Simple Home Logistics Planning Tips

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by Kevin C, Survival Blog:

One of the puzzles for people starting out in the business of being prepared is “How much?” How much sugar, flour, rice . . . do I need to have on hand? There are lots of sources that will provide planning figures for this, and in the absence of any other guidance, following them – at least partially at first – is a good idea. I did so. But these one-size-fits-all guides, as useful as they are, may not reflect your specific tastes and usages. Here is a method for arriving at a figure somewhat associated with your needs – based on your usage rates of the stuff you use.

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A brief aside: During my Army career, I went to several schools. In the Army logistics planning system there were books (this was a while ago) with reference tables showing how many rounds of various kinds of ammunition or supplies to anticipate needing for a certain period of combat, with several levels of intensity shown in the tables. To make large-scale logistics plans, one would add up the number of type units (infantry, armor, or truck companies, or artillery batteries), and multiply by the usage factor from the table and time anticipated; if the table had a factor based on one week, multiply by the number of weeks anticipated. Note that each type of unit was a separate math problem: M1 Tank companies’ requirements were different, even in food, from those of M2 Bradley mech infantry companies or even M2 Bradley cavalry troops.

It was never made clear, but I interpreted this planning data as having come from real usage figures in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, with adjustments as new weapon systems came into use. No doubt, our more recent sojourns into the Middle East and Southwest Asia have led to updates. So, to make plans on how much one may need, starting with hard data on how much one uses/used in past events is a realistic beginning. End of this aside.

Here is my recommendation for a – not the – method for starting planning. YMMV, and you may find something else/a modification that works better for you.

Step One: Get some stuff on hand you know you will use, because it is something that you already use. As others have said, buy two or three of whatever you are getting when you shop, assuming that what you are getting will store. Keep stocking up as you go on.

Step Two: Get a method to record when you open a new container of whatever it is you are tracking. It needs to be simple to use, or it won’t be used. I have 5″x8″ cards taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet. Whenever I open a new container (can of coffee, bag of flour, box of kosher salt, jar of honey . . . ), I put the date on the appropriate card. I only have three cards going, with multiple items on each card. Pay attention to the sizes of packages. If you standardize the packages you buy – always buying the same size bag of flour, for example – this will avoid an unnecessary complication.

I tried a couple of different ways to track usage. This “date opened” is the easiest to maintain. But you have to get obsessive about making the date entries. I haven’t added another step, but as this goes on, and after you are comfortable recording the data on this small number or items, start adding some of the less-frequently opened – but important to track – items to your cards.

Step Three: After six months or so (or at least waiting until you have opened three or four of the packages concerned), transcribe your start and end dates, and the number/pounds/kilos of each type supply being tracked and do the math. From this data you can get a first draft of usage rates, learning, for example, that one container of honey lasts about a month, or that five pounds of flour lasts about two and a half weeks. (I bake a lot of sourdough bread – a thing I strongly recommend learning how to do. It’s easier and more forgiving than any of the books I consulted made it sound. Thinking about submitting an entry about that.) When I am figuring out a usage rate, I make the calculation to get an answer of “X units lasted Y days.” I can then convert the “days” figure to weeks, months, or years, as appropriate.

Step Four: Take a look at what you have on hand v. what your first-run usage rate is for that type item. Don’t go nuts, but you may want to adjust purchase amounts.

Step Five: Keep the cards going. The longer that you are recording this data, the more accurate it will be for establishing an actual usage rate. As an example, I use a lot of honey when I make granola. But I don’t make granola all that often.

When a card gets too full, I will start a new card. The top entry on the new card has the start and end dates of the previous card, and the total (packages/pounds/kilos) of that asset opened during that time period. This is a good time to look at your inventory to see how long you could get by with your current supply. Having an accurate baseline of usage rates, you can make larger purchases with a bit more comfort in knowing how much time that fifty pounds of flour represents.

If you screw up and miss recording several dates, and have no idea how to reconcile your known consumption with the data record on the card(s), don’t worry. I have done this – got fired up with drinking a hoity-toity dark roast coffee, and several other types. Completely lost track of/screwed up the data on coffee. Once I came to my senses, I simply capped that data stream and started anew. I underlined the range of dates on the new card put in the complete number of cans opened during that date range to the right of that entry, and restarted that data stream. Perfection is not the goal; an accurate usage rate is.

Step Six: If you weren’t already doing so, rotate your stock, using the oldest first. Although this is something everyone should do all the time, it becomes more significant as one’s inventory becomes more substantial. I am not going to go off on a tangent about whether or not any given item is still edible or nutritious after its “expiration” or “use by” or “best by” dates. But using the older stuff first simply makes sense.

However, keeping track of which is the oldest of the cans of coffee or jars of peanut butter by trying to read the cryptic code printed in tiny font using nearly invisible ink in hard-to-find places is a pain. Here’s my own code method for that: Similar to the “date opened” entry on my 5×8 cards, I put a two-letter “year and month purchased” code on the exterior packages. I had been using actual dates, but that got cumbersome when I was writing the dates I had made jams and jellies on each of the mason jar lids after the jams and jellies had been canned. So, to save time and space, I came up with a two-letter code. I started in 2021. Anything I bought (or canned) in that year had the first letter of A. The second letter in the code corresponds to the month, A for January through L for December. Anything I bought in January of 2022 was tagged BA. This date code works for me, making sorting by date purchased much easier. When I go to pull a can of coffee, I open the AK-tagged can, and leave the BA can until later.

This dating system is much easier to explain to people than Julian dates, plus, for most things, the actual day is not all that important. (I do add a number suffix of 1 – 31 on those things for which I want to distinguish the day upon which something happened; for me, it only matters in dating my jams. If one batch goes bad, I want to know which jars were in that batch; only making one batch a day means that the day suffix is all I need). I have used Julian dates, both during my time as a Battalion S4, and in reading the dates on products I bought at the “local” Bishop’s Storehouse – the home storage foodstuff outlet for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I used “local” since it’s an hour and a half away. They are worth a visit, if not too far away.
This started with food, for me. It can easily be exported to other types of supplies. I now use this code system on everything that has an expiration date, or for which, in my opinion, degrades over time – my latest addition to this was AA and AAA batteries.

SOME NOTES:

Don’t be an absolutist, letting the Best be the enemy of Good Enough. Getting started is key. If you miss a date opened entry, make a guesstimate entry and keep going. If your data stream gets interrupted, note the appropriate dates and start a new one, as I described above.

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