Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Inventory control

We deal with quite a few different charity groups. It is enjoyable work and the friends and the generous people we have met, make it all worthwhile. Depending on the group, we have recurring activities which may happen every month or two (like a potluck) all the way to large scale events that happen yearly. Each event or project usually involves some type of consumable, publication, give-away, tool, sign, or paper. All of these things obviously require counting, storage, expiration control and inventory access.

Having inventory always makes me happy though most businesses and accountants hate the stuff. I know somebody has to count it all, maintain insurance and reasonable care to ensure its safety and it is a hassle to move around. Many times that task falls upon me because I want to do it. I feel a little more ahead of the game when we can save and re-use stock rather than always buying new – as long as we can find the stuff. To help with that chore we keep lists of each organization’s assets and box their stuff all together. In between the rafters in the garage attic, I have labeled each open space with a location number. Whenever we box up goodies, they get assigned a space and hopefully even when I soon forget what and where I have, the inventory control list will not fail me.

We don’t have a large enough family to consume food at a rate to completely rotate stocks. So while I do not maintain months of food stores, I do try to always have more than one of just about anything I might need. It will frustrate me greatly if I am missing condensed milk or something like that. The next time I go to the store I will buy two of the missing item even if I do not use it very often. The real danger in business as well at home is when you start hoarding TOO much stuff ‘just in case’. The more goods you store, the more stuff you lose physically or due to expiration, so it is a balancing act on what is an appropriate amount of anything you stock.

Except for food we try to keep inventory based on its expected useful life. Even if one of our non-profits has a box of tape in reserve but they have not used it in 5 years, it may be subject to disposal. New tape should be budgeted for on the next project even if we HAVE inventory. The reason for this is when stock is not used, such as adhesives, paper, plastics etc. – they will all degrade in performance over time. As for food, you should always use First in First out (FIFO) for safety and best flavor quality.

You can even apply these methods to used stock, or garage items. Date or color code when you purchase any consumable thing. Fertilizer and seeds might be noted as having a 6 month shelf life. Gasoline and glue may be a year. Other chemicals, tape, and paint may be good for 3 years or so. A couple of times a year check your inventory for ‘useful’ life. If an item is due for disposal and you haven’t used it, you can either, throw it away, give it away, or sell it at a yard sale. Obviously you can always re-tag it if you feel it has additional useful life. But from my experience, if you are not using fresh stock regularly it will go bad when you DO need it. Often it is far better to just NOT stock short shelf life products at all and buy them new for the next project. See that’s not so hard. Now go count your FRIENDS instead of all that stuff piling up in your garage; but never ask them their expiration date – that’s RUDE!

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