Posted by: prepare4 | March 25, 2009

The Self-Reliant Shopper

The Self-Reliant Shopper
By Carolyn Nicolaysen

The late night comics snickered it was “ridiculous” when U.S. Secretary Mike Leavitt suggested families might want to store some food and water under their beds as a hedge against emergencies. Did their mothers not tell them the story of the Lazy Grasshopper and the Ant?

Many of us who value personal and family preparedness go beyond the 72-hour kit to embrace the wisdom of a year’s supply. To endure a natural disaster until the government or the Red Cross comes to our rescue is one thing, but to be as self-reliant as possible under all conditions is another. It requires a good self-image, and a smart sense of why we do what we do.

Suppose there is a trucking strike with shortages in our supermarket, an economic calamity resulting from natural disasters or pandemics, or a personal calamity like disability or prolonged unemployment. A year’s supply of staple and storage goods would be provident, right?

Unless we are unusually well off, most of us can’t afford to simply go down to Costco or Sam’s Club and simply “stock up.” But with a little strategy and cunning, we can leverage advertised sales, liquidations, and bulk buys to pay for most of our storage goods with real savings. The distinction is to know real savings when we see them.

It has been fascinating for this home economist to watch the trends in advertising over the past few years. First there was the “buy one, get the second for 50% off” pitch. A good deal? Well, on some items 25% savings isn’t bad.

Then came the 10 for $10 specials. This one was a little harder to determine a good buy. Naturally our first thought was: “Wow, that’s just $1.00 each, what a deal”! Yes, unless the original price was $1.19, in which case the savings is only 15%. Still a savings, but not enough to justify a special trip to the market!

Now we have the “Buy one, get one free” offers. This weekend I noticed three different advertisers with a whole page of “Buy one, get one free” offers. One advertiser offered vitamins, laundry detergent, sunglasses, deodorant, soap and toothpaste. Another had bandages, baby wipes, nasal decongestants and glucosamine. Yet another had holiday candy, ibuprofen, facial tissues and batteries.

What does this mean? For many items, it means it’s time to stock up! But even at 50% off, it pays to check the cost-per-unit carefully. Be frugal and compare the cost per unit on sale, versus the regular pricing. If it is still a “buy,” then next evaluate the cheapest cost per unit per container — maybe the large container is the best buy, and maybe not. Then make an economical purchase in quantity, and you will now have savings to spend on other items, and supplies that will extend your self-reliance for a longer time.

Sales Checklist

A few words of warning and advice when evaluating sales:

  1. Know what you use. If you have not already determined how many tubes of toothpaste you use every month, start today. As soon as you finish reading this article, go get a permanent marker. Date items you use daily or weekly with today’s date. When the item is empty you will know approximately how many you will need for a year’s supply. If you use it up in a week you will need 52; in a month, 12; in six months, 2. For items that have multiple locations such as toothpaste, bath soap and TP, save the wrappers for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks count the wrappers and, now you know. Every two weeks you use 2 bars of soap, 1 tube of toothpaste and 3 rolls of TP — or whatever.
  2. Check expiration dates. Liquid medications will lose potency faster than pills. Don’t stretch the expiration dates on liquids beyond a month or two. Pills, however, will retain their potency for about a year after the expiration.
  1. Don’t get carried away. It is far better to have a complete two-month supply than an incomplete year’s supply. In other words, how much will you really value a year’s supply of facial tissues during an unemployed summer, a week-long trucker’s strike, compared to living without toothpaste if there’s no cash to go to the store.
  1. Find a preparedness buddy. This is a friend or family member (or R.S. enrichment activity group) — people just as serious about their preparedness as you are.  Team up. Decide together what you need to add to your storage. Decide on a budget for the week. Look over the ads each week and strategize on items to purchase that week. Buy one, get one free, divide the items and divide the cost and you have each saved 50%, and added valuable goods to your storage. If the items did not cost the total of the amount you have budgeted, save the extra in a “preparedness fund” and use it for the next great bargain hunt. If there is nothing in the ads you need one week, put the money you would have spent aside and wait until next week. Then, during weeks when there are five items you need, you will have the money already set aside to purchase them. 
  1. Don’t forget your 72-hour kits. Sunglasses, batteries, facial tissues, vitamins — all these are great items to add to your kits.  Add them when they are on sale, really on sale.
  1. Read ads carefully.Every Thanksgiving season one of our local grocery stores offers a free turkey with a purchase of $99. I always budget for this and save a bundle. I am like a shopper possessed! What a great time for such a sale! Flour, brown sugar, white sugar, spices, canned pumpkin, and cranberry sauce are always at their cheapest at Thanksgiving. Add to that many other seasonal items such as sparkling cider and stuffing mix, which I would purchase for the holiday meals, but not necessarily for storage — these will also be on sale, freeing cash for my storage plan.

