Sunday, January 9, 2011


Brian and I just hit Shop-Rite's annual "Can Can" sale, where all manner of canned goods (and some other products as well) are available dirt cheap. Since this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Can Can sale, several items were on sale for 40 cents, including beans, tomatoes, and pasta. We loaded up to the limit on these products, then got them home and were faced with the problem of how to cram them all into our woefully small pantry. Eventually we concluded that some items would have to go into overflow storage downstairs, so we started sorting through the entire contents of the pantry to figure out what should go where. The biggest problem was making sure that the stuff downstairs didn't become a case of "out of sight, out of mind" and get restocked prematurely, so we hit on a solution that I have dubbed the "canventory."

The canventory is simply a list of all the canned goods and all the pasta boxes we have, sorted by type. It shows the size of each package, the number of packages we have, and where they are stored. A typical entry looks like this:

Beans, kidney, dark 15.5 oz. 2 cans 2 upstairs 0 downstairs

I've entered the full list into an Excel spreadsheet, which can be easily updated on an ongoing basis and will automatically re-tally the number of cans or boxes we have left. So now all I have to do is pull up the list to see at a glance how many we have of any given item, so that we don't buy too many or too few of anything (like the big 20-quart box of powdered milk we just brought home from the Shop-Rite, not remembering that we already had an unopened box stored away in the pantry).

So how is this system ecofrugal? Simply put, it allows us to make better use of three available resources: space, time, and money. We use space more effectively by storing the foodstuffs we're most likely to need where they'll be most accessible, and keeping everything else in reserve. We save time because we don't have to hunt through two different storage areas to see what we've already got. And we save money because we can take better advantage of massive sales like today's without fear of overloading on any particular product. (In fact, after a moment's consideration, I've just added a new column to the canventory: "Last price paid." That column will show how much we paid for a particular product last time it went on sale, so we can evaluate future sales to see just how good a deal they really are.)

I'm hoping this same system will prove useful later in the year to help us keep track of our (I hope) abundant garden produce. For that purpose, I'll probably have to add another column to the inventory—expected shelf life—to make sure everything we grow gets eaten while the eating is good. But of course, that particular point is moot until I figure out what I'm actually planting this year, and where—about which, more in a future entry.
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