You stocked up early, but now you’ve depleted your supplies. Or you bought just what you could find and it wasn’t enough to last.
Whatever the case, your coronavirus stockpile is running low. But the pandemic and corresponding shopping frenzy are still ongoing. So what should you do now?
We consulted experts to answer some of the questions you’re likely thinking about.
What should I buy?
As part of a household plan in case of illness or disruption of daily activities due to COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends having a two-week supply of prescription and over-the-counter medications, food and other essentials.
If you’re coming to the end of your first supply, you’ll likely want to replenish it with another two-week supply.
Make a list of the items you think you’ll need — either because you’re already out of them or you’re running low. To conserve money, focus on buying necessities and leave off the things you might like, but can do without.
How can I shop strategically?
Look at your list. The main item is probably food. But that’s a pretty broad category.
To be strategic, there are certain foods you should focus on buying and others to avoid, according to Samantha Coogan, director of the Didactic Program in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Buy frozen and canned foods, while skipping fresh produce, which is touched by multiple people on a regular basis. Consider nutrient-dense foods that will keep you full. Coogan recommends protein shakes because they’re quick sources of protein and help with satiety.
To help your food last longer, Coogan suggests making your meals in batches and freezing them right away. For example, she recently made ground beef tacos, ate them fresh, then froze the leftovers for another night. In this approach, you aren’t wasting food — and you don’t have to eat the same dinner night after night.
Coogan says it’s also a good idea to have a backup refrigerator, freezer or cooler in your house or garage. There’s an upfront cost involved, but you’ll have somewhere else to put your food in case something happens to your primary refrigerator.
Should I go to the grocery store?
Going to a grocery store these days can be intimidating, especially for vulnerable populations. After all, there’s a possible risk of contracting the virus from other people at the store if they’re already infected.
People need to eat, and it’s important to be able to restock healthy and nutritious food if you’re running low, says Craig Hedberg, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
“In the interest of social distancing, reducing the number of trips to the store will reduce the number of interactions you will have with other people,” Hedberg said in an email. “However, you can keep your distance from people and still get what you need.”
If you do make a trip to the supermarket, he advises avoiding crowded stores and washing your hands when you get home, in addition to typical healthy lifestyle habits like eating well and getting enough sleep.
For your best shot at finding what you need, go to the store first thing in the morning after the trucks have been unloaded, says Annette Economides, author of “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family.”
Can I order online?
There’s also another option: As Americans stay inside to curb the spread of coronavirus, big-box retailers and grocery stores can bring supplies to you.
And while many brick-and-mortar retailers are closed to browsing, they’re open to curbside deliveries, says Bob Phibbs, CEO of the Retail Doctor, a retail consultancy based in New York.
This can be helpful for groceries as well as other supplies. For example, stores as diverse as Walmart, Best Buy and GameStop, among others, are offering curbside pickup. See if this option is available near you.
When it comes to food, ordering online and having it delivered reduces your exposure in the store. But keep in mind there can be risks with this, too, Hedberg says.
“There are issues regarding the safe handling of foods by the delivery service, and the health and hygiene habits of the delivery person. You might not want to order perishable refrigerated or frozen foods if there is a long delivery route and delays in delivering goods,” he says. “Or if you will not be there to receive the goods.”
If you order online, take precautions. The virus can live up to 24 hours on cardboard, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
“Remove the items immediately and scrub the items themselves down and throw away the box it came in,” Coogan said.
How can I save money?
Stocking up on weeks’ worth of food and essentials isn’t exactly cheap. So when possible, try to balance getting what you need with saving money.
Unfortunately, in the midst of a pandemic, typical coupon and money-saving grocery strategies won’t work, Economides says. And right now, many people care more about getting what they need than how much they pay for it.
Here are some money-saving tips from Economides:
- Use up what you have in your pantry. Look online at websites like Pinterest for recipes that can help you combine ingredients.
- Start a garden with your family. If you don’t have a backyard, try a container garden on your balcony.
- Don’t buy food you don’t usually eat. You likely still won’t eat it — and could waste money in the process.
Perhaps most importantly, remember that while shelves are sometimes bare, they will be replenished. And always try to make the best shopping choices for your situation.
“We have to make judgments about how much risk we are willing to take,” Hedberg says. “Pay attention to local public health advisories, as risks may vary depending where you live. Conditions have been changing rapidly. Recommendations may change. Have patience and look out for your neighbor.”