“Stockpiling” is the term couponers have long used for shopping ahead of sales cycles, then storing groceries and supplies until the next sale. It’s a great strategy for shelf-stable, non-perishable or freezer-stable items because prices fluctuate. Buying at a low sale price, with coupons, ensures that we never have to pay full price. Need another box of cereal? Tube of toothpaste? Roll of paper towels? Grab it from your stockpile versus running to the store and you’re saving big.
However, for some people, the word “stockpiling” has become synonymous with “hoarding” or “buying big.” And, based on some of the email I’ve received, I think we need a new word for what we do! Thanks to extreme couponers, that word seems to be scaring off would-be coupon shoppers:
I read your column in my paper each week and I know you couponers are saving large amounts of money on everything. But I have seen those TV shows where people stockpile a whole bedroom of things. We don’t want that much in the house and I can’t help wonder – don’t these people want to live in their living spaces? Show me couponing without stockpiling and I just might sign up.
Notes like that make me want to scream from the rooftops, “MY house isn’t full of cans and toilet paper!” My stockpile fits on a set of shelves in my laundry room, and it’s rotated regularly. For most items, I’m only buying in quantities that we can use over about a three-month span. But couponing without some form of stockpiling is tough as we “win” the couponing game by buying when prices are low, then using our on-hand inventory when prices are high.
I try not to stock up on anything that we won’t use before its expiration date. Completely nonperishable items, such as paper products, never expire. Even when I’ve hit a great deal on paper towels (and ended up stashing extra rolls in the garage!) I think the longest that stock-up lasted was close to a year. And the paper towels were on a shelf in the garage, so they weren’t taking up any of our living space. Most of the time, I buy in three-month quantities. It’s not as much as you might think – for our household, three months of ketchup is three bottles. Three months of my kids’ favorite cereal is about nine boxes.
But for other items, it’s good advice not to buy more than you can use before a product spoils. Reader Will shares a tip to this effect:
In past years I was a bit of a couponer and one of the items I stocked up on was dishwasher detergent. However, I am now a widower living alone, and use very little of that. I discovered that liquid dishwasher detergent does not keep very well for really long-term storage (over a decade or longer). There are two aspects that deteriorate. One is that the liquid itself separates into a thick, gummy layer at the bottom of the bottle, with a thin liquid over that, and just shaking the bottle does not mix it up well. The other is that the plastic bottles themselves tend to develop leaks.
Good advice – though, again, stocking up for more than 10 years would be an unusual circumstance. Smaller stock-ups, replenished every few months, ensure that your inventory remains fresh.
So what should we call these “smaller” stock-ups? Readers, I’d love to hear from you! If you’ve got a better word for the formerly-known-as-stockpiling, send me an email. I think we’re all overdue for terminology that carries the positive connotation of “stocking up short term.”
Smart Living Tip: Stocking up, even in smaller quantities, is key to saving money. When you can purchase a product at half its regular, non-sale price, it simply makes sense to buy a little more than you need right now.