When does it make sense to stock up?

One of my wife's favorite cosmetic products was recently discontinued. For years she's used a certain facial cleanser from Avon, so when Avon stopped selling it, Kris was frustrated. She's tried similar products from other companies, but prefers the one from Avon.

It occurred to Kris that maybe she could find the product online. She tracked down a seller on eBay and ordered a two-year supply for $50 (plus shipping). This is double what she had been paying, but she decided it was worth the cost.

For the next couple of years at least, Kris will be able to enjoy one of her favorite products. She's stocked up.

This is just one example of a dilemma I've faced lately. When does it make sense to stock up on a product you like and use regularly? I've learned that when I find a wine I love, I should buy a case. This makes sense. But it doesn't make sense to stock up on laptop computers when I find a great one. This would be an expensive habit, and the technology would quickly become obsolete.

But many items fall somewhere between a case of wine and a lifetime supply of computers. Lately I've wondered when it makes sense to stock up on products I'm passionate about. (And does it make a difference whether these products are consumable or non-consumable?)

Timberland Chocurua

I'm not usually the kind of guy who notices brands or model numbers. I wear my clothes and use my appliances without much thought. I can't tell you which company manufactured my cordless drill or who made the shirt I'm wearing. They all seem to work fine, and that's what matters.

Before our trip to London and Dublin, I bought a pair of hiking boots. I didn't pay much attention to the brand; I just went into the local sporting goods store and bought the pair that felt right. As it turns out, I love these boots. They're amazing. They're functional and comfortable. If Kris would let me, I would wear them for every occasion. (“You are not wearing those tonight,” she once told me as we were leaving for a nice dinner with friends. I'd been wearing them for days on end, and she decided to put her foot down.)

The store that sold me these boots is going out of business. It occurred to me last weekend that maybe I should see if they still had these boots in stock. Maybe I could buy a pair for cheap. The store didn't have these boots, but Amazon does. Now I face a dilemma. Should I order a pair or two to keep on hand for when these wear out?

iPod Shuffle

On a less utilitarian note, I was a little alarmed to learn that Apple has discontinued (well, “re-configured”) one of my favorite products. I'm a huge fan of the little clip-on iPod Shuffle. I use mine constantly.

Last week I had a chance to look at the new iPod Shuffle. I don't like it. I don't want to own one. My Shuffle is showing no signs of failure, but I began to wonder: What would I do when it does die? (Or, as is more likely the case, when I lose it?) I'm not willing to purchase a new model. I want the old one.

Then I thought: What if I stocked up? What if I found a source for the old iPod Shuffles and bought two or three or four just to keep on hand? Assuming I could afford this, is it a smart thing to do?

Does Stocking Up Make Sense?

My previous bad habits have made me wary. Whenever I want to spend, I question myself. That's true in this case, as well. I cannot decide: Are these impulses foolish? They don't feel foolish, but sometimes I'm not as smart as I should be about these decisions. Would buying these extra iPods or boots just be a sort of hoarding? Would I be bringing more clutter into the house? I don't know. All I know is that I don't feel guilty for considering these options — so long as I can afford them.

We already stock up on paper products like kleenex and toilet paper by buying in bulk. Kris has boxes of empty canning jars in the garage, donated by friends, for when she needs them. But we're not devoted to a particular kind of jar or picky about a style of tissue. Is it different when I'm merely anticipating that something I like will be unattainable later? Am I merely postponing the inevitable? I don't know the answers to these questions.

What about you? Have you ever stocked up on a product you like? Do you think that you might do so in the future? Why or why not?

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the weakonomist
the weakonomist
11 years ago

You won’t want to stock up on the shuffle. Apple knows their new shuffle is a flop and you’ll see a new one in another year or two. Electronics are always bad options for stock ups because technology improvements will almost always make the next model better. Sometimes companies get it wrong, like the new shuffle, but for the most part they get it right.

I stock up on deoderant when it’s cheap. Combined with a manufactorer’s coupon I usually get them for about have the price you might find in Wal-Mart for my preferred brand.

