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Do you think it’s better to stock up or keep on hand only what you can use within a few weeks?

by respaced on October 18, 2012

Today I have no advice, suggestions or tips for you. Today, I want to start a conversation and get your opinion on this: stocking up versus keeping on hand only what you need. When do you stock up on things like groceries, toiletries and office supplies? How much do you stock up? At what point do you think stocking up has crossed more into the compulsive buying or hoarding territory?

For example, if a family of four has 10 rolls of toilet paper on hand in their “back stock,” does that seem excessive to you or practical? What if they have 20 rolls, 50 rolls or even 100 rolls? What’s an appropriate size for this family’s back stock?

I can see the sense in stocking up if you live nowhere near a store or if you live near a store, but have a hard time getting there. You might not be able to shop for months at a time, so you better get everything you need to survive in between grocery store trips.

But many of us live near stores that we can access just fine — and yet we are still buying ungodly amounts of non-perishable foods and toiletries as if we might not see a store again for a year. I’m talking amounts so large it would take a family of 4 a year to use everything up. And then where to store it all? Some people have to designate a large space in their home just to store everything. Is it worth sacrificing a potential craft room, play room, etc. to store items that you might not touch for a year or two?

Some people stock up because they say it saves them money. But is buying one dozen can of peaches on sale for $20 to eat some day cheaper than buying one can of peachesĀ for $1.50 to eat that week ? Is that truly cost-effective? How much space are you willing to sacrifice in order to save money?

On the other hand, having on hand enough items to last you a week or two might save you a ton of space and organizing headaches, but it does make you vulnerable in the event of a disaster or crisis (eg. loss of income, car breaks down, long term illness).

It’s an interesting question to me in these days of extreme couponing, stocking up in case of disasters, and canning/preserving hundreds of jars worth of food. I honestly don’t know where to draw the line when it comes to stocking up versus keeping on hand just what you need for the week, so I’m coming to you. What do you think? When would you stock up? How much is too much to keep on hand? If you don’t stock up, why not?

Image courtesy of TLC’s Extreme Couponing.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Lucinda Bowman October 18, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I’ve seen those couponing reality shows before and literally think those folks are nuts!!! First of all, the products and foods I buy rarely have coupons associated with them as I try to buy all organic or “natural”. The products associated with coupons are huge labels like Procter and Gamble, whom I loathe as they do tons of animal testing. If I see a great deal on my favorite Organic Rice Crispies cereal I will buy 3-4 boxes as my family LOVES the cereal and it’s uber expensive when not on sale at New Seasons or Freddy’s. In terms of toilet paper, I usually buy a recycled kind when it’s on sale. 20 rolls is fine by us and I don’t see any reason to buy more and stock pile unless there is some amazing sale or something. I do tend to buy staple items 2 at a time: 2 jars of apple sauce, 2 gallons of milk, 2 tubs of yogurt because buying one will just send me back to the market in 5 days. I have only considered buying in bulk with items that aren’t perishable or have a long shelf life like canned goods. But even then I find it hard to justify. That’s my take on this topic šŸ˜‰


Kristin October 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I’m not too far from where Lucinda is either. However, I’ve been very into doing my own preserving. So I’ll buy 40 or 80 pounds of apples during the apple season to make apple sauce, etc. and will use it over the next year (or two in this year’s case… thank goodness I canned so much last year as I had no time to do it this year!).And I’m part of a food buying club that buys in bulk. So I’ll often get a few months worth of pantry goods at a time. I try to never store stuff for more than a year and if it comes the ‘season’ again and I still have frozen blueberries from last year, or canned tomatoes, or whatever, I adjust what I make/buy for the coming year. I only make it to actual stores every couple weeks on average, sometimes even longer since I get so much through the food club (including most of my produce, etc.). So occasionally I’ll get 3 pints of ice cream to make it through the gap! Similar to Lucinda, I’ll also grab 3 or 4 boxes of something occasionally if on sale. I like to have a well-stocked pantry of staples since I don’t do much in the way of menu planning and I like to have a variety of grains/nuts/pastas, etc., but I like to go through them too. And every 6-12 months its good to do a pantry cleanout to eat things before they go bad and get rid of things that have already passed their prime.


respaced October 19, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Hi Kristin,
I hadn’t thought of the argument of keeping a well-stocked pantry to avoid having to do meal-planning. That makes sense that you would then need to have a large selection available. I could see where that could get out of hand for some people, but you mention that you do a pantry clean-out every 6-12 mos, so you obviously have it under control. Thanks for bringing up a new perspective!


respaced October 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Hi Lucinda,

Your buying method sounds similar to mine. I buy extras of a few things, I have about 15-20 rolls of toilet paper, and I don’t really stock up on much else. Works for me. Thanks for the comment!


