I do a fair amount of stocking up during the year. I have a big set of heavy-duty shelves in a closet off the kitchen that I use as a pantry. I end up going through it around the end of a year and to find things I forgot I bought, or that are expired. Do you have any tips so that this kind of thing does not happen?”
One of the best ways to save significantly on your grocery and household items is to stock up when products go on sale. Price cycles are constantly in rotation at the supermarket, and a can of soup that may be 59 cents one week may be $1.29 the next. Pricing cycles last about 12 weeks at the store, and during that timespan, you can expect prices to range anywhere between the rock-bottom lowest price and the highest, non-sale shelf price.
Of course, whenever we can, we use coupons to drop that lowest-low price even lower. I typically try to buy enough of any particular item to last 12 weeks, as I can expect prices on the same items to drop again in the next sales cycle.
What happens when you find a fantastic deal and stock up in larger quantities than you usually do? Here are my rules of thumb for managing larger-than-average numbers of products:
• When you are in the store, check the expiration date, and don’t overbuy perishable products. It may be tempting to bring home 20 jars of honey-roasted peanuts that you found on clearance, but if they are outdated two months from now, consider whether you’ll be able to eat them all before the “consume-by” date arrives.
• This rule applies not only to food items but to some non-food items too. For example, liquid fabric softener does not have a terribly long shelf life. Many brands will congeal into thick, lumpy syrup if left unused for months. Many skincare products, such as moisturizer and lotions, should also be used within 12 months of purchase.
Organize and rotate your stock the same way the supermarket does: Like items together, oldest up front. If you have dedicated pantry shelf space to do so, group like items together on the shelves. Place your oldest, soonest-to-expire items at the front of the shelves. That way, when you need an item, the first one within reach is the one you should use.
I always seem to have a lot of seasonal aerosol air freshener sprays in the house, as I pick them up for very little on clearance after holidays. As these have a shelf life too, I keep the oldest ones at the front of the shelves and put the newest ones in the back. This often means we’re using pine or pumpkin-scented sprays to freshen up the bathroom during the “wrong” seasons! However, it isn’t worth leaving the cans on the shelf so long that they lose pressure and are unusable.
When you bring more items home, don’t forget to line them up behind any that you’ve already got on the shelves. If you have trouble reading the expiration dates on food packaging, don’t be afraid to re-write them on your products either. Grab a permanent marker and write the date larger so you can easily see and keep track of what you bought. If you write the date on the top of an item, you won’t have to take it off the shelf to quickly scan and see what is close to outdating.
Each month, take a quick peek through your pantry and take note of anything expiring soon. If you purchased too much of an item, remember that any local food bank or food pantry will be happy to take non-expired products.
Of course, stocking up on non-food, non-perishable items is really only limited by the amount of space you wish to devote storing things like paper towels, bath tissue, bars of soap or powdered laundry detergent. Items like these will be usable long after you’ve purchased them.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com.