Restocking Our Fridge On The Cheap

As many of you know, hurricane Irene was a total jerk to our neck of the woods. Not only did it knock trees into nearby homes, cars, poles, and roads, it also took the power out for a nice long time. Three days for us. But that was nothing compared to some other areas of our neighborhood (where it was out for over seven days), and other parts of Richmond (which didn’t get it back for close to two weeks). There was even a contest for the last person to get their power back on a local website.

So yes, three power-less days were annoying, but it could have been waaay worse. The only thing it really ended up affecting was our fridge. Yup, everything spoiled. So we lost every last container of salad dressing and mustard and soy sauce and cream cheese and every other item that you take for granted because you don’t usually buy them all at once (you know, you tend to amass them over time so you’re not met with the harsh reality that you just spent $200 on condiments). Yikes.

So yup, this is a post about the state of our fridge. Because it’s house related and save-a-buck related and just something I wanted to blather on about. I actually get a surprising amount of requests for couponing updates (and you’ll see how those tie in momentarily). The good news is that we didn’t lose everything. There were some items in the fridge that didn’t absolutely need to be cold to survive, like:

  • various containers of berries and other fruit
  • some veggies
  • sandwich wraps
  • wheat flatbread
  • garlic
  • soda
  • chocolate

So during our day-three clean out when the power came back on we were able to pull them out alive. But everything else had to go.

The weirdest casualty was a container of biscuits that actually popped open on its own from the lack of refrigeration. It was very Twilight Zone.

Melted ice cream sammies = sad ice-cream loving hubby. Especially because they weren’t just melted, they were curdled and rank. So no amount of refreezing was gonna save them.

But let’s rewind. Before the hurricane we saw a tip on TV about freezing ziplock bags of water so you could transfer them from your freezer to your fridge to keep things colder (much like a giant cooler) to hopefully save food if the power is out for an extended amount of time. Wellllll, that was a bust. We diligently filled five or six ziplock bags with water (leaving enough unfilled space for them to expand, as directed) and placed them in the freezer. We didn’t immediately want to transfer them over when we lost power around 4pm (didn’t want to open the fridge/freezer just yet), so we went to bed in our interior rooms (explained here) while the hurricane continued to loiter over our fair city for another eight hours and decided to make the switch in the morning.

I don’t know what went wrong, but by morning there was a big old wet spot in front of the freezer. You can even see the towel shoved next to the fridge in the picture above. The bags that were supposed to be ice that we could transfer to the fridge had already melted completely and were now leaking out of the fridge and onto the floor. Booo! At least two of them inexplicably punctured themselves or something during the freezing and unfreezing process (although we left lots of room for them to expand when frozen). So looking back, we wish we had never seen that tip since it made for a mess that we wouldn’t have even had to deal with had we skipped it. Oh well, it was worth a try. And it might work better for someone who could transfer them faster (when they were still ice) although I wonder if they would melt and drip out of the fridge side instead of the freezer side in that case. Hmm. Maybe our fridge just doesn’t hold cold air as well as others do, so ice melts quickly and doesn’t really make much of a difference in a power-outage situation.

There was one rescue mission that went on about 15 hours into the blackout though. In order to stop the leaking situation we realized we had to toss open the doors to the freezer and grab those bags of water and toss them into the sink (to keep them from continuing to leak/drip)…

… so although it’s totally not ideal to open any fridge doors without power (keep that cold air in, baby!) we knew we had to get in there for a sec. So we figured while we were at it we should probably quickly reach in to save a few things on the fridge side by packing a cooler and bringing them to Grammy and Tom Tom’s house (where they miraculously never lost power at all, and sweetly offered up half a shelf of their fridge). In hyper-speed, before slamming the doors shut we grabbed:

  • 12 organic yogurt cups
  • organic whole milk (Clara’s) and organic skim milk (ours)
  • a pack o’ cheese sticks
  • a package of strawberries and blueberries
  • 2 laughing cow cheese wheels

All of those items made sense since Clara eats/drinks them a lot so we would have had to rebuy them right away if we didn’t save them… except for the laughing cow cheese. I have no idea why I panicked and grabbed that. Total auto-pilot grab-the-dairy madness. But at least we saved a few things (which would probably have set us back about $30 if we had to rebuy it all).

