Wednesday, March 18, 2020

How To Stock Up Effectively and Frugally For an Emergency Shut Down

One part of my stockpile. Top shelf- rice, various kinds of pasta, from rice pasta to bean thread pasta to corn pasta to wheat pasta, and couscous. Middle shelf, pretzels, cookies, sardines, TVP mince, and miso my dad made. Bottom shelf, corn meal, beans, lentils, dried mushrooms, baking goods like vanilla, baking powder, carob powder, gelatin, coconut flakes, flax seeds, curry paste. Underneath the shelf, oil and wine and a refill canister for our Soda Stream.
I must admit, I have been more than a little frustrated lately. As someone who's been in extreme financial difficulty, and been utilizing this method of bulk shopping on sale to lower my grocery costs, even at the expense of living space, and I've been mocked for it, and had to defend myself when people implied I was a hoarder, that my priorities were wrong, that I was being foolish to "tie up my money in food". But now that there's this situation happening, this same lifestyle that was something that I have had to defend is now something people want me to write about, teach them how to do. And part of me is sore about that, I'll admit. And part of it makes me want to not write this post and just tell people off.

I wrote on Facebook about how I'm well stocked in case of a total shut down (which we seem pretty close to, my government has announced that it will be likely shutting down within the next few days) and people have asked me to please write a blog post on how to stock up on enough essentials for a few weeks (or more) on lockdown.

This brings up some new challenges. By this point it’s too late to be starting the long term project of stockpiling. Stockpiling now will cost you a significant amount more than it would have a month or so ago. It will also be difficult because stores are shutting down, and most people especially, now don't have the extra money to be spending on several weeks worth of groceries versus their normal spending. Add to that that going to stores now to buy things is exposing yourself unnecessarily, but online delivery will take a long time since stores are so overloaded that for most people the next available date is over a week or two away.

I've been posting on my blog here for over ten years about why you should buy shelf stable things on sale to have on hand for the future, but for various reasons, many people haven't done so. And I know I'm being harsh, but I feel like people are looking to me to have some magic answer about how to stock up right now and how to do it without breaking the budget, but the answer to that is its a very slow and steady process, especially if you're tight on cash. While I went to the store to get more things to tide us over, we probably would have been fine even without this extra stock up, because I make sure to always have a supply of food in my house for emergencies and just to keep down our grocery costs.

After this is over, I highly recommend you keep on keeping your basics in stock in your house, to help when future issues come up. Yes, this happens to be the first epidemic of this scale that has happened in most of our life times, but there are natural disasters that stop people from leaving their homes, and people losing jobs and therefore food security. Following this advice can hopefully help you in the future.

Building a stockpile all in one go now will be hard, because if you're doing this for the first time, you have to figure out where to store things, how to keep bugs from getting your things, what your family will eat that is shelf stable, and you won't have the added benefit of being able to get things on sale, like at the scratch and dent store, to put in their stockpile. Instead people will need to be paying full price, and often times extremely gouged prices, to stockpile now. And many stores are placing limits on how much you can buy at one time, because of all the people panicking and buying out the store.

However, stockpiling now certainly is possible, even if more challenging. And even though I did have a good stock of food from beforehand, of things bought on sale, I did do a top up shop once I got into quarantine, and saw that things are intensifying. I ordered an online grocery delivery, paying non sale prices, but trying to price compare and keeping down the costs of what I bought, to top off what I already have.

Top shelf- lots of flour, mostly hidden. Sugar. What's left of my giant package of instant mashed potatoes.

Things I did not buy: chicken, fish, meat, cheese, frozen veggies, since I already had these in my stockpile in my spare freezer. (Again, something that you can't really do immediately if you just build a stockpile now- get a spare freezer.) Cereal. Potato starch. Nuts. And lots more stuff, since I already had these in my stockpile from scratch and dent stores.

Assumptions I Am Relying On
  • We'll still have utilities. This isn't a natural disaster we're talking about, with water, electricity, gas, phones, and internet getting shut down. As much as we feel like we're in a post apocalyptical dystopia now, this isn't the show Revolution where electricity no longer works, this is a situation where we're dealing with a virus that is stopping people from leaving their home, but the things within their home should still work, and the things piped/wired to their home should still work. If I were stockpiling for another type of emergency in mind, I'd want foods that don't need cooking or water, but since that isn't likely to be a problem now, I'm buying shelf stable stuff that I can use to cook foods, not ready made foods.

