Organizing the Pantry on a Budget

Before we get into the pantry stuff, I wanted to let you guys know that Life In Order now has it’s very own Twitter and Instagram accounts! So please follow me on Twitter @LifeInOrderBlog and on Instagram @LifeInOrder (you can also click the icons to the right to connect with me). And don’t forget to subscribe and follow me on bloglovin’!

Anyways, let’s get to the good stuff.

When we moved into this apartment six months ago, one of the things I was most excited for was to have a pantry! We didn’t have one in our old apartment and I couldn’t wait to tackle organizing this new space. I learned the challenges it posed pretty quickly: what things to put at eye level and which to put up high or down low, how to properly store food, and building one step systems for quicker meal times–I had it under control for the most part. But about a week ago, I decided to take it all one step further and really get a handle on the space. So here’s the infamous before and after of our tidy little pantry:

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Please excuse how dark and grainy these pictures are – my pantry is very far away from any natural light!

At a glance, it’s not so different. But it functions SO much differently than it did before. It’s easier to cook and putting ingredients back is a breeze. You can see the subtle but huge differences by taking a closer look at each shelf:

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What’s Different:
The lazy susan on the right hand side of the shelf stayed exactly as it was, but the bin on the left changed. I purchased the container from Walmart and use it to hold our drink mixes like hot cocoa, tea, and iced tea mix. I like it because it’s narrow, deep, and has a handle, so no inch of space is unused. Behind it, I put extra Brita filters and our electric knife; things we don’t use everyday or need to access often.

Why it changed:
The space to the left of the lazy susan wasn’t reaching its full potential. I kept things in the front that weren’t being used very often, and that piece of real estate is just too valuable to go untouched. So, I pushed things we don’t need to use to the back, and made more room for things we do in the front.

Why it works:
Every single inch of this shelf has a purpose and there is no wasted space. The lazy susan creates a one-step organizing system, making things easy to grab, use and put back. Also, it let’s me see and access things all the way in the back with just a flick of the wrist–I’m only 5’1″ so it’s a pretty big help.

What products I used:
Clear Bin: Walmart, $6
Lazy Susan: Garage Sale, 25 cents! (the person who sold this obviously didn’t know what they were doing)

Total = $6.25

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What’s Different:
Actually, nothing is different about this shelf. It was functioning perfectly just the way it was. Other than some purging, it stayed exactly the same, hence the lack of before/after picture.

Why it stayed the same:
I’ve seen a lot of people organize beautiful Pinterest worthy pantries where everything is out of the box and put perfectly into color-coordinating containers. But, for me, this works just fine. I am far too lazy to take cereal, crackers and pasta out of the package each week after grocery shopping to put it into a separate container. Why would I do that when I don’t have to? That just sounds exhausting (and a little unnecessary).

Why it works:
Although you would never catch a pantry that looks like this on the cover of HGTV Magazine, that’s okay. It works well for me, and is cheaper than paying for containers. Just because you keep things in their original packaging doesn’t mean you’re unorganized–it just means your practical (as long as a space functions well). It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to work for you.

I used no products for this shelf!

Total: $0

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What’s Different:
I didn’t change this shelf too much either, I more tidied it up. I switched out my high school looking binder for a nicer, brighter, Martha Stewart Home Collection binder (that I already had) for our recipes. I added a mason jar for chip clips and wine stoppers and moved some things to other shelves where they fit much better.

Why it changed:
I felt like I could make better use of the space by clearing things out, and making sure I could see everything on the shelf. With the popcorn bag in the way and the jars of salsa and sauce that were all the same, I wasn’t making the most of the tiered shelving.

Why it works:
I can now see all the labels on the shelf. It really makes it a lot easier to grab and put back.

I used no new products for this shelf!

Total = $0

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What’s Different:
This shelf probably underwent the most change of them all. It’s completely different–but it needed to be. I took everything from that green bin and moved it up to the clear container on the top shelf. I unloaded the bread crumbs and quick oats into new, air-tight containers and moved the spice packets to another shelf. I used mason jars that we had around the apartment for smaller quantities of baking and cooking supplies and put cans of sauce behind them.

Why it changed:
I wasn’t using the space to it’s full potential at all. I just kind of threw things on this shelf willie-nillie, and broke my own rules of organizing. I’m pretty ashamed. I knew I could fit much more on this shelf with a little rearranging, and rearrange I did!

Why it works:
I moved everything to inexpensive air-tight containers to keep them fresh and staying good longer. The simple switch from round to square containers let me fit everything on the shelf so much better and gave me the extra space I needed for more items. I can take the lid off, scoop out as much of the ingredient I need and then put it back. I used to keep some of these things in plastic baggies, and it was really a pain to get them out when cooking–but I don’t have the problem anymore!

Chalkboard labels allow me to change the contents of the container easily without having to peel off labels and reapply. If I want to switch it up, I can just wipe off the chalkboard marker and rewrite it.

What products I used:
Clear Containers: $35 for a set of 3, $7 for additional tall container
They are from Walmart Better Homes and Garden’s Brand in the kitchen section if you’re interested!
Decorative Chalkboard Labels: $2 for 2 packs
Mason Jars = free!

