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Your Food Pantry: An Essential Part of Your Emergency Fund

This article was written by in Saving. 21 comments.


The most effective emergency fund, for use in the event of a job loss or unexpected major expense, is actually a combination of several types of investments. You should be prepared with a small amount of physical cash to hold you over until you can get money from a bank, highly liquid investments like a high-yield savings account, a Roth IRA (if you qualify) in which your contributions can be withdrawn penalty-free and tax-free, and possibly credit access.

NZbird wrote to suggest an interesting addition to an emergency food: a stocked pantry. By stocking up on non-perishable food items, you will leave more of your money available for use in the event of an emergency.

Keep your food pantry WELL STOCKED. I mean food is an essential right. And if you have kids you don’t want them stressing out because the basics like food aren’t there. So stock up your pantry real good with all the ingredients for meals. I try to keep around 6 months supply on hand. My husband use to laugh at me when I started doing it, but you know it introduced a discipline into our grocery shopping that wasn’t there before… The kids always knew the ingredients were in the cupboard for lunches, breakfast, and any snacks they wanted to make. I believe it’s that feeling of security and hope for the future that must be maintained for the sake of the children in times of job loss.

At first, the thought of stocking up on food seemed more like preparation for a pandemic, but the main point is that if your income is suddenly grounded, you won’t have to worry about spending your emergency fund for food and will have more available for rent or mortgage payments and electricity bills.

Thanks for the suggestion, NZbird!

Published or updated February 27, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar dong

Not sure I’d stock 6 month supply of food. I mean shouldn’t savings that can go towards buying food be just as good if not better? No need to worry about it going bad or taking up space that way too. Besides I guess I like my food fresh….

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avatar Rich

I started doing this a few months ago and now have maybe a couple of months set aside. The trick to doing this is to only stock up on foods that you eat on a regular basis. Canned goods, dry pasta, rice, beans, cereals… all of these have a long shelf life, and as you regularly use them, you just rotate and replace.

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avatar Adfecto

Some of this makes sense but all of that space and up front expense has a long term cost associated with it. Keep the essentials like peanut butter, rice, beans, and pasta but that’s about it. I’d have enough for 2-3 months not 6+.

If you are paranoid enough to want 6 months of food stocked up you should build a fall out shelter and start a militia too. Unrest that makes food that scarce in the USA will likely mean the sky is falling and there are bigger problems to prepare for. On that note, I’m also selling plans for a special tin foil hat that keeps the the government and aliens from being able to read your mind. Shoot me an email if you want to buy a copy for $11.99.

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avatar x

i do a little bit of this with food, but i also, to a greater degree, do this with personal care items. soaps, razors, shampoo, laundry detergent…more or less things i will without question use but do not truly go bad. the key for me is to only buy them when on sale, with coupons…etc. it is sort of a best of both worlds, i am getting the items cheaper than i normally would and i know i have an amount in ‘back up’ and do not need to spend on those items in the near future.

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avatar Meg from All About Appearances

Hi Dong,

The problem with just saving money is that food prices could go soaring due to shortages or just general inflation.

I think Flexo makes a really good point about stocking up. I certainly don’t have 6 month’s worth of food saved up either, but it might be a nice to feel that secure and I’m considering getting some staples in bulk.

While I like fresh food, it might not be a bad idea to stock up on dried goods like garbanzo beans, green peas, flour, sugar, yeast, etc. Also, if the sky does start falling, having a garden wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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avatar No Debt Plan

Sounds like a good idea to me. 6 months may be a bit much, but on the very off chance that the food supply chain breaks down, or there IS a pandemic, then you’d be all the better.

Our food supply situation scares me sometimes. X number of days or weeks for different foods and then… nothing.

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avatar Nicole

I read this and thought “Wow, if you stock up in this way you’re probably anticipating (or currently do) eat a lot of processed foods, since that’s mostly what stores so well.” But thinking about it a little further, if you have a storage freezer you can store meat, fruits and vegetables. I personally don’t have one and won’t until I move from an apartment to a house, so it isn’t an option… so I mainly have a small extra stock of grains and dried beans.
Processed food may be better than nothing if there isn’t any food (or very little) available, but it makes me uncomfortable to purchase things that I would use only under very particular circumstances to stock up for “just in case”.

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avatar RacerX

One thing we do now is allocate 10% of our grocery money towards taking advantage of store loss-leaders.

