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14 Ways to Make Your Stockpile Last Longer

Running low on supplies? Don’t panic. These smart strategies can make all the difference when waiting out the pandemic at home.

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Buyer wearing a protective mask.Shopping during the pandemic quarantine.Nonperishable smart purchased household pantry groceries preparation.Woman buying few pasta packages.Budget pastas and noodles.

Efficiency is Key

In preparation for coronavirus self-quarantine, many Americans stocked up on essentials like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, tuna, peanut butter, pasta and more. Some even went on a panic-buying frenzy, which wasn’t helpful for a number of reasons, and certain items remain scarce.

To prevent running out of the essentials, you need to strategize. “It’s important to be efficient and smart about how to ration the supplies you have on hand,” explains Vicky Nguyen, an investigative and consumer correspondent for NBC News.

Historically, rationing may be imposed during wartime when demand exceeds supply. That’s not the case today, but it’s worth considering rationing on your own to navigate supply issues (we’re looking at you, toilet paper), limit trips to the grocery store, or simply to save money. Here’s how to make the most of what you have, and find clever substitutions for items you can’t get.

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Young asian lady in medical face mask shopping in a supermarket

Shop Strategically

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges everyone to stay home as much as possible to avoid unnecessary exposure to the virus, so make the most of your shopping trips. Nguyen suggests buying about two weeks’ worth of groceries at a time. To do that right, you’ll need to plan ahead.

First, she says, take inventory of what you have, then figure out how many people you need to feed. “Try to make a meal plan for the week so you’re not impulse-eating,” she adds. Also, avoid recipes that require exotic ingredients until after the pandemic. “Consider keeping recipes basic so you don’t need to buy specialty ingredients that may be hard to reuse in other dishes,” she says. Once you have a shopping list in hand, you’re ready to hit the store.

Diane Vukovic, lead writer at the prepping website Primal Survivor and author of the book Disaster Preparedness for Women, also suggests making a spreadsheet.

“Organize the spreadsheet by type of food (carbohydrates, proteins, fruits, veggies, oil/fats, sides and snacks),” she advises. “Make a column next to the food with its total calories. The average adult needs around 1,800 to 2,500 calories per day, so the calorie tally on your spreadsheet will give you an idea of how long your food should last. It will also give you a better sense of what foods you have and how to distribute them properly over the upcoming period.”

Every few days, update your spreadsheet. “This will help you see how much food you are really eating, which, for many of us, may be more than necessary,” she adds. “Seeing it in numbers can help curb boredom-snacking.” Here’s more on 10 products that help prevent food waste.

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Midsection Of Man Holding Toilet Papers Against Wall At Home

Cut Down Your Toilet Paper Usage

Most of us don’t consider how many sheets we’re using, but a little conservation can go a long way. Think about it: If you use half the toilet paper you usually use for a wipe, then your roll will last twice as long.

For a more scientific approach, check out this toilet paper calculator; it will give you an idea of how long you can make your current supply last by cutting down the number of squares you use. To get an accurate estimation, you’ll need to figure out how many times you go to the bathroom every day, how many squares you use, and how many rolls you have.

Do the same for the other people in your household to figure out approximately how long your stash will last. Plus, here are five toilet paper alternatives that will definitely clog your pipes — and two things that won’t.

Another way to ration your toilet paper? Vukovic suggests using cloth wipes for pee only and saving your TP for poop. “Use cloths to wipe yourself, and then put these cloths in a bin next to the toilet for washing later,” she explains. “If you run out, use dampened paper towels or baby wipes, but don’t flush them down the toilet.” This is the best toilet paper for your plumbing.

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toilet with electronic seat automatic flush, japan style toilet bowl, high technology sanitary ware.

Invest in a Bidet

Before your toilet paper stash runs low, consider switching tactics altogether. “There are lots of places in the world that use water instead of paper for this hygienic need,” says Scheller-Wolf. One solution is buying a bidet, such as the highly-rated Luxe Bidet attachment on Amazon or the TUSHY Classic. Intrigued? Here are the best bidet toilet seats for 2020.

