How To Stockpile Food On A Tight Budget

Image via Joe’s World

The first winter in my new home delivered a snowstorm of epic proportions. I’m talking ten-foot snowdrifts and downed trees everywhere. We were snowed in for five long days, and there was no way to get to the grocery store.

Thankfully, we keep a small stockpile of food on hand which is more than enough to see us through any short-term emergency. So during that snowstorm, we ate well! Other than missing a little milk and ice cream, we barely noticed a change in our meal patterns. Food storage works when you have a plan and use it.

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Companies such as ThriveLife offer great tasting, healthy freeze-dried foods that will last many years. Other companies offer prepackaged, bulk items to keep on hand for any major or minor catastrophe. And MRE’s are easy to store and easy to use when the power is out.

These foods are wonderful for long term storage, but they can be pricey for those of us on a budget. While it is helpful to have freeze-dried foods or even MRE’s on hand for emergencies, there are more practical and less expensive ways to stockpile food for emergencies.

Here are some ways to stockpile food on a shoestring budget.

Figure Out What to Stockpile

Choose Foods Your Family Eats – It does no good to stockpile fifty pounds of freeze-dried Brussels sprouts if no one in your family will eat them. You’ll just be wasting your money on food that goes uneaten and gets wasted.

Instead, think about the types of foods your family eats on a regular basis. Is dry cereal a staple in your home? Or perhaps oatmeal is a food of choice. Maybe you love spaghetti, or rice, or chicken nuggets.

Look over your weekly meal plans to see what items you usually eat in any given week. Make a list of your most popular items and how they are stored – pantry, freezer, or refrigerator – and begin to gather those items. Most refrigerator items are highly perishable, so keep your food storage plan focused more on long term foods such as deep freeze items and dried food.

Know What You Don’t Need – Don’t waste your money storing up items you don’t need. If you have several milk goats giving you fresh milk every day, you probably won’t need to spend your savings on powdered milk. If you can grow fresh produce all year long in a heated greenhouse, you may not need to save vegetables or fruit, although you may want some on hand just in case.

Practice Rotation – The fresher the products you have on hand, the better. If you typically eat ravioli, go ahead and stock up on ravioli when you find a good a sale. And then use them! Eat from the oldest cans first, and add new stock as needed to the back of your shelves.

This way, you continually rotate the food you are eating so you always have the freshest food stored and you don’t lose money on food that goes bad.

Image via Julie & Heidi / CC BY-SA 2.0

Choose Some Variety – Appetite fatigue is a real thing. People – especially children – can get tired of eating the same things all the time to the point that they are unable to eat. It may be tempting to only stock up on the cheapest foods, such as rice and beans, but this will quickly lead to appetite fatigue. Look for ways to include some kind of variety in the foods that you store.

Keep An Eye Out For Expiration Dates – Many preppers will tell you that food stays fresh much longer than the expiration date on the can says it will. Eating expired food is a personal choice that comes with risks.

Whichever you choose, keep your eyes on expiration dates so you know which foods need to be eaten first. This will keep you from wasting food, and consequently, wasting money. It would be a crisis to count on food that you have stored only to discover it is no longer safe to eat.

Splurge a Little On Some Specialized Foods – Add in some specialized emergency foods to cover foods that may not be readily available in an emergency. Specific items such as powdered milk, freeze-dried butter, or nuts may have extra costs associated with them, but they may be worth it when you don’t have access to fresh milk or butter for cooking.

Suggested Foods For Storage

Dried Foods – Some of the easiest foods to store are dried foods. For example, one-pound bags of dried beans are very inexpensive and will last for years if they are protected from moisture, heat, and cold. Other inexpensive, storable foods include rice, lentils, and dried spaghetti or pasta noodles.

Canned Foods – Canned foods have a relatively long shelf life if you have the space to store them. Soups, stews, beans, and canned fruits and vegetables are a good way to add foods with vitamins and minerals to your stash. Canning your own foods, if you have the means, can save money and provide fresher, higher-quality foods for storage.

Freeze-Dried Foods – While freeze-dried foods have a much longer shelf life than other types of foods, they are much more costly. If you want to store freeze-dried foods, consider becoming a consultant or purchasing in bulk to get the best deals.

If you can’t afford to have an entire stash of freeze-dried foods, you may want to choose a few items, such as freeze-dried meat or spices, that will add nutritional or taste value to your stored meals without going overboard by purchasing all freeze-dried items.

Water – While you are stockpiling food, you are going to need a supply of water as well. According to the Penn State Extension, you should store one gallon of water per person per day. (However, it might be better to aim for two gallons per person per day so you also have plenty of water for cleaning and bathing.)

