How to Build an Old-Fashioned Frugal Pantry

variety of dried legumes in glass jars. selective focus on the jar in the foreground with chickpeas

Learning to build an old-fashioned frugal pantry is a great way to feed your family on a small budget. In this article you will learn tips like stocking the basics, cooking from scratch, growing your own food, preserving seasonal produce, and buying in bulk.

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Learn to Stock a Frugal Pantry

If there was one thing that the generations that went before us knew, it was how to feed their families on a small budget and fill their pantries with frugal, filling ingredients on a dime.

This is a skill that I’m afraid is dying in our culture, but we need to know how to do it just the same. Today I’m going to share with you how to build an old-fashioned frugal pantry, so that you too can feed your family frugal, wholesome meals on a small budget.

Keeping a stocked pantry is not just a cute hobby, but an incredibly wise thing to do to. Grocery stores stock around 3 days worth of food, so when weather, road closures, power outages or any other disaster strikes, you can be sure that the shelves will be empty overnight.

Keeping a well stocked pantry gives you and your family a buffer against any hardships that might come your way. I hope this list of tips for building a well-stocked frugal pantry will inspire you to keep extra food on hand for when you need it.

Stock the Basics

In today’s culture, we are weighed down with choices. We can have literally any food we want at any time of the year. I believe that this is a blessing and a burden at the same time.

Sometimes having a few simple choices is healthier and makes life easier. Our ancestors stocked their pantries with frugal staples such as coffee, beans, potatoes, flour, oats, sugar, rice, etc.

Keeping these staples on hand in large quantities means that a frugal and filling meal is never more than a few hours away.

Cook from Scratch

Our ancestors cooked from scratch at literally every meal because their was no such things as convenience food. Cooking from scratch allows you to make use of basics, frugal ingredients while feeding your family nutritious, homemade meals. Plus, homemade almost always tastes better than store-bought.

Additional Resources:

Grow Your Own Food

In generations past, if people wanted fresh produce then they had to grow it themselves. I believe that anyone can grow at least some food even if it’s just herbs on the windowsill or tomatoes and peppers in pots.

Growing your own food allows you to enjoy fresh, organic produce for really cheap. It also allows you to grow things like potatoes, onions, apples and squash that store well and can feed you well into the winter. If you are new to gardening, check out my list of easy to grow vegetables.

Preserve What’s in Season

If you’re going to grow a lot of food or purchase it in season, then you need to know how to preserve it. Canning, freezing and dehydrating are the most common methods. Being able to grow or purchase large quantities of in season produce and preserve it for winter is a great way to stock your pantry .

If you need help learning to preserve food, then you can check out a few books from the library or browse Pinterest and learn how to preserve your own food. You can also check out some of my recipes below to get started.

Food Preservation Recipes:

Wooden shelves lined with homecanned food.

Buy in Bulk

People used to buy food in bulk more because they didn’t go to the grocery store as often and it was also cheaper. Buying in bulk is a great way to stock a pantry and save money, ensuring that you always have food on hand for emergencies. Be sure that when you are buying in bulk you will actually eat what you are buying and also have a way to store it.

Do you do these things? What tips would you add? I’d love to know!

Check out these tips for building an old-fashioned frugal pantry just like grandma on


