One of the things that saves us the most money is our well-stocked pantry and freezer. Like many people, I used to shop once a week or more for the food we needed just for that week. It was annoying because I hate grocery shopping. As far as I’m concerned, the less time I spend there the happier I am. It was also expensive because I was just buying things for the week at the going price, regardless of whether or not they were on sale. Not to mention the gas I used going back and forth to the store so often. Then I discovered the joys of stockpiling. It has saved us a ton of money and me a lot of time in the store.
There are several different ways to approach stockpiling. Some people keep enough food and supplies on hand to last for six months or longer. Some people keep a couple of months’ worth on hand and some, like me, only keep a few weeks worth of food and supplies on hand (although during storm season I do keep a little more than that, just to be safe). I don’t have the space to store much more than that.
I go to the store once a month for a big stock up trip and then supplement only when I need fresh produce or milk, or if I see a fabulous sale that I need to take advantage of. I am fortunate to have a roomy pantry that allows me to store a lot of food, as well as a utility room with storage for paper goods and cleaning supplies. A good sized chest or upright freezer is also very useful because it allows me to freeze meat, bread, and cheese which will perish quickly if not frozen. Even if you don’t have a lot of pantry space, you may be able to stockpile with some other unused spaces that you have such as under the bed, in underused closets, or in other containers. There are many ways of keeping a stocked pantry and you need to experiment until you find the system that works for you. Below is the system that works for me.
I have a decent repertoire of about three weeks of meals that I can make and I rotate through them regularly. Since I know what dishes I’m likely to make, I make certain to always keep those supplies on hand and to buy them on sale or with a coupon if at all possible. This keeps my overall costs low. When I run out of or low on something, I add it to the list I keep on the refrigerator immediately. This way there is no second guessing at the store about whether I need something or not. It also triggers me to watch for sales on those items on my list.
One of the big hazards of stockpiling is that things sometimes go bad before you can use them, resulting in wasted money and food. To prevent this I make certain to rotate items to the front after each shopping trip. Rather than just putting the new stuff on the shelves, I pull out the older items and put the new ones behind them. In the freezer, I put the newer items on the bottom. This keeps the older items in plain view where they will be used. I also keep like items together so that, for example, random cans of green beans aren’t lost amongst the soups.
People sometimes ask me what the benefits of stockpiling are and why I would go to the trouble. First, there is the money I save. By buying in bulk and when on sale and with coupons, I save money over buying the same items in smaller quantities at whatever the going price is on that day. Also, fewer trips to the store mean less money spent (and gas saved) overall. Second, keeping a well stocked pantry means that I always have something on hand to eat so we reduce our spending on eating out. Pasta, chicken sandwiches, tacos, or pizza are all quick to make on nights that we are rushed. We never face the, “I’m all out of food so let’s just go out,” dilemma that some people face. Third, we live in an area prone to storms and loss of services. With a well stocked pantry and freezer (and generator!) I don’t have to worry if I can’t get to the store for a few days. Finally, there is the intangible benefit of knowing that if someone lost a job or another disaster happened we could survive off of what we already have for quite a while.
A lot of people criticize the practice of stockpiling, saying that people who stockpile can’t possibly be eating healthy foods. I would argue with that. We buy good cuts of meat and seafood and freeze them. We buy lots of canned and frozen vegetables which numerous studies have shown to be as nutritious as fresh, particularly if you choose the low sodium varieties. We buy a lot of frozen soy products like veggie burgers and “beef” crumbles. When we buy canned soups, we look for the lower sodium, more natural varieties. We eat a lot of dairy and I make a lot of fresh baked bread. We don’t keep junk food on hand and limit the processed food we buy. I make one trip a week to the store or farmer’s market in season for fresh produce. And we garden to make a good bit of the fresh produce we consume. What we can’t eat fresh, I can and freeze and add to my stockpile. It is completely possible to stockpile and eat healthy meals.
Note that I didn’t create my stockpile overnight in one shopping trip. That would be prohibitively expensive. Instead I accumulated things over a period of several months. As I found the supplies I needed on sale, I’d buy one or two extra at a time until I had a nice stash of extras. Now that the stockpile is in place I only have to ensure that I don’t run out of anything and keep the older items at the front so they do not spoil. It takes very little time to maintain at this point.
Stockpiling isn’t for everyone. Those with very limited space may not be able to keep much extra around. If you eat a raw food diet, you may not find much benefit in stockpiling (although you can still stockpile cleaning supplies and paper goods). If you tend to be a pack rat, be careful not to go overboard stockpiling things you can’t possibly use. And if you are disorganized, watch your supplies closely to make certain you don’t let things expire before using them.
Stockpiling is no longer only for those who worry about Armageddon. It is for those who want to save some money and time on their grocery shopping and ensure that they always have food on hand, whether to last through a storm or to simply cut down on eating out. It’s a practice that most people can derive some value from, if they are willing to put a little time and thought into creating a stockpile system that works for them and minimizes waste.