Ask LH: Will Stockpiling Groceries Save Me Money?

Hey Lifehacker, I buy groceries in bulk when our family's favourite items go on half-price special or better. I take advantage of targeted offers from loyalty programs and frequently end up with coupons for X dollars off for spending Y amount. I use these coupons for specials plus stocking up on generic products which never go on special. I sometimes wonder though whether I am actually saving money.

Does it cost money to hold a stockpile of goods bought for free or at a large discount? Would it be better to keep the money in the bank in case of unexpected bills? I have a large freezer and two fridges which are usually fully-packed (see the list below). Do these extra energy costs negate the savings on the food? Am I paying too much to maintain the size of my stash? Thanks, I Love My Stockpile

Picture: Hotcouponworld.com

Dear ILMS,

What's in the stockpile?

  • 30 cans of soup
  • 80 packets of 250ml liquid breakfast
  • 12 packets of rice crackers
  • 10 packets of other biscuits
  • 10 kilograms of various types of red meat
  • 10 packets of frozen chicken products
  • 6 packets of hot dogs
  • 10 kilograms of frozen vegetables
  • 20 packets of 250ml long life juice
  • 100 cans of soft drink
  • 30 litres of bottled soft drink
  • 10 litres of cordial
  • 6 boxes of breakfast cereal
  • 48 toilet rolls
  • 20 rolls of paper towel

On the whole, we're in favour of stocking up on your favourites when they're on special. Executed carefully as a strategy (which you're evidently doing), then it can save significant amounts of money.

However, that doesn't mean stocking up to nuclear-holocaust proportions always makes sense. These are the observations I'd offer:

  • Buying goods on special shouldn't dominate your whole budget. Make sure you're assigning money for saving and for an emergency fund.
  • Don't keep goods in the freezer for extended periods -- they'll be less pleasant to consume, and the cost of storing them might push up your electricity bill. That's especially the case if you have an older freezer which is less energy-efficient.
  • Dry goods don't have that issue, but one issue to consider is this: if you're renting, are you paying more purely to have the space to store those items? If so, a replan might be in order.
  • Is there a specific reason you're purchasing both canned and bottled soft drink? If you don't need the cans for portability/school lunches, then bottled is generally cheaper on a volume basis.

Overall, your stockpile seems quite reasonable to us, especially as you're feeding a family. If anyone else has another take, we'd love to hear it in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    If i see a REALLY good offer on items such as cans of tomatoes, dishwasher tablets, toilet roll etc i'll usually buy A LOT because they don't spoil and they are used everyday... especially the loo roll - Am i right?

    I was under the impression that freezers worked more efficiently when full.

      A freezer full of food has a large mass at low temperature. Getting a larger mass to a low temperature takes more energy, but if you lose power it takes longer to thaw out and go bad.

        While it would take more energy to get a larger mass to a low temperature, it also keeps it's temperature much more efficiently than air.

        The other consideration, especially if you have an upright, as opposed to chest, freezer, is that every time you open the door, you lose cold air. By filling the freezer more, you reduce the amount of air that needs to be cooled to affect the overall temperature of the freezer.

        This is why it's suggested that you keep bottles of water in the freezer to keep it full.

          Never heard that about the water -- if true, should be a lifehack!

    If you buy too much food for stockpiling, and then you die before you use it, you'll have wasted your money. The lesson to take from this is don't ever stockpile beyond average life expectancy.

      But if you're dead, then it won't matter.

        hahaha this guy! good call, have an upvote

    Two thoughts:

    1. Let's put it this way: putting the money in a bank account, it would take you an entire year to earn roughly 4% return vs. if you just spend it right now, so practically, even a small discount is better than putting the money into the bank.

    2. The caveat to the above is that you must be buying only things that you need or will definitely use, rather than useless junk that happened to be on special. Anything that you don't use (stuff that goes past expiry, or spoils - even in the freezer) means that money was effectively wasted.

    Savings depend on whether you are spending more money than you otherwise would have over a given period of time. You aren't saving money if you spend more than you intended on a regular basis, and if you are storing a large amount of groceries you may be more wasteful. I think it makes sense to get a moderate amount of additional groceries at a reduced price (eg. double your normal purchase) if it is something you buy on a regular basis, but not get large amounts of additional goods.

    Last edited 24/10/13 8:38 pm

    I'd love to log in and up vote all the previous comments, but I can't, because I tried to sign up for an account, and they never sent me the confirmation emails - and despite following up by sending Lifehacker an email and posting on their facebook, they never responded.

    Does that list even constitute a stockpile? It looks more like a monthly shopping list for my family.

    Which begs the question, are you better of financially to shop monthly, or more regularly (weekly or daily) when you need things?

    I wonce had a linen cupboard full of 2 minute noodles and instant pasta-in-sauce (from the grand opening of a new supermarket), and you should have seen the cockroach infestation we ended up with. Dry food is not impervious and you'd be surprised what an insect can chew through to get food.

    Also, what if your tastes change, or you have to move a long distance for work or family? I've had to deal with both of theses things.

    Having a stockpile of tinned corned beef won't be much good if you decide to become a vegan, and a cupboard full of pasta will be useless if you are diagnosed a coeliac.

    We had a large cupboard purpose-built into an unused corner near the kitchen, which cost around $1,500. The cupboard is dedicated to "buffering" food and household items we use frequently, and it now saves us around $3,000 a year on a grocery bill which was previously around $11,000 a year.

    I generally buy enough of an item to get us through to the next special on that item (which it takes a while to get a feel for with the local supermarket). Depending on the item, and how much of it we use, that can mean storing 3 of the item, or 30. The only exception being own-brand goods which basically never go on special, so I just keep a couple spare of those for convenience.

    It has been a very successful change for us, saving us much more than it costs, and we usually don't run out of anything, so it's a lot more convenient as well.

    Life has been crazy recently and I've only just realised this has been published.

    We stockpile food and goods but we also save and have an emergency fund.

    The bottled soft drink is used for parties and when we have friends over to visit.

    The soft drink cans are used occasionally for going out, where it will be easy to transpost soft drink and it will be cheaper than purchasing the drink while out. I occasionally use the cans at home once or twice a week for a treat. My theory is that I will drink less soft drink at home by only allowing myself a can or two of soft drink a week rather than opening a 2 litre soft drink and drinking it until it is finished.

    Most of the bottles of soft drink are purchased at $1 a litre and the cans are purchased at around 42 cents per 375ml can.

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