Guides / 17 September 2019, 5:00pm / DR. KYLE O'HAGAN
Some of us love it. Others of us hate it. But all of us have to do it. The weekly or monthly waltz down shopping aisles stocked full with meat, dairy and produce. Second to housing, one of our biggest expenses is often our monthly grocery bill. This is especially true when sky-rocketing fuel prices and inflation make the price of milk seem like we’re paying for liquid gold. It’s no wonder that the question is often raised: how the heck do we cut costs when taking a trip to the grocery store? The answer can be quite simple: stockpile your groceries if and when your budget allows for it.
I’ve previously written an article that outlined 11 shopping hacks to help you save money on groceries. The article was well-received and has, since, been shared over 200 times on social media. One of the points that I raised spoke about how frequently we shop. Should you shop once or twice a month, buy in bulk and stockpile your groceries? Or is it better to shop every other day? On the other hand, should you only buy in bulk when household items are on sale?
There is a lot of debate about how much time and money you can save when you simply change your shopping habits. But instead of telling you what to do, I want to outline some pros and cons of stockpiling groceries and teach you how you can best use it to save money in the long term.
First Off, What is Stockpiling?
Okay, so many of you might be new to the idea of stockpiling. What exactly is it?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, stockpiling can be defined as: “a gradually accumulated reserve of something”. Similarly, Collins dictionary defines it as: “the activity of acquiring and storing a large quantity of something”.
However, a more relevant definition comes from Ann Eckhart who states that stockpiling is: “The practice of buying what you use when it’s at its rock-bottom price so when you need it, you have it and you don’t have to pay full price”.
Essentially, stockpiling is the art and science behind building yourself a “mini grocery store” at home, stocked with all the items you regularly use each month. And the best part is that almost everything you buy is on sale or significantly discounted.
What Does Stockpiling Look Like?
Okay, so it’s all well and good to know what stockpiling is, but are there examples of what it looks like? Certainly.
And do you need some inspiration to get you started? Well, then I’ve got you covered!
Now, I’m not saying that you need to go out and create a massive grocery stockpile like these in one month. These stockpiles were likely created over months or years (and almost always whenever the best deals came about).
But they do give you an idea of the type of stockpile you can create if you shop smart.
The Pros of Stockpiling Groceries
1 | You save time when you stockpile your groceries
If you decided to create a logbook of how much of your life is spent at the store each month, I’ve got a feeling you’d be shocked by the amount of time that you spend between the aisles.
While some define trips to the grocery store as “me-time”, I know many of you would definitely prefer to spend your time differently. Maybe with your children. Possibly with your partner. Or even just being alone for some much-needed R&R.
Well, if you create a grocery stockpile, you may experience months where you only need to visit the store once or twice to buy “supplemental” groceries, such as fresh produce. In fact, depending on your lifestyle, there may be months where you don’t even need to visit the store at all – because you already have everything you need.
And those saved hours can then be spent exactly how you’d like them.
2 | You often save money when you stockpile your groceries
It goes without saying – the more time you spend in a store, the thinner your wallet becomes. Oftentimes this isn’t intentional. But us humans have this nasty habit of buying what we don’t need simply because we see it on the shelves.
The candy bar at the checkout aisle. Or that microwave meal on nights that we’re lazy to cook. Maybe ice-cream is your kryptonite? Pick your poison.
Imagine how much money you could save if you weren’t assaulted on a daily basis with your biggest grocery store temptations.
But that’s not the only way we can save money. Fewer trips to the store also translates to less money spent on fuel to get there. It’s a no-brainer. It’s a win-win for your wallet!
3 | You’re better prepared when you stockpile your groceries
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that a grocery stockpile will get you through months or years without a visit to the store. This isn’t an attempt to prepare for a doom’s day apocalypse. Rather, a grocery stockpile is a way to shop smart.
By having a grocery stockpile, you almost always know what you have and what you need. And knowing what you have helps you to create a more focused, relevant shopping list when the time comes to hit the store once more. In essence, you’re more prepared.
Don’t underestimate the power of a shopping list – it keeps you focused, on track and helps you to get in and out of the store with exactly what you need. It allows little room for distraction. And it pours water over the fiery sweet treat aisle of temptation.
