Use What’s In Inventory

When Jon and I were first dating, Jon decided to make me lunch. He introduced me to one of his favorite concepts: use what’s in inventory.

As a frugal bachelor, he didn’t have a big pantry stock, so Jon made me a Texas Tuna Soup. It consisted solely of Top Ramen, a can of tuna, a little vegetable oil and some Texas Pete.

That soup was absolutely disgusting. It was so bad that I’m still making fun of it 11 years later.

I think I realized then, though, that I was in love. I must have been, because I ate it (if only the one time.)

Since we’ve been together, I’ve made sure that our pantry and freezer were a little better stocked. At the very least, we can almost always throw together a vegetable soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, or a couple of plates of scrambled eggs.

While I’ve increased our food inventory, I’ve tried to adopt Jon’s philosophy. Use what’s in inventory. Use the things you have to create the things you want. Leverage your resources, whether in your cooking, your wardrobe, or your career.

But more than that, use what’s in inventory is also about adjusting our wants and needs to fit what we have. When we use what’s in inventory, we find a way to make do. We adjust or modify the things we have so they become the things we need, and we adjust the things we want to fit the things we have.

This is timeless advice. Using what’s in inventory was the standard for most of human history. Shopping for daily needs like food and clothing used to be a lot less convenient. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be limited to homespun handsewn clothing and a weekly or monthly market day?

Most made clothes, grew at least some of their own food, and relied on friends and family to get the things done they couldn’t do themselves because there was little choice. Now, the predominant ethos is “buy what you need, buy what you want.” Life is more convenient because we can buy things we need easily, but those who work with what they have when they can will end up conserving their resources and saving more. Those who give into the ease and convenience of buying everything will have less.

Use What's in Inventory

Taking Inventory

If your goal is to use what’s in inventory, you should start with taking inventory. 

It’s hard to use what you have if you don’t know what you have. Taking a good inventory means you know what you have and you know where to find it. Sometimes, that means getting rid of extras.

During our No-Spend month, I cleaned decluttered my closet. I pulled out all of the clothes that didn’t really fit. I yanked the clothes that hadn’t been worn in a decade or two, or that were showing wear and tear. The only things that stayed were the clothes that fit, that still looked good, and that I liked wearing. The coats and sweaters went on the right, skirts and short sleeve shirts went on the left, slacks and blouses in the middle.

It was a lot easier to get dressed in the morning.

I could easily find clothes that suited the weather and looked good together. I no longer had to put clothes back in the closet because “Noooo, that’s a little snug.”

All of those extra clothes weren’t just unnecessary. They kept me from finding the clothes I needed to wear. Many represented wasted money. I’d only worn some of them once or twice.

How many other things were cluttering up my life? I weeded out my pantry and freezer and made a list of what I had. It made it easier to answer “What’s for Dinner? I cleaned out our craft cabinet. Little Bit could do her creating without a lot of help. We made a list of our expenses, and we saw the big leaks in the budget.

There are a few ways to keep inventory. The two most common are to keep a list that you periodically update (like our list of expenses) or to have a organized placement system that you maintain (like my closet). In either case, it’s important to keep your system current so that you easily know what resources you have at your disposal.

Consider the Possibilities

Once you know what you have, you can start matching haves to needs. Some of these will be obvious. A well-stocked pantry means you can cook all sorts of things for dinner.

The real trick is to see more creative possibilities for your possessions.

One example Jon pointed out this week is windfall. Literally. We live on a wooded lot, and it’s not unusual for storms to bring down all sorts of branches. Some would see the branches in the yard as trash to be discarded. Jon, however, cuts the yard trash into manageable pieces and builds a bonfire for an evening’s entertainment.  He uses the pieces of paper from our shredder too, protecting our identities.

We never buy firewood, but we always have plenty of logs and kindling.

