Panic buying has left store shelves empty, with people stockpiling weeks and months of supplies to keep at home. But with money tight for many Americans who are now out of work or at risk of losing their jobs, it’s important to know which items are worth stocking up on and which items are a waste of money.
GOBankingRates spoke to health experts to find out what you should buy — and what you should skip — during the coronavirus pandemic.
What To Buy
It’s important to be mindful of how you are spending money right now. However, experts say that these 15 items are worth buying.
1. Foods Rich in Vitamin C
Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet, said to buy foods that can boost your immunity.
“You should focus on foods rich in vitamin C, like strawberries, red bell peppers and citrus fruits,” she said. “It is important to remember that these foods can be found in frozen form and this is a perfectly acceptable way to consume them under the circumstances.”
2. Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Richards also recommends stocking up on foods that contain antioxidants.
“Antioxidant-rich foods include blueberries, nuts, sweet potatoes, whole grains — like oatmeal — and beans,” she said. “Luckily these are very shelf-stable foods that can be consumed in a variety of ways during quarantine to keep your diet vibrant.”
3. Tea, Crackers and Soup
Lynell Ross, a certified health and wellness coach and founder of Zivadream, recommends stocking up on pantry items that are easy to digest and soothing to your stomach if you get sick.
“I keep things in my pantry in case one of us gets a bad cold or the flu and we are too sick to get groceries,” she said. “Helpful things to have on hand are tea, crackers, canned or boxed soups — especially chicken soup — frozen fruits and vegetables, bottles of fruit juice that don’t need refrigeration, and Gatorade and ginger ale to replace electrolytes lost from fever or vomiting and to help with nausea.”
4. Foods That You Can Buy in Bulk
“There are many bulk foods that you can buy, which will help you stretch your meals while you need to be on a budget or want to stretch out the time between grocery runs,” Ross said. “Dried lentils, beans, rice, boxed pasta and canned sauces will last longer and are less expensive than premade items.”
5. Necessary Kitchen Appliances
Many of us are now preparing and consuming all of our meals at home, so having functional kitchen appliances is essential.
“If your toaster or coffee maker breaks, get a new one,” Ross said. “There is no reason to hold off on buying things unless you are out of work or have suffered financial loss. Those that are fortunate enough to still have money coming in during the pandemic can help keep the economy going by purchasing things as usual.”
“If you take prescription medication or are low on other medications, now is a good time to stock up and ensure you have everything you need,” said Stephanie Lane, a health and wellness expert, lifestyle coach and owner of SafeSpaceHub. “This also allows you to stay on top of any potential health conditions so we don’t need to overwhelm the health system with minor health concerns during the pandemic.”
7. Household Cleaning Products and Toiletries
“The most important thing is your immunity to fight this pandemic,” said Alessandra Kessler, a certified holistic health coach and contributor to Healthy Body Healthy Mind. “You should stay germ-free to be in the safe zone, so, you must keep the most filthy spots of your home clean. Your kitchen should be free of germs, so sanitize it regularly. Most importantly, you should remain germ-free by sanitizing your hands and keeping your body clean.”
This means having disinfectant wipes or spray on hand to keep your house clean, as well as hand and body soap to keep yourself clean.
8. Nondairy Milk
Oat milk, almond milk and Lactaid have a longer shelf life than dairy milk, which means fewer trips to the store.
9. Water Purifier
Relying on bottled water also means more frequent trips to the store and/or using up space that could be used to store other nonperishable goods. Instead, buy a water filter pitcher that you can continue to refill throughout the pandemic.
10. Water Boiler
Since you can no longer spend leisure time at your local coffee shop, make your home equipped to whip up your favorite drinks in your own kitchen. A water boiler heats water faster than the stove and is great to have on hand to brew tea or instant coffee.
11. First Aid Kit
In addition to medications, have a basic first aid kit on hand that includes a thermometer. This way you can tend to minor injuries and ailments at home instead of having to make a trip to the doctor.
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12. Baby Supplies
Stock up on diapers, formula and other baby supplies so that you won’t need to go to the store as frequently.
13. Pet Supplies
Stock up on supplies for your fur babies too. This means food and any medications they need, and possibly wee-wee pads if you’ll be limiting your walks.
14. Work From Home Supplies
Many people are now working from home and are having to create makeshift home offices. Invest in a few items to make your work-from-home station as comfortable and efficient as possible, such as a mouse and desk chair.