Stores generally rotate good sellers at below cost price to get you in to buy everything else. They use the high visibility products as well.

So each week we take advantage of them…at multiple stores. This and a few oter tricks have gotten us to save over 33% on our grocery budget vs where we were. If you want other tips they are on the blog as well.

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avatar Andy

Liz Pulliam Weston published a very good article on the emergency fund pantry back in mid 2007 on msn.com — it also includes some general information on how long foods last in the freezer and the pantry.

link

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avatar Carolina

Our non profit wants to open a Food pantry and as the Family Support person I am checking the Web for ideas and what we need to do besides the money. Please advise or send info to the above Email Thanking you in advance Carolina

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avatar NZbird

Hi all. Here’s what I do. We can’t store fresh fruit & veges so those get bought every week. I think it would be handier and cheaper to get a vege garden going. Frozen foods are kept in a small chest freezer. All other foods are kept in my pantry. I know what we use on a regular basis and those are the only things I buy. It isn’t an excessive amount, for example in 6 months we would only use around 6 500g packets of pasta so that’s what I have on my shelf. We’d only use 1 jar mayonnaise and 1 jar mustard so that’s all I store. We do a fair bit of baking so I have 2 large bags flour. Get the idea? My pantry is simply filled with the ingredients we need yet the quantity per item is not huge even for a 6 month period.

Boxes of reakfast cereal would probably be the most space consuming thing. I have non-edibles like soap, laundry powder, etc too.

I have one rule – only count unopen items are as storage.

Initially it was expensive to get the supplies but well worth the effort. Grocery shopping is a matter of topping up and is quick, less stressful, and less expensive.

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avatar Momma

There are several websites dedicated to grocery shopping and stocking pantries on the cheap. Grocerygame.com and Couponmom.com are dedicated to this concept.

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avatar Becca

Our church suggests a one-year food storage, where possible and legal. (In some places, it is illegal to “hoard” food.) But you also have to remember that in an emergency, what would be 6 months or a year for your family, may become 1-2 months if you share with your neighbors, which you probably should in an emergency situation where there is no food available. I hate to bring it up, but think of Hurricane Katrina, where there were lots of refugees everywhere. Some people were just holing up with friends or family farther north, but they were still affected and food ran short.
I don’t think it is unrealistic to store 1 years worth of food. Especially if we are talking one year’s worth of food that we can survive on- not a lot of meats or even veggies at first. In a worst case scenario, you will have no power to run your freezer. So focus on storing things that you can live on- wheat, beans, grains, rice, canned meats and veggies. It won’t be very fun, but it will keep you alive. I am not advocating a lot of processed foods. We don’t eat a lot of processed food, and we have enough stored to keep us alive for probably 3-4 months. And I think it is important to practice using what you store. We quit buying canned beans a while back, so we are using the dried beans and cycling them through.
Also, if you do garden or can garden, you should consider storing seeds from one season to the next. These can be planted and grown when fresh produce may not be available.
I am worried by the people who suggest that having a food storage will never be useful, that the US could never get that bad. Do you know about the current wheat situation? There is currently less than a month’s worth of wheat supply available. When the next crop comes up, there will be less than 3 months. For the entire world! This is a worldwide shortage, and it isnt just wheat. See this article for more info:
http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/SuperModels/CouldWeReallyRunOutOfFood.aspx
Given that wheat prices are going up up up, and supplies are going down down down, don’t you think you should stock up on flour if you bake, wheat if you grind your own flour, corn meal, whatever you like to eat? The foods made from these products will go up in price too. Just a word of caution about being too content and comfortable with the “USA can never fall” attitude. (Not that I think it will, I just like to be prepared if it does.)

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avatar Gonzo

“If you are paranoid enough to want 6 months of food stocked up you should build a fall out shelter and start a militia too. Unrest that makes food that scarce in the USA will likely mean the sky is falling and there are bigger problems to prepare for.”

Considering the number of missing nukes worldwide, a fallout shelter is not a bad idea. Militias are as necessary as they always were. The dollar is collapsing and so is our government and nation.