    We'll still be at home. Again, this isn't a disaster where we have to take our things and run, so I'm not worried about having foods that are easy to transport, and we're not worried about our homes getting destroyed, we're worried about leaving the house. So it's totally fine to have our house filled with stuff.
  • This will probably last a while, but who knows how long a while will be. So I'm not buying stuff to last two weeks, I bought stuff that should hopefully last a lot longer than that. Though I can't say I have six months worth of food at home, and while we have food, I'm sure if this stretches out, we'll start getting really, really, really bored of what we have at home.
  • We'll probably alternate between having too much time on our hands and not enough energy. Some days I'll be looking for ways to occupy our time, so in those times we'll do all sorts of fun cooking. And other days we just want to veg out, so we'll need things that are quick to prepare as well.

Middle shelf- wine, wine, whiskey, grape juice, lemon juice, and one bottle of juice concentrate. Plus anchovies. Bottom shelf- cans of coconut milk, tomato paste, hearts of palm, beans, corn, honey, peanut butter, ketchup, mustard, lime juice, mayonnaise, sesame oil, maple syrup.

Things I Tried to Focus On: 
  • Things that are filling, shelf stable, and low cost. This meant that even though I have animal proteins in my freezer, I also bought lentils and beans so I can use that to supplement as protein.
  • Things that are quick to prepare and/or ready to eat, because while I am home with the kids, this is going to get tiring and frustrating quick, and I want to have some foods that I can give my kids or myself to eat without needing to cook everything from scratch.
  • Gluten free items that might be harder to find later, and/or that I can use to make other things from scratch.
  • Fat. Because, worst comes to worst, doomsday portenting and all, in case stores are completely inaccessible and we run low on food, calories are important.
  • Long lasting produce. Root veggies and citrus fruit specifically, because they tend to last a while.
  • Soap. Dish soap, hand soap, dishwasher soap, because that's how you keep away the germs.

Things I Am Not Focusing On:
  • A perfect diet. There are times to focus on trying to make things as amazing as can be, to try to get the perfect diet for your family. But this is crisis mode now and in crisis mode you have to make do with less than ideal, perfect being the enemy of good. For example, I have been getting a rash on my face and I have been attempting to do an elimination diet, without dairy or any eggs at all, but it hasn't helped so far, and with everything going on, I'm done with this elimination diet, because it'll just make my life harder than it already is.
  • Fresh produce. Ok, again, about the perfect diet. Fresh produce doesn't last so long, so the likelihood of my buying it and it going in the garbage is high if I try to buy it to last for too long. As I mentioned above, I did buy root veggies and other things that will last a long time refrigerated, and some other fresh produce, and when that runs out, well, its a good thing that I know how to forage and my yard is filled with plenty of wild edibles which I can use to supplement our diet nutritionally without needing to leave our home.
Cereal, gluten free cookies, gluten free pretzels, potato starch, lemon juice. This is the last picture, but there's more stockpile items I keep in other places in the house so they aren't photographed.

So what did I actually buy?

