The Little Rule That Keeps My Budget in Check and My Pantry in Order

updated Sep 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Unless you have a never-ending budget or unlimited pantry space, I’m guessing you’re always looking for ways to keep one or both of them in check? I am, too. So far, I’ve come up with one little rule that’s really proven to be a huge help: I only buy an ingredient if I know that I can use it in more than one recipe.

If I’m looking at a recipe that calls for safflower oil and I don’t already have it, nor do I have other recipes that call for it, I won’t buy it. I’ll either look for a substitute ingredient, decide if the dish will suffer if I leave it out entirely, or if I must, find another (but similar!) recipe that calls for things I do have. (In this case, I can almost always use canola or peanut oil!)

Not only does this save me money because I’m not splurging on Aleppo pepper or rose water, but it also helps save space in my pantry. I don’t have to rearrange every single jar to make room for that thing of preserved lemon.

And I don’t have to waste precious time Googling to try to figure out how to use up a jar of Dijon mustard in a house that prefers whole-grain. It’s seriously faster to just find a new recipe than it is to come up with recipes to use up something you didn’t want to buy in the first place. Especially because things to snowball: If I want to use up one thing, I usually have to buy another new-to-me, one-off ingredient, which just further perpetuates the problem.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Our esteemed Editor-in-Chief, Faith Durand, even has a name for this issue: She calls it The Pomegranate Molasses Problem. See, many years ago, our News & Culture Editor, Ariel Knutson, bought a bottle to make one recipe (muhammara) and was wondering for months what to do with the rest of the stuff. Faith gave the conundrum a name and eventually had to write this post on the five ways to use up a bottle of pomegranate molasses! The food editors here at Kitchn try to offer that sort of advice a lot, but honestly the best advice I can personally give you is to not end up in this situation in the first place.

This is not to say you should NEVER try a new ingredient. But if your goal is to keep your budget and pantry space in check, it’s a good practice to follow most of the time. And when you do go for that new ingredient, make sure you have plenty of recipes waiting in the wings to use it up so it doesn’t sit in the back of your pantry for the rest of year!

What do you do when a recipe calls for an ingredient you know you’ll have trouble using up?