Plan to Preserve: Budget Tips for Making a Big Grocery Investment

(Image credit: Jessica Fisher)

Summertime is the season to do all kinds of fun food things, like throw a big party, can batches of preserves and pickles, and stock the freezer for the fall. This growing season produces all kinds of opportunities for buying ahead, cooking ahead, and celebrating.

But what if there really isn’t room in the budget to buy 40 pounds of pickling cucumbers, as perfect as they look? What if you just can’t foot the bill for a month’s worth of meals? What if throwing a party seems just more than your bank account can manage?

Years ago, I would have simply charged the expense on my credit card and worried about it later. In retrospect, this seems a little counter-intuitive, since canning and freezer cooking are supposed to save me money.

What’s the smart shopper’s alternative? Plan ahead for that big grocery expense.

There are several simple ways in which you can make room in the budget for the party or the preserving. Necessity is the mother of invention, right? I’ll bet each of us is able to make it happen with a little creative thinking. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Take Inventory

If you are someone who has more fun in the grocery store than the department store (waves hand wildly), you may have some goodies lurking in the cupboard that will suit your project perfectly. Time to take inventory!

I know there are boxes of canning supplies in the garage; I really don’t need to buy another box of lids — at least not until I check out what I have. I could make a party menu out of what’s already in the freezer; I just might need to do some baking and buy an item or two.

Check the fridge, freezer, and pantry — chances are, you’ve got a good start on supplies. Determine what you have so you won’t buy more than you truly need.

(Image credit: Jessica Fisher)

Do a Pantry Challenge

If you’ve got a regular grocery budget, then you already know what funds you have for a given week or month. But what about what’s already in your cupboard or freezer?

While it might not be party fare, it may be more than adequate for your weeknight dinners. What simple, low-budget meals can you make based on what you already have? Your inventory will come in handy not only for your big project, but also for tomorrow’s dinner. Eating down the freezer can save you money — by doing a pantry challenge and using up what you have for regular meals, you can divert the funds to your bigger expense.

Stockpile in Advance

If you’ve got time between now and when you need to can/freeze/party, take advantage of the age-old stockpile method. Look for sales and coupons and check the clearance rack for items that suit your needs. A purchase here and there shouldn’t break the budget, but it should allow you to slowly stock up.

Decide on Your Must-Haves

I tend to bite off more than I can chew. In order to keep my spending in check, I have to ask myself which items I really need and which I can pass over. Focusing on the most important purchases and supplementing with less expensive secondary purchases can be a great way to have the best of both worlds.

I might not have an unlimited grocery budget, but I do have a lot of creative options to explore. I’d love to know what tricks you use for making a big grocery expense happen!