So when the power came back on during day three (I heard angels singing) we gave everything a little bit of time to firm back up thanks to the cold and bravely opened the doors. Yuck. It was staaaanky in there. So we held our breath and walked things directly out to the garbage pail outside (which stunk to high heaven until the trash truck came a few days later). But we were able to save the few items that I mentioned in my first little list o’ bullets since they didn’t need cold air to not spoil (we just kept them in the fridge for added lifespan or because we didn’t have a breadbox, etc). But everything else was done-zo. Even the bagged salad was slimy and gross. And the giant tub of yogurt. I can’t talk about that. Scarred for life. Note: after snapping this picture we realized we could compost/recycle some of the stuff in the trash so out it came and into our compost/recycle bins it went (must have been in shock from the smell at first and couldn’t think straight).

It was about this time that we realized just how much stuff we would have to rebuy. Boo.

But John was smart about it. As we tossed things he suggested that we write them down, so we ended up with a shopping list to remind us of all the take-for-granted, perpetually-stocked stuff that we’d probably completely forget to rebuy until we reached for it and didn’t find it (like ketchup, salad dressing, hummus, syrup, butter, etc).

It was handy to see all the stuff that we needed to rebuy but also kind of a buzz kill in that how-much-is-this-gonna-cost-us way. Then I decided it could become a fun little self-imposed coupon challenge since I seem to have hit a plateau with my couponing adventures (I can save around $40-55 on a big shopping trip, but can’t seem to get past that since we buy a lot of produce/organic stuff and refuse to buy stuff just because we have a coupon for it if we don’t actually need it just to see the “you saved X amount” number go higher on the receipt). But I started thinking… maybe all these common household items that we only buy occasionally could be the coupon jackpot?

There are a heckova lot more coupons for ketchup, mayo, and salad dressing than organic ground turkey and kale, so I figured that my challenge would be this: to try to save as much as possible by hunting down coupons for as many of those items as I could. Of course this big coupon idea set me back a few days while John kept saying “we need to go shopping, woman” and I kept saying “give me time to hunt coupons, man” and we just ate stuff from the pantry like pasta and cereal along with the few things we saved by bringing them to Grammy’s house (yogurt, milk, fruit, etc). Sure I had a little stockpile of coupons already laying around from before Irene, but this was before I knew my entire fridge would get wiped out (so none of them were for staples that we already had and later lost).

Then we went to the beach for the weekend so that bought me a bit more time (I reasoned with John that going shopping for a big haul before leaving town for a holiday weekend might not be that smart). But even on our mini beach vacay I bought the Sunday paper and got a few coupon inserts from John’s mom after she clipped her own stuff and went online to all of the coupon sites that I occasionally peruse (you can read more about those here in this initial couponing post from a while back).

When I got back home I printed and clipped to my heart’s content and even digitally loaded my Kroger card with virtual coupons that I could use when they scanned it at the store (more on that here). So when we finally hit The K-rogue (that’s how $herdog says Kroger), I was armed and dangerous coupon-riddled. Note: I have no idea why it took me over a week to get my act together and write this post up. Maybe it’s the same defect that made me inexplicably grab the laughing cow cheese?

Happily, we came home with a ton of stuff (we didn’t even have enough reusable bags for all of it!)…

It actually felt pretty good. The fridge went from almost completely empty to looks-like-normal-full for $257.40. It’s definitely not nothing. And if you watch those pro coupon shows (where they get 1K worth of food for three dollars) it’s downright sad. But we actually expected it to be a lot worse I think. Some of our normal grocery shopping trips can top $200 when we’re running pretty low on stuff (we usually go every two weeks or so, to avoid impulse buys that can add up when you go more frequently). And we were almost starting from zero this time (we had filled almost an entire trash can with spoiled food), so we expected that we’d have to buy a lot more than usual (and spend a lot more than usual too).

The only sad thing. I still only saved $47.51.

Can’t a girl catch a break and save over fifty five bucks for once, K-rogue? Oh well, $47.51 is still money saved. And it definitely would have hurt more to see a total that started with a three at the register (it was originally over $300 but thanks to the coupons it came down near $250). And there’s always next time. At least the fridge is full again and my wraps won’t go hummus-less while my salads go dressing-less. And the fridge itself has never looked cleaner. We scrubbed that baby to the bone when she was empty.

Of course I got a few catalinas at the checkout (not all ones that I’ll actually use, but we’re definitely suckers for yogurt, so…). The cycle continues.