Total = $44

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What’s Different:
In the before picture you’ll see that I have all our baking supplies inside ziplock bags and thrown in that red bin to be forgotten. The old setup made cooking a complete hassle.

Why it changed:
 I couldn’t get anything out of the bags without making a mess and it was difficult and heavy to take out the whole bin and put it all back, so I usually just ended up taking out one thing at a time and then throwing it back on top of the heap. Not good.

Also, Matt never put anything back in the right place with these stackable bins, so we needed some order and some labeling.

Why it works:
We rearranged the contents of the stackable bins according to usage, which is how onions ended up on top. It makes it easier to access the things we use more often. Also, we put the flour and sugar in cereal containers, ideal for such a narrow, yet tall space. The new containers make it easy to grab what we need, use it, and then put it back while keeping things fresh and mess-free.

What products I used:

Clear Containers: $8 each

Total = $16

The grand total for this pantry overhaul came in under $70, $66.25 to be exact! That’s a small price to pay for the amount of time it has saved us in the kitchen and the longevity we will get out of those beautiful air tight containers.

It helps to shop the house first when you’re trying to organize on a budget and use what you’ve already got before going out and buying new things. But when you do buy new things, make sure that you’re purchasing items that are worth the investment. The Dollar Tree is great, but when it comes to keeping your food fresh, you’re going to want something air-tight. The cost of replacing your food each time it goes bad is going to add up quickly if you don’ have the right tools to store it all.

If you want to cook, but you’ve given up, consider re-organizing your pantry and think about one-step organizing systems. This means one step to take it out, and one step to put back. It will help maximize your kitchen efficiency and may even help you turn into a pro in the kitchen (am I over promising?).

I hope I’ve given you some ideas and inspiration to try and tackle organizing your own pantry on a budget! Leave me a comment below if you have anything to add or share. I love learning from other people who are getting organized to live more productive lives!

Don’t forget to subscribe if you’d like to get updates from my blog to your e-mail account, follow me on bloglovin’, follow me on Instagram @LifeInOrder and on my new Twitter account @LifeInOrderBlog.

If you’re curious about how I organize something in my apartment, let me know! I would be happy to show you if I haven’t already. See you next time!

Budgeting: Aldi vs. Name Brand Grocery Comparison

The last couple of weeks I have shown you how to cut your grocery budget without couponing, then I showed you my process by taking you grocery shopping with me. If I haven’t already convinced you, I’m going to kick it up a notch (as my spin instructor would say. P.S. – I’ve recently gotten hooked on spin, does anyone else love it?)! Anyways, I went around my local Aldi and my local grocery store, Hannaford, to show you the difference in price for some staple items. If you’re wondering how awkward it was to take pictures while grocery shopping, the answer is very, very awkward. But, it’s worth it to save you guys some money!

You’ll find that a lot of these prices aren’t that different – what’s 50 cents on a carton of milk, right? Wrong! Think about a cart full of groceries and then multiply each item by 50 cents. Those cents add up to dollars pretty quickly in the checkout line.

I started with an essential: milk. Matt and I rarely ever buy regular milk anymore, it’s almost always almond milk. Here’s what we’re saving by buying from Aldi:
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Aldi = $2.49
Almond Breeze = $2.99

Savings = 51 cents.

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Take a look at those berry prices. They are SO expensive this time of year. But, the prices at Aldi are still cheaper than the sale prices at Hannaford. I know you might be put-off by the idea of buying berries form Aldi, but they are just as good. On this particular day I bought blackberries to put in my yogurt and they lasted me all week.

Blackberries: Aldi = $1.99, Hannaford = $2.50, savings = 51 cents
Raspberries: Aldi = $1.99, Hannaford = $2.50, savings = 51 cents
Blueberries: Aldi = $2.29, Hannaford = $3.99, savings = $1.70

Really, the savings on blueberries – you cannot beat that!

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These blocks o’ cheese show that even Aldi has sales sometimes. Keep in mind, I also priced this against Hanford’s own brand – the cheapest cheese block they have in the store!

Aldi also has fancy cheese like gouda, brie, and goat cheese. Imagine the amazingly cheap cheese tray you could have at your next dinner party. Bonus points if you eat it with your pinky out.

Aldi = $1.79
Hannaford = $2.39

Savings = 60 cents

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Okay guys, Aldi only has organic spring mix–but it’s still cheaper than Hannaford’s non-organic, store-brand spring mix. I wonder how the prices are different when you compare organic to organic … hmm …

Aldi = $2.49
Hannaford = $2.99

Savings = 51 cents

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Yogurt can be a huge money suck if you’re not careful. If you were to buy one Chobani for, let’s say, six days of the week, that’s $6.54 just on yogurt for one person. No thank you. Here’s how Aldi’s greek yogurt compares.

Aldi = 75 cents
Chobani = $1.09

Savings = 34 cents per cup.

If I bought six cups of greek yogurt from Aldi, it would cost me only $4.50. That’s what I was talking about when I said those cents add up! That’s a savings of $2.50 for the week–mind blowing.

