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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stockpiling - the Basics

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Stockpiling necessities is something I’ve been researching and working toward (with mixed success) for a long time. It has been in the media a lot recently because for concerns about the economy and climate change.

After experiencing Cyclone Larry in 2006, I became more aware of the need to be prepared for a disaster. There were 13 of us cut off from civilisation in our friends' isolated home. Compared to most we had it easy - solar power, independent water source, food in the cupboards and garden, wood stove and so on. But still, there were challenges.

Disaster-preparedness is no longer seen as freaky survivalist behaviour. Most local councils and/or state governments have disaster-preparedness manuals or guides. Apart from food - consider power (cooking, lighting, heating etc), water, medical needs and hygiene requirements.

For more information on stockpiling food, see the Emergency Pantry List and Food Lifeboat. These sites relate to storing items for possible disasters, but stockpiling necessities is about more than that.

Keeping a stocked pantry and freezer saves us money. We buy lots of dry goods, tins and jars in bulk. We also buy extra when grocery items we use are on special. This way, we can shop from stockpile instead of the supermarket. For an example of someone using coupons (in the U.S.) to store a huge amount of food, check out this blog. Our stockpile looks a bit different to that and contains items such as: white rice, basmati rice, brown rice, flours and grains, rolled oats, popping corn, various dry legumes and soup mix, breakfast cereals, tins of oil, tinned butter, teas and coffee, homemade cordials, UHT rice milk, powdered milk, yoghurt mix, sugar, salt, coconut, bicarb, baking powder, yeast, stock powder, gravy mix, herbs & spices, dry pasta, homemade jam, honey, tomato puree, tamari, tinned fruit, vegetables and fish. I’d also like to keep more soap, ingredients for laundry liquid, bicarb and vinegar for cleaning, toothpaste, spare toothbrushes, toilet paper, etc – but because I haven’t figured out storage solutions for these I only keep limited spares. We don’t store many processed, packaged foods because, a) we don’t eat them, and b) they take up a lot more room than ingredients.

The rule of thumb for stockpiling to save money is “store what you use, use what you store”. Apart from spare candles, matches and a few other emergency items, your stockpile should reflect what you need and use every day. It can start with a couple of extra tins of tomatoes one week, some extra toilet paper the next, and so on. Until you have a few weeks’ worth (or more) of your most-used non-perishable items stored.

It will take awhile to collect what you need, unless you go out and shop specifically to stockpile, which would take extra time and money of course. Sometimes my stockpile runs low because I’ve not made time or allowed enough in the budget to keep up with my bulk orders or special buys. So I cut back on groceries for a few weeks, and allocate some money each week to refilling the pantry and freezer. To cut back on groceries, I slot more meals into the menu plan which use the cheapest ingredients, in-season produce, food harvested at home and meals from the freezer (like bulk-cooked curries). I’m still trying to work out a system to keep track of what I have stored and when I need to re-stock it.

Our extra food is stored in the kitchen pantry (it’s very full) and in the linen cupboard. I moved some of the linen to the hidden storage under the sofa bed in the lounge room in order to use this space. My laundry is adjacent to my kitchen, and my freezer is in there, so it made sense to stockpile where I can easily access items when I need them.

I hope this has given anyone new to stockpiling a better understanding of the hows and whys. If you have any ideas about keeping records of what’s in stock and keeping the pantry full, please let me know in the Comments. I’d also love to see any links to information, articles and blogs about stockpiling, so please do share.


Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife said...

I have to use an excel spreadsheet to keep track of all that we've got in the pantry and freezer. It's far from perfect because even when I know what's there and make a plan, we don't always stick to the plan, especially when my husband travels for work. And because of that, I need to do another inventory soon. It just gets away from me otherwise.

I am constantly wavering between the urge to just stop buying and start using up what we've got, and the impulse to get more stuff whenever I see a good deal. There's a part of me that hates clutter - that's the part that wants to reduce even our stockpile.

I'm guessing that what you call bicarb is called baking soda in the US. Do you know if that's right?

Bel said...

Hi Kate! I'm glad I'm not the only one who is sometimes confused about the stockpile. :) I'm not sure about a spreadsheet, perhaps paper would work better so I could mark off items when I use them up?

Yes, bicarb is sodium bicarbonate or baking soda. It is used in cooking and cleaning at our place. Oh, and science experiments of course!

alecat said...

I don't know why I hadn't thought of stockpiling my supplies into another room. Perhaps I'm just a bit too slow?

I've been juggling my pantry contents around trying to fit in some bulk supplies I bought of wheat grain, rice, dried fruits and such. Now it's time to find room for all my bottled fruits as we're beginning to preserve some of our garden supplies.

Thank you for making think outside the 'box'!!

