Last week, I received an email from a reader with the title, “Enough is Enough.”

Here’s an excerpt,

“So, I have been couponing and living the frugal lifestyle for over a year now…but am getting sick of how much stockpile I have (and it isn’t a crazy amount yet–not hiding food under beds or closets), but when to stop and know what you have is enough…for now.

Do you have any posts about this or advice? I just feel like I have enough–but yet, when it is free or virtually free–I get it.”

As I read the email, I chuckled because I think that every person that has ever indulged in the art of stockpiling has asked themselves, “How much should I keep on hand?” And quite frankly, the people who don’t ask themselves that question needs to do so. In order to be good stewards of what we have, we need to figure out a strategic answer to that question.

For those of you new to the concept of Stockpiling, read Stockpiling 101 and “Are Coupons Worth It?” lest you think I am one of those that equates the word “stockpiler” with hoarder. There is a huge difference, but unfortunately, some couponers confuse the two and stockpile much more than they will ever use.

“The art of stockpiling groceries combines coupons, rebates, and the understanding of loss leader priced items. Consumer consultants and grocery chains operate their stores on the premise that most households only have a three day supply of food. Americans are impulse purchasers, and that is most evident in people’s food budget. The goal of stockpiling (buying items in multiple quantities at rock bottom prices) is to create a personal mini-mart of staples, so that there isn’t the need to grab a few things at the store for a last minute recipe.” (Note that I say a mini-mart, not an entire store.)

I want to be clear that every household will be different with their stockpiling needs.

There are so many variables from family to family. I have five, big eating children who go through cereal two boxes at a sitting, so I have 10 -15 boxes on hand most times. My stockpile in that area will be greater than a family with toddlers, but even with a large family, there are still key questions that every one should ask first when determining how much is enough.

1. Am I stewarding well what I already have on hand?

Are things going to waste? Are they expiring? Are you using a majority of the items before you buy more? This is the first question that you need to ask. You may have gotten something for free or nearly free, but if you aren’t using it, or don’t know what you will do with it, it’s still being wasteful. There are people who stockpile 50 bottles of spray cleaner because it was free. Free is wonderful, but do you know how long it takes to use up ONE bottle of cleaner? That same cleaner will go on sale another fifty times before you can even think of using it all. If you’ve read my Stockpiling 101, you understand that most stores sales cycle repeats every 6-12 weeks (depending on the area that you live.) Therefore, one should never be stressed if you miss that GREAT DEAL because it comes back around. Know how often specific products, that you use often, go on sale.

The benefit of stockpiling is to always be prepared, as well as save money. If you feel like you’ve grown quite a stockpile for a few certain items, then stop buying them for awhile. I did that with salad dressing. I realized I had quite a bit in my pantry and so I used it up before I stockpiled more. That is the purpose of stockpiling: to buy for pennies on the dollar, but then actually use it.

2. Do you have the means to keep it organized?

We all have different amounts of space available for storage. If it’s causing you to build up clutter, or get in the way of day to day organizational ease, or getting sick of how much you have, it’s time to take a break and use up some of what you have on hand. That’s a main reason why I do a pantry challenge twice a year. (My Pantry Challenge is going on right now.) It allows me to get organized, clear out and use up those things that I might otherwise not touch, and forces me to steward what I have invested in already.

3. Are you strategically stockpiling so that you can give generously and share with others?

If this is your intent, then stockpile away, and give generously to those in need. But why, oh why, do people need 100 tubes of toothpaste of deodorant, unless you are making care packages for the homeless , giving to local refugee families or sharing with your neighbors?

After you ask yourselves some of those questions, then look at your family’s need and determine what is right for you. Since we went through one year of unemployment, and at the time, we were only a single income family,  I lean towards wanting a slightly larger stockpile than I would have before that occurred.

With economic times they way they are and as grocery prices continue to increase, I recommend having three months worth of the basics stocked. I don’t mean treats, snacks and frivolous items, but think through what your month would look like if you lost your income tomorrow. Are you prepared?  What would you need to have on hand to help you ease the financial impact through the next three months?

Now, I am going to tell you a little secret, and I wish I could tell you my reasoning in person, because reading it may come across as a bit radical. While I do not keep a huge stockpile of toiletries (only about 5-7 toothpastes and deodorant, but that’s for 7 people), nor do I keep crazy amounts of free couponed food, I do have a section in storage that is our long term food storage. This consists of whole foods – grains, beans, dried milk, dried fruit, sugar, and some other staples that our family does not touch. In fact, some has been canned and others, just filled in buckets with dry ice and then sealed for maximum freshness. When I say “long term,” I mean long term. These cans have a shelf life of up to 30 years, and the grain buckets up to 15, and they are put away in case there’s  ever an extreme emergency. All of these items are things that I would use on a regular basis and so I do not worry at all that they will go to waste. Now that gives a whole new meaning to the word, “stockpiling,” but I think I’ll leave my reasoning  for another post, since I am sure Maggie certainly didn’t mean that when she asked. 🙂

I want to turn this question over to you, since I know that many will have varied responses. Again, all needs will be different based on ones family needs, but I’d love to hear if you have thought this question through.

When it comes to food, toiletries and stockpiling, when is enough, enough?

And like I mentioned above, our Pantry Challenge is going strong, and a perfect time to use up some of my stockpile. Check out what my friends are doing to make it work for them:

I look forward to peeking in on some of these recipes for my own Pantry Challenge inspiration. It’s going to get trickier as the next few weeks progress.