And, who knows – if the zombie apocalypse did happen to happen, you just might be prepared to survive it.
4 | You can take advantage of wholesale or discount prices
While couponing isn’t particularly popular in South Africa (and likely many other parts of the world), this doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to exploit discount prices.
As a matter of habit, always pick up the “weekly discounts” pamphlet or newspaper and mark off items that you notice are a “super-saving steal”. As much as we don’t like to think about it, grocery stores are significantly marking up prices of the goods they sell in order to make a profit. Sometimes this is upwards of 50-100% of the cost price.
What this means is that grocery stores have leeway to put items on sale (and still make a profit). So, take advantage of this when it does happen. Particularly for items that have a long shelf-life and those that you frequently use.
Also, if you happen to have a wholesale store in your city or town, consider stocking up by shopping at these stores (which reward you for buying in bulk).
A helpful tip: Take note of the price per unit when buying something. This value indicates how much money you’re spending per ounce, or gram or any other relevant unit. This essentially normalizes the price of an item, irrespective of its size. And it can help you decide whether you’re truly receiving a good discount or whether it’s a marketing ploy on behalf of the store.
The Cons of Stockpiling Groceries
1 | You can’t stockpile fresh produce or short shelf-life items
Of course, there are certain items that you just can’t stockpile. This mainly pertains to fresh produce, such as fruits and vegetables. But it also includes items with a short shelf-life, such as yogurt or fresh milk.
My suggestion for these items is to prepare an “un-stockpile-able” shopping list each Sunday for the week ahead. Then take that list (with fierce strength and determination) and buy everything you’d need for the next 7 days. And ONLY things from that list. This will help limit the number of times you need to make a trip to the store during the week, saving you time and money.
A helpful tip: Try planning your meals around being able to use frozen fruit and vegetables. Whether it’s a morning smoothie with frozen berries or dinner with frozen peas or carrots, there are ways around having to buy fresh all the time.
I’m not saying you should sacrifice your farmer’s market delights all in an effort to save money. Some things are just better eaten fresh. Allow yourself some room for treats. Again, I’m just encouraging you to shop smart.
2 | Space
Our best intentions can often be stunted by things we cannot easily change. Or simply by things that we don’t consider. This isn’t more true for stockpiling groceries than when considering the amount of space it consumes.
If you watched the videos from Ann Eckhart and Frugal Fit Mom, you’d realize that stockpiling groceries can take up a considerable amount of storage space. It may also require you to install additional shelves and/or cupboards.
Unless you have endless kitchen cupboard space, a basement, an attic or a spare room, it can be difficult to stockpile groceries effectively.
A helpful tip: Having a stockpile in a single location can certainly help you stay on track with what you have available at any given time. However, if this isn’t possible, I wouldn’t fret. I suggest spreading your stockpile throughout the house based on where the groceries are most frequently used.
Laundry detergent can be stocked in the laundry. Canned foods can be stored in the kitchen. And body wash and shampoo can be stocked in the bathroom.
If you do happen to go this route, just make sure you develop a strategy to keep track of what you have at all times.
3 | The emotional hurdle of spending a large amount of money
Many people overlook this point. There seems to be this fear of spending a large lump sum of money on groceries. Psychologically, it seems easier to spread the cost of groceries over several trips to the store. Why? Because a grocery bill of $20 every few days looks way more bearable than a once-off bill of $300 or $400.
But, this screams of the insecurity that comes with being unprepared. If you’re properly prepared for the month ahead, with a shopping list in hand, you’ll likely feel less intimidated by the final amount at the checkout counter.
Because you know that you’ve considered everything – your weekly meals, your toiletry needs, your grooming habits and whether you have enough storage space for everything in your shopping cart.
As a side note: I also believe we have a fear of shopping commitment. Instead of committing to buying groceries for an entire month, we prefer to satisfy our dietary needs as they arise. Because you don’t want to end up stuck with a pantry full of goodies that you might lose interest in.
Can anyone draw some parallels to 21st century dating?
How to Stockpile Groceries and Make it Work for You
1 | Keep your pantry (or basement) organized
Disorganization breeds distraction. If you don’t know what you have in your stockpile, you’ll get distracted and buy things you don’t actually need.