  • Rice. Lots of it. To eat as is, and to grind to turn into gluten free flour, mixed with potato starch I already bought in bulk months ago, to make gluten free all purpose flour mix. This topped up what we already had at home. I have short grain rice, basmati, and regular white rice.
  • Corn starch. To thicken things, and to use for flour mix if I run out of potato starch.
  • Wheat flour. I bought lots of it. This is cheap, lasts a while, can be used for pretty much anything- bread, cake, cookies, pizza, noodles, etc.
  • Sliced bread. To go in my freezer and to have for quick meals. This will run out quickly, but will give me a break for now.
  • Pasta, gluten free and regular. Shelf stable, easy, and filling. This was to top up what we already had at home.
  • Buckwheat. Shelf stable, filling, nutritious. Even though my kids aren't the hugest fan, I figure if worst comes to worst, its a good way to add extra nutrients into their/our diets.
  • Lentils. Same as buckwheat. I like it, though, so I'll be using it to stretch the other proteins I have. Beans my kids like but I don't eat, so when I eat lentils, they'll have beans.
  • TVP. Aka soy mince. Not perfectly nutritious and I wouldn't have it be my stable forever, but shelf stable, compact, protein, and can be made into a variety of dishes. I would have stocked up on this but I already had a stock from the scratch and dent store.
  • Tomato paste. Makes everything taste good, is cheaper by far than tomato sauce but can be made into it and so many other delicious and frugal dishes.
  • Coconut milk. Good fat, nutritious, can be used to make many things taste good, shelf stable, and it was on sale.
  • Sunflower oil. Can be used for many different things, including homemade vegan mayo, and adds calories if push comes to shove. Cheaper than the other oils I use.
  • Pretzels, gluten free and gluten. Fast filling food. Gluten free crackers.
  • Popcorn. Filling snack.
  • Canned corn. Gluten free, filling, shelf stable. Not as cheap as other starches but adds variety.
  • Lemon juice. To make salads, and lemonade.
  • Sugar. To make baked stuff and make things taste good. To be honest, I should have bought more than I did and will probably stock up on more when I can leave the house.
  • Milk. To go in the freezer because we already had fresh.
  • Root veggies. Potatoes. Onions. Carrots. Beets.
  • Fruit. Apples, oranges, persimmons.
  • Extras- vanilla, chocolate chips. Because I assume I'll be baking more.
  • Wine. Because let's get real. I'm here with kids by myself, and mommy needs to wind down.
  • One big pack of toilet paper. One big pack of paper towels. I never buy paper towels, but because of quarantine and germs I figured it was important to have disposable stuff.

Things I already had at home so didn't stock up, but might have had I not had these at home:

Cocoa powder.
Peanut butter.
Tuna fish.
Sesame oil.
Olive oil.
Dijon mustard.
Flax seeds.
Chia seeds.
Gluten free soy sauce.
Gluten free cookies.
Yeast, baking powder, baking soda.
Other alcohols like whiskey, vodka, arak, etc...
And probably plenty more that I'm not remembering.

Everyone's list needs to be catered to what they need, this is just what I did. And hopefully this will help you out with making your list, figuring out what to stockpile, and hopefully in the future you'll have a stockpile ready to face any crisis.

Do you have a stockpile at home? How long have you had it? Did you build it up slowly over time, or did you buy it now because of this crisis? What do you have stockpiled at home?


  1. I stockpile -- b/c of snowstorms or power outages or reading too many apocalyptic novels -- and have taken some grief for it in the past. Not anymore. It's been a project of many years' duration, and the hard part is making sure we eat the old stuff before replacing it; you don't want ancient canned goods. Toilet paper is one thing I don't have a big supply of; I prefer family cloth and my husband worked outside the home so was gone most of the day. (He's furloughed now though. We got him some TP.)
    For us, extra meds are important. Pet food as needed. We had isopropyl alcohol and glycerine so made our own sanitizer (have an immunocompromised family member). Powdered milk; I'm the only milk drinker and don't mind powdered. Whole wheat, rice, beans. The freezer has meat from a local farm. Canned veg, dried veg, dried fruit. That's the stored stuff.

  2. I started to build up a stockpile, but then I found that in the warm months, my grains and pulses became infested. I now probably have around 3-4 weeks worth of food in my stores.

    I'd love to keep a longer term store available and accessible.

    How do you m make sure your stockpile doesn't get infested during the summern?

    1. I found freeezing the pulses and legumes for two days just after purchase prevents infestation. Storing in seperate sealed container too.

  3. If you dont have loads of freezer space for bread I recommend tortillas,melba toast and crackers as a long life substitute. Preferably whole wheat.
    Also eggs. An inexpensive protein, versatile and easy to prepare. Will last a month if kept in a cool space.(is Pesach coming?) I stocked and replace as I use and restock.

  4. I have 4 to 5 months of food & supplies always. I am low income and built up over time. Now I see people panic over tp when i have large stockpile under beds. Baby wipes, bars of soap, shampoo, etc also fine on. Shelf stable foods for us include tuna, turkey spam( no one here likes regular) , popcorn, olive oil, horizon milk singles, crackers, pasta & sauce among other things. Just rotate your stuff and keep track. I did a top up shop but if i hadn't been able to my nieces & i would have been fine. My wake up call was a so called 100 year flood and after this i think i will expand to a years worth.