Barb1954
Barb1954
11 years ago

I stocked up on my favorite eyeshadow when the woman at the Clinique cosmetic counter told me that the color I wanted was discontinued. When she found they still had three containers in stock, I bought all of them. Having your favorite lipstick or eyeshadow or moisturizer or body lotion discontinued isn’t the end of the world, but it sure is disappointing after finding something that really works for you. Of couse, I’m talking about products that cost less than $20 each. I doubt I would snap up extra iPods or other expensive items. What I will do, however, is… Read more »

Leslie
Leslie
11 years ago

I agree…don’t stock up on the shuffle. Chances are that by the time you need another one they will have come out with something completely different than the current one. I actually don’t generally pay that much attention to shoes but I LOVE my Keen Bali flip flops. I could go into a million reasons why I am willing to pay $50+ for this particular pair of flip flops but I won’t bore you with it (although I will say that I tried them originally because I got them 90% off). I discovered last fall that they were changing them… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
11 years ago

If I find an item I love at a killer price I usually buy a few to stock up. This mainly applies to food, beauty products and household goods. For instance, regularly a favorite family brand of bread goes on sale for half-price at our local grocery store, so I always buy about two month’s worth. Sometimes if I can afford it I’ll buy a few of a shirt or pair of pants I really like, because it’s just so difficult for me to find clothes that I love wearing – but I have to make sure I’ll really wear… Read more »

Nathan
Nathan
11 years ago

J.D. Buy the boots if you can find them. I also buy a 2nd or 3rd pair of shoes if I find some I really like but only after I have worn the shoes for several months. It will nice to reach up and grab a new pair of your boots in 2 years when you need them

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
11 years ago

I wouldn’t stock up on anything like the shuffle or hiking boots, as technological advances over the years may bring improvements that you want. For example, I loved my first pair of hiking boots, but when I went to replace them, advances had created a lighter weight material. My new boots are incredibly light, so they are more comfortable on long walks than my old boots were. Right now you don’t like the newest shuffle, but you may find yourself liking the next version more than the one you currently own. I also would be cautious about products that degrade… Read more »

Coupon Artist
Coupon Artist
11 years ago

I stock up on all kinds of grocery type items, but only when I get them for free or at a great price. Anything that you are confident you could resell at the same price you paid (or more) is worth stocking up on. Anything else, I say don’t do it because something better might come along and/or you might find the discontinued product cheaper later, like at a discount store where discontinued products get sent.

Lesley
Lesley
11 years ago

To me, stocking up is more for consumable items. So foods and personal care items, yes. Electronics, no. I’m debating on the shoes myself though… I am an avid runner and in all the searching of shoe shops, I’ve only ever found one shoe that fits my foot perfectly and eliminates my shin splints. The company has brought in a new shoe that is similar but not quite right for me, and I am concerned that they may discontinue my shoe. Should I stock up? Maybe, but not too much. Shoes, believe it or not, also have a limited shelf… Read more »

Kraygk
Kraygk
11 years ago

I highly recommend that if you really love a shoe and find that your are wearing them on days on end, that you buy more than one pair and alternate wearing them. This can extend the life of both shoes, and not in the sense you have a longer time before you need to buy two more. Shoes tend to last longer and retain its shape when you give them time to dry out. I am not 100% if this applies to daily wear shoes, but I practice this with running shoes and I find it does keep my shoes… Read more »

Kate Petersen
Kate Petersen
11 years ago

Contrarian view: I would buy an extra old-version iPod shuffle or two while they are still available. Yeah, you *might* like a newer version better, but you might not. I did just this recently with my beloved Archos Jukebox 20 Recorder, technology which is at least five years old. Mine finally gave up the ghost. I was able to salvage the hard drive so I didn’t lose my music and transferred everything to a new Archos 605. I *hated* it. I don’t do video and I wanted back the ease and versatility of the Jukebox! So I found a guy… Read more »

Money Beagle
Money Beagle
11 years ago

This completely reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine went and bought out a case of contraceptive ‘sponges’ because they were discontinuing them. I guess the question you have to ask before deciding to stock up on something is whether or not it’s spongeworthy!

