When I moved into my own flat at University the first thing I did was go cupboard shopping.
I bought all my stock items so that I could always find something to make. But everything I bought was necessary. Things for baking, tomatoes, beans etc. It was only when I moved in with my boyfriend, Matthew, that I started buying more herbs and spices.
You see to me, herbs and spices were just another added extra cost. An ingredient which I looked at and thought *an extra pound to my shopping bill for half a teaspoon of this? No thanks. I'm sure it'll be fine without it.* And I was right. It was fine. Not amazing, but fine.
But Matt did things differently. I remember him making a pasta sauce that was bursting with flavour - all because of herbs and spices that he had in his cupboard. It would have cost over a fiver to buy all those ingredients for that one dish, but because he'd bought them one by one over a period of time, now they were just there - waiting to be used. A pasta dish which would have cost nearly a tenner if I'd have got each and every thing specifically cost us the price of some mince.
Always, always have things in stock. If you pick up 1 or 2 items every week you'll have a stock cupboard full of things just waiting to make your food more interesting. And when food tastes more interesting - it tastes more expensive. And that makes you feel as though you're eating luxury rather than bog standard I-eat-because-if-I-don't,-I'll-die food. Plus, you'll find that all those recipes which you thought were expensive - aren't.
Some things may be obvious to have in stock, but as Jamie Oliver has proven in his Food Revolution, not everyone sees a stock cupboard as an obvious thing to have.
So without trying to be condescending, my kitchen cupboard list is as follows:
Dried Chilli Flakes
Dark Soy Sauce
Bicarbinate of Soda
Light Brown Sugar
(Things which aren't actually considered store cupboard items because of their shelf life, but which should be available are bread, eggs, milk and butter)
This is... a lot.. when you see it in a list. It's even more if you buy it all in one go. But if you buy each item one by one, and keep your kitchen cupboard stocked up - you should always be in a position to enhance any meal you've got going for you.