Also, re: the excel spreadsheet -
I've done something similar of all items I regularly purchase, plus quantities. Once I've done a big stockpiling and have updated the quantities, I post the printed sheet on the inside of my pantry door. I also leave room to edit the quanities as they're used so I know when we're getting low. I find it saves time on the computer and it's there in front of me.

Laura @ move to portugal said...

This is just what I needed thank you, and thanks for the link to Granny's blog- amazing lol

Posh And Trendy Back to Basics said...

I enjoyed your post.. I've always stock piled. I think it's mostly because as a kid I grew up on a farm and we always had a cellar full of canned foods so to me it's a way of life.
I've been planning on doing a blog about it myself in hopes I can get others to realize you can do it and not go broke. A few items every week will in time fill the pantry.

Tameson said...

I've noticed that non-US people seem to re-use jelly jars and the like in their canning. I've heard repeatedly (in the US) that one shouldn't can with anything except brand new ball jar lids (re-using rings and the jars are ok though). And I've often thought this is total bunk. Do you agree that that recommendation is just over-protective CYA conservatism, or do you hear more reports of people getting sick from commercial jar lid reuse?

Slice of life said...

I have a small stock pile in my pantry that I am slowly adding to.

For ideas of how to use it and to fill it, I go here it has video clips to help.

And as for how it keep tabs on it, do it the old fashioned way, with a pencil and a book keeping book. Write all the items in the book and the weights of things. to keep tabs on things like rice, weigh out how much one meal is for your family. You can then work out how many meals are in each bag.

then each time you take something out you change the amount. You can then add this too your shopping list, or take the book to the shops with you. very victorian house keeperish, but some times the old ways are the best. And no need to fire up the computer each time you cook.

Anna M said...

I buy Bicarb in 25 pound sacks then put it into a pail. I use it for cleaning and for baking. I don't stock baking powder because it has a shelf life of 2 years. I stock Cream of Tartar, no shelf life that I can fine, and mix my own baking powder from that.

I store all my spices as whole as possible and grind when needed.

Deep pantries are necessary here in the frozen north. We recently had two weeks with no vehicle and ate from the pantry for that time only needing milk from the corner store. It wasn't really that bad at all because we store only what we like and lots of it.

Frogdancer said...

I love my stockpile. I only shop once a month/6 weeks and I find that it saves me so much money to live this way. It saves so many impulse buys when I go into the supermarket!

Dani said...

I have a paper list inside the pantry door which can be added to have items crossed off as needed. I have another list on the fridge divided by the places I shop t write down ingredients as soon as they run out or low. This becomes my weekly shopping list. I have a separate freezer for stockpiling and I write onb the door in whiteboard marker what is there with chicken scratches to show how many units of each item. Easy to cross things off as you take them out.

Liz said...

I have a spreadsheet as well, although it's hardly infallible because I almost never remember to cross something off as soon as I use it, so I end up having to inventory everything I use regularly each time I go shopping (monthly). I do a complete inventory every couple of months or so.

I love love love only having to shop monthly, plus weekly trips to the markets for fruit and veg. The only downside is having to put away a month's worth of shopping when I'm already tired from wrangling my kids through the supermarket ;-)

Bel said...

Tameson, I use new lids on recycled jars for most of my bottling. Occasionally I will re-use the lids of commercial jam jars for bottling jam - if they are 100% clean and in good condition. I have jam on the shelf for up to a year (when the fruit is back in season and I make more!) and have never had any problems with them not storing. Most of my jams and jellies are fruit, sugar and water. Some have lemon juice or citric acid in them.

With canning vegetables (which I don't do yet) I believe that there are more health concerns regarding bacteria, so using top-quality lids and seals is most important. I bottle fruit, and tomatoes, using a Vacola kit and use stainless steel lids and rubber rings to do so.

I usually blanch and freeze excess vegetables, or cook up bulk meals using them up.

Slice of Life, I think a good old fashioned notebook might be my best solution. I can keep it in the laundry storage area, and not count the 2 or so of each item I keep in the kitchen pantry cupboard.

Anna M - I used to make my own baking powder as I don't use SR Flour. But somewhere along the line started to by big packets of aluminium-free from my organics supplier. I bet making my own again would be cheaper, though, so I will get some Cream of Tartar again soon. My recipe contained cornflour (cornstarch) though:
* 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
* 1 tablespoon bicarb (baking) soda
* 1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)

Thanks everyone for your comments!

daharja said...

Even if you don't think disaster will hit, buying bulk and stockpiling saves a massive amount of money.

We're eating today's bulk foods at March 2008 prices - and saving about 15% on average! I know this because I write on the packaging in indelible in what I paid for each item, and can easily track food price increases.

So don't believe for a moment government data that tells you food has only increased 5% or whatever. According to what I'm seeing, it's at least triple that. Scary.

Chookie said...

