SHOP NOW: Places Other Than the Grocery Store Where You Can Buy Food at the Last Minute

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you'll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

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
  • Juice
  • 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.

  • Pudding
  • Applesauce
  • Pouches of precooked rice (some have beans and other vegetables mixed in)
  • Peanut butter
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Granola bars
  • Jerky
  • Candy
  • 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.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Try auto parts stores. They will often have bottled water, snack foods, hand sanitizer, shop towels (those blue paper towels) as well as regular paper towels, trash bags, air fresheners, and more. Batteries, flashlights of all sizes, even small toys (especially toy cars) that could be tucked away as a distraction/treat for kids. First aid kits are often stocked in the aisle with roadside emergency kits. They will also normally have various types of gloves, eye protection, and more since mechanics deal with HAZMAT fluids and OSHA standards.

    Another option is RV places like Camping World. They normally have the above plus shelf-stable microwaveable foods, some canned goods, tp and paper towels, and so forth.

  • About alternatives to TP

    Having survived the great Johnny Carson toilet paper shortage of 1973, I remember how much more effort in those pre-YouTube and pre-DuckDuckGo years was needed to learn how people managed their “tush care” for thousands of years — long before commercially available perforated toilet paper was advertised to westerners as “splinter free.”

    Now, a simple search on toilet paper history can turn up such gems as

    https://history.com/news/toilet-paper-hygiene-ancient-rome-china

    Today there are many resources for DIY types. As an example, just run an online search for the phrase

    DIY bidet

    on both DuckDuckGo.com AND on YouTube.com

    and then feast your imaginations on the many possibilities — all “splinter free.”

    –Lewis

  • If you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance of a farm, they will, likely, be trying to get rid of the last of their summer produce.

    Check out any farm stands and PYO in your area. Many of the items you find can be preserved simply by freezing, drying, or fermenting. Some, like potatoes, pumpkins, and apples have a long storage life and can be kept for months in an unheated garage or in the basement.

    Don’t forget the feed stores. Dolly Freed, in her book, Possum Living, talked about getting grains, like oats, in bulk from the feed store that were safe for human consumption (although they won’t, necessarily be labeled that way :)).

    • ‘Ditto on the feed stores. You can always buy a cheap bag of oats, get the feed oats, and not the seed oats as the feed oats will be for feeding to animals and not coated, and the seed oats will be for planting and often coated with some magical growing stuff. You have to soak the oats and then break the kernel with a roller (rolled oats) or cut the kernel (steel cut oats) and then dry them back out before you get the oats you buy normally. You can also grind them up to make oaten flour.

      Also at the feed store is chicken layer food for your egg laying chickens. You can probably also buy feed corn by the kernel as well, but beware of the difference between sweet corn and feed corn (maize).

      Not to mention dog food, and cat food.

      Also, the feed store guys are used to people in beaten up old cars coming in and buying up big, there isn’t much difference between farmers and preppers, just don’t open carry that may raise some eyebrows if you are trying to be discreet.

  • Something folks always forget in emergencies are BATTERIES, if your lacking in proper batteries for essential things like radios, flashlights, lanterns, and two way radios then get them now, remember when you think you have enough, it isn’t. Batteries are excellent trading material. also consider getting a good multi-meter to measure the batteries, Remember a good cell should measure at least 1.5 volts. After use, it depends on what it’s being used for, some things will still work with lower voltages, but hold on to them
    Something most folks don’t know a bit of rejuvination can be accomplished with a small charger, but monitor the cells, if they feel warm stop charging, they can and will explode from heat.
    charge all of your batteries on a regular skedule, wet cells, as well as rechargable nicads, NiMH etc.
    when the SHTF you will deffinately need batteries, radios, AM/FM/ SHORTWAVE, Listen to HAMS they usually have a bit more grasp on whats going on.

