How to Stock Up on Essentials without Going Overboard


For many people, emergencies trigger an impulse to acquire extra supplies at the store. It’s why canned goods often sell out before snowstorms and why toilet paper has become scarce during the COVID-19 crisis.

Having extra shelf-stable food, cleaning supplies and other staples on hand can be helpful if you’re not able to shop for a few weeks. However, buying massive quantities of these items has several downsides.

Follow these tips on how to stock up on essentials.

First, overbuying prevents others from getting the items they need. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some hospitals don’t have access to the protective masks they need because consumers bought so many of them. ​This endangers not only health care workers but the patients they serve, which could include you or your loved ones.

Second, an overabundance of supplies is likely to gather dust. This can lead to waste and lost money. If you buy a dozen bottles of cough syrup, you’re unlikely to use all of them by their expiration date. Plus, you can’t spend, save or invest the money you would have conserved by buying a smaller amount.

Here are some strategies for buying the right amount of supplies no matter what’s going on in the world.

1. Distinguish wants from needs.
When you feel compelled to buy something, ask yourself if it’s necessary. Can you get by without it or borrow it from someone you know? Do you need the item for health or safety reasons? Will it help you complete an important task? Resist the urge to rationalize. Remind yourself that wanting things is normal but meeting needs simply matters more.

If the item in question is more of a want than a need, ask yourself why you want it. For example, you may realize that you want some coffee because you’re tired and stressed out. Will coffee solve this problem, and what are some alternative ways to address what you’re feeling? Even if you buy the coffee, you’ll have made a purposeful purchase, which can help you develop mindful spending habits. These habits can strengthen your finances in the long run.

2. Keep the bottom line top of mind.
Your shopping goal should be to acquire the items your household needs most, preferably at a price that fits within your budget. While sales and promotions can help you get products for cheap, you may be spending money on items you just don’t need. In other words, you’re depleting your budget without meeting your goal.

3. Make a shopping list and stick to it.
A simple shopping list can help you stay focused on the items you need, even when a sale seems to be calling your name. It can also shorten the length of your shopping trips, giving you more of another valuable resource: time.

When stocking up for an emergency, consider purchasing items you can store for a long time or reuse in the future. suggests assembling a disaster readiness kit that includes at least three days’ worth of drinking water and nonperishable foods, as well as a flashlight, spare batteries, a first aid kit and several other items that can help you get by during a crisis.

4. Consider online subscriptions.
Avoiding in-person shopping during the COVID crisis can help protect the health of your household, your community and beyond. It can also mean fewer impulse purchases from the displays in the supermarket’s checkout area. But these aren’t the only benefits of shopping online.

Online subscriptions can help you purchase the right amount of items you need, often at a discount. If you know when your next package of dish soap, diapers or dog food is likely to arrive, you can adjust your shopping list and budget accordingly.

5. Be careful about bulk buying.
Many people tout the money-saving opportunities that buying in bulk can provide. But purchasing large quantities isn’t a surefire way to conserve cash. Check the per-unit price of the item you’re considering, then ask yourself how much of it you’re likely to use before your next shopping trip. Sometimes the per-unit price for a smaller package is comparable to the price of the huge package. If it’s marked down, it might even be a better deal.


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