Why Inventory Management is important for Preppers

Dried goods for your prepper pantry. Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash.
Canned and dried goods for your prepper pantry. Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been doing some inventory work here at the homestead. First, I went through all my ammo cans. Besides finding an 21 AR-15 magazines I didn’t know I had, I uncovered nine 10/22 magazines. Seven are original Ruger mags and two are Butler Creek 25-round mags. I also found a roll of silver dimes. (It has a current melt value is $67.50, but premiums on physical silver are so high they are selling for about $50 more.)

I also uncovered a couple cans of ammo put away before Y2K. Most of the dates were 1995-1998. Now I know ammo can keep for decades, but this will go into my practice and training pile. I’d rather use up ammo I bought in 1995 than ammo purchased in 2015.

One ammo can held nothing but 12-gauge shotgun slugs. I had no idea I owned those! I had purchased recently because I thought I didn’t have enough. Now I know I have at least 200. I prefer 00 buck for a defensive shotgun, but when I fill my side saddle, I always include at least two slugs in case the target is beyond the range of buckshot. Sure, a rifle might be better, but sometimes you are stuck with the weapon in your hands.

After completing my inventory, I am satisfied I have sufficient ammo on hand in every cartridge I shoot except .410 and .300 blackout. Because I only have a single weapon that chambers the .410, I will not consider that a priority. I am going to pick up some more .300 if I find a good price, especially now that I have the .30 caliber suppressor.

Pantry Inventory

Because I was on an inventory roll, I inventoried the canned food we have I our prepper panty and update my records to reflect what we added or consumed. The result is that we have lots of canned meat but not much canned fish. We could use more tuna. While we have vegetables, we don’t have much canned fruit.

I’ve had bad luck keeping canned fruit for long periods of time. I prefer them in glass jars. That limits what’s available. I’m not terribly worried. We have some dried fruit and can source fresh fruit like apples and berries locally on the tree or vine. We won’t be seeing any citrus or pineapples after a collapse, so perhaps I will be some.

If you’ve been prepping for a while or have been aggressively building your prepper pantry, I recommend you take a few hours to do a written inventory and to re-arrange your pantry. You should group like items together and consider putting the older ones in front, so you use them first. If you just shove stuff onto the shelf when you buy something new, your most recent items are going to be in front. You want to correct that so you can have an easy first-in first-out inventory system. Sure, “best by” dates aren’t the last word, but it’s still a good idea to eat your oldest foods first.

Long-Term Storage Foods

I moved on to items in #10 cans, which I have never inventoried because when we moved here, we took cans from three different locations. The inventory revealed some surprises. For example, I have 16 cans of lentils and just ten of split peas. Why is that a surprise? Because while we’ll eat lentils, we prefer split peas.

It also identified areas of low inventory. For example, we have only one #10 can each of raisins, popcorn, and couscous. I’m not connived we need more of these items, but having an inventory sheet will ensure we don’t crack one open when we run low here at home. For example, we have 16 cans of oatmeal. If my wife ran out of oatmeal, I would not be opposed to her opening up one of our older #10 cans. I’d hate to do that with our only tin of popcorn.

Our inventory will also be useful if we give food to our neighbors after the SHTF. For example, if we have 20 cans of elbow macaroni and only four of spaghetti, we’re giving them the macaroni. (And maybe a can of lentils.)

Last Minute Stocking Up

Taking inventory also helps you know what to look for before things get scarce. For example, I know to buy tuna the next time we go to Sam’s Club or to pick up some sardines at Walmart or the dollar store.

Let’s imagine it’s getting pretty grim out there. You get to your store and not only are the shelves picked over, you learn they only accept cash. The ATM is down and you’ve only got $37 in your pocket. This would be a good time to know if you needed AAA or AA batteries, if you are better off buying rice or pasta, and if you need canned chili or Chef Boyardee pasta.

Inventory Management After the SHTF

Having an accurate inventory is also going to be important after the SHTF. In fact, if you don’t have an inventory before, you need to generate a list afterwards. Doing so will help ensure you use your limited supplies in a balanced manner.

For example, let’s say that you have two cases of canned corn and two cases of green beans, but your kids like the corn better. When the stores are open, you can feed them corn because if you run low, you can get more. After the SHTF, you don’t want to eat just the corn because then you’re stuck with green beans. That’s going to upset the kids, and they may not eat them. Mix in both the family favorites and the leas favorites when making meals. You don’t want to be stuck six months of two years into a disaster with foods no one likes.

The same principle is going to apply to everything else. If you have 5,000 rounds of .22LR and 2,000 of .223, then you want to do as much of your training as possible with the .22LRs and save the .223 for more serious tasks. If you have 1,000 rounds of .38 SPL and only 200 of 9mm, then you should probably carry your revolver in the field and save the 9mm for those serious social occasions when you might need more than six rounds.

With seeds, if you only have one packet of winter squash, then you know not to plant them all and to do some seed saving at harvest time. If you have several packets of green beans, you can plant more of them.


Knowing your inventory will also help you when it comes to barter. In the example above, you might be willing to trade 50 rounds of .38 SPL for a deep cycle battery, but you won’t trade your 9mm. Likewise, if you know you have a couple five-gallon pails of pinto beans, you might consider trading a pound or two, but if you have only a few pounds of black beans, you’ll want to hang on to them.

(Note, see this article on bartering for why it may not be a great idea to barter ammo and nine other barter tips.)

If you have 25 pounds of 3-inch nails and only five pounds of 2-inch nails, you might be comfortable trading the former. Or maybe you’re looking for the latter. When it comes to bartering, you need to know not just what you have to trade, but what you are looking to acquire. A good inventory report will help you make that decision.


  1. We have stackable can dispenser rack for canned food that is effectively a first-in-first-out (FIFO) system. The dispenser racks can be stacked for more of the same cans. I have plastic and metal FIFO racks, but the metal rack is looser to hold bigger or smaller cans and the metal rack seems to hold up better. I keep overstock boxes of our favorite canned goods, and as we use cans from the racks I replace from the overstock boxes.

    My wife still insists that I use a sharpie and date the front and top of each can. I also have extra sharpies. I don’t want to run out of those.

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