Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Save by spending $5 more a week

Use 'stealth stock up' tactics to build a stash of food, cleaning supplies and toiletries. A few dollars here and there is all it takes.

By Donna_Freedman Mar 15, 2012 12:41PM
Image: Full Shopping Cart in Grocery Store© Fuse/Getty ImagesI've long been a practitioner of what I call "stealth stock up": When things I use often go on sale, I buy more than I need.

This can be a huge money saver, given the rising prices of both groceries and the gasoline it takes to go and get them. Investing in loss-leader futures now will pay off in the near future.

Maybe you're thinking: "Buy extra? It's hard enough to keep up with the weekly grocery bill!" But there's a simple trick to making stealth stock up work for you:

Start small. Start really small, if necessary. The longest journey may begin with a single can of store-brand tomato soup. (Post continues after video.)
If you can shake loose $1 to $5 a week, you can build a decent pantry without breaking the bank. Filling your cupboards, freezer and closets saves you money in several ways (more on that in a minute).

Cheap chow and more

I flipped through this week's supermarket and drugstore ads, looking for decent deals. A few examples:
  • Protein: whole fryers, 89 cents a pound; peanut butter, $2.49 for 16 ounces.
  • Dairy: milk, $1.99 a gallon (you can freeze it); block cheese, $3 a pound (ditto).
  • Canned/dried goods: diced canned tomatoes, 69 cents for 14.5 ounces; soup, two for $1; canned beans, 99 cents; spaghetti sauce, $1.99; vegetable oil, $1.99 for 33 ounces; dried plums, $2.49 for 24 ounces.
  • Toiletries: deodorant and toothpaste, two for $3; tissues, toilet paper, six double rolls for $3.99; 99 cents for a 100-count box.
  • Cleaning/laundry: laundry soap, $3.49 for 75 ounces; "green" laundry soap, $4.99 for 50 ounces; dish soap, 89 cents for 16 ounces; dishwasher detergent cubes, $2.99 for 18.
You can even get someone else to match sale prices and coupons for you: Sign up at a site such as or Surviving the Stores. They'll tell you when newspaper coupons ran and/or provide links to online coupons.

Try to combine these trips with other errands: doing the weekly marketing, heading out to pick up your kid from a scout meeting, walking past a drugstore on the way to work.

Why stealth stock up?

This saves you money in several ways:
  • You can "shop" in your cupboards versus running to the store for one or two things.
  • You don't have to settle for a nonsale price when you get there (e.g., those 69-cent tomatoes will be back up to $1.99 a can).
  • You won't be tempted to buy other stuff. (Curse you, penetrating aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies!)
  • Having the basics on hand can mean the difference between making dinner and making a pizza run.
And here's a truly compelling reason to fill the larder: In case of a personal economic downturn, you'll have what MSN Money columnist Liz Weston calls "the emergency fund you can eat."

Besides, it's good to know you won't be at the 7-Eleven at midnight because you just used up the last scrap of TP.

More on MSN Money:

Mar 15, 2012 4:53PM
This is all food that will be used, not kept for decades -- the idea is to buy things on sale, regularly, so you'll have them for when they're not on sale.
And a word about "codes": While it's best to buy fresh juice and dairy products before the date indicated on the package, the sell-by date on shelf-stable food merely indicates the end of peak flavor.
In fact, there is no universally accepted food-dating system in the United States. No federal law requires expiration dates except for infant formula and some other baby foods.
Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.
Mar 19, 2012 3:30PM
Thank you for advocating for a reasonable stockpile.  People always chide extreme couponers for hoarding but after a time, all you are doing is resupply piecemeal.  Yes, if you don't have a large family and don't donate, it can get out of hand, but for rural families, keeping a year's worth of sustenance on hand is de riguer and a habit I've modified but not given up totally in favor of the 'just-in-time inventory' practiced in most cities.  Living on an island city, I really don't like the idea that there is only 4 days food supply on the shelves without trucking.