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Open tin of baked beans

Use Beans to Make Other Foods Last Longer

Vukovic points out that beans are one of the most popular “disaster foods” for a reason — a long shelf life. They can also help other products in your stash last longer, like meat, as well as make meals more filling and ultimately help you eat less.

“I’ll often blend beans up with tomato sauce to serve over pasta,” Vukovic says. “I even hide black beans in brownies for my family to sneak in a bit of protein.” Plus, using beans that way makes one can last a lot longer than when you simply serve it as a side.

This concept also applies to other overstocked foods in your pantry that you’re not sure what to do with. If you have 10 cans of peas, you could add them to pasta sauce, blend them into a dip for crackers, or make soup. Similarly, a pantry staple like bullion cubes adds a meaty flavor to your dishes without using your meat. Here’s a collection of clever ways to store your bulk purchases.

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Vegetables being cut in cooking class

Prioritize Your Perishables

Most of us are used to eating what we want, when we want it. But if you want your food to last as long as possible, you need a plan. “Prioritize your perishable items, and eat those first so you don’t have excess food waste,” Nguyen advises.

With milk, plan breakfasts that involve cereal before switching to eggs or oatmeal, which can last longer in the fridge or pantry, she says. Got leftovers? Don’t forget them — and make sure you’re storing them correctly so they’re viable for as long as possible. Plus, this is the safest temperature for your fridge.

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Midsection Of Woman Cleaning Tiled Floor At Home

Make Your Own Disinfectants

Anything with the word “disinfectant” on the bottle is in high demand right now, and most of the aisles that once housed these sprays and wipes are totally, well, wiped out.

But don’t panic if you can’t find the brand-name sprays or wipes, says Nguyen. “You may have some basic household products that will also do the trick to sanitize your home,” she says. According to the CDC, a diluted bleach solution will work as a disinfectant, helping stretch your cleaning stock.

To make it, mix five tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water, or four teaspoons bleach per quart of water. “Just remember to leave it on the surface for at least one minute,” she says.

According to the CDC and EPA, alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol in a spray bottle can be used to sanitize surfaces. “If you’re running low on supplies, consider three percent hydrogen peroxide,” Nguyen suggests.

While the CDC hasn’t approved it yet to kill COVID-19, she points out that experts say it can kill heartier viruses like rhinovirus, “so it will likely be effective as long as you let it sit on the cleaning surface for a minute before wiping away.” Not letting a product sit long enough to work its magic is actually one of the 14 common ways people use disinfectants wrong.

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Plastic bags with deep frozen vegetables in refrigerator

Freeze Fresh Foods

If you have a large freezer, now is the time to use it. “When you are able to go grocery shopping, stock up on fresh foods and put them in the freezer for a later day,” Vukovic says. “You can also dehydrate many fresh foods, so they won’t go bad. It’s not the same as eating fresh produce, but dried fruits make a great snack and you’ll still be getting your nutrients.” By the way, bottom freezer vs. top freezer: Which one’s better?

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Hot running water granite tap

Dilute Certain Liquids

Diluting some items with water can definitely help stretch your stockpile, says Alan Scheller-Wolf, Ph.D, professor of operations management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. Orange juice and soy sauce can be easily diluted without an issue. But a word of caution: You can’t do this for everything. “You should not stretch items that need a certain regularity, or concentration, to be effective,” Scheller-Wolf explains. Baby formula is one of these; diluting it can result in an infant’s failure to thrive, or even death. However, you can opt for the powdered form instead of the liquid to get more bang for your buck.

Other items you shouldn’t dilute or stretch? Prescription medication and hand sanitizer. With the latter, adds Scheller-Wolf, “they say you need 70 percent alcohol to kill COVID, so you should not stretch this.” If you can’t find it anywhere, here’s how to make a quick and simple hand sanitizer.

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Rear view of woman looking into refrigerator while standing in kitchen

Make Substitutions

The best way to make supplies last longer is to substitute, suggests Scheller-Wolf. “Find items that are not in short supply that you can use in place of those that are in short supply,” he says.

No rice? See if you have barley. No pasta? Use rice noodles or soba instead. No canned beans? Get dry. You can also use frozen, dried, or canned items instead of fresh. You’re still stocking up, just diversifying.

