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Why Bargain Stockpiling is Not Emergency Food Storage

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
Why Bargain Stockpiling is Not Emergency Food Storage

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Do you ever watch those programs on television about extreme couponers? I am not much of a TV-watcher, but I’ve seen a couple of these. It is astonishing to watch people load up a heaping grocery cart, then give the cashier a thick wad of coupons and walk out of the store paying $3.11 for everything.

I imagine you could build an enormous stockpile of goods this way, but is it really the best way to build a preparedness supply?

Why Bargain Stockpiling is Not Emergency Food Storage | Backdoor Survival

Bargain Stockpiling vs. Emergency Food Storage

I get the greatest ideas from my readers.  I am very grateful never to be short of subjects to write about because of your wonderful questions and suggestions. A while back, I received this in my inbox from Karen:

Stockpiling is based on the principle that if you buy large quantities at
rock bottom prices you will build a stockpile and essentially “shop at home”
to avoid ever paying full price due to running out of something.

The downside is that people stockpile a lot of non-food items that aren’t
really useful in a disaster. And shelf-stable items that are only stable for
about a year. And also items that require perishable food to make, such as
Hamburger Helper.

You are the expert on food storage for emergency. It needs to be mostly
food, and be stable for 5-30 years, roughly.

My concern is the proliferation of these eye-catching stockpiles on the
Internet and Pinterest in particular. Could you imagine a new person confusing
a stockpile with emergency food storage?

Karen is absolutely right in her assessment.

While couponing, price matching, and comparison shopping are valuable tools that can help you acquire needed items inexpensively, don’t be fooled. There is a huge difference between bargain stockpiling and emergency food storage.

So What is the Difference?

The major difference between a bargain stockpile and an emergency food supply is the purpose. Let us take a closer look at each type of supply.

A Bargain Stockpile

A bargain stockpile is a collection of items purchased at the lowest possible price, often pennies on the dollar. While these items can be very useful and a boon to your budget, they can also sit there unused because they are simply not foods you would want to eat, or, as a standalone item, need additional ingredients to make a complete meal.

Have you ever gone into the kitchen to make dinner and found that although there is plenty to eat, you don’t have the right ingredients to make anything you normally prepare? Maybe you don’t have the meat that you’d prefer to cook with the vegetables you have on hand. Maybe you are missing a vital ingredient for your famous beef stroganoff. Perhaps you are thinking of cooking up a big pot of chili, but you used the last of the seasoning with the last batch.

Often a bargain stockpile is exactly like that. You have only part of what you need to create a meal. This necessitates a trip to the store, which is not going to happen in the event of an emergency.

Another concern with the bargain stockpile is that it often consists of unhealthy, highly processed foods. You don’t get coupons for healthy unadulterated items too often. You get coupons for Pop-Tarts, macaroni and cheese in cardboard boxes, just-add-meat meals that are loaded with MSG, or boxes of sugar-laden cereal.  These are hardly the foods you want to fuel you through an emergency.

And finally, these foods, although they are considered shelf stable, don’t have a long shelf life, at least not by prepper standards. Particularly if they are left in their original packaging, you cannot expect to get more than a year out of most items. Many deeply discounted items are already precariously close to their “Best By” dates.

That is not to say the “best buy” dates are equivalent to “time to throw out dates”, but many packaged and processed foods are not impervious to moisture and humidity and will suffer degradation over a short period of time.  (You can read more about food expiration dates in What You Need to Know About Eating Expired Food.)

 Even though you can probably still consume stockpiled packaged foods past the date, you won’t be able to stash these items away for years.  Although I am just guessing, I imagine that there could be a fair bit of waste from expired food from some of those bargain stockpiles that look like Wal-Mart is using a corner of the basement for overflow storage.

On the bright side, a bargain stockpile can come in very handy for items that don’t expire. Things like band-aids, lotion, soap, laundry supplies, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and toothpaste, for example, can be stacked to the rafters and used for years to come.

Emergency Food Supply

An emergency food supply is made up of items that have been specifically chosen for qualities like longevity, nutrition, and ease of cooking without a power supply.

Normally, great care is taken with the storage of an emergency food supply. Items are packed in Mylar, with the proper desiccants or oxygen absorbers, and then stashed away in a food safe bucket.

More attention is paid to nutrition in an emergency food supply. Preppers are careful to ensure that they have an adequate balance of bioavailable nutrients, such a protein sources, fruits and vegetables, and carbohydrates. This helps meet the needs of a hard-working family during an emergency.

An emergency food supply can stand on its own, without the need to add fresh foods to make the meal tasty and balanced. In an emergency, you won’t be able to pick up a pound of ground beef to go into your Hamburger Helper, nor will you have the makings of a salad in the crisper drawer.