I track prices and generally only use coupons when I know a price is the lowest it ever gets in my local stores rather than dither with coups here and there.  I only stockpile coupons on things I stockpile.  I can only stockpile non perishables that will fit in a tiny city kitchen or behind a row of books on one of many bookshelves.  I have to heft groceries, don't have access to stores with a lot of "bulk" packaging and have strict coupon policies, so everything was gathered under $10 at a time but the key is to make it an ongoing process and part of my routine.

but i won't have to buy name brand tomato soup for at least 6 months (or until the next winter's sales & coupons) and each can only cost me about 15 cents and has a two year expiration.  Want soup?  Check behind that row of 19th c. poetry.
Mar 15, 2012 6:05PM

Good article...I just did this at my Aldi...Whole wheat bread that is usually $1.89 on sale for 99 cents.. This is lhe 12 grain stuff that goes for $3.49 for the name brand..

Didn't really need bread but these will go into the freezer for later use. No need to use $4 gas to run out and get a loaf of bread now....Makes sense to me... 


Mar 15, 2012 4:54PM

I think the point is that you don't go crazy with it. But having even a small stock of extra items means you can avoid running out and paying retail -- something my husband and I find ourselves stuck doing far too often.

Then, you just restock (in small to moderate quantities) as your supply of a particular item dwindles. Since sales are cyclical, you can just keep a certain number on hand.

Apr 12, 2012 7:05PM

I love the idea of a 'stealth stock up'. Until last month I had a robust stock of items purchased at rock bottom prices (or free).


Recent extended family financial setbacks have had me mailing out and delivering many large boxes of toiletries and pantry staples to help get my kin back on their feet.


Now with my newly emptied shelves (well mostly empty) I'm taking your advice and just spending a few dollars a week buying things at their lowest prices to stock up but on a smaller scale this time.


It felt great to help out several families this year and it's a pleasure not to have to run out to the store for this or that because I don't run out of most things I use often.

Mar 25, 2012 2:10AM

How many years old or on what planet is milk $1.99/gal? The cheapest around here is $2.99/gal &

that is hard to find.

Mar 18, 2012 9:07AM

I find grating the cheese before freezing is helpful.  It can be used for cooking.  I don't have much luck with taste after a block of cheese has been frozen.  It may be the type I buy. (cheddar)


I like the name 'stealth stock up'.  It has a ring to it!

Mar 26, 2012 3:32PM

I started stockpiling last year.  Just a mini stockpile-a cube in our walk-in closet for HBAs, a few pantry shelves dedicated to cans, TP and PT dispersed throughout the house.  Because I am commission only, and receive a check once a month, the stockpile comes in handy on low income months.  Two weeks ago, from the stockpile I pulled:  Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and a bar of soap, and for supper a can each refried beans, green chili sauce and olives.  The sense of control is comforting, and there was no panic of, "OMG!  we are out of X, Y, and Z and I don't get paid for another XX weeks!"


As Donna mentions, I started slow:  Spaghettios (I've since donated those to the food bank) and tomato sauce one month, $1/4 rolls TP and toothpaste the next.  Paring on sale items with coupons is ideal.

Mar 15, 2012 7:46PM
Mar 20, 2012 4:30PM
Want soup?  Check behind that row of 19th c. poetry.
Well, where else would it be? Wink
I stockpile in a small apartment, too.
Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

Mar 20, 2012 10:24AM
I just want to say I really like your posts. You take a good idea and expand it but not too much( you know so many people have such short attention spans now). Both of my kids liked the idea of buying gift cards when they got paid to help manage their money.
Sep 4, 2012 12:08AM
I have always stocked up and found it a great strategy - until this summer when we experienced a home invasion by mice and had to discard a quantity of food. Lesson learned: make sure to store pasta, crackers, etc in airtight containers.
Mar 20, 2012 4:28PM
@Tuckerdoug: Thank you! I'm glad the idea helped.
Mar 15, 2012 4:22PM

The problem with what you are saying is that MOST grocery store items now have code date on them. Tomatoes should never be eaten after the code date, and any meat product should never be frozen for more than 60 day. The code date are for a reason, to keep you and your family safe.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.