“Use items you are not used to using, and maybe check out some different recipes to use these ingredients,” he continues. “From an operations perspective, the key is often flexibility. The more ways you have of meeting your needs, the better, so if one (or more) are cut off, you have alternatives.”

The better the quality of your alternative, he adds, the better your result. Don’t miss these 11 no-pantry solutions on a budget.

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Cropped shot of a young woman cleaning the kitchen counter with cleaning spray and cloth at home during the day

Repurpose Cleaning Supplies You Already Have

Don’t panic if you can’t find wipes and disinfectants online or in stores. Instead, take inventory of what you have in unexpected areas of your home. Just because a cleaning product is intended for your bathroom doesn’t mean that it won’t work in the kitchen. “Check your bathroom cleaners that you use on the shower or sink,” Nguyen says. “Some are EPA approved to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses.” If the label isn’t clear, look for the EPA registration number on the product and search it on the EPA’s website. Take Comet. Though usually used in the bathroom, it’s approved to kill COVID-19. Same with Scrubbing Bubbles. And remember, adds Nguyen, “good old-fashioned soap and water can also be used to kill COVID-19.”

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Woman sewing homemade protective mask

Maximize Your Masks

The government is urging people to wear masks whenever they go out in public. They’re hard to come by, but there’s a good chance that you might already have one somewhere in your home. “Check your garage,” says Nguyen. “You may have a construction mask that you haven’t used. It doesn’t need to be hospital grade, but it works as a face covering when you’re out.” If you happen to find any N95 masks, however, she encourages you to donate them to health care workers. Here’s how to make three different DIY no-sew face masks.

You can also improvise. “You can make your own cloth mask from a bandanna and two elastics,” says Nguyen. Alternatively, she suggests covering your nose and mouth with a scarf when making essential trips. The CDC’s website is a great resource for everything mask-related. Besides tutorials on how to make sew and non-sew masks, it also provides instructions on how to use and care for your mask — how and when to use it, wash it, and take it off. Best of all, cloth masks can be tossed in the washing machine and used again. Here’s how to disinfect your DIY face mask.

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Hygiene first

Only Use Hand Sanitizer When You Really Need It

Most stores have been sold out of hand sanitizer for weeks. However, according to Nguyen, you shouldn’t panic if you can’t get your hands on a bottle. “Hand sanitizer is fairly new. It wasn’t a product we had to have before,” she says. “Save what you have for when you’re on the go.” Soap and water does the trick when you’re at home and is actually more effective. In fact, you can help prevent coronavirus and a number of other diseases just by washing your hands.

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Covid-19 Wiping down surfaces

Conserve Cleaning Products

You don’t need to sterilize everything repeatedly, says Nguyen. “Save your cleaning supplies for high-touch surfaces in your home,” she says. According to the CDC, these include tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks. And don’t use your precious disinfectant to clean up simple messes; soap and water can take care of that. Since it’s hard to get your go-to cleaning supplies these days, you might want to stock up on these four household products that kill coronavirus, according to Consumer Reports.

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Cropped hands wearing protective gloves disinfecting groceries

Wipe Down Groceries Without Wasting Supplies

The FDA says there’s “no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.” However, health experts maintain it’s possible that if a sick person handled those packages before you picked them up, and you then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you may get sick. Research indicates that SARS-CoV-2 remains active on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for two to three days, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, on copper for four hours, and in the air for up to three hours. “To take maximum precautions, wipe down the packaging,” says Nguyen.

Remember: A little bit of disinfectant goes a long way. Use one wipe, a spray of disinfectant, or even soap and water if the product is waterproof. Or, if you’re really short on supplies, leave your package untouched for at least 24 hours. Next, find out if you can get sick from toilet seats.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Leah Groth
Leah is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor, mother and product junkie. Her obsessions include old houses, home design, fashion, beauty, books and anything that makes her life — which includes working full-time and taking care of two "spirited" children and a Vizsla puppy — a little bit easier. Her work has appeared on a variety of publications and websites, including Glamour, Prevention, Business Insider, Livestrong, Mindbodygreen, Fatherly, Scary Mommy, Wonderwall and Cosmopolitan.