Finally, an emergency food supply takes into consideration the limitations of an emergency. You may not have power, so many of the foods in an emergency supply only require the addition of boiling water. While things like beans and rice are stocked, it’s understood that these foods may not be usable in every situation because of their lengthy cooking times.

Items you might find in an emergency food supply are canned goods, freeze-dried meals, whole grains, and dehydrated fruits and vegetables.

You Need a Plan to Build an Emergency Food Supply

Clearly, if your intention is to get prepared, you need to be focusing on an emergency food supply. Every situation is different. Before you begin building your supply, consider the following questions:

  • How will you cook in an emergency?
  • Do you have a good back-up water supply for an emergency?
  • How much space can you dedicate to your supply?
  • Do you have any special climate concerns for food storage? (For example, is your climate damp? Extremely hot or extremely cold? All of these affect what type of storage will work best for you.)
  • How many people are you preparing for?
  • Do any family members have special dietary restrictions?

Once you have determined the answers to these questions, you are ready to start building your supply. Focus on these qualities when building your emergency food supply.

  • Quality of nutrients – get the very best quality of food you can afford, instead of the GMO, sugar-and-chemical laden, cheapo offerings
  • Ease of cooking
  • Longevity on the shelf – I really like number 10 cans and Mylar packed in buckets
  • Compact food – freeze dried food takes up far less space than canned goods, and is light and easily portable
  • Amount of water you will have available – freeze dried food uses tons of water, whereas canned food often contains extra water to help keep you hydrated
  • Dietary restrictions – you may need to avoid things like gluten, lactose, peanuts, or other allergens. An emergency is no time to risk a bad reaction to food
  • Storage requirements – take the time to pack your food away carefully, defending against the enemies of food storage.

Of course, this is just brushing the surface. There is a lot more to building a food supply, so if you would like more detailed information about building an emergency food supply.

The Final Word

While both bargain stockpiling and emergency food supplies have their places in preparedness, don’t rely on only bargain stockpiling to prep for an emergency. Nearly everyone has a limit to how much they can store. Do not waste your precious space on things that will be useless in the face of disaster.

With careful planning, you can work bargains into your well-thought out supply, but don’t buy things you don’t need, just because they are cheap.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing to email updates.  When you do, you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-Book, The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

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Below you will find the items related to today’s article.

Mylar bags & Oxygen Absorbers: What I love about Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers is they protect against every single one of the food storage enemies. Prices do vary but for the most part, they are inexpensive and easy to keep on hand. And while you can seal them up with a FoodSaver, some tubing and a common clothes iron, I find it infinitely easier with a cheap hair straightening iron that you can pick up for very cheap.

Prepper’s Guide to Food Storage: This 99 cent eBook will provide you with everything you need to create an affordable food storage plan, including what to buy and how to store it. Nothing scary and nothing overwhelming – you really can do this!  Also available in print.

Volcano 3 Collapsible Cook Stove: For off grid cooking, the Volcano Collapsible cook stove is so versatile; it works with  charcoal, wood, or propane.  I like that it collapses down to 5” making it transportable.  I also have the older model, the Volcano 2.  Anytime I own two of something, you know it is a favorite.

Home-Complete Cast Iron Skillet Pan – 12 Inch: Have you seen the price of cast iron skillets lately?  I found this alternative to the Lodge and half the current price.  I feel that everyone should own a basic, 12” cast iron skillet.  In spite of the myth, they are easy to care for and over time, will become a family heirloom.  On grid or off grid, cooking with cast iron is the way to go.

The Ringer Cast Iron Cleaner – Stainless Steel Chainmail:  I purchased one of these in October 2015 and it is friggin’ fantastic.  You will never ever have to scrub cast iron again.  I can’t say enough good things about this gizmo.  You want one (and I definitely need to do a review).

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter:  FREE SHIPPING! The LifeStraw is considered the most advanced, compact, ultra light personal water filter available. It contains no chemicals or iodinated resin, no batteries and no moving parts to break or wear out. It weighs only 2 oz.  making it perfect for the prepper. For more information, see my LifeStraw review.


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24 Responses to “Why Bargain Stockpiling is Not Emergency Food Storage”

  1. We learned early in life to be prepared because we were 50 miles from nowhere with little access to normal supplies and little money to cover costs. Growing up this way was a series of life lessons that have made me better able to handle extended power outages (common); inability to reach someplace to buy necessary items; wildfires (very common) and lack of funding. If I can afford an extra package of spaghetti or rice or beans, they go in the basket. If it’s not something we normally eat, we don’t waste money on it. We got used to eating little meat protein due to cost but buy canned meats with longer storage viability in case we need them. Food items get rotated as needed. Yes, it’s a way of life and I’m glad to have those lessons to guide me.

