Avoiding the Stock-Up Sale

I was once a big fan of stocking up on things when they were on sale. I used to think this was a great way to be frugal — buying things on sale before I needed them in anticipation of the time when I would. After a few years I accumulated so many unused items from this habit that I finally realized that being frugal doesn’t mean that you buy a bunch of stuff you will eventually need, it means using the stuff you have until it cannot be used any longer and then replacing it. Not only does this process give you time to actually earn some return on your money while you wait until the right time to spend it, it also creates an environment in which you become more judicious about whether or not you “need” to buy the replacement item — because if you already have replacement items on hand you are more likely to use them before they are actually needed.

Unless it’s a frequently used commodity like food or a household chemical you clean with weekly, if you really want to be frugal you should avoid buying the following items until they are absolutely necessary.

1. Linens. Avoid the white sale like the black plague. Sure, you will eventually need new towels, sheets and pillowcases, but the ones you have can probably last you a lot longer than you think and stocking up on something that needs to be replaced so infrequently is wasteful. In addition, who knows if you will even like the style or color that you’ve stocked up on by the time you are ready to use them. Wait until your linens become uncomfortable to use, ineffective or are on the edge of threadbare before you replace them and then, only replace like for like — don’t buy entirely new sets if only a fitted sheet is needed.

2. Underwear. When underwear goes on sale, men and women flock to the store in droves. But underwear has a surprisingly long life and doesn’t need to be replaced as often as there are underwear sales. Often, you can go a year without buying new underwear and still have completely intact pairs. So don’t buy underwear until the ones you have stop doing their job.

3. Wardrobe basics. Every time a store like Old Navy has a sale on t-shirts and tank tops, people go running — after all, you can’t go wrong with wardrobe basics like that, right? But many of the purchases from these sales end up packed away with still-tagged items from prior t-shirt and tank top sales. It may seem appealing to have 50 t-shirts, but it’s a waste of money if you aren’t actually wearing them. If you have a t-shirt or tank top that is stained, has holes or is otherwise unwearable it makes sense to replace it — but you don’t really need to plan ahead for it.

4. Make-up. When your favorite make-up goes on sale or is sold with an amazing free gift, you may be tempted to buy it before you actually need it. If you know exactly how quickly you’ll use your existing make-up, you may be able to get away with this. If not, you could be left with expired make-up or something that doesn’t suit your style by the time you are ready to actually use it. When your make-up products have a week or less left in them, buying replacement bottles makes sense. Before then, unless it is the same foundation you’ve been wearing for years, you could be throwing money away.

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Author Info

This post was written by Yolander Prinzel. Yolander is a financial writer as well as a series 7, 66 and 2-15 licensed representative. During her decade of financial industry experience she has been an insurance agency director of marketing and director of operations, a life insurance underwriter, and a trading service specialist for Raymond James Financial Services. She was a featured speaker at the 2006 Hartford National Sales Conference and the 2006 Brookstreet Securities Annual Conference. Check out her portfolio at YolanderPrinzel.com

4 Responses to “Avoiding the Stock-Up Sale”

  1. 2 Cents @ Balance Junkie |  Feb 16, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve also run into trouble with food as well. Just before Christmas, I purged our pantry of crackers, cereal and canned goods that were past their prime. All of them had been purchased in bulk with the idea of saving money. I still take advantage of sales, but I don’t buy quite as much as I used to.

  2. Susan |  Feb 16, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I combine sales and coupons and stock up on some things. But I do keep track of how many “extras” I have and I’ll stop myself if I have too many. If it’s toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap – I’ll stock up so I have a year’s worth in the house (as long as it’s on sale AND I have a coupon). Same thing on paper goods – I’ll stock up on that since I know I’ll use it. Food I’m more careful with – that expires quickly and although having a year’s worth of diced tomatoes or chicken broth is okay, I don’t like to have too much pasta or cereal in the house (potential for bugs). It does make it easy to donate to charities – I don’t have to go buy things when donations are needed – I just grab a bag and hit the pantry!

    I do always make sure I have about 2 weeks worth of food in the house though – just in case of storm, natural disaster, etc.

  3. David |  Feb 16, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Well I’m not sure I really agree completely. For instance you mention underwear. What’s the harm in having extra underwear? Unless you change sizes, you’ll use it eventually. Certainly it seems silly to wait until “they are absolutely necessary” to get new underwear. Waiting until the last minute tends to be a great way to not get a good price when you buy things you need.
    A truly frugal person would buy underwear in bulk every 5-10 years or whenever they need to after shopping for a good deal. They’ll get the best price and won’t have to worry about shopping around for it all the time. They’ll save time and money in the long term over the person that just buys an extra pair each time they need it. Plus they’ll avoid all the extra trips to the store (where there is potential to splurge on unnecessary items).

  4. Yo Prinzel |  Feb 16, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    @2 Cents–I hadn’t even considered food going bad–great point!

    @Susan–that doesn’t sound like a bad plan at all.

    @David–your example is perfect David. In my piece, I’m talking about people who go to buy things JUST because they are on sale and… sure… they may EVENTUALLY need it–but when? Buying underwear in bulk every 5 years is probably very reasonable. Buying it every 6 months at the Victoria’s Secret semi-annual sale just because it’s on sale… not so much :)