    Let it become a game. “How many great buys can I find?” I never purchase anything that isn’t on sale to reach my $99, unless I really need it now (like milk or eggs). By the time I am done, checkout is a pleasure! Last year I spent $127, saved $66 and got a free $18 turkey to boot! In other words, I spent $127 for $211 worth of food. You can only do this if you carefully read the ads and shop them.

    These same types of savings can be realized if you watch carefully during the summer season, when they have great deals on barbeque and picnic items. Every holiday also offers great savings. Last week I stocked up on corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day, and this week I’m watching those Easter specials.

  2. Shop loss leaders. Loss leaders are the items priced to get you to come to the store. These are genuine bargains. You have seen these — cereal for $1.00 or eggs for 59¢. Grocery stores know if they can tempt you in with a bargain you will purchase other items. Resist the impulse buys! If you have no will power, send your preparedness buddy or your spouse in to buy the items for you (unless they have less willpower than you). Loss leaders can definitely benefit your storage budget.
  3. Compare stores. Have you ever noticed that when one store has catsup on sale, most of the other stores do, too?  Don’t overlook the large drugstore chains for sale-priced food items. Last week the best catsup buy was at one of these chain pharmacies, and not a grocery store.
  4. Be aware of seasonal sales. There are some things you can count on — organizers go on sale after Christmas, just in time for those New Year’s resolutions. Eggs are always on sale the week before Easter. But have you thought about other times of the year?
Seasonal Bargains

Watch for great buys:

  • January: Sheets, pillowcases and blankets, computers and any other high tech electronics, workout and sports gear, and winter clothing, hat, coats and boots.
  • February: Furniture, jewelry, housewares, and chocolate.
  • March: Jackets and raincoats, luggage, gardening tools, seeds, and frozen foods. Yes, this is frozen foods month. Check you newspaper ads today and I bet you find sales on frozen foods.
  • April: Spring clothing, Kosher foods, eggs, paint, and of course candy.
  • May: Everything summer, outdoor furniture, barbeque foods including sauces and dressings, swim suits and sandals.
  • June: Summer clothing, fix-it tools, electronics and it’s dairy foods month!
  • July: Major appliances, picnic foods, craft supplies, Christmas fabrics and fresh produce.
  • August: Linens, outdoor furniture, barbeque grills, fall clothing, summer clothing blow outs, fresh produce and school supplies.
  • September: Canned foods, homes and school supplies. Purchase just enough for the beginning of the school year in August and then take advantage of the bigger sales in September, and stock up for next year. Next year you can wait until the big September sales to stock up again.
  • October: Candy, winter sports equipment and cars.
  • November: Fall clothing blowouts, blankets, all those traditional Thanksgiving foods.
  • December: You name it! Baking supplies, spices, wrapping paper, clothing, everything except the electronics everyone wants for Christmas gifts. You’ll have to wait till January for the best buys on those.

There are so many ways to save money while stocking up. There are strategies for eating more cheaply, and buying storage goods more wisely. There are tricks to bartering and growing your own. There are church canneries, and projects to can goods for ourselves and others.

For this week, we have focused on learning to shop advertised specials to stretch your emergency preparedness. Really study the ads and learn to recognize the really great deals and the phony ones. You will truly be amazed at how quickly this one small skill will help you build your family storage, and leverage your self-reliance


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