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!

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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. Since that show came out all of the stores around here have changed their coupon policy. I used to be able to use a manufacturer’s coupon WITH a store coupon AND the stores would double Manufacturer coupons fifty cents and under. For example I had 3 manufacturer’s coupons for .50 for frozen veggies AND 3 store coupons or Catalina’s as they’re called. the bags of veggies were $1.69 each. With the manufacturer’s coupon doubling to a dollar and the store coupons for the .50 cents off , those bags of veggies cost me 19 cents each. When you’re feeding teenagers (you DO know how much they and their friends will eat, Right LOL) I saved a lot of money and still was able to make good nutritious fresh food for them and DH and I. Now I have to be be more diligent when getting the things we use. Paper products, soap, health items along with the frozen veggies and fruit, the canned goods we use. I never bought much of the over processed stuff (junk food) so we don’t store it. Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed a LOT of the fresh foods, dried beans, etc I had been buying in the past are disappearing off the shelves in our stores and are being replaced with what I call over-chemicallized pre-processed junk food. I’ve been seeing a lot of microwave meals, frozen and shelf stable showing up on the shelves. Is it just me being paranoid or has anyone else noticed this as well? One of my son’s works in the grocery industry as a butcher and he says it’s just the stores policy, you know that 72 hour turnaround so the store doesn’t stock a lot but I just wonder (he does too) if it’s something else causing this besides the drought in the west

  2. I agree Gaye, I was somewhat an extreme coupon-er(before it became popular) but it was on the fresh and frozen food and goods we needed when the boys were growing. (you DO know how much teenagers eat, right LOL) we rarely did processed foods or what I call over processed junk food. When that show came out it signaled the end of getting deals in most of our stores. I used to be able to take a store coupon AND a manufacturer coupon and use them on the same item. The manufacturers coupons fifty cents and under were doubled by the store as well. It saved a lot of money when my boys were growing up. Now the stores have almost eliminated taking coupons or you use either theirs or the manufacturer’s but not both. ALSO, I don’t know about you I’ve noticed over the last year or two that a lot of the fresh foods, dried beans, etc. I used to be able to buy disappearing off the shelves and more and more processed foods showing up, like microwave meals and stuff like chicken nuggets or frozen dinners. Has anyone else seen this in their stores?

  3. Good points in the article and comments. If couponing saves money that can best be used elsewhere, including paying down debts, I’m all for it. But it seems like a lot of work for little return.

  4. Love this article and the comments made so far. As there are only two of us I tend to ignore coupons unless they are on things we use on a regular basis. When our three children were home I used coupons more regularly but even then I tended to use them for items we used regularly. Saving money on something you don’t need isn’t saving. Right now with the smaller Walmart express/markets going out in many areas is a great time to stock up on paper goods if you can get to them before they are all gone. There is one going out near my brother’s home so he grabbed some things. His cart contained mostly canned goods for himself and a few meats that he hopes to use this summer for lunches. But, he did pick up some boxes of Ziploc type bags for me and for him. He said that the store nearest him was nearly empty already of meats, paper products and perishables.
    I find the Ziploc type bags very useful to group things together when storing them and once I have opened a freeze dried product I put the remainder in a bag and return it to the canister. I love freeze dried fruit especially. I also find that by purchasing freeze dried eggs. onion, green pepper, and sausage crumbles I have the start of great breakfast burritos – just need to add cheese and tortillas.
    All our things are currently on shelves in the pantry – bags of beans, rice and similar items are also in Tupperware type containers at the moment. Hoping to get the mylar bags and start storing them properly soon. Just need to get more organized so I have the space for them.

  5. I think you overlooked the idea “store what you eat” and this is what couponing should be used for. Rotation will keep things fresh, as well as compliment the things that you store that are not bargain couponing items.
    It is relatively easy to store things that are not long term storage items IF THEY ARE THE THINGS YOU NORMALLY CONSUME. The main point is to not buy things you do not normally use. Rotation is the key with canned goods or dry goods that are not packed with mylar and oxygen absorbers.
    And, of course, couponing is a great way to enable preppers to have plenty of non-food items, also necessary in an emergency, on hand.

  6. Those gals put as much as 40 hours a week in gathering, clipping, sorting and shopping, storing, etc…… It’s definitely a full time job! It’s not for me, but I can see one advantage of stockpiling for preparedness: bartaring. Otherwise, I agree totally w/ your concept. As usual, great article. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I extreme coupon on non perishable items like paper towels, trash bags, canned fruit and veggies as well as hygiene items and cleaning products. I’m only stocking for two people, so I don’t get carried away like the people on the show. However, it does lower my grocery bill so I can spend on the items I need regularly.

  8. I sure hope that serious preppers are home canning their own ground beef so that they CAN make their favorite stroganoff when they’re unable to get to the store for a pound of fresh ground beef. ; ) Having your own home canned meats on your pantry shelf is the best way to make ‘fast food’ at home.

    • I have done some home canning of roasts (stew meat) and chicken. Always in pint size jars so it is used in one meal. Never tried canning hamburger or sausage. I have heard that some people boil these first then can so that there is little fat – doesn’t that destroy a lot of the flavor though? Suggestions would be appreciated.

  9. As a couponer I have to disagree, yes there are a boatload of coupons for crap food, but there are regularly coupons for dried pasta, canned tomatoes (if you cannot can your own), frozen fruit and vegetables, rolled or steel cut oats, conventional rice (aka long cooking rice), coffee, tea and sugar (I prefer cane) both raw, organic and cane sugars, and of course flour (which does not have a great shelf life, but I bake from scratch so I turn it over quickly). Also dried and freeze dried spices also have coupons come out, not every 6 weeks, more like every 10-12 weeks, but they do come out, so you can help build your stockpile using coupons, for both a 3 month supply and a longterm supply. You just have to weed through the crap and not believe everything you see on that tv show.

    • Right-On. I shop the $5 off coupon on a $25-$30 in purchase at the Dollar General Store. Usually only good one day. DG also takes Manufacturer’s coupons. Then I shop the in store specials, compare prices to other stores, and end up saving $8-$10 on a $25-$30 shopping cart. In store specials are a favorite target. In November a local store had canned veggies on sale for 39 cents a can. Now I have flats of canned corn, green beans, peas, carrots, and mixed veggies. There are sane ways to stretch the $ with coupons.

  10. Dear Gaye, love this topic. After watching the extreme couponing series all the way through twice, I was addicted to this highly competitive sport. My husband was not thrilled. How many packages of Kosher hotdogs does a vegetarian need? Gaye hit the nail on the head. Toilet paper is the most useful thing I bought. After weeks of tiny, sugary yogurt cups, soda, cereal and deodorant sticks, I threw away my coupon notebook to save my marriage.

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