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.


  1. John says

    From a guys perspective-I was without power for five days in Richmond. This of course meant harvesting every food item to eat before it goes bad! Usually I find store brand products that are cheaper than those with coupons.

    • says

      That’s true, but if your store doubles coupons (Kroger does up to $1, so a 50 cent coupon is really a dollar off) sometimes it makes the store brand not cheaper anymore! Hope it helps!


    • says

      I just added an update to the post. After I took that picture I actually brought some stuff back to the compost bin (the salad for example) but some of it was so spoiled and rank that we didn’t want the neighbors to complain or anything, so we had to keep it contained in the trash bin!


    • bagelpower says

      I was just going to ask that glad to hear it didn’t go to the landfill in plastic bags after all;-)

    • Kelly says

      You’re brave to go back in and take the rotting food to the compost bin! I have a terrible gag reflex with food and never would’ve been able to do that!

    • says

      Yeah, I wasn’t going anywhere near the tub of yogurt (I never ever want to smell anything like that again) but things like taking a frozen pizza out of the box or the slimy lettuce out of the bag wasn’t too bad.


  2. Joanne says

    Hi Guys,

    Just wondering why you didn’t add all of your spoiled food to your newly constructed compost bin? :) I live in Nova Scotia and we have such a great recycling/composting program that it always pains me to see containers of food in the trash. What’s your recycling program like in Richmond?

    Keep up the great work!

    • says

      I just added an update to the post. After I took that picture I actually brought some stuff back to the compost bin (the salad for example) but some of it was so spoiled and rank that we didn’t want the neighbors to complain or anything, so we had to keep it contained in the trash bin! The recycling program in Richmond is pretty much all paper and glass and plastic in one bin (no sorting, which is nice) and then there’s regular trash and composting if folks decide to do that on their own.


    • says

      None of us are officially gluten free, we just feed those to Clara so we try to avoid it when it’s easy (it’s the same as buying no sugar applesauce to us).


  3. says

    My heart broke when I realized how much stuff I’d have to trash post-Irene. Although, I didn’t realize I should probably toss my mustard, too. Definitely didn’t do that. Whoops!

  4. says

    Awww, man! I wish I had thought to write everything down as we threw it out!! We were without power for a full week (we’re up in Baltimore) and we lost everything too. Two weeks later, and I still keep looking in the fridge for things I totally took for granted, and I still keep forgetting to pick them up at the store!

  5. katie says

    as a property claims rep for a large insurance company i can tell you most companies have a separate deductible of $100 for food spoilage.

  6. Ashley says

    Yay for a stocked fridge! I got a kick out of the one pic because all I can see is the “eyes” from the cabinet above staring at me.

  7. Katie says

    Unfortunately, the only sure-fire way to save the contents of your fridge/freezer during a blackout that lasts that long is to have a generator. Maybe you could keep your eyes open for good deals at Home Depot!

  8. Missy G. says

    I live in south Louisiana, so I have lived through many a hurricane. During Gustav (in 2008), we lost power for 2.5 weeks. I always feel for areas that have to experience a hurricane that aren’t used to it. It is certainly a lot to prepare and gameplan when one is headed your way. Glad that your fridge was all that you lost.

  9. says

    I think the missing component in your coupon adventures is not the coupons. Most of the savings actually comes from buying the product when it’s on sale (not when you run out and write it on your list). In the case of your spoiled food you really had no choice, but if you had made your list and watched over the next 6 weeks & purchased when those staples went on sale instead – you probably would have saved another $100.

    • says

      .I try to do this…but mostly I just keep a “spare” in the cupboard that I pick up on sale/with coupon. So we may have a salad dressing in the fridge and one in the cupboard..then one the one in pantry goes to the fridge, I look for the coupon/sale. It works okay.

      I know the feeling of having to restock the fridge. In 2008 after Hurricane Ike, I had gone to grocery store on Friday and bought three weeks worth of groceries…I was so proud of myself for being so on top of things (it was early in my first year of teaching). That weekend, we had winds from Ike take out power in our Southern Indiana town…and lost power for five days. Everything was gone, and it was so gross in our fridge!

  10. Megan says

    We had to do the very same throw-everything-out-and-super-clean-the-fridge thing thanks to lovely Irene! Except… I managed to shatter the top shelf when I took it out to clean it, so on top of just refilling the food, we had to buy a new shelf, too. Oops!!

  11. says

    Losing everything to a power outage stinks but it’s the best motivation to clean the fridge!

    Have you heard of RecycleBank? I just signed up so I’m not sure of how it works exactly, but basically you earn points for doing good for the environment things, then they reward you with coupons for actual healthy food (I know I saw some for Kashi). You can check it out here:

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