And you know we love a good after picture or two, so behold… the freshly stocked fridge:

All in all, it was a nice little fridge makeover. Now I’m off to call my insurance company because someone mentioned that some of them might reimburse you for food that spoils in natural disasters like hurricanes. That would be pretty nice. Update: just realized our deductible is much higher than $250, so never mind.

Anyone else doing any fridge cleaning or restocking? Or hitting a coupon plateau? Better yet, have you broken through it and ache to tell me your secrets? Please do.

Psst- Check out this initial post all about couponing for specific deets about how I save money/use coupons – and check out a ton of awesome tips in the comment section while you’re at it. I’m totally JV but there are lots of varsity couponers out there.

Psssst- We announced this week’s giveaway winners. Click here to see if you’re one of them.


    • says

      Ooo, I got envirosax for my bridesmaids in black and white patterns so that they could carry all their makeup, shoes, etc. for the day. I kept one for myself & LOVE it. Take it with me everywhere. Highly recommend!

    • says

      That’s such a cute bridesmaid gift! We gave them to our family for christmas and a lot of us use them as beach bags. They’re perfect for sand and all that stuff too!


    • Sheela says

      Those Envirosax are really cute. Here’s another great bag option for groceries, beach, etc. They’re made from jute, and I can vouch that they are super versatile and sturdy (and super cute as well!):

      We got lucky that we didn’t have to re-stock our fridge after the hurricane, but we did have to do it once a couple of years ago when our then 3-year-old decided to turn the fridge off and we didn’t realize it until the next day. Yikes!

  1. says

    I coupon like you do too. I don’t buy stuff I wouldn’t have bought anyway because of coupons. I feel like my couponing goes in cycles. One week, I’ll save like 70%, then the rest of the month is only 25-40%. It totally depends on what’s on sale and what has an awesome coupon match up. I think the way you coupon is the best way, plateau or not, you’re not being wasteful.

  2. says

    The contents of your fridge look almost exactly like mine, right down to the Van’s gluten free waffles! How do you coupon for healthy food? My friends have gotten really into couponing to the point that the grocery stores have to adjust some things so that they don’t OWE them money. I’m serious! But I see what they buy and a lot of it is junk-food. Any tips on health-food couponing?

    • says

      That’s amazing! As for me, I just look for coupons for organic/healthy stuff we buy and of course take advantage of it when the store puts those things on special. I have found some sites will even email you coupons (like organic eggs/dairy companies). Check out the first post we linked to (and the comment of that) for more tips.


    • says

      My husband and I cook mostly from scratch but I can and do coupon for healthy food. Most of my savings are sales on fresh produce (totally cleaned up on fresh veggies during a recent 10 for $10 sale.) Like all things it goes in cycles. I only use coupons for what we normally use too. I have better luck with printing coupons for those items than the newpaper. If I find a printed coupon I will use I print the limit of two and use both – especially if I can pair it with a sale. That way I have one open bottle in the fridge and an extra in the pantry. Me being me, I always run out of ketchup or whatever when I’m in the middle of using it and the store is closed :)

  3. April says

    I too can’t seem to understand how those people save all that money couponing…..I have been trying on and off, I would love to know the trick! :)

  4. LaMadre says

    Do call your insurance company. When we lost power for five days last winter, my sister suggested we make the call. We received a big ol’ check for $500. That sure did ease the pain and suffering of throwing out all that stanky food! Good luck!

  5. says

    Your fridge looks like our fridge! Its kinda nice to be able to have only the items you use. By the end of the week, our fridge is quite bare! I always talk to my mom about having a cluttered fridge. You wouldn’t believe how much food goes bad because she can’t see everything thats in there!

    • EngineerMom says

      My mother-in-law has the same cluttered-fridge problem! One time when I was there (they live pretty far away), she had just sent my FIL to the store to buy stuff for dinner, including butter. I was in the process of clearing out some space in the fridge for food I’d brought for my son (some staples they don’t always have on hand, like cream cheese and plain yogurt, plus half-and-half for me and the coffee-drinking husband), and I found 2 1/2 POUNDS of butter, mostly in incomplete packages stashed in the back on the top shelf of a side-by-side fridge. Granted, my MIL is short and may not be able to see back there, but at least two sticks were right up front! And she had just sent FIL to buy MORE!

