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DEAR JILL: I read your recent columns on preparedness with interest. Unlike what I suspect are most of your regular readers, I am not a coupon user. Between the coronavirus lockdowns and the winter freeze and disasters, I now realize that, moving forward, I must be far more prepared than I was.

A year ago at this time, I could not buy bath tissue anywhere and ordered food from a local establishment simply because their Facebook page promotion offered a roll of toilet paper with each meal delivery. It was the commercial grade, thin, one-ply variety, and I was so grateful to even have the option to get that roll.

Since that time, I have made certain to always have at least a month’s supply of toilet paper on hand. Honestly, I never gave any thought to estimating how much I go through of anything. I would appreciate suggestions on what else I should always have on hand in the future. — Alberto V.

Coupon shoppers’ goals revolve around buying the items they need when prices are low, as well as using any available coupons on these items to further lower the price. Stores’ sales cycles typically operate on a 12-week timespan. Throughout this cycle, prices will fluctuate high and low. Couponers watch these cycles and time their purchases when the prices drop to their lowest point in the cycle.

At that point, we try to buy as much of the sale item that our household will need for the next 12 weeks in order to avoid paying the higher, fluctuating prices that will recur once the sales cycle starts for another round. This isn’t “bulk buying” as much as it is buying to beat the pricing game! If our household goes through one tube of toothpaste per month, buying a three-month supply works out to just three tubes — not 20.

This stocking-up practice is commonly called “stockpiling” — again, it’s typically not buying in enormous quantities but purchasing in controlled amounts with a purpose.

In the early days of the pandemic, we decided until we knew how severe the virus was going to be, we would not go to the store at all and would eat the food we had at home and in our freezer while using whatever household products we needed from our stockpile. This process lasted more than three months! During the toilet paper shortage, we were fortunate to already have enough on hand for our needs, as well as enough to share with my sister’s family, too.

If you’re just beginning to stock up on essentials and basics, I recommend starting with a one-month supply of “must-haves.” Eventually, if you have the space, you can expand that to a three-month supply.

I do not purchase survival-grade freeze-dried or ready-to-eat meals. It’s more sensible and economical to focus on foods that are already a regular part of your diet and that you will eventually eat as you rotate through the stock on hand. Pasta and sauces, canned soups, cereals, and rice and beans are all great options that don’t take too much space to store and are not expensive.

With additional freezer space, focus on staples that you can make multiple meals from — whole chickens, ground beef or pork, and fish fillets are great starters, but again, buy what you will eat. As far as non-food items, I think we can all agree that bath tissue, soap and common over-the-counter medicines are also items you won’t want to run out of during an unexpected situation.

Always consider storing water, too. We’ve experienced multiple outages of our city water system that had us grateful for fresh water on hand to cook with and to drink.

If your stock exceeds your cabinet space, don’t be afraid to get creative with your storage. I keep paper products on a garage shelf, while extra canned foods are stored on basement shelves. There is a great comfort knowing that if something wild is happening in the world, your home has everything you need to sustain you for at least one month or more.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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