Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
As we head into the last weekend before the hotly contested presidential election, it isn’t just preppers who are getting stocked up and planning to hunker down. Americans, in general, have an overall really bad feeling about the aftermath and the possibility of violence. Even those who lean left and general eschew prepping have been quietly getting ready for what might come.
Don’t be surprised this weekend if you discover that last-minute run to the grocery store may not be as fruitful as you’d hoped. Not only do we have the election coming up, but lockdown restrictions are beginning to tighten again. We could be looking at empty shelves similar to the ones we faced last March.
Unless you are totally stocked up, I suggest you head out as early as possible Saturday morning and top off your supplies. If you wait until later in the weekend, or even later in the day, you may find the choices are limited if they are available at all.
The following suggestions are about as far from organic as you can get. These are the things I recommend when the things you want are no longer available.
Here are some places you may be able to buy food when there’s none in the grocery stores.
If you find this to be the case, don’t panic. There are still other places you can shop and grab some last-minute items. These probably won’t be the cheapest places to shop and you may not get exactly what you want, but you may get lucky and still find inventory.
- The dollar store (Here’s more info on what you can buy at the dollar store)
- Pharmacies (They often have a small food section with snacks, bread, crackers, and some canned goods)
- Office supply stores (You can sometimes find bulk purchases meant for stocking up the office lunchroom)
- Clearance stores like Big Lots or Liquidation World (Check the expiration dates but food is food, right now)
- Discount stores like Dollar General (Use the same rules you would for the dollar store food)
- Convenience stores/gas stations (This will be mostly snacky foods but you should be able to find plenty – also load up on electrolyte drinks in case someone gets sick)
- Hardware stores (They often have chips, candy, crackers, and such near the registers.)
- Large home and gift stores (Places like TJ Maxx and Homegoods often have row after row of gourmet goodies just waiting to be slipped into a fancy gift basket. Well, you can also slip these items into your pantry. Grab seasonings, snacks, candy, popcorn, fancy grains, soup mixes, condiments, teas, and all sorts of other tasty foods.
- Asian or Indian markets (These can be a godsend for rice, beans, noodles, produce, and seasonings)
Expect limits to be in places. They’re popping up all over the nation. You can have more than one person go through the line if you have a large family, or you can hit more than one store and purchase to the limit.
What NOT to do
There are a few things NOT to do if you find yourself in this predicament.
- Don’t hit the grocery store, then go to another grocery store, then throw your hands up in the air and say “it’s too late, there’s no food!” Get out there and start scrounging and hitting the places that aren’t your normal food shopping locations. Do not return home empty handed.
- Don’t let people who accuse you of panic-buying or being “selfish” convince you that you have no business being out there stocking up. Your family has just as much right to the food and supplies that are available as everyone else’s.
- Don’t pin your hopes on mail order. Sure, that order from Amazon might get through. But then again it might not. Many of the long-term food storage places are back-ordered for weeks now and a lot of people have reported ordering things from Amazon, then weeks later getting a notification that their money is being refunded and their product is not coming. I strongly recommend making physical purchases.
- Don’t get into any altercations. The food that is at the store is not worth your life. Tensions will be high, and when people become desperate, they can be rude, pushy, and even aggressive. Getting into a fight will most likely mean that neither you nor the aggressor will end up walking out the door with the food.
Focus on what you can do, and don’t let anyone deter you from your path.
What to buy
As I mentioned above, please start as early in the day as possible to get the things you want and need.
If anyone in your household has essential prescription medications, get them ASAP, even if you have to pay out of pocket for the refill.
The following suggestions are from an article I wrote the last time the shelves got picked over. These ideas will still apply to our current situation. Again, I really don’t want to see anyone in the comments complaining about how these options are not organic. I know. But when you have waited until the last minute, you switch from optimal supplies to supplies that will keep you alive.
When the store is out of water
There are lots of other options if the water aisle looks like this. They may not be as healthy but they’ll keep you from dying of dehydration.
- Sports drinks (like Gatorade)
- Flavored or sparkling water
- Juice boxes or individual bottles
- Soda pop (not too much though because that can be dehydrating instead of replenishing)
- Vegetable juice
- Premade iced tea
A good trick here is to go to the aisle where people get individually packaged stuff for their kids’ lunches. You’ll find all sorts of beverage pouches and plastic bottles of drinks here.
I warned you – not the healthiest, but healthy is no longer available. Trust me when I tell you it will be far better than having nothing available to drink. Oh – and don’t forget the wine. It won’t really rehydrate you, but you won’t care as much that you don’t have water.
Finally, use containers. You still have running water, right? Use vessels you already have and/or buy containers, wash them, and fill them up. No one is going to be sold out of containers unless you specifically look for “Water Containers.” Grab mason jars, pitchers, canisters, etc. Just make sure they’re food-safe and you’re good.
What to buy when the store is out of those meals in a box
Everyone seems to be looking for things like macaroni and cheese, hamburger helper, and ramen noodles. If this is something you desire for your stockpile, here are some options. (Some of these are healthier than the original.)
