This may seem like an obvious idea, but not everyone thinks along frugal lines. They buy the way they usually do, i.e., week to week. The trouble is, food prices go up from week to week. By locking in at current prices you’re investing in food futures, so to speak.

Having extra food on hand also means you’ve always got something to fix for lunch or dinner. This helps you not to rely on takeout.

Worst-case scenario: If your fortunes go south in the new year, you’ve got what my MSN Money colleague Liz Pulliam Weston calls “the emergency fund you can eat.”

The sunk-cost menu

Your budget may be stretched pretty thinly during the holidays. (Or maybe year-round.) But anyone with even an extra dollar or two per shopping trip should be looking to stock up.

The canned tomatoes and beans can be turned into a 20-minute chili that will warm you on a cold January evening. With some cheese and a mug of tomato soup, those Triscuits will make a simple but satisfying weekend lunch. That loss-leader flour is the centerpiece for a night-before-payday event known as “breakfast for supper,” i.e., pancakes or waffles.

Best of all: These will be sunk-cost meals. So stock up for January and beyond, when you’re receiving a higher-than-usual utility bill due to a cold snap – or the credit card bills from holiday indulgences.

Position yourself now for a little after-the-fact frugality. Keep your favorite chili recipe is handy, too.


20 Comments

  1. I love the food sales around the holidays. You can get so many great staples for ridiculously low prices.

    Also I like canned cranberries (even if I may not be able to eat them until July because of the sugar content).

  2. lostAnnfound

    The sales are very good. I bought 1 lb bags of frozen veggies at buy 1 get 2 free plus used a coupon…bought enough for the big dinner on Thursday and to stock our small freezer for at least a 2 months. I als

  3. I bake all year round, so I always stock up. Good to be reminded, though!

  4. Our area is void of sales, even turkeys. Spend 100.00 get a turkey for .69 a lb is not a sale to me. Thankfully I stocked up all year so I don’t have a problem. My friends in other parts of the country report some great sale items though.

  5. Food futures! I like that. It’s a great idea – I try to pick up extra, particularly when something expensive I like is on sale!

  6. I just cleaned and reorganized the pantry in anticipation of the holiday sales stock up. This is a great time to pick up baking supplies and other ingredients with a long shelf life. There are also lots of coupons to match.

  7. Great advice! We super-stocked our pantry before baby arrived… and then my employer, uh, forgot to pay me for the first pay cycle I was on maternity leave! We certainly hadn’t expected that, but we had plenty to eat for the few days HR was figuring out my paperwork. I was very grateful we had bought the staples in bulk ahead of time – it significantly reduced the stress.

    Since we’re supposed to have a terrible winter here in the Midwest, I’m hoping to keep the pantry well-stocked for the next few months. If we’re snowed in for a few days, I don’t want to go hungry – and I don’t want to be one of those people running to the store in a panic before a blizzard!

  8. I’m with Lynn here, the prices on these things actually go up around here during the holidays becuase they’re in demand (and there’s not much for competition.) It’s actually cheaper to buy pre-prepared foods around this time of year for me. No sales ’till after the holidays….

    • Donna Freedman

      @Diana and @Lynn: Bummer! Some prices do go up, but the stores in Seattle (and even in Anchorage, with its limited choices) are competing for business and thus put up some decent loss leaders. I hope the sales return after Santa leaves.

  9. I haven’t been a home cook for long enough to know all the best tricks, but one thing I recently figured out is that some of the organic produce I get every other week can be prepared and frozen. I don’t have to eat it all immediately.

    Obvious, yes? Don’t know why it took two months to grasp that! I mean, it was kind of a fun challenge to figure out ways to get everything eaten before it perished, but it was also a *hard* challenge.

    I now have containers of clean, chopped frozen celery and onions ready to throw into chilis or chowders, and had containers of persimmon chutney and mirepoix as well until I got them out to defrost for Thanksgiving. Anyway, that is a long way of saying food doesn’t have to come in a commercial package to last a long time.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Chacha1: Good point! Some of us have trouble using a bag of onions (which is sometimes the same price as one large weeper) so we need to cut them up and freeze them. Celery, too, sometimes languishes in the fridge after some of it is used for stuffing; it somehow never occurred to me to chop and freeze it as I would onions. Usually it just gets eaten or thrown into soup stock.
      I buy “manager’s special” (aka “bruised”) apples for 99 cents per bag and turn them into applesauce. If you don’t eat as much applesauce as I do — it is sooo good with homemade yogurt — then it could be cooked and frozen (in repurposed jars or containers if you don’t want to use up your Tupperware).
      I once interviewed a retired guy who told me he and his wife would buy and roast loss-leader turkeys or chickens. They’d make a lot of gravy from the pan juices and stock, then cut up the meat and pressure can it in jars with the gravy. When they didn’t feel like cooking later on they’d just heat a jar and pour it over rice or potatoes, or make open-face sandwiches (a good way to use up bread that’s getting a little stale.
      Makes me wish I had a pressure canner…Maybe I’ll save up my Amazon cards from Swagbucks and get myself one in the coming year. I could make larger-than-usual batches of chili, soup or stew and can them in pints. Mmmmm….shelf-stable leftovers…..