If you have city water, you can save money by storing it in clean bottles with screw caps for up to six months, as per their directions. Otherwise, you will need to invest in purchasing bottled water or water filters to use for rain water, grey water, or other sources that you might have at your disposal. If you are very active or have livestock, you will need additional water on hand.

Look For Deals And Steals

Shop Sales – The easiest way to save money is to stock up when things are on sale. You can easily and inexpensively add to your food stash by watching the sale flyers at your local grocery store. Look for sales such as 10 items for $10.

This is a great way to buy canned goods, spaghetti sauce, and condiments in manageable amounts. Grocery stores such as Giant will often advertise buy one get one free – buy a name brand product, and receive the store brand free – as a means of getting people to try their store brand products.

Know Your Price Points – While the cost of living and the cost of food varies greatly by location, know the amount you are willing to pay per item. On my budget, I only purchase cereal when it is $2 per box or less and I only purchase meat when it is under $2 per pound. The available items vary week by week, so I stock up when the price is best.

Shop By Sell-By Dates – Stores will heavily discount meats and vegetables that have reached their sell-by dates. You can stock up on meat very inexpensively this way. However, you will need to process it immediately – either by freezing, canning, or smoking, so that it doesn’t go bad before it is ready to be stored long term.

Use Coupons – It’s possible to find amazing deals when clipping coupons. The key to couponing is to only use coupons for things you would normally purchase, and not for items you would never use. Combining coupons with store sales will give you even better prices. Check out websites such as The Crazy Koupon Lady for more information on how to get great deals using coupons.

Chose Store Brand Over Name Brand – If you are eating or stocking up food on a shoestring budget, one of the easiest ways to save money is to choose the store brand over the name brand. Store brand items tend to be fifteen to thirty percent lower in price than name brand items, so you automatically get more for your money just by changing brands.

Generally, if you are cooking a casserole or other multi-ingredient recipe, you will not be able to tell the difference between store brand and name brand tastes. But do keep your eyes open for sales – sometimes, a name brand product will be cheaper when it is on sale or when combined with a coupon.

Buy In Bulk – Buyer’s clubs, such as Costco and BJ’s, have obvious deals when you buy in bulk. Other places where you may want to buy in bulk to save money include restaurant supply stores such as Shipping fees may be high, so look for a local chain where you can order online and pickup in-store to save.

You can also purchase in bulk online at places such as and Split up items with a few friends to save on shipping and to make sure you don’t have too much of one type of food.

Don’t just shop major retailers – consider places such as local Amish or Mennonite markets for bulk items. The LDS church offers hundreds of stores across the United States to purchase inexpensive bulk food for emergency storage.

Keep The Big Picture In Mind – It might be tempting to think you have to create balanced meals right away, but remember that creating a stash of food on a tight budget means looking at the big picture, not at individual meals.

Stock up on foods while they are inexpensive, even if your stash isn’t perfectly balanced. Over time, you will figure out what items are missing in your stash of stored food and balance it out. For now, the key is just to get started without spending too much money on any one item.

Long Term Food Storage Ideas

Store Food In Temperate Areas Of Your Home – Extreme heat, cold, humidity, and pests can all be detrimental to stored food. Look for safe places in your home to store food so it doesn’t spoil. Avoid extremes such as attics and garages. Here are some other things that will destroy your food storage.

Divide And Store – If you purchase beans or rice in bulk, you may want to store it in separate containers to make it more usable, especially when you rotate your stock. Divide it up into smaller containers and store in airtight, vacuum-sealed Mylar bags for the most protection.

Store On The Cheap – If you need cheap ways to store your goods, make a visit to your local bakery. Many times they will give away or cheaply sell their used icing buckets. These food-grade, 5-gallon buckets make a cheap, water-proof way to store your Mylar bags or prepackaged foods.

Stash It – If storage is in issue, consider hiding your stored food anywhere you have a small space to spare. You can put your bed on small risers or blocks and fill the space underneath with canned or dried goods.

Basements may make a good place for shelves of canned goods and bottled water. Cover a small table with a table cloth to hide items that need to be kept at stable room temperatures. Storing your food well means you won’t waste money on food that has spoiled unnecessarily. Here are some other places you can hide your food storage.

Start Somewhere

You don’t have to go all out and buy $5000.00 worth of emergency food all in one shot, although I know people who have done that. If you don’t have that kind of money sitting around, just get started, a little at a time. Designate a portion of your grocery budget – whether it be $5 a week or $50 – to starting your stockpile.

Many preppers would say you need at least one year’s worth of food stored up, but even having three days worth is a great start for small emergencies such as snowstorms, hurricanes, or even a minor illness that makes it hard to get to the grocery store. You may need to temporarily adjust your household budget to make room for some food storage items until you have enough food stored to make you feel prepared for any emergency.

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