Niall
Niall
11 years ago

if it’s something I know I’ll definitely use again with in a defined period, and it’s on sale I would stock up. i found a nice pair of shoes on sale, so I bought two pairs. I knew I would need the extra pair when the first pair wore out, (and no matter how much I looked after them, they would wear out with use) I would then have the second pair. However on the ipod. Electronics prices are always going down, so it makes no sense to buy a shuffle now when the same item would be cheaper in… Read more »

Do You Dave Ramsey?
Do You Dave Ramsey?
11 years ago

Interesting question… just as your asking/exploring, sometimes it does make sense to stock-up but it is largely a function of the product and it’s costs. For example, I don’t think I’d go into debt to stock up but if the cash/product availability window were open at the same time I might consider it. I’d be weary of stocking items that would likely become outdated. The shuffle is an interesting item relative to that development… you may not like this new generation but love the next one… hmm, perhaps I buy another cheap shuffle to keep in the car but I… Read more »

sandy
sandy
11 years ago

I think stocking up on family favorites (food) is really critical to frugal living. After awhile of ahaving kids, you learn what everyone is happy eating (whatever that is for your family). If you know that the food will be eaten in a given amount of time, it makes no sense to leave it on the shelf, when in 2-3 weeks time, you’ll want to buy it again. I did this when my family lived overseas. I found a great Birkenstock website, and bought 6 pair of sale shoes, 2 pair for my girls, and 4 pair for me. I’ve… Read more »

Anne
Anne
11 years ago

Target recently clearanced out the diapers that we like. Since my son will be in diapers for a while, I bought all 13 boxes! Saved $41. I saw more last night marked down even more and was tempted to buy them but resisted. 🙂

nickel
nickel
11 years ago

Money Beagle: Hahah. I just click the comment link to say the same thing!

Aniruddha
Aniruddha
11 years ago

I agree with Lesley on stocking up consumables. As fas ar Electronics are concerned, I am not a US citizen and, particularly whenever I go to my home country people just love the cool electronic gadgets and equipments.

So upto some extent it makes sense to stock-up electronics (and other “worth-a-gift” non-consummable) items for special occasions, events (birthday, anniversary, …), etc.

TDC
TDC
11 years ago

As a rule I only ever stock up on daily products such as tissues, etc and only when they are on offer. The only time I can think of that I stocked up on an item which wasn’t what I would term a daily item is when I purchased a bulk lot of light bulbs, purely because that wattage was being discontinued. For me I wouldn’t consider stocking up on either the boots or the shuffle for one reason. Although you may think they are the best now, when it comes to replacing them you are just as likely to… Read more »

SaveBuyLive
SaveBuyLive
11 years ago

I only stock up on food or household items. Basically anything that is consumed fast or breaks easily. I wouldn’t bother with electronics, because the price always goes down and the power always goes up. Shoes? Maybe. But I don’t really have the space to keep a supply of shoes, nor do I wear out shoes so fast that it makes sense to keep a stock on hand. My solution to apple suckifying the iPod shuffle will be to buy a different brand of mp3 player when my shuffle breaks. Overall, I like Apple products, but there is so much… Read more »

Hannah
Hannah
11 years ago

I know a lot of people who stock up on shoes they like! Especially if they are a good price. Cheaper shoes are usually lower quality so it makes sense that they would wear out faster and you’d want a backup pair.

If the shoes are expensive, I would personally not buy another pair because by the time they wear out you might be ready to try something new. Or the price may have gone down!

td
td
11 years ago

I have the same debate when I find a certain item of clothing that I love (and that won’t go out of style rapidly) on sale – to stock up or not…

I think you’d be able to find the version of the shuffle that you prefer online, even after newer versions come out – like in the case of comment 10.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Great comments so far. I especially like the “sponge-worthy” Seinfeld reference. I’d forgotten about that episode, but it’s exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about. I understand that future products may be as good (or better) than the ones I like now, but that’s not always the case. In the past, I’ve seen things I love discontinued and wished that I had stocked up. One of the reasons I mentioned laptop computers is that I thought the Apple 12″ Powerbook G4 was a brilliant little computer, and was very sad when my machine for work died. Apple had discontinued… Read more »

