Stockpiling Health and Beauty

…products. Would that I could stockpile health, so that next time the flu was going around I could just throw some health at it and be done.

I’ll be honest: I sort of dislike the word “stockpiling” but I don’t know what else to call it. Hoarding? Sitting on a pile of shampoo like a dragon on its gold? It’s kind of saving against a rainy day, but not quite. I don’t stockpile to prepare for disaster, although it’s good to know that when the revolution comes I’ll still be able to wash my hair. No, I do it to take advantage of free or nearly-free stuff, which is abundant, thanks to CVS, Walgreens, and the magic of coupons. But please keep in mind that it’s useful even if you don’t use drugstore products, because you can still buy in bulk or at least not ever have to run to the store at 2am for a razor. Why you would do that, I don’t know, but you get the idea.

First: The sales, the coupons, and the free stuff.

I know a lot of people who say they wind up spending more when they use coupons, because they buy things they otherwise would not. I think they’re probably using the coupons wrong, as I did for a long time. Now, I won’t rush out and buy Fruit Loops (which I hate) just because I have a coupon — and even if I did want to buy them, I’d wait until they were on sale. There are a ton of sites to educate you about store sales and coupons and the matching thereof; take a look at The Grocery Game or Hot Coupon World, for example. The general idea is this: Product sale prices come and go in cycles. Roughly speaking, every 12 weeks or so, a given product will be offered on sale — real sale; truly the lowest price you’ll see it for. So you wait to use the coupon until this rock-bottom sale price occurs, et voila, savings galore. Also, don’t buy stuff you’ll never use, with one exception: If I can get something for free or close to it, and I won’t use it, I will often pick it up and donate it to a food bank or shelter.

So, now you know how to use coupons. But where? Well, for groceries, you’ll usually want to choose one or more of the local grocery stores. But health and beauty products, and household cleaners, and sometimes other random crap — those items you shall purchase at the drugstore. Here’s the thing, though: Never, EVER buy anything at the normal retail price at CVS, Walgreens, or the like. They are, how you say, overpriced. They want to move inventory, though, and manufacturers want you to buy their products. Take advantage of this.

There’s a reasonable introduction to CVS and coupons and ECBs, or Extra Care Bucks, at Hot Coupon World. However, it tends to get very complicated very quickly, so I shall herein endeavor to introduce you to the bones of the idea. CVS offers ECBs on many items each week (you’ll need their store card to get the deals). Some weeks these are awesome; some weeks, not so much. ECBs are printed on your receipt, and are like “CVS money” — that is, it can only be spent at CVS. If you go in with a Plan, this is not a problem. Example: This week, CVS is offering 6-packs of SoyJoy bars for $6. When you buy one, you get $6 in ECBs on your receipt. You can buy up to five packs per card, which means you can roll that $6 into another box of SoyJoy, repeat, and at the end you have 30 free protein bars and $6 to spend at CVS. Your effective cost is zero.

They don’t always just offer stuff for free, outright, though; sometimes you’ll want to watch for manufacturer and store coupons as well. Another example: CVS is offering Kotex pads in a bonus pack for $4.99, and you get $2 in ECBs when you buy it. $2.99 for pads isn’t that great (firstly because I use cloth, but that is Another Story for Another Time, and women’s shelters appreciate the donations anyway), but I also happen to have a coupon from Kotex for $2 off. So that comes out to 99 cents for a bonus pack of pads. THAT’s pretty cheap, right? Walgreen’s has similar offers, but they give rebates rather than ECBs, which means you’ll be fronting more cash, at least until about six weeks later when the check arrives. Rite Aid is much the same as Walgreen’s.

For me, the best way to keep track of this stuff is via an extensive collection of spreadsheets and databases, but I like those things. Maybe you don’t need them. I never clip coupons until I use them; I just keep the whole insert in my household binder, labelled by date, and then look up the coupons in my database to see if I have a match in any given week. Perhaps sometime I’ll share the  spreadsheets, but you might decide I am crazy and run away, so we’ll wait until the second date, OK?

And for handy reference, the items you can usually score for free or for less than 50 cents include: Toothpaste, toothbrushes, bandages, dish soap, shampoo, lotion, mascara, batteries, and some OTC medications. Other items may run slightly higher, but that doesn’t mean paying full price. My mother would be proud of me with my coupons and my refusal to pay more than a quarter for toothpaste.

Part the Second: The Stockpile

Since the sales run in 12-week cycles, that means that you may need to wait three months between rounds of buying, for example, shampoo. And that means you’ll want to have at least a three month supply on hand. Personally, I prefer to have a 6-12 month supply, simply because it makes my life easier. So decide what kind of a cushion you’d like, and plan accordingly. At some point I’ll try to post about how much of any given product we go through in a month, but now is not that point. I have stuff to do, yo.

You’ll also need somewhere to put all this crap. If you buy 12 months’ worth of deodorant for you and your family of six, and you have nowhere to put it and it ends up all over your house, you will curse me bitterly and rail against the day this idea ever entered your head. I happen to have a linen closet just outside the bathroom, wherein I keep these things and my household cleaning stuff. And sometimes linens, too. You could also use a Rubbermaid container, or a storage shelf in the basement. Try to stay organized about it or again, your stockpile will become a burden rather than a thing of happiness.

Now. You need a list of what you have, so you don’t buy things you don’t need. So start one now. I’ve included another of my snazzy templates for you to print and use, but fair warning: I like silly category names. I’ve split it up according to the categories I use, which are essentially dental care, facial care, hair stuff, skin care including body wash and soap and deodorant, OTC medications, first aid, and other stuff (e.g. toilet paper). I use the same method for tracking as I do with my freezer — one diagonal line through a box for each item in stock, then finish the X when you’ve put the item into use. I complete the X when I move it out of the closet and into circulation, as it were. Oh, and because I am not super-picky about which brand I use, at least for everything but face stuff, I just record it by general name, like “toothpaste” instead of “Crest Uber-Clean for Front Teeth.” Otherwise it gets into pages rather than fitting neatly on a page. My page lives in my household binder.

I also like to keep the shelves organized. I haven’t (yet) gone so far as to label the shelves with my Dymo labeller, which I love, but I do have a drawing illustrating roughly where everything should go. I should really put that on the inside of the door so my poor husband knows when he’s actually out of deodorant and when it is in fact hiding behind the cotton balls. When you take something out, move the other items of its category forward, kind of like doing stock at a retail store. New products go to the back, to avoid issues with expiration dates. Nobody wants to wash their hair with some VO-5 from 1979, right?

In conclusion:

I don’t know about you, but I strongly dislike getting all ready to shower and then discovering that I have run out of razor blades for shaving, or, heaven forfend, soap. With a nice stockpile and a handy inventory, you need never face this problem. Seriously. And like I said, it’s a system that works even if you don’t take advantage of the crazy sales at the drugstores. For example, I’m planning to make my own cold-process soaps soon. So rather than counting bars of Ivory, I’ll just count bars of Awesome Soap(tm) and record that. I’ve started making my own deodorant (which works remarkably well), and I just include that in the count with the Dove and Right Guard.

Every six months or so, I go through the stockpile, tidy it up, and make sure my list is up to date. If we’ve decided we hate a product and I have three unused bottles, they get donated or Freecycled. Simple, right? Try it. It’s a good way to stay organized, plus you get to go shopping at home every time you open the closet! Woo!

HBA inventory sheet

Health and Beauty inventory sheet, PDF.


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