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. says

    I wholeheartedly agree with Amy B that timing your shopping with sales is KEY. Just doing that, and stacking coupons on top of the sales, will get you over the 50% savings mark easily!

    My other big tip is to save your coupon inserts. You might only clip four or five coupons from an insert one week, but don’t toss the rest out. Put them in a little folder somewhere, and then if you discover down the road that you actually do need something, it’s easy to go back and find it. (It helps to write the date on the front of each one.) If you Google “coupon database,” you’ll find lots of sites that will tell you where every last coupon ever printed ran and when it expires, so it’s easy to track down where to find a missing coupon for, say, Heinz ketchup.

    Plus, and this is a big one to me, I know a lot of us don’t want to buy all of the processed stuff, but there’s free stuff available every week. It might not be something you’d buy or feed your family, but why not get it anyway and then donate it? I’ve donated almost a hundred tubes of toothpaste, loads of feminine products, and assorted other food and toiletry items to a local homeless shelter just this year, by buying the things that are free or super cheap.

    Hope that helps!

  2. Nicole says

    Don’t know if you use this page on ever (it’s also available on other coupons sites), but it’s the best way to search if there are any coupons for a specific product right before shopping. Basically all you do is enter the brand – or any part of the product name – and it comes up with available coupons. For example, searching “yo baby” right now brings up 3 different 50 cent off printables that would double to a dollar each!

  3. Casey says

    wow, it would be so nice to pay $3 a gallon for organic milk. i’m in alaska, and regular milk is $3. the organic stuff is more like $6. x__x

  4. says

    After coming home to the worst possible fridge/freezer situation after Hurricane Katrina (I had a freezer full of freshly caught fish from my dad, and they didn’t let us into the city for 3 months. My condo associate threw away the fridge for me but the smell never really went away the entire time I lived there. I was renting someone else’s condo, thankfully, so I just burned a lot of insense to cover it up) I had power outage preparation down to an art. I’d *always* evacuate since my parents live in Mississippi, and my aunt further north in Mississippi, so I’d throw everything crucial in an ice chest with plenty of ice, throw away things that would go bad, and leave the condiments b/c at least they wouldn’t smell up the fridge. I don’t keep a lot of condiments and I think that habit developed from living in Hurricane Alley!

    I do want to point out that you can make your own salad dressing and avoid the problem of having to restock in the future. Olive oil plus white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar with crushed garlic and salt and pepper is a good start. I also love olive oil with lemon juice and parmesan, and olive oil with mustard, anchovy paste, garlic and either lemon juice or vinegar- although those last 2 have some more perishable ingredients. I just wisk it all together in a little bowl with a fork and serve it alongside salad with a spoon.
    But once I started making my own salad dressing I never looked back. You can find all sorts of fancy oils and vinegars to try as well and you can customize how tangy you want it. Start with 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar and go from there.

  5. Sara says

    Just an FYI: you don’t need to refrigerate ketchup or syrup.

    But just some food for thought. I’m a major couponer for toiletries and condiments, household goods. My grocery store is a Wegman’s and it isn’t a great couponing store.

    I have a small stockpile in my basement of like 2-3 things of ketchup, mustard, soy sauce etc. So, if that were to happen no biggie it is already there and I only paid $1 to nothing for it. Target is great for that with their store coupons and sales. Just some food for thought. Sorry you had to buy all that. That stinks.

  6. says

    Man, I am perpetually jealous of you guys who can save this much with coupons!!!! Our coupons are always for stuff we don’t eat/use, or junk food types of things. Bummer. We save by using store brands for a lot of stuff…

    (and before anyone asks, nope, no Kroger, and we live in New England where everything is pricier anyway)

  7. Sara WW says

    What a bummer! I’m in DC and we lost power for about 30 hours, a lot less than you. We also filled and froze zip locked bags of water and it worked really well for us, our fridge is less than a year old and must be well insulated since even the bags that we put in the fridge stayed frozen. Like you we pulled out the things that would go bad the quickest – yogurt, mayo, etc. and put them in a cooler with ice. But luckily even after 30 hours everything in our freezer still had ice crystals on it (the ice cubes in the tray did start to melt a bit) and nearly all the items in the fridge were salvageable.

  8. says

    How have I not noticed this before? Are you appliances off-white/bisque? Ours our too! They came with the house, are perfectly good appliances but cause me design problems.

    • says

      We have bisque appliances too! When you redo your kitchen do you plan on replacing them or will you try to paint them or refinish them somehow. I would love white or stainless steel appliances, but they’re not in the cards right now for us, so I’m wondering what you crazy kids plan to do?

    • says

      We’re planning to try to reface the dishwasher with a stainless steel sheet and get a new counter-depth fridge. We also need a new microwave and wall oven (they’re old and don’t cook well / are half broken). But we definitely hope to save money via craigslist and scratch and dent places, etc.


  9. Mary says

    My favorite central couponing site is and is similar to the one that you listed in your couponing post last February. In the Grocery Deals by state section (43 states) I can match current specials to coupons at my favorite grocery store, which is King Soopers that doubles $ .50 or less coupons up to $1.00 and also a Kroger affiliate. I can also check other stores specials, Target, Wal-Mart, etc. to current coupons and print in-store coupons or get a coupon from the database. Sometimes I do find myself buying a little ahead but I only buy the products my family uses. I love couponing and my goal is usually to save at least 40% each week.

  10. says

    Living in the Florida Panhandle, we’re pretty familiar with hurricanes. The first thing we do after the storm is organize neighborhood cookouts to use up all the perishable goods. These go on daily, for all three regular meals, until the power comes back on. Friends, Food, Fun, and no stanky fridge to clean out.

  11. Meggan says

    There is a great and very easy recipe for homemade yogurt on It only takes 1/2 cup of yogurt as a starter and then whatever milk you want to put in it. Great for people who buy organic or non-dairy yogurts. Then you can just add your own fruit or natural sweetener like stevia, spices like cinnamon, etc. It’ll save you a ton!

  12. Melissa says

    Ah, as painful as it is to replace things all at once, isn’t it nice to have a stocked and CLEAN fridge!

    I’m wondering how you and John split up grocery shopping, since he does the cooking (right?) My husband also does the cooking for our little fam, but I seem to end up doing the grocery shopping so sometimes it’s hard to get the right items purchased. Any tips? I assume you guys grocery shop together?

    • says

      We grocery shop together. With Clara too. It’s a family affair. Burger would be there too if he was allowed, haha. We sort of divide and conquer in the store (sometimes I have a list of things that I have coupons for and John has a list of food beyond that, and he gets that stuff and I get the coupon stuff (we cross reference lists to make sure we don’t duplicate).


  13. Ashley says

    I hate that most coupons are for processed foods, too. However, if I find a good deal (ie free or one that gets them to pay me, which I use towards a purchase of produce) I buy it and donate it.

    • says

      I love that! So smart. I have yet to figure out how to get anything to be free or to get anyone to pay me. Haha. Someday I’d love to donate stuff using that method all the time!


  14. adrienne says

    Probably too late, but i swear soy sauce doesnt need to be refrigerated… at least i’ve never died from it being in the pantry. :-)

    • says

      Haha, you’re not the first person to tell us that today! Good to know. Haha. We had no idea. Ours said “refrigerate after opening” so we did. Haha. Wish we were rebels though!


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