Eugene Krabs
Eugene Krabs
11 years ago

I don’t like the new Shuffle either. To me, it’s an innovative solution in search of a non-existent problem. I’d much prefer if they would push the iTouch into the widescreen HD video/full-featured internet tablet space, but that’s a different subject matter. The older Shuffle is a design that competitors can and have easily copied. Personally, I’ve gotten out of the Apple ecosystem entirely, because I’m largely a Linux guy who can not use iTunes and don’t want the DRM restrictions anyway. I also believe I save more money in the long run that way too. For example, my Sansa… Read more »

Jeremiah Bell (Digital Trainer)
Jeremiah Bell (Digital Trainer)
11 years ago

I had the same dilemma for body wash for my girlfriend. I just bought out the only store that carried it. Now, a year later she still has plenty left and it still smells good. When it comes to shoes or clothes, I tend to buy two of something I really like. I had my feet evaluated at a workshop once and they recommended a certain brand of shoe. Since then, I will buy a few pairs of this brand whenever I notice a big sale. I will do this as well with food with no expiry. However, with the… Read more »

April
April
11 years ago

I would get the boots, but not the iPod. I would be leery of stocking up on something electronic, as hardware and software changes constantly.

I think it’s good to stock up if you find a good deal on something that won’t expire or go bad before you can use it, or something that you use the heck out of and will soon be discontinued.

April
April
11 years ago

item amount ipod = none why: technology goes bad too fast, imagine someone stocking up on VCRs comestics = 2 or 3 items at a time why: After a couple of years its good to freshen up your look or if you’re like me you stop using in before its all gone non perishables foods = stock up when on sale why: you will eat it eventually, and if not you can give it away clothes = buy 2 at one time why: never fails that something spills and ruins your favorite pair of jeans or shirt, having an extra… Read more »

Alex
Alex
11 years ago

I like to stock up on paper towels, toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste, and shampoos when they’re on sale. First of all it saves me inopportune trips to the store just to grab a stick of deodorant. These things are relatively inexpensive but when you pay more over time, they can add up together. If there was a way to stock up on gas, I would have. Everytime I go home back to PA (I’m currently up near Niagra Falls, I try to make sure i fill up my tank, even if it means topping it off. Gas up here is… Read more »

lulu
lulu
11 years ago

I stock up on skin products because I have sensitive skin and need specific things so that I don’t break out. I stock up so that I can always have an extra in a carryon bag in case I have to stay over at a friend or something.

I also stock up on my favorite cereal because the stores in my area do not sell it.

Christopher Wright
Christopher Wright
11 years ago

For my wife and I, the stock-up decision has a couple guidelines: if it doesn’t depreciate/degrade over time, stocking up can make sense (tissue paper, cleaning supplies, dress shoes, etc). If it does depreciate/degrade (laptops, ricotta cheese, bread), we stock up only so much as we’re likely to use for its lifetime (2 weeks worth of bread at most, for example).

Some items can change categories too (for example, clothes “expire” if you’re changing sizes due to growth, weight gain, or weight loss).

Victor
Victor
11 years ago

Should I order a pair or two to keep on hand for when these wear out? No, because those boots are hideous and you need to keep searching until you find a pair that both look amazing and feel amazing. I would also pass on stocking up on the iPod, as, just like you said, technology changes and something better will come along. I usually stock up on consumables like toiletries or cologne. I tend to do this when there is a sale like BOGO. In fact, my favourite cologne has been discontinued and I need to hunt around to… Read more »

B
B
11 years ago

talk about sponge worthy: my preferred brand of tampon was very hard to find at local stores, so a few years back I would order cases over the internet. For some reason I ordered 3 or 4 cases before I had run out. I think I noticed that they were becoming even harder to find. Now a few years later they are not available anywhere anymore and I have a huge stockpile of my hygiene product of choice. I am far less likely to just toss them in a purse or hand them out to my friends since I have… Read more »