  • Just got off the phone with my daughter whose family is camping this weekend in their trailer (and yes, I did encourage them to take more ammo than usual). She is so organized and well put together, dirt doesnt cross her threshold, and anything you think of, she has already thought of it. She said Mom, I made pancakes for breakfast and we sat down to eat and I realized I didnt bring the syrup. Almost killed her to admit that. I told her to mix sugar with a little water and heat it. That is syrup. Throw in some fruit if you have it, or toss in a spoon or 2 of jelly.
    You might have said this somewhere above but I missed it. Places like Trail and Ski that sell back packs also sell individual packets of Mountain House. So do Cabelas and Bass Pro shops. They have been out at Walmart since forever. I am fully stocked, but I never quit buying. More ammo arrived yesterday, and my monthly order of freeze dried food arrives Tuesday.

      • JB, yes! I go to the State Office buildings in Tallahassee when the new phone books come out just before December. The emoyees put their old phone books in huge boxes for recycling. I just go in the lobby and help myself several days in a row. I store them in plastic totes sealed with Gorilla tape in my storage shed. That is for when my good stuff runs out. Also love my Northern Tool catalogue….made of same paper as phone books.

  • Stock up on feminine hygiene, soap, toothpaste & dish soap. If you cut the bottom off of the rolled up toothpaste tube, you’ll get an extra 4 days. Cooking oil is something most of us forget. I use applesauce instead of eggs for homemade quick breads & cake mixes. Make that one serving can of soup seem bigger by serving it over rice to feed four. If you have room in your freezer, put a loaf of bread there, if it doesn’t take up valuable space. Now is the time to pick up extra socks & those one dollar knit gloves.

  • Please note that Kleenex and other brands of facial tissue is “polymerized”. It doesn’t
    break down while snezing or blowing your nose into. It does not break down it septic tanks either, don’t flush!

  • Right now I live far away from stores. My shopping, since our military retirement checks are in, will be this weekend. However, for those who can afford to shop online.

    I go to Western Botanicals for herbs. These herbs can be used as seasoning for food, making tea or medicinally. Last month I was at HEB grocery store an they were selling 4 oz cardamom ground for $17.90. I brought an 8 ounce bag from Western Botanicals for the same price. The also sell supplements and tinctures.

    Vitacost still sells can goods & supplements. Shipping is free over $49.

    I am buying tinctures from homegrownherbalist.net in case I don’t have access to medical. Not cheap, but good quality.

    US Citrus got their tree operation shut down because a hurricane in July damaged one of their greenhouse. Although it quickly got fixed and testing found no evidence of disease, USDA still shut them down. They can sell from their location only for use in South Texas quarantine area. But, they are now selling citrus online in 10 or 20 pound boxes. Shipping by UPS is included in the price. They pick their fruit ripe and not green.

    MyGreenFills.com sells non toxic cleaning and laundry supplies. I get an auto shipment.

    There are a lot of places that sell things besides the grocery stores.

  • Learn to identify and collect wild edibles.
    There a lot of abandoned cats and dogs where I live do to people losing their homes and having to move away without their pets. These animals are now feral and can be trapped and eaten. Wild dog packs have killed and eaten a number of goat herds in my area.
    Eating cats and dogs is common in Asia, if you’ve ever travel to east Asia you have probably eaten cats or dogs and never knew it.

  • Daisy- RECALL ALERT !!!

    Some of you may have already gotten a notice if you shop at COSTCO. I almost missed it since I thought it was just a typical ad but here goes. RECALL of COTTONELLE FLUSHABLE WIPES (10 PK). If you purchased them at COSTCO the item # is 1205611 and they were sold between 14 February 2020 – 8 October 2020. Apparently there is some type of microbal in these wipes. You may return them to COSTCO for a refund or you may contact Kimberly-Clark at 800 414-0615 or go to their website for the annoucement.

    It makes me wonder these type wipes by other companies have the same issue since most everything is made by one manufacturer and just labeled differently. What made me think of this Daisy was your link in this article ref. TP.

    Take care my fellow preppers!

  • Daisy your girls are very lucky to have you help them prepare as are we for sharing your knowledge. Our chemist sale toilet paper, but after the issues earlier in the year the company made a policy to put out 1/4 of what they buy. The rest is behind the counter, if you ask if they have any they will gladly grab you a couple of packs. This is to make sure those who need it actually can get some. They also deliver toilet paper, soaps and detergents , cup a soups with their prescriptions if you ask.

