31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: The Buy Ahead Principle

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

Last night when I went grocery shopping, I bought 18 sticks of deodorant. Yes, I said 18!

Did I buy all this deodorant because I heard that there was going to be a shortage of deodorant for the next 4 years? Um, no.

I bought 18 sticks of deodorant because I had coupons which made them free or more-than-free.

Never Pay Retail

One of my biggest secrets for grocery saving success is that I practice the Buy Ahead Principle. Which means, basically, other than dairy products and produce, I aim to never pay full price for anything. 

If you’re willing to be patient and observant, you can almost always buy most items at 50% off their retail price or more. Because I’ve been using coupons and bargain-shopping for over 10 years now, I aim to purchase most things when they are 75-100% off of the retail price.

I don’t just buy one of an item when it is at it’s rock-bottom price. Instead, I purchase as many items as I can afford in my grocery budget to tide me over until the next sale.

For many people who are used to buying only what groceries you’ll use in the next week, the concept of buying ahead can be mind-boggling. However, it makes complete sense if you stop and consider it.

Paying Retail vs. Buying Ahead

If your family uses 10 tubes of toothpaste in a year’s time and the retail price of toothpaste is $2.49, if you bought it at retail, you’d be paying $24.90 per year for toothpaste.

If, however, you practiced the Buy Ahead Principle, and you collected your $1/1 toothpaste coupons and waited until toothpaste went on sale for $1 (which it does a few times per year in our area), you could buy 10 tubes of toothpaste for free.

That’s a savings of $24.90 per year!

How to Build a Stockpile of Food and Toiletries

What if you were to practice the Buy Ahead principle on when buying the majority of your groceries? Think about how much you would save! From my best estimates, I would say we routinely save at least $30-$50 each week by practicing the Buy Ahead Principle.

Would you like to see significant savings by Buying Ahead as well? Here are some suggestions:

1) Designate a Small Portion of Your Grocery Budget to Building Your Stockpile

If this is a new concept for you, don’t go out and spend $500 tomorrow trying to build up a stockpile. Instead, designate a small percentage of your grocery budget each week to buying extra of those heavily-discounted items which you know you will use sometime in the next few months.

Even $5 or $10 a week devoted to stocking up on deeply-discounted items can go quite far. If you don’t find any really great deals one week, save your designated “Stockpile Money” for the next week.

2) Designate a Small Area of Your Home to Store Your Stockpile

The argument I often hear when I suggest people practice the Buy Ahead Principle is “But I don’t have any space to stock up.” Well, in very rare cases (say, if your family of 6 is living in a one-bedroom apartment!), I’d agree. But in most cases, there are plenty of creative nooks and crannies in your home you could use to store extra non-perishable food and household supplies.

Maybe you need to clear out some items you’re not using to make room. Or maybe you could install some extra shelving in a closet. Perhaps you could store things under the bed or in a few boxes in a closet. Get creative, think outside the box, and I’m guessing you’ll find someplace you can use!

When we were living in a one-bedroom apartment which only had one small closer, I used a little cabinet in the living room to store extra stuff. When we were living in a two-bedroom apartment, I used the cupboards over the washer and dryer to store extra stuff. I was amazed at how much I could fit in a small space when I set my mind to it!

3) Determine When Enough is Enough

I think it’s extremely cost-effective to Buy Ahead. However, I also think it’s just as important to know when enough is a enough. If you have mountains of unopened tubes of toothpaste falling down on top of you when you open up the bathroom cupboard, you probably don’t need to go out and buy 55 more tubes!

Yes, I bought 18 sticks of deodorant yesterday. That’s more than we’ll use in the next 2 years. But what I didn’t tell you earlier was that I’ll likely donate at least half–if not more–of those. I love being able to share from our surplus of items with those in need. Or just pass on a great deal to a friend, too!

My philosophy is that if there is plenty of an item on the shelf, I have a lot of coupons, the item is free, it’s something we’ll use, and it’s something I can easily donate if we have a surplus, I’ll buy as many as I have coupons for.Your philosophy might be different. So decide when enough is enough for you, and then stick to that.

Twice a year, I go through all of our stockpile of groceries and household items and pare down to the basics which will last me for 4-8 weeks. This way, we never have an over-abundance. In addition, taking the Eat From the Pantry challenge is a great way for us to make sure and use up some of our stockpile.

If you don’t apply any of the other 30 ways to cut your grocery budget that I’ll be sharing in this series, but you adopt the Buy Ahead Principle and stick with a grocery budget, I guarantee you will see a significant savings in your grocery bill. And you’ll likely be shopping less and eating better than ever before!

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh, wow. I am really not disciplined enough to do this. I keep losing the coupons, then things don’t go on sale before the coupons expire. And where do you find coupons for stuff you actually buy?