You want to explore all of the ways your resources can serve you. Does your employer offer or subsidize classes that will increase your skills and future earnings? Can you get free nutritional consulting or gym discounts from your health insurance provider? Does your public library offer e-books or films that you can enjoy without fees? Do you have an outfit already that will work for that wedding?

Do you remember the TV show Gilligan’s Island? The Professor had only what he could find after the shipwreck, but during his time on the island he made a lie detector, a washing machine, and even a jet pack. But somehow, with all of his creative application of resources, he couldn’t figure out how to fix the darn boat.

Seeing the possibilities will give you the broadest use of your resources and reduce your need to buy new things or pay for services more than once. Get creative. Explore your options. Know your benefits and exploit them to the fullest.

Take Action

Now that you’ve seen the possibilities in your resources, you’ll need to put them into action to meet your needs.  You can have all of the terrific resources and the best ideas in the world, but it won’t make a difference if you don’t do something with them. 

Lots of people buy fruits and vegetables to eat healthy at home. For that to work, though, they have to a) eat at home rather than go out. b) eat the fruits and vegetables rather than other foods. It’s not enough to have the inventory. You have to actually eat the produce. Otherwise it goes bad and you’ve wasted food and money.

How many of us have exercise equipment that sits unused in our homes? We have an elliptical machine that we mostly use to hang up jackets and book bags, yet I don’t exercise enough. If I moved the jackets and book bags and used the machine as it was intended, that wouldn’t be the case.

We all get stuck at the taking action step from time to time, but it’s probably the most important one to follow. Once you decide on your need, do something, because doing nothing won’t help at all.

Make it Work

If you are going to use what’s in inventory sometimes you have to adjust your plan to fit your resources.

One reason I think so many people love reality competitions like Project Runway and Top Chef is that amazingly talented people are told to make fabulous things…and then given ridiculous constraints. Like “Make a dress from what you find in a garbage dump” or “Cook a gourmet breakfast for 40 in 2 hours with only the things you can find in this Target.”

Someone always creates something amazing that blows the judges away. The really amazing thing, though, is that almost all of the contestants finish the challenge. They adapt to the new conditions and constraints to meet the challenge.

It’s not always pretty, but the competitors make it work.

Life always gives us new conditions and constraints for us to work within. Most of us don’t have unlimited funds, unlimited time, or unlimited imagination. If we are going to adapt to the new, we have the choice of adjusting our plans or adjusting our resources.


That means sometimes we have to accept a different result. We may have to learn to be happy with what we already have, or learn to do without.

Success, however, comes from stretching ourselves to overcome the obstacles. To be successful, we have to find a way to fit our resources to our needs successfully.  

Try new things. Learn and apply your knowledge. You have to change and adapt to find your successes.

Use What’s In Inventory

In the 11 years Jon and I have been a couple, I’ve seen that use what’s in inventory is really his guiding philosophy, and I’ve tried to adopt it as one of mine.

Use what’s in inventory can have its drawbacks. Sometimes we are less willing to get rid of unused things around the house because we might need them later. We can try to McGuyver a solution when in the long run it would be better, cheaper or faster to just go buy the obvious thing.

Jon’s philosophy does mean we are less likely to take our resources for granted. For the most part, we spend less and make what we have last longer and do more.

You can do a lot worse than using what’s in inventory.

What’s your favorite saying/guiding philosophy? How do you apply it? 

pantry photo credit: 20150616_151848 via photopin (license), with changes

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and Friday Night Shenanigans*

20 thoughts on “Use What’s In Inventory

  1. Great post. To recap, it’s important to have good quality stuff in inventory and to get the bad stuff out of inventory to make finding the good stuff pleasant and easy.
    If our pantry is a mess, we can ‘lose’ stuff in there for years. When it’s organized and we like everything in it, it’s like a treasure hunt.
    Julie@ChooseBetterLife recently posted…Summer’s Best AttractionMy Profile

    • That’s certainly part of it. There’s also the idea that sometimes we need to be creative to get our inventory to mesh with our needs. Plan B can lead to success if you can adapt.