  5. After living in my home for years, with no rodents, I recently saw one who had gotten into a bag of flour. I was careless with that bag of flour, because I have worked for years to add a layer of protection to my food storage goods. I have collected 5 gallon buckets with lids, that can be purchased for little from bakery sections of grocery stores. I've gotten some for free at bakeries as well. I reuse any jar that is empty to store my many varieties of beans, lentils, and other grains. I have some canning jars for this purpose as well. Once you have food spoiled by bugs or rodents or some other way, you realize what a waste it was that it was not protected. I keep 5 gallon buckets with pasta (in the bags they come in.) I keep buckets of salt (salt containers and bags inside the bucket). I keep a bucket of sugar. I keep buckets of rice and some of beans (pinto, black, and great white northern). I keep buckets of corn for grinding, popping and treating with lime to prevent disease. I keep buckets of wheat. As can be afforded, gamma seal lids allow for easier access into buckets. Buckets also help to keep all these things organized and you can have easy access to see what varieties you have, such as pasta, all in one place, protected from rodents and insects.

  6. I stockpile. I have stockpiled for years because I was always paid once a month. So it just became a habit. Now with all the crazy I feel blessed that I have that habit. Everyone stay healthy.

  7. I love having a filled pantry! It makes me feel relaxed to know that i have more than enough food at home and that i don't have to run to the store while i'm cooking because i ran out of certain items.

    We usually bulk buy some items that are available in large quantities, such as semolina, flour, olive oil and detergents. I also have a reasonable amount of shelf stable goods such as pastas, rice, couscous and legumes. Don't really but canned veggies as they are really expensive here compared to fresh veggies. I am blessed to have a large fridge so i freeze a LOT! We recently bought 18 chickens (thats 20 kilograms- we live next to a wholesale store) so i portioned and froze that, it will probably last for about 3 months since we also eat a lot of meatless meals. I also froze about 10 kg dates. The date season is now ending so i'd rather have dates on hand or i have to wait till next fall/winter.

    Then i have a lot of shelf stable milk, some canned fish (tuna and sardine), canned jam, quite a lot tomato puree (they come in cans of 400 or 800 grams here. I have 5 cans of 800 grams) and baking ingredients (baking powder and baking soda, cocoa powder, custard and corn starch, vanilla sugar and regular sugar, grated coconut and things like that.)

    As for detergents, i bought a 10 kg bag of washing powder a few weeks ago. And all purpose cleaner/dish soap/bleach we have in 5 liter bottles. I also have a few bars of household soap and vinegar.

    It takes quite some time(and money!) to attain this. Even though a lot of people laughed at us for this, i'm glad that i dont have to panic just like they did and empty half the store which causes a lot of problems, as most people now see empty shelves when they go shopping in a lot of countries. I believe everyone should have a good filled pantry.

  8. Wow - nice to read all these comments and learn a thing or two from them and the original article! A good way to have fresh produce throughout the winter is to sprout grains and seeds. It only takes a tablespoon of alpha seeds to make over a pint of sprouts. In addition to the usual foods, store some sprouting seeds and learn how to use them. All you need is a jar, a small piece of cloth and an elastic. In 3-5 days you'll have fresh nutritious yummyness for pennies. Wheat, buckwheat, kamut, radish, broccoli, peas, sunflower seeds and lots of other seeds are appropriate for sprouting. You can grow them in soil and have microgreens in about a week.
    We have to keep all of our stock in glass or metal b/c rodents can get through plastic: Last year a rodent chewed open the plastic cap of a gallon jug of grape juice, ruining it. Flour, sugar and oatmeal are in large metal garbage cans. You can pick up cookie tins and other glass/metal food containers from thrift stores and other places. As long as they don't smell bad and have no rust, a good and thorough cleaning is all they need to hold pantry items (baking ingredients, granola bars.....). Just make sure to label the container.
    Stay well everyone!

    (using hubby's account to comment)
    Toni (in Niagara)


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