Years ago I came across two books that left a big impression on my ideas about buying and storing things that you need. They have both informed my regular purchase strategy, even if I don’t follow them to the letter.
The first book was called “Cut Your Grocery Bills in Half” by Barbara Salsbury. The book was written in 1983. The copy I have is a discard from the Peterborough Public Library that I bought at a book sale. It is essentially a grocery shopping planner. The first couple of hundred pages of the book explains how the average consumer shops and how grocery stores work.
The last hundred pages of the book describes the steps you take to effect the promised cost savings in your grocery bill. There are worksheets, tables, checklists galore in the book but let me simplify it for you.
Most products in the grocery store go through sales cycles. An item that normally sells for $4.00 will be reduced to $3.50 once every three weeks or so, down to $3.25 every two months and as low as $2.25 a few times a year. These aren’t exact, just a simple example. Salsbury advises you to start recording the cost of items in a workbook or on a spreadsheet. You don’t have to run around to all the different stores, just look through the sales fliers, or subscribe to get their email copies. And record the prices. Different stores will be in a different location in their cycles, so in a few months you will have a really good idea of what the likely best price for a product is going to be.
I am skipping over consideration of store brand, national brand and generic products, but you obviously want to compare apples to apples. For instance, there is a name brand of coffee you like, and a generic that you hate. There’s no point in comparing the prices on these two items. Focus on the one you love the taste of. If the two pound can usually sells for $10.00 and your records show that it goes down to $5.50 three times a year, then whenever it goes down to the low price, you purchase enough for four months (or longer). That’s it. Track prices, determine the cycle timing, train yourself to only buy when the cycle is at it’s lowest price and then buy enough to get you through to the next low.
The book goes into things in more depth and discusses meal planning and substitutions of basic items for more expensive ones etc. But the summary above should allow you to seriously start saving, and stocking up. Barbara hasn’t stopped writing. Go over to Amazon and look her up. She is obviously into prepping and has written eight or nine volumes on the storage and stocking up theme.
Actually, while doing a little research for this article as I was writing it, I think I discovered that the book to the left of this paragraph is a newer version of “Cut Your Grocery Bills in Half.” Judging from the reviews, it covers exactly the same material in the same depth and structure.
You can currently get a copy at Amazon.ca for eight bucks or as low as five bucks including shipping on Amazon.com.
The second book I want to talk about was written in 1980 by John A. Pugsley.
It is called “The Alpha Strategy – The Ultimate Plan of Self-Defense for the Small Investor.” Pugsley wrote in a time of inflation and the eroding value of the dollar was a huge concern. At the same time the dollar was going down and able to buy less each year, wages were rising and pushing people into higher tax brackets. It was Pugsley’s view that the dollar you had in your hand today would never be worth as much as it was right then.
He reasoned that under those kind of conditions (which were widely expected to continue for decades) instead of putting money into savings where it lost value, or investments where traders constantly skimmed off the top on every transaction and the government taxed you on every gain, why not just buy things that you knew you would need in the future?
The book is available as a PDF here.
The book cautions the reader that things go out of date, fashion trends change, technology moves on, some items deteriorate with age and you need to assess what the cost of storage actually is. Nonetheless, it essentially lays out just what is required for you to think long term in your buying plans. This book fits in well with the thinking above. Hard items go through sales cycles as well. And bulk buying on non-perishable goods can dramatically lower the cost of goods.
Pugsley covers how long various items will last in storage. He talks about buying things in bulk to lower the unit cost. That certainly makes a lot of sense in specific instances. OTC medicines and vitamins are good examples. “But what about expiration dates,” you say. Well, read what the Harvard Medical School has to say about that in an online article about the stability of drugs and what their expiration dates might actually mean.
“Most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at the request of the military. With a large and expensive stockpile of drugs, the military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. What they found from the study is 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.”
Technology can throw curves at you in your stocking up Alpha Strategy purchases. Take razor blades. When I started shaving, a razor blade was good for about five shaves. Today I use a multi-blade cartridge for over a month. I’m not sure if buying thirty years worth of “Gillette Blue Blades” would have been a good deal, even if the price was fantastic. But the concepts are worth keeping in mind.
Combining the purchase of hard goods with the sales cycle knowledge in the grocery shopping book can lead you to some excellent buys. I used just this strategy when I went shopping for a snowblower a couple of years ago. I went shopping in the spring, just as winter was over. I found just the model I wanted, at about 60% of retail price. A small one family operation, selling small gas engine equipment, didn’t want to go through the summer with money tied up in stock. So I got my purchase at wholesale or below. Sales cycles are a thing for any seasonal equipment of products, not just soup and dishwashing detergent.
Together, these two books, “The Alpha Strategy” and “Cut Your Grocery Bills in Half” (or “Beat the High Cost of Eating”) compliment each other very well. They arm you with strategies to maximize your purchasing when you are buying things that you just need to buy. A little forethought, some planning and recognizing that almost all consumer goods go through sales cycles can save you big dollars, can ensure you have what you need on hand when you need it and will also see you better able to cope with emergencies.