  6. Jennifer S. says

    Just wanted to warn you to think twice before calling your insurance company for only $250. They will make it back from you sometime and your premiums might go up. I recently heard/learned that it is wiser to think of insurance as being for “catastrophic” situations that you really can’t afford to pay for and to suck up anything that you CAN possibly pay for – even say, a couple of thousand dollars.
    It has me questioning whether we were wise to have our insurance cover some water damage we had a few years back – sure we got $4,000 to fix it but our premiums have gone up a bit (I don’t think they did it immediately though) and they will earn that money back from us and then some sure enough.
    Anyway – if you haven’t called yet – food for thought. It sucks to have to spend $250 on food but it’s pretty small compared to what could happen.

    • Stephanie says

      I think since Irene was classified as a catastrophic disaster (may depend on your area though), the premiums can’t go up. Though, apparently companies can cancel homeowner’s insurance for any or no good reason. At least, those were both told to me by my sister who works in Property/Casualty insurance.

    • ashley says

      Yes, you have to be very careful with making claims because once you make about two claims, you are then considered high risk, and they will drop you. Which then makes it difficult to get insurance with anyone! So be careful (and not specifically you guys, since you’re not going to pursue it, but just everyone in general)…it is NOT a good idea to file small claims! Even if the money sounds nice or deserved, you do not want to be put in that “red flag” category over such a small amount.

    • Lindsey d. says

      Here in Louisiana we also have “named-storm deductibles,” which usually are about 2% of the home’s value, instead of a standard $1,000 or so… So if my $164,000 house had damage from a hurricane or tropical storm, I’d have to pay more than $3,000 out of pocket for damage before the insurance company kicked any in.

      The idea is to keep premiums down by making homeowners pay a little more if the damage is from a specific hurricane or tropical storm (thanks hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike!). Luckily, I’m a little farther from the coast (Baton Rouge) and haven’t had any serious named storms come through since I purchased my home (but hurricane season isn’t over yet!).

      Of course, the difference between flood and wind/rain damage is another point of contention between homeowners and insurance companies that will continue to be fought about for years.

      So in short, be glad you just lost some groceries. Could have been much worse. How are your neighbor’s with the tree in the house doing?

    • says

      They’re doing ok. Still have a huge hole in the roof with a tarp over it but the tree has been removed! We’re surprised how long these things take but they’re in good spirits!


  7. Brittany Long says

    I’m interested to see what your insurance company says. Some companies will reimburse you and unlimited amount, but only if it exceeds your deductible. Others will pay a flat fee for lost food and not assess the deductible.

  8. cappy says

    We have a few ice storms up here in the north that has taught me to freeze a few big gallon-size water and use that to keep the refridge cool. When we loose power we loose our water (private well) so it also comes in handy as drinking water when they do defrost. On a separate note, I was thinking of joining pintrest but they ask for permission to post things on your facebook page. Have you had any privacy issues with them on this? I really want to join the fun but worried about privacy.

    • says

      We actually tried that plastic bag thing but it didn’t work out for us (check out this post for details). Oh well. As for Pinterest I haven’t had any privacy issues at all. They don’t seem to post anything on my Facebook page or anything. Hope it helps!


    • Sarah says

      When you “pin” a picture on Pinterest, the pop-up box contains a tiny checkbox in the corner that says “publish to Facebook”. Be careful, because sometimes the default position for the checkbox is CHECKED. I learned this the hard way when I pinned some pictures of baby gear that were then posted to my Facebook wall — and I hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant yet! Yikes! I still love Pinterest, but you just need to be careful.

    • Kate says

      I wind up freezing gallon size jugs of water, instead of the bags. Takes up a little more room in the freezer/cooler just because it’s not flat, but no chance of melting and leaking. I fill them about 80% full and leave the cap off when freezing so there’s room for water to expand (water expands 9% when frozen, so you do want to leave a lot of room). I’ve taken a cooler camping for a weekend, filled with food and 2 frozen gallons, in 90 degree weather, and it’s kept the food cool and by the end of the weekend, less than a pint of water has melted out of the gallon jugs. Since I don’t use it as drinking water, I just use the rinsed milk jugs out of my recycling bin.

    • threadbndr says

      I was going to suggest plastic milk jugs (VERY well rinsed, of course) instead of ziploc bags for the freezer/fridge cool down ice. Just be sure that the jugs are “installed” upright with the caps loose to freeze, but tight when you need them for coolage. I actually almost always have a few milk jugs full of ice in my freezer to ‘fill in’ since I’ve heard that a full freezer (within reason, of course) is more efficient than a half empty one.

