June 29, 2023
Now that I’ve gotten your attention with an inflammatory title let me clarify. For decades, the media has portrayed anyone who stocks up on an extended supply of food and/or other daily essentials as a little kooky at best. The nation’s recent experience with the Coronavirus, the resulting panic, and the government’s ensuing restrictions, has shown not just “preppers” but everyone the value of having an extended supply of what you and your family might need. Many people now realize it makes sense to have on hand a supply of food and necessities in case of the power going out or the grocery stores are closed or the Governor issues a month-long “shelter-in-place” executive order.
We all saw people panic-buying bulk packs of toilet paper and water bottles, but the worst time to buy necessities is in the middle of an “event.” Your grandfather would have referred to that as “closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.” The purpose of this article is to provide general guidelines on not just how to “hoard” supplies ahead of time, but to help you figure out exactly what you’ll want to have on hand for you and your family, “just in case.”
How To Stock Up
As to the how, there are two basic ways to stock up on the essentials. The first is my preferred method I call the “One More Rule.” When I first heard there was a run on toilet paper due to the Coronavirus panic, I rightly assumed food would be next. So, I took a look around my house. We had enough paper goods, spare light bulbs, batteries, medicine, etc. to keep us going for months. Some would look at me as a dirty hoarder by having enough food on hand to feed my entire family for probably 3+ months. And by food I mean actual, normal, everyday food that normal everyday people like to eat. Not weird and expensive “survival” food. Now, this didn’t happen because one day I decided to go out and spend an exorbitant amount of money on food.
My “hoard” wasn’t the result of any bulk purchases, but rather one simple rule: If it’s something you already use/consume, and it’s not something that spoils quickly, buy one more than you normally would. Then you simply stick the extra one in the pantry/closet/basement/freezer. Spend an extra five or ten bucks, that’s it, but buy “one more” every time you go to the store. You’ll hardly notice the extra expenditure, but in no time at all you’ll have enough extra to keep your family supplied for a month. If you keep at it you’ll soon have supplies for six months, then a year.
Look around your house. What are you out of? What is in short supply? Whatever it is put it on your next shopping list. You don’t need to buy fifty and break the bank, just buy one or two. The next time you head out buy one or two of something else. The only real problem with this method is it takes time. It’s not a method to use during the hurricane/ice storm/pandemic/power grid failure. This is a long-term accumulation method. Plan ahead. If you do, there’s no need for panic. This mindset/philosophy is so well-known it has a name, the 5Ps — Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
I am not advocating buying a year’s worth of supplies, sticking them in a dark corner of your basement, and then forgetting about them until the next emergency two or ten years from now. That is a great way for half your food and a quarter of your batteries to be unusable. Do not keep your “just in case” supplies as a separate entity. These are things that you use, so use them. But … continue to buy more to replace what you’ve been using, and put the new stuff in the back. By shopping in this manner you are always cycling through your stock. This way you always have on hand what you want/need, and it’s as fresh as possible.
The second method of accumulating supplies is to (when there isn’t a panic stripping the shelves bare) make big purchases. Every three, six, or twelve months, set aside a chunk of money to buy in bulk. Make this part of your household budgeting. Whether it’s a giant Conex container-sized package of toilet paper or a fifty-pound bag of rice, buying in bulk is almost always cheaper per piece. So, it is economically smart. This is where a membership to Costco or Sam’s Club comes in handy. However, you will need a certain amount of money to do it. So, you need to plan for that expense.
Let me amend my above point. Buying in bulk is almost always cheaper, provided you’re actually going to use/consume what you buy. Some people love SPAM, but if you hate the stuff, don’t buy a case of it on the off-chance the world might end. The world never actually ends, and you’ll never eat it. If you do not eat it, whatever money you spent on it is wasted. Plus, it’s taking up room. Buy in bulk things you regularly use and/or eat, and that brings us to the second category.
What To Stock Up On
If you’re the warrior who braves the aisles of the grocery store every week, you know what your family eat/uses, and what sits on the shelf for six months without being touched. Whatever your family regularly uses, whether that’s toilet paper, batteries, Band-Aids, peanut butter or bar soap, those are the items you should always have extra on hand. The best commercial “long-term food storage device” is the can. Your pantry should be stuffed with cans of food. The expiration dates on cans usually will be next year, if not years in the future, and whether it’s soup, vegetables, tuna, chili, whatever, you can find it in can form. Better still, canned food is affordable, if not downright inexpensive.
Buy what your family eats, and when trying to stock up for the “Just in Case” days (without breaking your budget, whenever possible) buy what’s on sale. I don’t have SPAM in my pantry, or MREs, but I have half a dozen cans of Dinty Moore beef stew because they were on sale one day. The same goes for tuna, Progresso soup and kidney beans.
Bread, fruits and vegetables and dairy products all spoil in a relatively short period of time. But you’d be surprised at the shelf life of many regular foods, and how many foods freeze very well that otherwise spoil quickly. Stored properly, dry rice and beans will last for years, as will most “baking” supplies like flour, cornmeal, pasta, etc. Learning how to cook using basic baking supplies will help you make the most of your money. Remember, making it yourself is always cheaper than buying prepared food.