The best way to stop this from happening is to create a sense of order. Designate shelves or cupboard space to specific (and relevant) grocery items. The first shelf can be dedicated to canned foods. Maybe the second shelf can be dedicated to laundry products. And the third can be dedicated to baking necessities. You decide.
Keep your stockpile organized. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re drawing up a shopping list and need to know what products you’re running low on.
2 | Keep a log of what you have at all times
This somewhat goes hand-in-hand with keeping your stockpile organized. Create yourself a user-friendly log of all the groceries you have at any given time.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or technical. For what it’s worth, it can even be some notes jotted down on a piece of paper. Find a system that works for you.
But it’s important to be able to pull out a spreadsheet or that piece of paper and know exactly what you have on hand. Why? So that when you’re creating your shopping list to replenish your stocks, you don’t have to spend hours and hours figuring out what you need.
The last thing that you want to do is spend an entire weekend sorting through what you have and what you need. This will cause you to get frustrated and give up stockpiling groceries before you’ve properly started.
Keep a logbook. You’ll thank yourself later.
3 | Invest in some storage containers
I know that the entire point of this article is to help you save money. But, oftentimes, in order to save, you need to invest.
And, in my opinion, the best investment for creating a grocery stockpile is buying yourself some proper storage containers. Not only does this allow you to categorize your groceries in a more organized way (maybe by using different colored lids or unique shapes), but it also allows you to prevent nasty 6-legged critters from entering and ruining your bounty.
4 | Plan your meals in advance
Let’s be real – the majority of our grocery bill each month goes towards satiating our appetites. Therefore, there is no point in creating a grocery stockpile if you don’t have a general idea of what you eat during the month.
Because if you don’t know what you need, how will you know what you need to buy? Plan your meals in advance – even if it means you have a “rough idea” of what your breakfast, lunch, and dinner will look like. And allow yourself to fine-tune it over time as you get more consistent .
I grew up in a family that used to consistently have steak, egg, and chips on Tuesdays. And it would be pork chops, peas, and mashed potatoes on another night. And maybe a barbecue (or braai, as it’s more fondly known) on a Friday evening. Our weekly meals were somewhat predictable. And this made shopping for them much easier.
5 | Build your stockpile gradually
You don’t want to spend your entire months’ salary buying in bulk, only to realize you don’t have any money left over to buy necessities or cater for last-minute food/toiletry/laundry emergencies.
Give yourself a “stockpile” budget – money that you can freely spend on buying extra when groceries are at wholesale prices or significantly discounted. And build up your grocery stockpile gradually.
You don’t need to be Ann Eckhart or Frugal Fit Mom in one month. You’re welcome to make their stockpile your goal and work towards it each month. Then give yourself one year and I bet you’ll be surprised at what you’ve managed to hoard on sale.
6 | Store things correctly
Don’t leave your rolled oats in the cardboard box in which they were packaged. Because you might find that weevils have enjoyed their harvest the next day. And don’t leave your paper-packaged sugar sitting on the shelf for the next week. Because you may find that ants have made it their new home when you next attempt to top up your sugar jar.
In order to make the most of your stockpile and to not create waste, make sure that you store your goods correctly. Everything that is perishable should be stored in airtight containers, to prevent anything from entering, stealing and ruining your stash.
Also, don’t stock your goods right next to your geyser in the basement. You want your stockpile to be in a cool, dry space so that the goods that you buy can last the longest.
7 | Take note of expiration dates
Creating a grocery stockpile takes a little bit of foresight. I’m not saying that you need to know what you’re going to be eating on November 12th next year. But you do need a rough idea of some of your most used items in your home.
The last thing that you want is to buy in bulk, only for half of your stockpile to be wasted because it expires next month. Fair enough, expiration dates are just a guide and many people do ignore them (at least for a few weeks after the set date). But I’m certainly not going to encourage that.
Try to buy items with a long shelf-life. But if that isn’t possible, at least take some time to sort through items at the grocery store and buy those that have the furthest expiration date.
O'Hagan is one of Personal Finance's New Voices and his finance blog is called the Saving Scientist.