  • My local Rural King not only carries farm supplies, they have a lot of household items, too. They have freeze dried, dehydrated, and canned foods; fresh produce (potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, pumpkins, squash); pasta, rice, popcorn, vegetable oil, dried soup mixes, cleaning supplies (They currently have a pallet full of disinfecting wipes.), canning supplies, and LOTS of paper products. There are some essential oils, carrier oils, and OTC meds. The camping and outdoor section isn’t too bad. The firearms department has been hit hard, but they still have quite a bit left. If I could only go to two stores, my local Rural King would be one of them.

    • Oh, I forgot! Lots of snacks; junk food; powdered, bottled, and canned drinks, including water; clothing and shoes; kitchen wares; hand and electric tools; furniture; small appliances and freezers.

  • Missing other end of retail lots of wholesalers will sell case lots if you buy over a few hundred dollars worth. Sysco allows for pick up orders.

    Look for places that are marketing companies for food. They sell stuff that they rep.

    Look for local food processing they always have sales on seconds or damaged.

    If you find a meat plant that does cold cuts salami the European style those can be hang dried and eaten just put card board under them as they drip fat as they dry.

    Go to baking wholesale they have more than just flout and sugar. Lots of nuts grains and dried fruit.

    Paper products like tp and stuff go to janitor supply depot its not the premuim but at this point is better than none.

    We have other farmer friends that are elderly, they can a lot of food we buy cases of canned local grown produce and return canning jars. We also trade for meat. We also let them know if they need help we can supply warm bodies to harvest and process.

    Go look for small slaughter houses, custom meat shops. They still have half and whole animals to sell cut to your requirements.

    All predone stuff aside you need to get a long term game plan that means seeds and live stock. Even in apt you can have pet rabbits.

  • A convenience store like at the gas station will probably have pre-made sandwiches. These can be kept in fridge or freezer. No not the healthiest but a turkey or roast beef sandwich will keep you alive even if it;s deli meat. Also look for salads in the case. They may be serving pizza, get a couple of large ones to freeze.

  • This ice storm put me behind. 5 men worked 5 hours yesterday and we got the front yard 90% done. I’ve still got the same amount in the back left. 
    Good news is I’ve got the next 4 yrs of wood lol. 
    Store are chaos here. Every everyone replacing their refrigerator items, stocking up for elections, refilling propane and gas cans etc.
    Reading the comments it looks like y’all are the folks in the stores who aren’t buried in their phones. Y’all know where to find resources. Makes me proud.

  • I went shopping really early yesterday morning. NY/NJ border here. Our local store was very well stocked and I was extremely grateful. Mostly older people were shopping. Everyone was patient and just going about their business. After having gone through the madness of March-April we really try to stay ahead of the curve and are concerned about what’s to come post-election. Good luck everyone and take good care!

  • We have a meat market in town that has high quality meat ($) and cheeses. Our hiking/camping store has food suitable for taking on the trail. Tractor Supply and Fleet Farm or Farm and Fleet have lots of shelf stable foods.

    Our health food store ( again $) has lots of well, healthy, food. We also have a farm share that has a brick and mortar presence. Meats, goat cheese, eggs, hydroponically grown lettuce, storage crops.

    The gas stations here currently have 50 lb. bags of ‘deer’ corn, apples and carrots.

    If your area is known for a particular type of food (here it is cranberries) there might be some specialty gift shops. At our cranberry store they have cheese, wine, craisins, chocolate covered (again $) but if you can afford it a few treats are nice during a crisis.

  • We did a little shopping today in a small grocery chain in N.E. Texas. The paper towels/toilet paper isle was a little sparse but the store was otherwise fully stocked. We even found a turkey for Thanksgiving. None of the shoppers seemed anxious or alarmed so I hope it stays that way.

  • Here we are pretty well done with getting stocked. I called my son at college and reminded him to stay alert the next few days. Thank you Daisy for sounding the and that everyone here is good to go. God Bless you all and pray hard.

  • You mentioned Asian and Indian markets. There are other ethnic markets you can try, especially if you live in a large suburban area. Within ten miles of my house in Houston are Korean, Indian and Indo/Pak, Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Eastern European, and Phoenicia (which has stuff from everywhere in good quantities, founded by a married couple from Armenia and Lebanon).

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