Long-lasting but not necessarily “long term” products are known as “shelf stable” items, and whether that’s bar soap, bleach, ketchup or pretzels, you need them in your life and in your home. Don’t forget spices and seasonings, which have a very long shelf life. Salt, pepper, sugar, honey, dried herbs, etc. are all good to have on hand. Another thing you’ll need is cooking/vegetable oil of some sort. Coconut oil has perhaps the longest shelf life at two years. Perhaps most importantly, coffee! If you need coffee in the morning, make sure you have extra in your pantry.
Even more important than food is water. Now, chances are you’ll never be in a situation where water is completely unavailable, but there’s a good chance at some point in your life you’ll experience some sort of bad weather or utility disruption that results in a “boil water advisory.” Having a month’s supply of drinkable water on hand is a good idea (one gallon per person per day is the general rule). Cases of water bottles are everywhere, but not cheap, and not the best for long term storage. The bigger the container, the cheaper it is per ounce. Remember, those five-gallon jugs of water meant for office coolers are great, and they usually have built-in handles. However, also having some sort of water purifier is a must, if only because it is portable and can go with you if you have to travel.
Food and water are the Big 2, but they’re not the only concern. Extra toilet paper is nice to have, yes, but you know what is more important? A vehicle, that works. For that, you need gasoline. I still remember the massive power outage in the summer of 2003 that lasted, in some places, for weeks. If the power is out, guess what? Pumps at gas stations do not work. If you need to drive somewhere, chances are the only gasoline you’ll have is what’s in the tank of your vehicle. This situation might last for maybe a day or maybe a week or longer. Not good, but don’t panic.
If you have a lawn, that means you’ll already have a gas can somewhere for your mower. Next time you’re heading to the hardware store, buy a spare can or two. I’d recommend having at least five spare gallons on hand although one entire refill for your vehicle would be better. Steel five-gallon “Jerry cans” of the type traditionally used to store gasoline are available for sale online, and I highly recommend them. Five gallons isn’t much, it won’t even fill the tank of your car halfway, but if you need to run someone to the hospital it might be enough to save a life. However, gasoline doesn’t age well. So, every six months or so I’d recommend using the gas in the cans to fill up your tank. Then simply refill them at the local station.
How are you going to buy gas or groceries in the middle of an emergency? Using your credit/debit card? That’s great, as long as the power isn’t out. But sometimes the power goes out, or the internet goes down. Due to this I recommend having an emergency stash of cash. I know, lots of people are living paycheck-to-paycheck, but when saving up cash use a variation of the “One More Rule.” Every paycheck, take out $5, $10 or maybe $20 extra in cash and stick it into an envelope somewhere safe. Before you know it, you’ll have hundreds if not thousands of dollars in cash ready for use in case of emergency.
If you or a member of your family has a medical condition that requires pills to be taken every day, prescription or otherwise, having an extra week or month’s supply on hand seems to me a very smart idea. Some medicines have a surprisingly short shelf-life, so pay attention to those expiration dates. Most doctors will not have a problem writing a prescription for an extra couple weeks’ worth of medication, just in case. As for the rest … as long as it’s not a drug likely to be abused/resold, you doctor should have no concerns refilling your prescription early because the full bottle of pills you just picked up from the pharmacy accidentally got flushed down the toilet or thrown in the trash.
If you only want to have a month’s worth of supplies on hand, you will probably be able to fit it into whatever space you’re using for storage right now. However, if you want to keep six months or a year’s supply of food and household supplies, you will need a dedicated food pantry/closet and a separate full-size freezer. Having a spare freezer is always a good idea, no matter the size. The small cube-style freezers hardly take up any room, and are very affordable. In certain situations having that overflow freezer capacity makes a huge difference.
Do a little research, and learn which foods store better and how to store certain kinds of food. For everything except those products requiring refrigeration or freezing, a pantry, closet, or basement will do just fine for storage. Whether its rice, peanut butter, or batteries, you will want them stored in a place with somewhat stable temperatures and humidity. If the packaging your food comes in isn’t that great for the long term, think about sticking it in Ziploc bags or airtight containers with lids. This can greatly extend its life.
As I write this I’ve got a news story open on my computer detailing how the FBI as part of the Justice Department’s COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force confiscated N95 masks and other medical supplies from private companies “hoarding” them. In plain English that means these companies legally bought these supplies following the 5P philosophy, but when there was an emergency the government decided to seize them.
My point: whether its food, water, guns, ammo, masks, medicine, or other supplies you’ve bought “just in case,” no one outside of the people those supplies were bought for needs to know you have them. Whether we’re talking panicked neighbors or government agencies who have temporarily forgotten what “private property” means. If no one else knows you have them, then they won’t try to take them away. Remember, the idea isn’t to stock up to survive the Apocalypse. It’s simply to plan ahead, so that during the next societal disruption, big or small, your family has all the things it needs to live life as normally as possible.
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
This article was originally published in Be Ready! magazine. You can find the original magazine on the OSG Newsstand. If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.