The Spices You Need to Start Your Pantry

More than you need
More spices than you need

One of the best ways to save money for investing is to learn to cook and cook most meals at home.  For a family of four, just skipping a dinner a week out can give you enough cash to invest about $200 per month.  If you eat most meals out, that can be thousands of dollars a month that you are spending.  If you have nothing in your retirement account, nothing in your kid’s college accounts, and nothing saved up for home and car repairs but you eat most meals out, I’d say that eating out too often is your problem.

Part of the trouble with starting to cook is that it can be a big initial investment to get the supplies needed.  You probably have most of the knives, pots, skillets, and utensils that you need from your wedding, even if the pots are  just hanging on the walls looking pretty and you only use the knives periodically to cut a lime for your beer.  If you don’t already have the basics, just hit the local yard sales and you’ll find enough things to get started very cheap.  Like a dollar a pan, kind of cheap.

Starting to stock your pantry is another matter.  Once you’re stocks, you only need to buy spices once in a while since they typically last a long time and can be used in several meals, but the cost per spice can easily be $5 or more.  Try to get a set of thirty or forty spices to start your pantry and you’ll wonder when you’re supposed to be saving all of that money.

Today I thought I’d go over the spices you’ll really need.  From there you can add others as recipes call for them.  When you start, you should begin with simple things like pork chops, baked chicken, baked potatoes, and frozen vegetables.  Don’t go online and get a ridiculous meals that dirties every dish in the house and takes thirty ingredients.  You’ll never cook again because you’ll think it’s too much trouble.  If that’s the kind of meal you make every time, you’d be right!

So here is the starter spice set:

  • Salt
  • Black pepper

That’s it!  You really don’t need more than salt and pepper to make a lot of great meals, and you can get six month’s supply of each for about three dollars.  Salt tends to deaden some strong tastes in food.  Pepper gives a little bit of spice to liven bland food up.  Add some salt and pepper when you make burgers, steak, vegetables, and even salad.  Add these to raw foods before you start to cook.  When you eat out, the food normally has a lot of salt, which is one reason it tastes so good.  At home you can add a bit less to avoid the issues too much sodium causes, but add some.

Here’s some spices to add once you’re tired of just salt and pepper:

  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Paprika
  • Garlic

Rosemary is great with fish like salmon, fantastic with pork, and even good with chicken.  We have a plant near our backdoor that will grow into a hedge after a couple of years, before mysteriously dying off so we have to plant a new one.  We normally dry some leaves out just in case it dies and so we’ll have plenty of rosemary for the winter (it stays green but doesn’t add new leaves in winter).  You can also just buy it in a bottle from the grocery store.

Basil is a staple of anything Italian and is great on fish and with tomatoes.  You can easily grow plants in the spring into large bushes and harvest all summer.  In the fall remove and dry a bunch of leaves before the first frost, then grind them in a coffee grinder once they are bone dry.  If you’re not a gardener, just pick up a bottle of the dried stuff you can also buy it fresh near the lettuce).  Note you can also buy Italian Seasoning, which includes basil, but you’ll find it is better to be able to add the spices directly.

Paprika is great in fried chicken and potatoes.  Garlic is best fresh, but then you need to peel it and either mince or crush it.  I’ll do this for most soups and saute dishes, but I usually keep a shaker of garlic powder for when I’m feeling lazy.  Add it to potatoes, vegetables, soups, stews, popcorn, ice cream, ….

The last spices I would add that would cover 90% of the things most Americans would cook include:

  • Chili Powder (for chili)
  • Cumin (also for chili and for tacos)
  • Oregano (for pizza and spaghetti sauce)
  • Cinnamon (for breakfast foods and cakes)
  • Nutmeg (for pies and eggnog)
  • Vanilla extract (for cakes and pancakes)
  • Italian parsley (for Italian cooking and fish, only use fresh or it’s not worth bothering)
  • Curry Powder (for potatoes and meats)

You can do an awful lot with just these items.  If you find a recipe that requires an additional spice you can buy it then, but consider another recipe before you make the purchase unless you think you will make that dish regularly in the future.  Nothing is worse than picking through a thousand jars and boxes of spices that you used once and trying to find the few that you use regularly.  In particular, avoid buying mixtures of spices like “pumpkin pie spice” and “Southwest seasoning.”  While these may seem like time savers at the start, you’ll find you use the individual spices a lot more often and the other will just lose flavor and go bad in your pantry.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

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