    Honestly, I guess I don’t look often enough to find the toothpaste deals. My friend is always on top of those. Hate buying toothpaste at full price when you can get it free! Would love to find body wash deals – I can’t stand paying so much for that stuff, either.

    Great advice, though. I’ll keep reading for more!

  2. Lisa says

    As a single person I give to family, food pantry, co-workers, needy students in my middle school (work), and my latest project is 28 US Marines (my son is one of the 28) leaving for Afghanistan in July. I trying to do a complete toiletry package to take with them. I’m almost halfway done. I got started couponing (after a long break from it) because I adopted a group of soldiers in Afghanistan that needed personal hygiene items. No CVS in Afghanistan. Want to adopt, check out Anysoldier.com and pick from a large selection. Some just want letters and others need toothpaste, deodorant, soap …

  3. says

    I agree that this concept is absolutely key to grocery savings. It’s also one of the things that can make new savers go a little crazy, and feel like they have toothpaste coming out of their ears! But over time, you will gain an understanding of how much to buy and at what price.

    As for the storage, free shampoo was a great motivation to clear out the clutter under the bathroom cabinets!

  4. says

    Just a quick note… My husband got sick of me spending time couponing, that during TV time I’d sit and clip and match coupons while we chatted and watched TV. He wanted my attention but felt he was sharing it with the coupons. As my stockpile grew, so did his jealousy towards the “stuff”. In October he said “enough! no more couponing!” Quitting cold turkey was tough. I had no idea how long it the stockpile would last. Well, 4 weeks ago we ran out of our last pasta, sauce, diapers, and toiletries. Our grocery bill was only $10/week light over the past 5 months (since stockpiling is so cheap!). The amount we’ve spent out of pocket to “survive” this month has been AWFUL! I think, for our family of 6 (2 of which are in diapers) we’ve spent $800 in 4 weeks!! OH MY GOODNESS!!!

    This week he bought me two newspapers and asked me to start coupon shopping again. He gets it now. :) He’d rather share me over TV & scissors than not at all by taking a second job…

    Funny how the stockpiling really, truely makes a difference and keeps us from spending soooo much extra!!

    Allie

    • says

      @Allie Z,
      My husband always says that the money I save us by being home and wisely managing our home is worth more than having me at work, away from our family and 6 small children. You sure show the numbers in your comment!

  5. says

    Recently I have always gone to the store with the mindset of “spend as LITTLE AS POSSIBLE”, but I think budgeting will help me spend even less. And I would like to start couponing…. but does anyone know which stores are generally the cheapest and/or have the best deals? Is there a post in the archives someone can direct me to? I live in Northwest GA/South TN, and the stores in my area are Ingles, Aldies, Bi-Lo, Food Lion, Wal-Mart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, and K-Mart. I usually do all my shopping at Wal-mart, but would be willing to go elsewhere if the savings were there.

  6. says

    Well I need to start doing this but I’ve never done it before. My only question is, we are trying to Organic. Can this work that way too? I haven’t seen many coupons for for Organic stuff. Any ideas?

    • says

      @Julie, Yes, we do organic only and grass-fed beef. We stock up at the farmer’s markets or pick-your-own farms in the summer and put it away in our freezer (we got a free one on freecycle). Organic produce still goes on sale in the super markets, you can stock up then too and put away in the freezer, or make meals with them and put those in the freezer.

      As for the organic prepackaged foods, you can write the company for coupons (there are also organic coupon companies out there which give away coupons for organic prepackaged foods). Then I store them, waiting for them to go on sale in the store. I know the expiration dates (well at least close to them) to make sure they get used before then.

      Hope that helps!

  7. says

    What I want to know is where you come up with 18 identical coupons. Buying the extra newspapers is not cost-effective. I only have one other source of extras… I only barely understand the concept of *buying* coupons…isn’t everybody buying the “good” coupons for that week?

  8. Jenn says

    I always hear about how great CVS is, but they are not in the Pacific Northwest. I’m so jealous!

  9. says

    I just wanted to say we use this for produce too. We got a freezer for free from Freecycle. Whenever produce is a REALLY good price, we stock up, chop up and put it away in the freezer! :D We also do this especially with pick your own farms. We get the best prices and the best tasting produce! We buy a LOT for much much cheaper than if we bought it from the store. We take a whole day the next day to prepare it for putting away. Sometimes it is chopping and freezing, sometimes it is making meals and putting away in the freezer for future meals. And sometimes it means my husband making jellies and preserves (YUM!). :D

  10. says

    As far as how long you can freeze foods, check with the home economics or consumer science agent at the cooperative extension service in your county. They’ll have a chart, or can point you to the web site, with all those details.