Disaster wears many faces, not all of them coming from nature. The world economy is experiencing a very bumpy and heart-stopping roller coaster ride because of turmoil in the financial markets. A terrorist attack could disrupt the food distribution system for a prolonged period. Crops fail periodically, driving up prices. Job loss is a possibility or a reality for people all the time. Having a stash of extra food in your pantry will not fix every problem that comes along, but it gives a little peace of mind. It can save a little cash, too.
Look at your bank statement or checkbook and see how much you have spent on groceries over the past two or three months. This probably includes items like health and beauty aids and paper goods---essentials that you probably use every day.
Go to your refrigerator and take an inventory, including partial jugs of milk, half-empty ketchup bottles, and that jar of mayonnaise that's been in there since Bill Clinton was president. Anything of questionable freshness or safety should be thrown out. Write all this information down for future reference. Repeat with the items in your kitchen cupboards. Take everything out and toss the stuff you're not sure about. Now is also a good time to wipe the shelves and replace the shelf paper if needed. This is a good way to make sure there aren't any pantry pests raising a family in that open box of oatmeal.
After you've determined how much you eat in a week and how much food you have on hand, it's time to make a shopping list for the upcoming week. Try to identify the items your family eats on a regular basis. For most of us, caviar will not make the list.
If you get the daily local newspaper delivered to your home, you're in luck. Depending on the market area you live in, the weekly grocery ads appear in the Wednesday edition of the paper. If you don't have a subscription, you can still make a point of picking up a copy of the newspaper on Wednesdays. Most supermarket chains also post their weekly ads online. Identify the best prices on staple food items and circle them. Clip coupons. Take advantage of two for the price of one deals.
Carve an extra $20 out of your budget each week. This will be your seed money for your storage food plan. It's not a lot of money, but you can work wonders with it. There are tips below to help you find the cash.
After your shopping trip, bring everything into the house and designate which food is for daily use and which is to go into storage. Store the extras on a spare shelf in your closet or even in a plastic bin under a bed. Just make sure the storage area is as cool, dark, and dry as possible
- Finding an extra $20 per week to spend on food can be a challenge these days. Why not forgo that specialty coffee drink in the morning and buy a cup of plain Joe instead? Take the two or three dollars you've saved and put the money in an "instead of" jar at home. Carry a thermos of coffee with you to work and you will save even more.
- Now that you have that precious extra $20, pinch every penny until it begs for mercy. Look at the grocery ad from your supermarket and hone in on those weekly 10 for $10 deals. Use the coupons you've clipped. Buy in bulk when you can.
- When you get everything home, take an indelible black marker and write the date of purchase on the package or can. Next week, move those items to the front of the storage area, date your new purchase the same way, and place them behind the ones you bought last week.
- A paper inventory sheet posted on the inside of a closet or pantry door is a handy way to keep track of what you have. If you are so inclined, you can do the same thing with an Excel spreadsheet or any of the useful food-storage software available online.
- Take a calculator when you go food shopping. The larger size of a product may actually cost more than two smaller ones.
- Buy in bulk only if it makes sense for your family situation. Twenty pounds of organic whole-grain pasta may be a great buy, but if it tastes like cardboard and your family won't eat it, it is a waste of time and storage space.
- Pay attention to expiration dates on food containers but don't worship them blindly. Canned goods in particular are often perfectly fine as much as three years after the date stamped on them. Expiration dates often have more to do with marketing than they do with food palatability.
Susan Kerr began her writing career as a food columnist in 1987 before moving to business journalism as a reporter and managing editor in the Penn State area. Since then, Kerr has contributed content to military-related magazines, not-for-profit websites and other online media. In addition, she writes a weekly column for her hometown newspaper