So there you have it. I hope by now I’ve convinced you that you can save money on groceries without couponing. Getting yourself organized and on track doesn’t have to be harder, just smarter. If you plan out your meals, shop at off-brand grocery stores and watch for sales you can slash away at your budget and have more money to spend on other things–like vacation. If you live in the northeast like I do, you probably need one. Get on on that, I know I am!Signature

Cut your grocery budget WITHOUT couponing, plus a free printable

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Okay, so I’ve come to the unpopular conclusion that couponing to save money at the grocery store is a total and complete pain in the ass. If you’ve tried and been unsuccessful, then you know how time consuming it is to collect inserts, clip, sort and then remember to take them to the store and figure out all the loopholes and math associated with being a really good couponer. For, me it just didn’t happen.

So, for about a year now Matt and I have been working on keeping our grocery budget on a “dirt cheap” status, while still eating healthy. We have got this system down to a science and it only takes us about an hour to an hour and a half per week. Total. How do we do it? Read on for six proven tips to shrink your budget, your waistline and overall grocery shopping time.

1. Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan.

For real. If you’re not meal planning then you need to be. I’m not talking 100 croc-pot meals in one Sunday. I’m talking about sitting down for about 20 minutes on Sunday (or any other day of the week you choose) to figure out what you’re having for dinner each night of the week. Write it down. Then write the groceries you need in a list on the same piece of paper. This will help you realize those last minute ingredients you’ve run out of, but forgot you needed for a meal.

We have been using these meal planning sheets for the past year. Last year when I created my planning binder, this simple fix was one of the few things that stuck–because it really works. Here’s an updated version I’ll be using for 2015.

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Click to download for free!

Side note: Meal planning also keeps you from going out to eat or getting fast food at the last second. You should have everything you need for the whole week after your shopping trip, so there’s no excuse why you can’t go home and cook.

2. Make sure you have a base of go-to meals.

My parents have always told me that if I learn anything from them, it’s “live below your means.” So, listen to my parents (they’re frickin’ smart) and don’t plan meals you can’t afford. If rent is due this week or you had to make unexpected repairs to the car or the house or had to buy a bridesmaids dress for your best friend’s wedding, take this week to plan staple, go-to meals that you can make with mainly ingredients you already have. For us, that usually means pasta, general tso’s chicken (with homemade sauce), fajitas or grilled chicken and veggies. We almost always have frozen veggies, chicken, pasta and brown rice. Those are our staples. Find yours and be prepared for hell weeks. Side note: this also works for weeks when you’re busy and don’t have much time to cook.

3. Shop at your local discount store first.

Every single time we go grocery shopping, we go first to Aldi, then to our regular local grocery store, Hannaford (I’m still learning to cope without a Wegmans, sigh). Okay, so I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t you say these tips were supposed to save time? Yes, yes I did. You will save time if you meal plan ahead of time. Seriously guys, meal planning rocks.

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Aldi can be a scary place if you walk in not knowing what you’re getting yourself into. You have to pay a quarter for your cart, pull things out of boxes and off shelves (see image above), and then bag your own groceries in bags you brought yourself. But seriously, you can get groceries for half the price, and it’s not just crap either. Aldi has their own brands of health, gluten-free and natural foods. It’s rare to find name brands there, but when you do it’s a gem and the item will likely cost half of it’s regular price. Side note: Don’t be skeptical of off-brand food. I promise you, it’s the exact same thing. It really is. It’s all in your head that it tastes funny. I promise that if you give it a shot, by the time you get to check out you will not care that your tortilla chips aren’t Tostito brand.

Buy everything you possibly can on your list from your local discount store first and save what they don’t have for the more expensive store. Just be sure to double check produce and check expiration dates, it’s usually okay but sometimes you won’t get the freshest stuff.

4. Only buy what’s on your list.

Since you’ve planned out your week and know exactly what’s required for each meal, you shouldn’t need to buy anything that’s not on your list unless it’s an ingredient you missed. Period. No exceptions. Stick to the list and your wallet will thank you.

5. Eat before you grocery shop.

This is the oldest trick in the book, but it really makes a difference. If you go into the store on an empty stomach, you’re likely to grab the first thing you see that you can easily stuff your face with the second you get home. That would be breaking rule #4, so just don’t do it.

6. Don’t buy something if it’s too expensive.

Shop for groceries like you shop for clothes. If you really want it, but it costs way more than it should, just don’t get it. It’s January, but you really want it to be July, so you’re really craving that $6 container of strawberries. Don’t do it, girl. Wait for a special or for your coveted item to pop up in your local discount store (Aldi has off-season produce every few weeks or so). Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and sing “Let It Go” to yourself quietly. You’re not going to die without it.

Follow these six simple rules and you’ll be one step closer to financial fitness in the new year. I hope you find it helpful! Let me know! Is there anything I missed? Tell me in the comments below or tweet me @qqquimby016. Also, let me know if you’d like to learn more about Aldi, their products and how I meal plan with my favorite Aldi items. Until next time!Signature