Gwendally
Gwendally
11 years ago

While your money is tied up in tangible goods it can’t be doing other things for you. The opportunity cost is one of the expenses of hoarding. The other expense is the possibility of spoilage or loss; I know someone who stocked up on his favorite razor-blade and then the razor handle broke and he couldn’t get another head to fit the blades. If you become a refugee for any number of reasonable reasons you can’t easily transport the goods with you and may have to abandon them. These risks are essentially the cost you’re paying for insurance to make… Read more »

JerryB
JerryB
11 years ago

How old is your iShuffle? If it’s older than 18 months then buy a new one of the style you like. Unless you have the skill to replace the battery yourself, then at two years you’re on borrowed time with battery life on shuffles. I have a first gen shuffle who’s second battery has far outlasted the original. As for the boots, if they are showing signs of wear then sure buy a new pair. If they are still going strong wait. Depending on the cost of the original, it may also be beneficial to have them resoled when the… Read more »

Albert
Albert
11 years ago

I stock up when:
1) My favorite items are on sale, AND
2) I’m sure I’ll use the quantity I buy in 1-2 years.

So, for shoes I’d buy one extra pair on sale if I wear them a lot (which you do); I wouldn’t buy an extra iPod b/c they ought to last 2+ years.

I pick “1-2 years” as a date cutoff because I’d be fine using 1-2 year old things EVEN IF a better, cheaper new thing comes up. I can cheerfully accept that for 1-2 years.

Karen
Karen
11 years ago

Definately stock up on hiking boots you love. I’m an avid hiker, and LOVE Montrail’s Sandia Peak boot for women. Unfortunately, they discontinued this boot. Several years ago, I looked on-line and purchased 3 pairs. I’m down to my last pair–they’ve been re-soled but the leather is still good. I’ll be really bummed when the leather finally gives out, because I’ll never be able to get another pair. And they fit me perfectly. Last year, when Polaroid announced that they would no longer produce film, I stocked up on 669 film. I’m a fine-art photographer and use 669 film for… Read more »

Juan
Juan
11 years ago

It makes sense to stock up on daily necessities like water, flour, coffee, toilet paper. Sometimes, it makes sense to stock up on items that you know will be discontinued and that you could possible re-sell in future online to people who are looking for the same discontinued item. For example, I stocked up on the last of a certain ceiling fan light fixture that takes regular socket light bulbs. However, due to fire hazard with bulbs greater than 60W, some bozo in DC decided to ban them for ceiling light fixtures and instead mandate use of the smaller socket… Read more »

Chiot's Run
Chiot's Run
11 years ago

I stock up on things that I like, like clothing and shoes. If I find a pair of running shoes I love, I usually wait a few months and check on-line. I can usually find them at a discount since newer models are coming out. I usually buy a few pairs to last a year or two and I save big bucks in the long run since I’m not buying new $100 shoes every 6-8 months. I agree with you on the Shuffle, I love my little clip on shuffle and I was so sad when I heard they were… Read more »

Bill
Bill
11 years ago

I might suggest as a general rule is to stock up on “consumables” when it is a good deal. Electronics could not be considered a consumable, but more a depreciable asset. (Is that a word?) By consumables, I would say more like food items. When you can get that 6-pack of soda for 2 dollars, get all the limit will allow. When you find a good wine on sale, buy a case. When you find a can of beans for 0.20$, buy 10.. If you’re already buying a shirt for 50% off, then maybe buy as many as you’d expect… Read more »

Susan
Susan
11 years ago

With 7 behinds to wipe, my mom bought a huge case of toilet paper and stored it in the basement. A great idea until a big rainstorm flooded the basement! Toilet paper is really absorbent.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
11 years ago

I’m a fan of the stock-up, but I’ve gotten burned in the past. The iPod shuffle would tempt me though, especially because you can find them refurbished on Apple’s website for $39. That just is not a steep price to know you have the product you love once yours dies (or gets lost).