      We lost power for 6 hours in the big May hailstorm. My milk jugs still had about half ice and kept everything nice and chilled – the roasts were still solid, for example. It helps to have a chest freezer instead of the just the one beside the fridge. I think the appliances that are dedicated freezers have more insulation or something plus you only loose about zero cold air when you open a chest freezer.

    • Sayward says

      after you join you can “disconnect” your facebook page from your account somewhere in the settings. I originally had the same concern :)

    • Sandra T says

      Before Irene, my mom told me to fill gallon bags with ice from the freezer and put them in the freezer to “fill” it if the power went out. Supposedly the fuller the freezer is when the power is out, the colder it will stay. I did this, and everything turned out okay, but our power was only out for 19 hours. So, I’m not sure how much difference it would have made for a longer period. Oh, and the ice definitely stayed frozen. I just threw out the last bag of it today (didn’t use it cause it smelled “plastic-ish”). Btw, pic of Clara in front of empty fridge with a “whaaa?” gesture? Priceless.

  9. Tracie says

    I find I save more money by visiting a couple of different stores, but luckily the two I have the most luck with (Ingles and Kroger) are located next to place I have to go anyway. Ingles, if they have near you, also marks down organic milk when it gets within a few days of expiry. Today grass-fed organic milk was $.99 a half gallon, down from $4 something. I bought eight and will put most of them in the freezer. I don’t notice a different in taste when I defrost them.

    I always worry about people on the bubble during long power outages. So many people really can’t afford to replace their food after losing all of it.

  10. Barb says

    Funny…even though we didn’t have it too bad during the hurricane…(I am in the NH area), I did clean out my refrig the other day. Scrubbed the glass shelves til they shined “like the top of the Chrysler Building” and organized everything. Also did the same to my pantry with labels and mason jars. Looks pretty nice.

    Pitched and tossed anything that I couldn’t remember when I last bought it. Which was a lot of stuff.

    I choose not to use coupons as I was buying things I didn’t need and most coupons are for processed food. These people that have a full supermarket in their basement. Really…..WHY? So I save my $$$ by using the store brand and they are always good.

    I would check with the insurance company also because you will get reimbursed around $250.00. Don’t know if you have to provide the sales slip or a picture is worth a thousand words. Keep us posted on this.


    • Tracy says

      My mustard is in the fridge because I prefer it cold, but I never knew it had to be refrigerated. And I’ll have to check the label on my soy sauce. I’ve never kept it in the fridge. Who knew?

    • Pamela says

      Soy sauce does not have to refrigerated unless it has some foreign additive that could go bad. Ditto mustard. In fact almost anything that has a lot of acid can survive a lot longer than 3 days. If you make your own salad dressing with olive oil and vinegar you don’t have to refigerate those ingredients either. When you’ve lived on a boat for any length of time you learn a lot of things survive without cooling. I know you don’t believe all those “dry clean only” labels, so you can be sceptical of “refrigerate after opening.”

      On an insurance note: in Virginia a loss caused by a named hurricane increases your deductible exponentially. Here in Maryland your county has to be under a hurricane warning for this clause to kick in. DC televison stations covered this anomally when some people were being denied claims and others could collect.

    • says

      Woah- thanks so much for the tip Pamela. I feared if we got something like $250 back our premium would mysteriously go up hundreds of dollars over the next few years and I’d always wonder if it was connected to that claim…


    • Mandy says

      Pamela – that largely depends on what insurance company you are with. I am in MD too, and have been in insurance for 7 years. Allstate is one of those that has a named storm clause, which is printed in big bold letters on your homeowner’s declaration page you get in the mail every year, which most people don’t read because its a few pages in. State Farm does NOT have this clause, so a covered peril has the same deductible no matter what.

      I would also be careful about calling your insurance company to ask claim questions, depending on your company. ALWAYS ask them first if they will open a claim to answer your claim question. If they say yes, them don’t ask. If no, then proceed. I can’t tell you how many times people would have $0 paid claims when I ran loss history reports, and they had no idea what it was for, until I asked if they had ever called in and asked a claim related question. Its really sad that some companies have these practices…

    • Warren says

      Condiments like mustard and soy sauce do not actually spoil when not refrigerated. The reason for the refrigeration message is to prolong the flavor. 3 days won’t make much of a difference, especially when you consider all those bottled condiments at restaurants. I seriously doubt they’re putting them in the fridge at night after having them sit out all day.

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