How to Use Coupons: How to Stockpile and Create a Food Inventory

(Above: where my stockpile magic happens)

This month I’m going back to the basics and sharing how you can successfully use coupons in a post Extreme Couponing world. In case you missed the previous two posts in this series, you can go back and read the Introductory Post as well as Your New Approach to Grocery Shopping.

The Dirty “S” Word

Yup – I’m going to say it – it’s STOCKPILE. Unfortunately, you may have seen or heard some bad examples of people stocking up on items they buy with coupons to an excessive level. These people may even demonstrate an unhealthy sense of attachment to their stocks of cleaning supplies and canned soup or may stock up on items like diapers even though all their children are grown. Let me be clear: that is not at all what I intend to teach you to do!

(Above: probably too many tomatoes for most families. Image credit: flickr – shrapnel1)

Are there people out there who hoard or store more than they should? Perhaps so, but they are not my concern, nor should they deter you from keeping a well-stocked pantry. My goal today is to encourage you to take a look at how stockpiling can look and why you should consider it.

When managed wisely, a well-stocked pantry will enable you to meet some important home management goals. Here are a few I came up with:

  • Reduce stress & time associated with meal planning and shopping
  • Enable you to be more generous & hospitable with others
  • Inspire your meal plans
  • Assist your family in case of emergencies (natural disasters, income loss, medical bedrest, etc.)

I’m sure if you’ve been keeping a stockpile for awhile, you can no doubt think of additional benefits to my list.

The other day, I was recalling childhood visits to my grandparents’ house. My grandma had these shelves in a back area of her home where she would store (AKA “put up”) jars of produce she’d canned from her garden. Perhaps you had (or have!) a grandma or other relative who has a similar storage area. As I was reflecting on this it occurred to me that stockpiling is not a new concept! Having extra food on hand and/or preserving foods are age old traditions. Generations of people before us have understood the value of keeping food on hand.

How to Stockpile to Suit your Family’s Needs

Here is my definition for the kind of stockpiling I endorse:

Sensible stockpiling is buying items your family needs and uses when they are on sale and in quantities you can reasonably store and use before expiration. Sensible stockpiling also takes into account store sales cycles to maximize savings.

How this will actually look from family to family will differ, but the principles will remain the same! You are looking for sale items (and with coupons where possible!), and buying quantities to get your family through more than just that week’s worth of meals. These quantities aren’t willy-nilly, though. You must take into account your family’s storage space and expiration dates. 

Now, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “but our family doesn’t eat ____________ (fill in the blank)” I’d be a very wealthy woman indeed! The answer to this dilemma is actually quite simple: don’t buy it! In my last lesson I explained that you should be in control of the coupons, the coupons should not dictate what you buy. Same goes for your stockpile!

We very rarely eat frozen dinners around here (I’ll admit, I love me some Amy’s on occasion!), so I just pass up on the Banquet and Michelina’s dinners. Our family doesn’t eat them. But I will stock up on frozen fruit and vegetables when I see them! We don’t generally eat canned chili as I far prefer to make my own, but I will stock up on canned beans and tomatoes when they come on sale (heads up locals: they will be on sale starting this Sunday at Fred Meyer – Oct 7).

My personal approach is to stock up on cooking and baking basics I can stretch into lots of meals. This means I prefer to opt for canned and frozen beans and veggies, bags of flour, yeast, sugar, plain pasta, rice, and oatmeal as opposed to convenience meals. Ingredients can be turned into lots of meals and stretched, whereas convenience meals serve a very limited purpose. My intention is not to judge you if you eat these foods (I do on occasion myself), but to share that stocking up on ingredients is another way you can stretch your grocery dollars further!

Another point I’d like to make clear: you do not have to use a coupon on every item you stockpile. Buying foods in bulk (such as at WinCo), or growing your own and canning or preserving (as mentioned above) are additional ideas for building a stockpile that can complement your couponing efforts.

Creating a Food Inventory: Stockpile with a Purpose

So how can you manage what you have, and what you need?