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  1. I love this post! We need to get back to the basics of stocking our pantry and putting food up like our grandparents did. I'm flagging this post to refer back to and share!
    1. you are so right Maribeth. I am sharing and teaching this concept to everyone who will listen. lol. basically just he prepared. there are lists on here that address shopping and what to buy each week to stock pile on a budget. this is a 52 week plan and very well done and easy to adjust to your needs
  2. HI Missy, thanks for your practical wisdom on this topic. Finding frugal ways to feed my family is fast becoming a passion of mine. Your blog has been a great resource for me!
  3. I love this, but isn't it also true that our grandmothers didn't work outside the home and thus had time to make everything from scratch? I work from home and I have more time than most, but my hubby does not cook (disabled). I can't imagine running my business and making everything from scratch!
    1. Valid point. Life is sure different than it was back then, but I think with careful planning and prioritizing cooking from scratch is definitely still possible in our culture. And I take advantage of convenience items too. :)
      1. They didn't work outside of home but mine cooked 3 meals a day. She took care of her chickens, washed clothes in a wringer washer and in general helped on the farm. My mom worked a full time job and cooked from scratch.
    2. I work a full time 40 hour a week job. I too understand what it is like to not have time to make everything from scratch. However you can make a big difference in just a short time. I make mixes which enable me to "cook from scratch" every weeknight even when I am dead on my feet. I have cornbread mixes made in individual ziplock bags that all I need to do is throw the dry mix in my bread machine and add the wet ingredients and hit a button. I make crockpot dump meals frozen where all I need to do is empty one into my crockpot in the morning and by 5pm dinner is done. I have a ton of those recipes and they are very easy to find online. My weekend consists of about 3-4 hours of "meal prepping" cutting up vegetables, make the seasoning sauces or mixes and getting it all ready to bake or prepped for other means of cooking. Believe it or not, we rarely eat anything out of a box and do not do take out. It can be done with just a little effort.
      1. Wow Sandy, thanks for the tips about mixes and sauce preparation. That's a new way for me to try out when I need to work at day and still cook my family meals everyday.
    3. When I was working 50+ hours a week, I would choose one day a week and cook at least 3 meals from scratch for the upcoming week and I was sometimes able to freeze meals individually just in case I needed them. Good luck and God bless!
    4. I find that getting into a routine with cooking from scratch makes it less time consuming. Planning ahead also helps.
  4. I use to do all this bulk buying but as it's only me and now instead of a huge farm house i live in a tiny condo no point but I've always cooked fresh and have a tiny pots garden lots of pots full of fresh food and I never buy instant foods I make my own bread everything is home and hand made cheese also
  5. I buy short dated meat and cook it immediately (or the next day) or freeze it. It makes menu planning easy and we can eat a wider variety of meat cuts/types that we would if I was paying full price. Especially in hot weather, it is nice not to have to run the oven! Sometimes I love convenience foods and splurge when I want to, and economize somewhere else. Couponing is harder now that kids are gone caz we choose to eat less processed foods but it does help, too. I have a hoard of canned/dry goods/detergent/shampoos, etc. on shelving in the cellar and have been known to live "out of the cupboard" when other expenses take priority over groceries--especially now that we're retired. I buy what's on sale with coupons in some bulk and can wait till it's on sale again!
  6. Some Links are not working. but it helped me to find answers to my questions. Thanks. I love the way you explained every single thing with clean paragraph and heading. Worth Sharing <3
  7. About buying in bulk - it's not always as easy as you think, there are some things to consider; Only buy food in bulk that you can use up within the recommended shelf life of the food Make sure you have the proper storage containers, you don't want to leave it in the store packaging Make sure it's fresh! Learn how to recognize the smells, tastes, appearance of fresh vs. stale foods. I.e., flour shouldn't have a smell, etc. Just like anything else, buy in season. For shelf stable food, prices are going to vary during the year.
  8. I’ve been using this system since my marriage in 1966. We lived on one income. My job was to make that paycheck stretch. It was always a fun challenge. We saved lots of money and lived simply and well. Friends with two incomes were always asking how we could live on one income. My husband said, “I don’t know. My wife takes care of all that!” And I did and the bill collectors never came to our door. And we never had a credit card. Those were the best years of our lives as I look back now. We loved the challenge.
  9. Great tips and ideas! I love gardening. I'm now also growing a garden and learning how to save seeds from year to year to save money. We are dehydrating some pepper seeds right now.
  10. I’d add yeast, honey and whole grain wheat berries (various types) for making into breads, pasta etc. Fresh ground flour is much more nutritious and berries keep longer and, in bulk cost a fraction of the price.
  11. Fantastic work Missy, your views are excellent and very similar to the ones my family holds. I remember my grandparents were so strong and aged beautifully well, I'm certain it was due to the way they cooked - from the ingredients (straight from their own farm) to the process. As a bonus, cooking like that always delivers the best flavors. Thanks for the great post, lots of valuable information!
  12. Hi Its so true that there are many blessings to being frugal. One of the things that made me realize that some of the best things are "free" when watching Jamie Oliver and seeing how very cheap and easy it is to make your own pasta and Gnocchi - which costs a bit in the store, but dirt cheap to make. A small ball of Gnocchi can last you a very long time and not to mention how Ganero makes his lasagna, with one medium pot of filling he can make 5-10 lasagnas and its less meat than we would use - but authentic Italian. Then there is carrot and fennel soup - carrots are cheap and I can make it a la cart. Its true, So instead of living frugal, I will save a lot of money and live Italian..on a shoestring budget.
  13. This is definitely something I try to do. We do grow a lot of our own food and I can, freeze and dry a lot of it, but there are items that I do have to buy at the grocery store. We do stock our dry goods pantry and it is a great feeling to know that you can feed your family and come up with ideas by simply opening your cupboards. I try to plan a week of meals at a time so that I can pull various items from the freezer and give them time to thaw. It does take planning ahead, but becomes habit after a bit. What I cook each day depends on what my hours are at work that particular day. I have a couple days thruout the week that I work over 10 hours and those are slow cooker nites. Give it time to become habit. Or, prepare more than one meal on a day that you have time. Have fun!
  14. Yes, you can work full time and cook from scratch. My grandmother did it, my mother did it and so did I. Actually many black women worked as maids, housekeepers and nanny's outside the home and cooked from scratch for their families every day. And we scrubbed floors on our hands and knees and walked home at lunch time to nurse our babies. I still cook everything from scratch though I am simi-retired. It just takes planning and it's just the way things were done in those days.
  15. I would add cornmeal to the list of pantry items. Or popcorn and a meal grinder. I love to cook pinto beans and have cornbread with them. Maybe some kind of potatoes. I grew up eating like this. We had meat once or twice a week, except for breakfast. We had breakfast meat every morning. If there was any left over, we’d have that in a leftover biscuit for a snack. Yumm. Good times, and good food.
  16. Canning (takes extra time), Freezing (takes a freezer but little time), Dehydrating (takes very little time) are all things I do. Dehydrating is my favorite. I buy produce in bulk at sale prices. For example, I have 4 trays of sliced mushrooms now in my dehydrator. It takes time to get the mushrooms dry enough to store in glass ball jars. I can do other chores or relax when the dehydrator runs. I don’t, however, run my dehydrator overnight or when out of the house. When dried, the mushrooms are a quick addition to soups and sauces. Currently, I have corn, peas, diced potatoes, and herbs dried besides mushrooms.

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