Jo October 18, 2012 at 11:08 pm

There are just two of us, and not much space in our small apartment. We don’t have much storage space, so when I pick up the 12 pack tp for Trader Joe’s, it’s not too big to store by the bathroom, and lasts us weeks. Food items I will purchase a few at a time if it’s something I use frequently and it’s on sale, even better if I have a coupon to add to the sale. I will purchase several of one item if I know I’ll need it, it’s a phenomenal sale, and I know I won’t be able to get back easily to replenish my supply.
I keep in mind how much of our valuable retail space I’m willing to give up to dry and canned goods. For us it curbs the stockpiling.

In terms of fruit, though, canning your own is fantastic. I’d much rather purchase the slightly more expensive real fruit when it’s in season than several tins of it to last for ages. I’ll just pick a different fruit if it’s not in season.


respaced October 19, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Hi Jo,
Yes, I imagine living in a small apartment would really make you conscious of how much space you are allocating for storing food. Apartments seem to be designed around the idea that you either cook very rarely and/or you live near a grocery store and shop regularly so as to not need much room for food storage. When it comes to canning, how do you know when you have canned just the right amount? Do you determine that by the amount of space the jars take up or by how long it takes you to go through all of the jars? Thanks for commenting!


Jo October 26, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Hi, I actually don’t can. Someone else mentioned it, and I love the idea. I’d probably do it if I subscribed to a CSA, but I think we’d probably get too much (solved by sharing with neighbors), and not have enough space for storing the amount of food that comes from canning.
Both the amount of space and the length of time it takes to go through a product are major considerations when it comes to purchasing and cooking ahead.


April October 19, 2012 at 4:27 am

I tend to only buy things as I need them because I will forget about back stock and end up buying it again. Plus, I have a small kitchen and don’t like to use space in my basement to store too much. However, I do my weekly shopping at Trader Joe’s or New Seasons and occasionally go to a big box store for better deals on paper products and miscellany so I will buy at least a month’s supply of those things so I don’t have to go to the big box store too often. For me, it’s about balancing efficiency with organization.


respaced October 19, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Hi April,

It does seem to be a balancing act. It sounds like those of us who live in an urban area or at least near a grocery store don’t stock up as heavily as perhaps those who live in more rural areas do. That makes sense. We can count on the store to always be there and have the stockpile we need. Your shopping habits sound similar to mine — shop once a week at the grocery store and once a month at a place like Costco to get paper products. Thanks for the comment!


Kathy November 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I think stocking up is a matter of culture and personality. If shopping is close, buying as needed fits well. Everything is fresh. In today’s world we can buy produce regardless of the seasons. If your preparing meat when you get home you can save money on reduced for pull date items. Shopping daily or every other day provides a social contact especially for those living alone. My grandma liked to shop everyday. She was an urban lady.

My other grandma was a country lady. She raised 5 girls during the 30’s and 40’s. Stocking up was a matter of security against real threat of hunger. She grew it or butchered it and preserved it. She made sure her girls didn’t go without.

Today I live 8 miles from a small grocery store and 30 plus miles from a super store. I stock up on some things. My sense of security demands it, I shop weekly for fresh things, monthly for others and quarterly for some canned goods as they are on sale. There is no right or wrong of it in my opinion, However, a few things put by for an emergency kinda like a pantry first aid kit is a good idea. Happy day!


kasi November 11, 2012 at 7:03 am

You are suposed to have at least 5 days of supplies. You can check with your local redcross on how long it would taketp get suplies if a disater hits your area. Depending on how big it is you might want to double it. My family was in the Santa Cruz earthquake it took along time to get everyone food and clothing. I was so happy that my family were realy into canning and gardening. While everyone on our block was able to trade with each other what they needed many were going hungery. That’s why I always keep 3 weeks of food in our home.


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