A simple inventory list can solve this problem. Earlier this year, I shared how I created a first aid inventory list as well as a grocery one. You could do the same thing for household items, too. Begin by identifying the items you’re buying on a regular basis (non-perishable). Then establish quantities you would like to store for each of these items based on your storage space and how fast you go through them. As you begin to learn how sales cycle through at stores, you’ll begin to identify when to buy and when to wait. Set up a monthly routine of going through your stock so you’re always a bit ahead of the game as opposed to realizing you’re out of some essential ingredient when you need it.

Here’s how you can gain even more control on couponing and not get lost in deals, deals, deals… your food inventory list will help you zero in on the deals that are going to serve a purpose to your family. 

For free downloads to help you get started, please do refer back to my  first aid inventory list and grocery inventory list posts.

Custom Stockpiles

In May 2011, I had the pleasure of sharing different family’s real stockpiles with you! This was important to me because I wanted to demonstrate that one family’s stockpile may look very different from another’s.

A family of two that eats a whole foods diet may have a smaller stockpile more focused on stores of whole grains, frozen produce, or perhaps they’ve chosen to only stock up on toiletries and household goods. A family of seven that does a lot of camping trips may have built some extra shelving to accommodate lots of canned goods. A family of four living in an apartment may have added some storage bins in a linen closet to store extra shampoo and toothpaste. All this to say, what and how you stockpile is truly dependent on your family’s diet, preferences, space, and goals.

Incidentally, here are those posts if you want to take a peek at how real people are really stockpiling:

Reader Stockpiles: Family of 2-3
Reader Stockpiles: Family of 4 

Reader Stockpiles: Family of 4 (post 2)
Reader Stockpiles: Family of 5
Reader Stockpiles: Family of 6+

I hope today’s post has helped clear up any confusion you might have had on this topic. I also hope it’s gotten you thinking about how buying items ahead before you need them can not only save you money, but help you live a simpler, less stressful life and one that empowers you to be more generous and giving with others.

PS…would you do better to just watch me teach on this topic? Check out the short YouTube video I recorded last year below (please note that the newspaper offer I refer to in the video has since expired), or you can watch a recorded webcast I did called Common Sense Stockpiling in June 2010 (about 30-40 minutes long).

If you have any questions on this topic, please leave a comment below. I’d also love to hear from those of you that have a stockpile – what other benefits have you found from this practice? Any advice you’d give newbies?


  1. Brenda says

    I am convinced that Stockpiles are our secret to success!
    It can be hard to learn the basic concepts of it if you are not use to frugal living practices (which I was not when I first started down this road about 5 years ago). It is super easy to get caught up in the coupons, deals and freebies and forget about the rest. After couponing for almost a year, I was ready to give it all up. While it was great to score freebies and great sales, I still was spending the same amount of money as I was before I started couponing. Then it finally hit me. Stop spending all the money in the food budget. Maybe this is a simple concept to most people, but it wasn’t to me. While I was saving on nearly everything I bought, I wasn’t saving much because I was buying more stuff! To cut this story short, your stockpile is the best way to know how/what to shop for. Sure, it might not be as exciting as scoring every good deal, but it’s how you save the real money. Figure out what your family really eats, picky eaters? That’s fine, even more reason to stockpile if you are brand specific! Determine how often you eat certain items so you will be able to know what a decent stockpile amount is for your family. I have cut our family food budget nearly in half because I learned how to stockpile effectively.
    I’m so happy you decided to do this back to basics series, Angela. I think it’s great for new couponers and those of us who all need some good reminders. These instructions are what will help us stay in the frugal living world and avoid the crash and burn of the extreme world.

  2. Maritza says

    Thank you Angela for this series! I’m new to couponing and it’s a bit overwhelming at times. I LOOOOVE what Brenda has written because it’s so true. I find myself looking at my food budget and am spending the same because I’m chasing after deals that I normally wouldn’t during my pre-couponing days!! I need to take your advice ladies and think of it as the ultimate way of saving is NOT TO BUY things I normally wouldn’t purchase. My mother always says: “The best way to save money is NOT to spend it” and that’s so true!

    Thank you ladies!!


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