Good luck eating your naivety when times get rough

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avatar Binthere

It would be interesting to know the age bracket of the naysayer. My grandparents lived through the depression and taught me the secrets to successfully raising big families(7kids & 9kids) on small budgets. I’m thankful they did! Twice I have needed that knowledge. Husband #1 lost his job no warning, I was injured in an accident..he couldnt deal..bailed..I had 4 young kids & unable to work..only income a rental unit! By having months of food, paper products, and cleaning supplies stocked up from sales…the little money was used for property tax and utilities! What a lifesaver in a time of a HUGE unexpected setback!! By having my pantry, garden and using other fugal techniques, not only did my kids not realize how broke we were (I tried to keep the “fun” in disfunctional!) they learned the value of giving to charities(toiletries to homeless, school supplies to church collections, all done for free with sales and coupons! I wouldnt wish hard times on anyone but to those who think saving is silly..I’ve learned its better to say I’m glad I Did than I wish I had!

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avatar NZbird

It hit me this week that food storaqe is a fantastic investment because it enables us to eat tomorrow at today’s prices. I guess I never thought of it before because grocery prices haven’t risen as steeply or as regularly as they seem to be doing now.

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avatar Sharon

I am currently starting a non profit organization and we plan to teach people how to start their own food storage as there are many jobs being lost and or people not making enough money after they put gas in their tanks. We are taking food and clothing donations too…

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avatar Dana

Hahaha… Six months of food in shortage? I have a frugal tip for those of you with enough room to store that much. Get a smaller house! If you lose your job, your monthly expenses will be smaller to begin with.

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avatar Meg from FruWiki

Dana,

6 months worth of food doesn’t take up all that much room at all if you’re storing basic items like rice, beans, flour, sugar, salt, etc. (instead of canned soup and boxes of mac & cheese). While I don’t stockpile food per se, I do tend to buy some things in bulk from Sams like flour and sugar and they last 6 months at least! And I always have plenty of rice and dried beans on hand. In fact, though our fridge and freezer are pretty bare right now, I bet we could last well over a month, maybe two on what we have in our very pitifully small cabinets.

Of course, you’d want some more variety, but seasonings don’t take up much space and an herb garden is a great help with that if you have any room outside.

I wouldn’t live off of just beans, rice, and things like home-baked breads by choice, but if things get bad then it you bet I’d be happy to have those things — along with a good knowledge of edible wild plants, which is something that I’ve actually enjoyed developing!

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avatar Karen

Here is the best way to stock up on food. Buy food from farmers who let you pick your own by the bushel. Get some books at the libary on canning and drying food for vacuum seal packaging. For canning you only need some large pots, a funnel, canning jars, lids and seals, tongs to remove from water bath, and instructions on how to do it. Canning is the very best way to preserve food because it has a shelf life of about 6 years. You can can tomatoes, green beans, ockra, deer meat, stews, relishes, jellies, preserves and much, much more. Buy 5 gallon buckets for beans, wheat (invest in a good grinder) rice, etc. You will need to use plastic to seal it in first as you don’t want bugs getting in. You can bury apples and other fruit in the ground but first you will need to dig the hole, place burlap under and over it and then fill it back in. It will stay all winter. Powdered milk, powdered barley grass, vitamins will also store well. Vacuum seal machines are relatively cheap and can be used for beef jerky, dried fruit, all instructions can be found in books at library. If you make canning a part of your daily life, you should be able to stock pile enough food to last your family for a few years. The most important thing you should stockpile is seeds. Non hybrid variety. Everyone should know how to grow a garden. If you don’t know how, learn!

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avatar pete

There are several sites that will give you a very detailed list of what things are most important to store and have on hand. Of course food, dry storage items that will keep for a year or more. There are a lot of things like candles, batteries, lights, shortwave radio would be of good use to have. It is true, there is no telling what the emergency situation will be. We could be without electric service for weeks or more. You should have alternative ways to heat your home besides the home heater…if that is possible. Nothing we can do will cover every possible thing that could happen. But, when you talk about investing…..I’d rather have food, staples, extra clothes, blankets, fuel , etc…than money in some bank that might be closed by the government.
We are living in a very unique time in history. The U.S. currency is about to become worthless. Within 5 years the rest of the world will not even be using U.S. dollars for trade. Does anyone understand what that will mean? Between how badly the government has served us….the deficits that have been run up…both those we know about and the under the table deals we don’t know about……it is reported that we are in deblt for over 100 trillion dollars. We are about to see the rise of a new world power or powers…and it ain’t the U.S….( IT AIN’T US ). As bad of a job everyone thinks the U.S.A. has done with the world we will witness what it is like to really live under the gun. Anyway….not everyone can do these things..and it is important that those that have…share with those who need. I think of my children and will try to make sure even though they are grown…that there is a place they can go to be feed.

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