  10. Of course, Donna, on this issue and my habits, you are preaching to the choir…lol. Sometimes, this time of year, I buy enough of some items on sale to last me for a solid year. Others, I can restock at Easter, then the 4th, then Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years.
    I know that if I cannot afford a really fantastic restock, these different sales all year long will keep me ahead of the game if I don’t keep up this time of the year.

    I just don’t want to look at my powdered sugar supply. It is probably ridiculously over-stocked. But, when I ran out of the granulated sugar in the cannister and my oatmeal was hot NOW, I was in no mood to got get sugar from the other room and restock the kitchen. Powdered sugar, all ready to go in a canning jar, worked just as well.

    Even though I have enough store-canned pumpkin to last me–dozen pies and that many pumpkin breads–I will buy it when it goes on sale. The permanent marker date (14) I put on the front and top will keep me eating the pumpkin with “12″ on the top first. If it’s on sale, I always get a couple more even if my pantry has dozens of anything…lol. My stash may keep me full one day. Yes, I may have to eat my emergency fund.

    If I have a coupon for holiday stockup time, that is the item I will buy, especially if it is on sale.

  11. Yes to all of the above, and especially potatoes — for many pounds of mashed to take to Gobble Gobble Give Thanksgiving morning — these fabulous organizers collect, assemble, and deliver hot T. Day meals to homeless, of whom there are way too many in LA. You bring some food, 5 kits of toiletries and any usable, used clothes and blankets, and then you stick around and — assemble! Or whatever they tell you to do. Last year we ended up at the hot protein table — ripping apart turkeys, hams, chickens, etc., with our bare hands before plating. It was SO fun — everybody of all ages, backgrounds chips in and gets really greasy. So much happiness before we went home to succumb to gluttony. Whoever organizes this is a genius!

    The amazing thing is how many volunteers show up T. day morning — I think everyone feels that much more thankful for their own feasts after contemplating the extreme needs of others. And yes, it shouldn’t just be on holidays — should be working on this all year round.

    Sorry for blather — Happy Thanksgiving in the great white north!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Priskill: This sounds like a great program, although I wouldn’t let the Health Department know about the bare-hands thing. They’d probably shut it down or at least make you use knives.
      Now I want turkey. Sigh. I’m invited to a feast, and I’m thankful for that, but my favorite part of cooking the turkey is taking it apart myself and eating all the hot, crispy skin as I carve the meat and put it into containers. (I do the bird the night before, so that I can chill the pan juices and remove the fat the next morning before making gravy.) I keep a big glass of iced tea and a salt shaker by my work area, and take a break every so often to eat the skin. Best part of the bird, I think.

  12. Oh yes, skin! And stuffing cooked IN the bird — soaking up the juices. Maybe you can offer to help them, ahem, assemble the bird? Or save you some skin? Oh and everyone was indeed wearing donated food prep gloves but in my exaggerated memory we were like latter day cave folk ripping up the sabre-toothed turkey bare-hairy knuckled (cause we’re cave-folk). There were knives, too, but mostly hands burning through the plastic.

    We’re not actually cooking a bird, either, so I feel your pain! Never thought of doing the bird the night before! Usually I am just on the cusp of having it done that day. I do love eating T. day out — shhh — this is unAmerican — but your scenario reminds me of what I am missing. And iced tea makes everything great, if you ask me. Do enjoy your feast anyway!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Priskill: I love it when people cook for me, so I’ll truly enjoy this meal. Hope you enjoy yours, too.

  13. Great article Donna! I stock as much as possible around this time of year. It seems like everything goes on sale. Right now turkeys are $0.43 per pound, so I will be getting one for Thanksgiving and putting a couple more in the freezer for later in the year. Having a midwinter turkey dinner for our big family makes February feel a lot warmer.
    I am a little shocked that you do not have a pressure canner. You need to check estate sales, garage sales and Goodwill for a good used one. I picked up an extra at Goodwill for $15. The local extension office will test them for free and help you get any replacement parts you may need. I can all our homegrown veggies and fruits, and will be canning some of the venison we got hunting this year. Pressure canners are a fruganista’s ultimate tool!

    Thanks again for the great post, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Donna H: The only things I’m able to can right now (mostly gleaned fruit and homemade jams) are do-able with my water bath canner. Before I get a pressure canner I want to have a plan for using it, lest it just sit there taking up space. I live in a one-bedroom apartment with limited storage so I’m pretty careful about what I buy.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  14. Yeesh now I want turkey! And this yearI am not getting the big feast so I am a bit down about it. We have to meet family halfway between our homes so we have to eat out. Cracker Barrell it is.

  15. Reading your articles always makes me feel better, a pinch of wisdom and a dash of frugality=security.
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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