- Get plain pasta and cheese powder to DIY your mac and cheese
- Get powdered milk to use for when you run out of regular refrigerator milk
- Instead of ramen, get angel hair pasta, cook as directed, and add some soy sauce, garlic powder, and onion powder
- In place of Hamburger Helper and that type of thing, use regular pasta or rice, a few spices (like an Italian spice blend) and a half a jar of marinara sauce. For a creamy version, go with garlic powder, onion powder, and cream of mushroom soup concentrate.
All of these options are very simple to make.
What to buy when the store is out of rice
Rice seems to be a big seller and for good reason. It’s cheap and it can really extend a meal. When I stopped by Walmart to look at what was low, they were down to only the teeny tiny bags of rice.
- Buy the teeny tiny bags – yes, they’re much more expensive but better than no rice at all.
- Get a different grain like pasta, quinoa, amaranth, or barley.
What to buy when the store is out of canned food
The things that tend to be gone first are items like canned pasta meals, soups, and chili. That makes sense because they’re pretty reasonable meals when heated up slightly, and can even be eaten cold out of the can in a worst-case scenario.
If your desired canned goods are not available, look to these items:
- Canned baked beans (tasty right out of the can at room temp
- Canned refried beans
- Canned V-8 and a can of mixed vegetables (turn that into soup)
- Canned potatoes (Mash them up or put them on the grill)
- Canned fish
Try a different store – Walmart isn’t the only game in town. I had fantastic luck at Aldi getting my kids well-supplied. I was able to get them entire cases of canned fruits and veggies.
Or move away from the regular canned goods and see what they’ve got over on the International Food aisle:
- Noodle bowls that just need boiling water
- Soup that may not be as familiar
- Small cans of salsa or enchilada sauce
Look in other areas for shelf-stable food.
- Pouches of precooked rice (some have beans and other vegetables mixed in)
- Peanut butter
- Breakfast cereal
- Granola bars
- Veggie chips
- Potato chips
- Pre-popped popcorn
- Fruit cups
- That squirty yogurt you get in pouches (the shelf-stable kind, not the refrigerated kind)
- Vienna sausages
- Pre-cooked bacon
You get the idea. Go out there and be creative. Scan every aisle to look for things that won’t spoil that your family will eat. I know whenever I’ve grabbed this kind of stuff, my girls have been thrilled since we don’t usually keep junk food in the house.
What to buy when the store is out of toilet paper
Toilet paper has been a biggie. There are videos online of people literally coming to blows over TP to wipe their behinds. If your store is out of toilet paper, check out the following options.
- Baby wipes or “flushable” wipes (regardless of what the package says, do not flush these – you won’t be able to get a plumber to your house if you’re quarantined.)
- Paper towels – not soft but it will get your heinie clean – also do not flush
- Kleenex – pro-tip – do not get the ones infused with Vicks. Even the cheapest facial tissues out there will be a lot more expensive than toilet paper but it’s better than nothing.
- Order from Amazon. They still have tons and tons of TP. I just ordered this which will arrive on Monday.
- Go to an office supply store or a janitorial warehouse
- If you simply cannot manage to acquire toilet paper, you’re going to have to use cloth. Treat it like you would a cloth diaper and have a bucket by the toilet for soaking so that your homemade wipes come clean easily. Here’s an article about it.
Think creatively for bum-wiping. Toilet paper is a relatively new, albeit wonderful, invention.
What to get when the store is out of bleach and cleaning supplies
Lots of stores seem to be running low on bleach, Lysol, and cleaning wipes.
- You can make bleach from pool shock (calcium hypochlorite). Get pool shock at your local swimming pool and jacuzzi store and be sure to select one that doesn’t have additions like algaecide. Here are instructions on how to make bleach from pool shock.
- Hit up your local office supply store like Staples or Business Depot for cleaning supplies. They’ll be more expensive than Walmart but you may be able to find what you need.
- Try the hardware store, grocery store, or dollar store for cleaning supplies.
Think creatively – all sorts of stores sell cleaning products.
What to get when the store is out of over-the-counter medications
If the first store you visit is out of OTC meds that you want to have on hand, you still have some options.
- Visit pharmacies.
- Most grocery stores have a pharmacy section.
- You can order them on Amazon for both adults and children. (Make this an absolute last resort – there’s no guarantee if or when they’ll arrive.)
- The dollar store carries some OTC meds in smaller packages. You might also find them at places like Dollar General and Family Dollar.
If you are really, truly desperate, truck stops and gas stations have small, expensive single packs of a lot of different medications.
Way to get out there and do your best!
Look, we all know this isn’t an ideal situation. You’re probably kicking yourself too for not stocking up sooner, so you don’t need random people on the internet doing it too. Sure, you waited later than is optimal but you are doing the best you can, and I commend you for doing so. Ignore the jerks – most of us are really glad you’re here and you’re trying.
Have you had luck finding unusual supplies at unusual places? Please share your thoughts in the comments below – you may be helping others out more than you know.