If I had to name the one aspect of frugal shopping that has saved us the most over the past year, it would probably be this: Stockpiling.
In my former, pre-coupon-obsessed lifetime, this is how I would shop:
1. Evaluate what we are out of in the house and make a shopping list.
Milk, bread, canned vegetables, pasta, deodorant, diapers etc., etc.,
2. Go to the store and purchase all of those items at the cheapest price I could find on the shelves that day, which usually just meant buying the generic or store brand.
3. Go home, use up all that stuff, and return to the store the next week and repeat the cycle again.
You might be thinking: "What's wrong with that? Looks like basic shopping to me." And yes, I was being price-conscious and making a list so that I avoided impulse buying. BUT, I was not utilizing the key concept of stockpiling. I was buying based on what my I would need in the next week, not on what my family would need over the course of the next several months. That's the difference.
The basic idea behind stockpiling is that when you find a great deal on something that your family uses on a regular basis, you buy as much as you can at that great price– you stockpile that item. So if you find a deal where you can get a box of dry pasta for $.25 instead of the $1.25 you would normally have to pay, stock up with 10 boxes. You have just saved your family $10 over the course of the next few months. Let me tell you, this savings REALLY adds up as you build your stockpile!
The photo above shows you part of my household goods/ personal hygiene stockpile. I have gotten all of these items free or really cheap (like pennies on the dollar) over the course of the last several months. I don't wait until we are out of deodorant to head to the store to pick some up– paying full price. When these free/cheap deals come along, I stock up. The same principle applies to canned goods, frozen foods, meat (for freezing), laundry detergent, toilet paper– if it's not perishable, you can stockpile it.
Here are a couple of helpful hints to think about as you begin stockpiling:
• Give up brand loyalty. When stockpiling, you can't be brand loyal. You stock up on whatever brand is free or cheap. If you have name brands that you really love, this might take some adjustment for you. For me, I was thrilled that couponing and The Drugstore Game allowed me to purchase name brands cheap or free, when I used to only buy generics. The bottom line: you only buy, stockpile and use whatever is free or cheapest, no matter the brand.
• Protect your investment. Find a way to store your stockpile that protects it from damage. Stockpiling a year's worth of diapers at an awesome price becomes worthless and wasteful if you toss the diapers in your garage and they all get ruined because of water damage. This is just an example– the principle is that if you are going to stockpile, find storage strategies that keep your items safe and accessible.
• Don't Hoard. What's the difference between hoarding and stockpiling? Stockpiling is purchasing and storing items that your family will use within a reasonable amount of time. Hoarding is hanging onto items that your family will never use, or buying so much of an item that your family cannot use it before it expires or goes bad.
The answer to hoarding is generosity. If you find a great deal on fresh food and are able to buy more than your family will use before it goes bad, give it away to a family who needs it. If you score some free beauty products at Walgreens that you won't ever use, find someone who will and give it to them. I've also sold unneeded items that I got for free in a yard sale. The customers at the sale were thrilled to get new retail items so cheap, and I was thrilled to be able to help them and at the same time earn a little more money to help buy the things that my family does need. All of these are great ways to avoid hoarding a bunch of stuff that your family doesn't need.
• Let Deal Availability be your Guide. So how do you know when a price is low enough to warrant a stockpile purchase? Once you've been in couponing a while, you'll learn to spot the really fantastic deals as opposed to the mediocre ones.
There are certain items that I never buy unless they are absolutely free or are money-makers. Toothpaste is one example. It seems like toothpaste deals come around all the time. I already have 10 tubes in my stockpile, have given away or sold (yard sale) a dozen more, and I know that more free deals are around the corner. So I always wait for FREE to purchase toothpaste.
Toilet paper is another matter. Around here, it seems very rare that I find a good deal on toilet paper. Let's say I can usually only get it at about $.35 cents per double roll. So whenever I see it for even $.25 cents per roll, I'm going to stock up. I'm letting what I know about deal availability be my guide. Make sense?
• Stick to Your Budget. I cannot stress this enough. If you haven't done so already, set a specific amount of money each month that you will spend on household goods and groceries. Withdraw that amount of money at the beginning of the month in cash, and keep it in your wallet. Pay for all your transactions at the grocery store, supercenter or drugstore with cash. When the cash is gone, you're done buying for the month. This basic principle is important in every area of frugal living, but it is particularly helpful when it comes to stockpiling.
When you first begin stockpiling, it may be hard to know when to stop buying each month. There are always great deals coming along. Things that your family needs are showing up at great prices, and you begin to stockpile. When you've spent your month's budget, that's the end of your stockpiling for the month. Yes, you may have to let some awesome deals pass you by if you've already spent your money. That's okay. This is the only way to ensure that you are stockpiling in a responsible way. The deals will come back around, I promise.
As you watch your stockpile grow, you'll be able to cut your monthly budget a little each month as you begin to use your free and cheap stockpile items instead of purchasing them at full price. In a few months, you might be surprised how little you have to spend to get everything your family needs for the month, and continue to take advantage of free and cheap deals to keep your stockpile built up. Give it some time, and stockpiling will make a huge difference in your monthly budget.
One more general thought about stockpiling: Perhaps it's my Grandpa Abercrombie's preparedness awareness coming out in me, but I like that stockpiling keeps our house well-stocked of the essentials in case we ever encounter an emergency. An emergency can take on many forms: a natural disaster, a national economic meltdown, or even the loss of employment. Through couponing, God has blessed us with a large stockpile of food and household goods so that if we are ever to encounter an emergency (on any level, personal or national), we'll be prepared. Stockpiling provides a nice little insurance policy!
So there you have it: Stockpiling in a nutshell. Do any of you have any other stockpiling tips or ideas?