kat
kat
11 years ago

I don’t think it’s worth it, except for food/consumables that you know you will use up pretty quickly. Of course, I live in an apartment so we don’t have a lot of storage space… and I definitely try to keep from owning multiple pairs of shoes, gadgets, etc. because they’re a pain to move and store. But try to keep in mind that the Internet has pretty much eliminated scarcity. Even if your old Shuffle does break somewhere along the line, and IF you can’t get Apple to repair or refurbish it, and IF Apple is not selling anything you… Read more »

Penny
Penny
11 years ago

Stocking up makes sense but it depends upon the item. Electronics change so quickly that your backup item will most likely be sooo out dated by the time the first one breaks that it will be useless. Buying a second pair of favorite shoes, jeans, makeup, etc (especially if there is a great sale) is worth it. It’s an item you already use and love. You would buy another once the first one is worn out. So getting a second isn’t going to be a waste of money. It’s also a waste of money if you buy too much of… Read more »

Dan O
Dan O
11 years ago

I definitely stock up on consumables when they can be had for a good price. I’ve also stocked up on running shoes before – buying another pair when they went on sale. That way, whey my current ones died, I had a new pair already and didn’t have to shop around or pay full price. I’ve also ‘stocked up’ on clothing – buying a 2nd of an item when on sale. This is nice when I find something I like but has backfired when I didn’t like the item (and the return shipping cost makes it a bad idea to… Read more »

Kristen
Kristen
11 years ago

“I highly recommend that if you really love a shoe and find that your are wearing them on days on end, that you buy more than one pair and alternate wearing them. This can extend the life of both shoes, and not in the sense you have a longer time before you need to buy two more. Shoes tend to last longer and retain its shape when you give them time to dry out.” I’ve heard this multiple times, and can attest to it at least in terms of running shoes. My husband also follows this practice for his work… Read more »

Cindy Brick
Cindy Brick
11 years ago

I hate to say this…but Kris should use those facial products up asap. I tried stocking up on both Neutrogena and Mary Kay moisturizers, but after a year, both had a funny off-smell. They still worked ok, though. Something in that mix must have degraded over time. I’d say buy at least one extra pair of the hiking boots, though! We also stock up on underwear (if it’s on sale – rare)and stuff like barbecue sauce…Sweet Baby Ray’s is my weakness, and only comes on sale once in a blue moon. I’ve also had success with perfume via Ebay —… Read more »

will knight
will knight
11 years ago

I love your posts!

I wouldn’t stock up on the Shuffle either. The old versions are always around and MUCH cheaper if you buy later on ebay or something.

Steve
Steve
11 years ago

I probably wouldn’t buy more than a year or two in advance. Most things will start degrading after longer than that (food, shoes, ad makeup). In the case of electronics, they won’t degrade, but will become obsolete. If Apple doesn’t fix the shuffle, I’m sure one of their competitors will come out with a clone of the last decent one that will work just fine, have more storage, be slightly smaller, etc. When I moved to Seattle from the East Coast, I couldn’t find a place that stocked my favorite condiment. So next time I was home for the holidays… Read more »

Brigid
Brigid
11 years ago

You’re lucky that you’ve had your clip on iPod for so long. I’ve gone through two in the past couple years. They keep crapping out on me. The first one I was able to replace for free because I had it for under a year. The replacement one was under warranty for 90 days and I think it stopped working about 95 day after I received it. If you stock up on them – you may get lemons. Electronics are flukey. You are better off researching some non-Apple products. Yes – there is a life outside of Macs. As for… Read more »

L
L
11 years ago

I occasionally stock up on items that I like- eg two pairs of jeans that fit; or comfy shoes in brown and black. However if you are stocking up on something that is being discontinued be aware that you are just delaying the inevitable. At some point you will have to go looking for your new “perfect” boots and Kris will have to spend time (and money) testing cleansers; until she finds a suitable replacement. If I were you I would take this time to try new styles of boots that weren’t about when you bought yours and see if… Read more »

Matt
Matt
11 years ago

As mentioned above. My wife often stocks up on our running shoes when they get marked down. After a few hundred miles or so it is nice to put on pair that you know that you like and few comfortable in.

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