If you read budgeting blogs or watch frugal living YouTube channels, you’ve probably heard of pantry or “use it up” challenges. Pantry challenges involve eating the food you have on hand in your pantry, fridge, and freezer instead of going to the grocery store. They usually last for about a month to force you to use up everything in the house so nothing gets wasted.
Doing a pantry challenge once or twice a year can save you some cash since you’re not going to the grocery store. It can also prevent canned goods and other pantry staples from collecting dust in the back of your cabinets and going bad. But this frugal living challenge may actually cost you more money in the long run than it saves you. Here’s why.
You’ll Use Up Most of Your Food
The point of a pantry challenge is to get you to use up most of the food in your house to prevent waste. We all have old packages of pasta and cans of beans that have been sitting on our shelves for too long. The goal is to finally eat all those things and save money.
But clearing out your pantry has some downsides. What happens if a winter storm or other emergency hits at the end of your pantry challenge and you can’t get to the grocery store?
Ready.gov recommends having at least a few days of non-perishable food on hand at all times. So make sure you’ll still have an emergency food supply at the end of your challenge and won’t go hungry if something unexpected happens.
You’ll Have to Restock Everything At Once
After a month of avoiding the grocery store, you’ll probably be out of a ton of pantry staples. This forces you to do a big restock after the challenge is over. Unless you’re really careful, you may spend more than you budgeted for the week and cancel out the savings from your pantry clean-out.
You’ll also have to buy the necessities you ran out of even if they’re not on sale. When you’re out of staples like pasta and tomato sauce, you can’t wait for a good deal to replace them. You’ll probably be forced to pay full price or close to it, which will cost you money in the long run.
It’s better to stock up when things are on clearance and try to time your purchases to your local grocery store’s sales cycle. That way you never have to pay full price for anything and can save money all the time, not just during a pantry challenge.
You’ll Waste Energy
Did you know that emptying out your freezer actually makes it less efficient? A full freezer retains cold better and costs less to run than a half full or empty one. Full freezers also stay colder for longer during power outages, reducing the chances that you’ll have to toss all your food due to spoilage.
That’s why I like to keep my freezer fully stocked instead of cleaning it out during a pantry challenge. But if you don’t have enough food to fill your freezer, you can always top it up by putting in a few jugs of water. Once they’re fully frozen, they’ll increase the efficiency of your freezer just like food would.
Why I Don’t Do Pantry Challenges
Even though pantry challenges are popular among frugal living bloggers, I don’t do them. I find that fully stocking my pantry and freezer saves me more money than clearing them out.
Since I have a lot of pantry staples on hand, I don’t have to go to the grocery store as often. The supermarket I shop at is thirty minutes away, so visiting it once or twice a month instead of every week saves me a lot of gas and mileage.
I’m also able to be more selective about what I buy. I can skip buying ketchup for a week or two because I have enough on hand to wait until it goes on sale.
I prevent waste by using up the oldest food first. Whenever I go to the store, I put the new items at the back of my pantry instead of the front to make sure I’m using everything before it expires.
What do you think of pantry challenges? Do you think they save you money or cost you more in the long run? Let us know in the comments section below.