  2. I agree with many others…. buy what you will eat. In a stressful situation, the last thing you will want is to try to choke down something you really don’t like.

  3. I read a lot of articles about survival, food prepping and other related issues. I have found that most of the articles are just selling points for products. I prep, but I am no chef. I choose foods that my family will eat during an emergency based on what we normally eat. You are correct about buying “junk” foods that no one wants to eat, but remember that during shtf anything you have to eat will be good. People tout MREs as a great food source, which proves they have never eaten them for an extended time. My advice, is store what you normally use and hope someone else doesn’t take it from you.

  4. I love the idea about the coupon face value savings jar. Since I’m still working I do acquire change and I usually just give it to DH (he’s retired). I’m going to try that for some of the things I’ve had my eye on but due to life I haven’t been able to save enough for them.
    Sorry hubby I’m keeping my change from now on 😉 Thanks Charles , awesome idea.

  5. Hi – while I’m not an extreme coupon-er either, I do use them frequently for items I’m going to buy anyway (so yeah I buy a few extra) also use it as a forced savings account of sorts. Since I would have spent the face value of the coupon on the product anyway – when I use a coupon I put the coin/dollar face value in my “next prep item to buy” jar. While it seemed really slow at first, on average, each month is $15-20. My current goal is an item that costs $90. of which I have $85 (9 months). I’m low-income it’s the only way I can think of doing it. Take care and thanks for all the great articles.

    • I realize the math is off but I had to get rabies vaccine shots for a pet – sometimes I raid the jar…

  6. Here I go again. This is such an interesting conversation that has developed today amongst readers. I’ve been learning about readers who can meat, and there are others who like freeze dried ground beef. Along the way I became mostly vegetarian. So I prep a lot of rice, other grains, and all kinds of dried beans. This means I have a need for more water and more cooking fuel. I study foraging and would like to work up to spending most of my free time out foraging. And sprouting. That’s the best way to have indoor fresh greens in a grid down situation. What about vitamin B12? It can be obtained by foraging insects such as crickets and grasshoppers. That’s the highest life form that I feel okay about killing. JMHO.

  7. that stuff is really only useful if you plan on donating it to a shelter how many toothbrushes deodorants does one person need? speaking of toothbrushes i haven’t bought one in years i go to the dentist twice a year and they always give me a goody bag with floss floss picks toothbrushes and toothpaste.I always ask them nicely to toss in a few extra items

  8. A number 10 can may seem like a great idea while it’s sitting on the shelf, but I really can’t see them as useful for emergency storage. One can holds nearly 13 cups of food, and how much of that are you likely to use for one meal? If it’s a true no-power emergency and you have no refrigeration, how long before the remainder of the can goes bad? If you have a small, battery powered cooler, how much room would your leftovers take up before you finish them off?

    I tend to stick with smaller cans and bottles that can be rotated easily and, in an emergency can either be used up for one meal or take a minimal amount of cold storage. This goes for fruits, veggies, peanut butter, and anything else that’s perishable.

    Just my preference. YMMV.

    • With wet packed #10 cans, I agree 100% that unless you’re feeding a large group you’ll risk wasting leftovers. However most of us are storing freeze dried #10 cans, and if you keep it dry, the contents will be good for days if not a week or more after opening the can. You just rehydrate what you are going to eat, put the plastic top back on the rest and you’re not wasting anything. With just my wife and I, we’ll get bored eating just one type of meal for a couple of days, but better boring then not having anything…
      Also, I stock reusable moisture absorbent packs that I plan to toss into an open can if the humidity is higher than winter levels, then will recharge them afterwards in my sun oven. That and I stock a LOT of ziplock freezer bags (better closures and thicker plastic) in both quart and gallon sizes to use for opened cans of dried goods.

  9. For several reasons couponing would not be for me. However, I watched two of those shows, where the goal was to provide needed items to a shelter. That makes good sense. However many cases of toothpaste? Yeah that will get used. Shelters are always in need of everything.

  10. Just had to post against because I am learning so much from other readers comments. Apparently there are sane and useful ways to use coupons. Especially if you already get the newspaper. I got pretty crazy with it, and then discovered the library keeps a box of coupons donated by members. That’s when I went off the rails buying multiples of things we don’t even use. Like a year supply of taco shells. That went well with the lifetime jug of taco seasoning mix I bought at Costco long ago. And the dozens of cans of refried beans in a brand I don’t really like.

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