  2. Thanks for a great post, Emily. I need to organize my pantry better. That would help me SEE what I’ve got in inventory. Mr G has a saying “Not bad for a couple of ham and eggers”. It’s a good reminder to give ourselves a little credit for doing something pretty (or very, or fairly) well.
    Mrs Groovy recently posted…Why Aren’t You Living in a Trailer?My Profile

    • Sam I Am applauds Mr G for the way he gives himself props.

      I do find it easier to keep my closet (which only I use) organized than the pantry (which all three of us are likely to put things.) I think that’s why I had to go to a list.

    • We tend way too much to the Keep everything mode, despite my wishes. I’ll pick out a bunch of stuff for donation and Jon and Little Bit will go back through and take things out. Little Bit grabs things from recycling for her art projects. I think we’d do better with less, but I’ve agreed that I will only try to downsize MY stuff without further discussion.

  3. Love this philosophy and the soup story brought me right back to the college years. Gilligan’s Island was my favorite as a kid – and they certainly just used what was “in inventory”! We are hoping to be better about that this year since I will be home more. As far as clothes go, it is amazing what is in closets and drawers – yet we wear many of the same things over and over. We need to lessen our inventory – and as you describe, keep the “quality” in each area and hoe out the rest. It clutters the mind – and the house! Great post!
    Vicki@Make Smarter Decisions recently posted…Should We Allow Pets in Our Rental Property? Calling Pet-Lovers, Tenants and Landlords – Give Us Advice!My Profile

    • It was awfully fun to bring the Professor into the article, he was always my favorite.

      Using your inventory to its fullest extent becomes easier (and more important) when you are home all of the time. Not only do you have the time to implement stuff, but also more access than if you are running around all day every day.

  4. This post is a great reminder, I am very guilty of buying healthy foods and not eating them. It’s such a waste. I’m working to be better and more mindful about my habits, I’m actually cleaning out my apt this weekend to help take inventory and get rid of the clutter that causes stress when I can’t find things or am overwhelmed with all the “stuff”.
    Liz recently posted…Paying Off Debt While Pursuing Big Crazy DreamsMy Profile

    • Good luck on the decluttering Liz.
      I can say that the key I found to the food waste was to a) cut down on the quantities I buy (3 bananas instead of 6, one meals worth of tomatoes or green beans instead of 2 or 3) b) examine what got used versus what got tossed, which led to buying more standbys and fewer “wow, let’s try that!” expenditures. Now I have a rule that I won’t buy any nonstandard items unless I have a plan to use them within a day or they have a pretty long shelf life. I also increased my usage of soups and casseroles.

  5. This is great. It’s so easy to forget or just get too lazy. I’m spending about 5 weeks living in a different city and started with an empty kitchen and the best of intentions and now just two and a half weeks into living here, I already have to remind myself to actually eat the groceries I bought and make the soups.
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…Falling Off the WagonMy Profile

    • Five weeks is a tough amount of time. It’s enough to make plans you don’t have to do right away (like your soups) but I can see it would be really easy to let those plans slip away. But even those of us who are staying in one place tend to let time (and food freshness) slip away.

    • So glad we have a better inventory to use these days. It makes our pantry meals so much better, even when Jon cooks. (This week, I made spaghetti with caramelized onions, and Jon made Black Beans and Rice).

  6. I love this concept and subscribe to it often. I like “use it up, wear it out, or do without”. My current sandals have been well used (for 6 years straight), and are almost wore out (the superglue only lasted a few weeks), so I either have to wear tennis shoes or buy new sandals, I guess. Though I have to say I may try the superglue one more time 🙂
    Amanda @ centsiblyrich recently posted…Changing this one thing can help you solve your money problemsMy Profile

    • LOL, you sound like my dad and his topsiders. As long as they can be duct-taped, he’ll still wear them.
      Buy yourself a new pair of sandals. In 6 years, your price point per wear was probably pretty darn good.

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