I only stockpile tinned food, jams etc as I have a limited amount of room. I also live in the middle of a city, and not in a cyclone, flood or fire area! IME what's important is to buy what you need, and ONLY what you need, and can store and use within a reasonable time-frame. Otherwise, you condemn yourself to eating two-year old flour, or losing the lot with weevils or pantry moths. Moderation in all things.

Bel said...

You're completely right, Chookie, buy only what you need, use what you store. I keep all of my flour, grains, legumes etc in my freezer to avoid weevils etc. Rotating stock is very important too!

mama k said...

I'll admit the idea of "stockpiling" is pretty overwhelming to me. What to buy? Where to store it?
We have no kitchen pantry. And I'm not so organized so I fear that my food will go bad before I get a chance to use it. I think I'm going to work on this this year! I have a chest freezer coming to me soon. That should help.

Carolyn said...

I never realized that we stockpiled things, until I read this. I hate grocery shopping, especially with a tired toddler in tow, so a while back I just started buying more of things I knew we would use. Four bags of frozen broccoli instead of one. A ten-pound bag of flour instead of the five-pound. Etc. Etc.

No formal tracking system; when the cupboard gets some space in it, we must need to restock, so take inventory. Still working on what amounts of foods we need to get through a 4- to 6-week period, as we do run out of one thing or another occasionally.

I've taken over what was our 'office closet' to become additional pantry storage. Also we purchased a deep freezer recently. I don't can, but love to freeze things.

Chiot's Run said...

I too stockpile, both so I can eat locally all season long and to have food around in case of disaster.

I use a dry erase marker on my freezer door to keep track of what's inside, whenver I take something out I just erase and write the new number. Easy as can be.

I have found that the more accessable and easier to see the items the more you'll use them.

I think sometimes the recommendations to use only new lids is a way to get you to buy new lids each year. I'm sure for things like jams & jellies you don't have to worry. Ball also recommends that you rebuy all of your glass jars every 10 years, as long as you check the rims to make sure they're not chipped you can use them for years. I'm using jars that were my great grandmother's.

Bel said...

mama k, I think that it's inevitable that we sometimes have extra stock of things. At these times I have a use-it-up week (or three). I use up frozen meals, pantry items which have been there for a year, etc. I slot them into my menu and nothing is wasted.

I also store 'like' things together. So in my freezer, all meals are on one shelf, all grains on another. Similarly, all tins are together, jars of coffee together etc. This helps to do a quick stocktake when necessary.

Chiot's run, I think you're right about the jars and lids, especially for foods preserved with sugar.

alecat said...

May I please ask ...
when considering freezers, is it best (economically and practically) to look for a chest freezer, or an upright?
My parents have given me their upright, but I'm going to need to give it a service as it's sat unused for a number of years. Is it worth it?
Thanks! :)

daharja said...

Hi Alecat - From what I know, the chest freezers are more economical in terms of energy use, but I would imagine it depends on the model. Some older freezers are so inefficient you're better off turning them into blanket chests or cupboards!

With any fridge or freezer, check the seals are working properly.

Bel said...

alecat, what daharja said is right. I have an upright as it was part of a pair we were gifted a few years ago from dh's family. I don't open it often, though, which is why it needs to be so, so organised!

Good seals, ventilation, no dust and fluff around the back of the freezer, protection from hot weather (eg: summer sun through a window), keeping it quite full (use bottles of water if you have to) and not opening the freezer often are all helpful for reducing energy costs and keeping the freezer running well.

If you're getting it checked by an electrician, they will be able to tell you how efficient it will be regarding power use as well. You want that freezer to save you money in the long run, not cost money!

sarah said...

Hi Bel

I am going to try the system in the link below:

The third video towards the bottom of the page "Creating your personalized pantry inventory book"

Bel said...

Thanks for the link Sarah. I think I can adapt something like that to use here. :)

Cheap Like Me said...

This is terrific advice. I am fortunate to have a basement laundry room that remains somewhat temperature-controlled year round. I store dry and canned goods there, but we also store vegetables on shelves -- winter squash, onions, apples (that's a fruit, I know), potatoes, garlic.

We stockpile primarily to save money -- shopping when the price is right -- but the advantage of having food on hand does not escape us. If nothing else, we could go outside and start a fire in the fire pit to whip up a few meals.

Ginny said...

I'm leaning more towards using up what's IN my freezer, & dehydrating fruits & vegetables. I've read that Iran will be able to, in the very near future, cut off our electricity across the country! Think of the chaos with NO electricity! So that's my mindset in getting prepared. I'm getting next a hand=operated washing machine! Among other things I have a portable radio that takes no batteries, just has a hand crank that can also empower your cell phone. The MOST important thing we can do to be prepared is to make sure we are SAVED! ADMIT that you are a sinner! DECLARE that you BELIEVE that Jesus died to save you from your sins! Ask Him into your heart, determine to begin living the way He would have you live, and ask Him to take you to heaven when you die, to live eternally with Him! And then get baptized! SO important! THAT is "being prepared"!