15. Family Entertainment
Since you and your family will be spending a lot of time at home, it’s worth it to invest in a few things that can keep everyone entertained, such as board games, coloring books and puzzles.
What To Skip
These items are not worth a trip to the store or an online purchase right now. Experts say that you should skip out on buying these 15 items during the coronavirus crisis.
1. Medical-Grade Facemasks
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that everyone wear cloth facemasks when in public, medical-grade facemasks should be reserved for healthcare workers.
2. Dehydrated Food
Dehydrated foods are expensive and full of salt. Opt for other foods and meals with a long shelf-life instead.
3. A Year's Supply of Toilet Paper
When it comes to toilet paper, don’t buy more than you actually need. There isn’t a shortage of supply, so there’s no need to stockpile it.
4. Alcohol Solutions That Contain Less Than 70% Alcohol
If you are using an alcohol solution to disinfect surfaces in your home, make sure that it is at least 70% alcohol, according to CDC guidelines.
5. Hand Sanitizer That Doesn't Contain Alcohol
In addition to making sure your cleaning supplies contain enough alcohol to effectively kill the coronavirus, you should also ensure that it’s contained in any hand sanitizer you buy. Some hand sanitizers — including some made by Purell and Germ-X — rely on benzalkonium chloride instead of alcohol as the active ingredient, Mother Jones reported. This means they won’t work for the coronavirus.
6. Food You Won't Actually Eat
Just because something is in stock at your grocery store doesn’t mean you should buy it.
“Buy things that you would really eat, not stuff that just because it was there you think, ‘Oh, gosh, maybe this would be good,'” Regina Phelps, a pandemic planner and crisis management expert, told CNBC Make It. “You just need to have the basics.”
7. Air Filters
Air filters can be pricey, and they have not been proven to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“Most air filters do not have that kind of micron specificity to really kill viruses and it’s not going to really help,” Phelps told CNBC.
Zinc is needed for the proper growth and maintenance of the human body, and it is needed for immune function, according to WebMD. Because it’s essential for immune function, you might be inclined to buy zinc supplements. However, Dr. Amy Edwards, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals, told NBC Miami that these supplements won’t help you ward off the coronavirus.
“Most Americans who eat fruits and vegetables are zinc sufficient,” she said, noting that your body will flush out any excess zinc.
Timothy Brewer, an epidemiology professor at the University of California Los Angeles, told Vox that buying gloves isn’t necessary.
“That’s not going to help you in any way,” he said, noting that “there’s no evidence” suggesting that gloves are beneficial because they can still get contaminated and won’t stop you from touching your face and mouth.
10. Natural Disaster Emergency Supplies
There isn’t any imminent risk to plumbing and electricity, so there’s no need to stock up on emergency supplies like sleeping bags, bottled water, batteries and flashlights, Dr. Rodney Rohde, the chair of Texas State University’s Clinical Laboratory Science program, told Forbes.
11. Perishable Foods That Will Go Bad Before You Can Eat Them
Check expiration dates before stocking up on any perishable foods. If you won’t be able to finish eating it all before it goes bad, you will literally be throwing money away.
12. Unhealthy Snacks
Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health, emerita at NYU Steinhardt, told Chowhound that when grocery shopping, skip buying packaged foods with high salt and sugar content.
“I think the issue of snacks is huge,” she said. “What do you do when you’re bored? You eat.”
Plus, without being able to leave the house, many people are less active, which makes it harder to burn the calories they consume.
13. Foods With 'WIC' on the Label
Participants in the WIC government nutritional assistance program can only buy certain food items with their benefits, usually labeled with “WIC” at the grocery store.
According to a tweet from Suit Up Maine, a political action group: “If an item has a WIC symbol beside the price, get something else. People who use WIC to feed their kids can’t switch to another brand or kind of food. If a store runs out of WIC-approved options, they will go home empty-handed.”
14. Coronavirus 'Cures'
There is currently no known cure for the coronavirus, so don’t buy anything that’s being marketed as such. This includes chlorine dioxide — aka MMS — and colloidal silver.
15. Anything You Don't Need
Boredom can lead to online shopping, which can lead to you spending money on things you don’t really need.
“Retailers are trying to minimize their losses by having frequent online sales, so ask yourself if you really need the item in your cart before checking out,” said Leslie Tayne, founder and head attorney at the debt solutions law firm Tayne Law Group. “If you find yourself browsing sales and purchasing items because they’re a ‘good deal,’ consider unsubscribing from the retailer’s list and minimize your time browsing due to boredom.”
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About the Author
Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert.