Buying in bulk — whether prepackaged foods from a discount warehouse, fresh foods from a co-op or bulk buying club, or bulk items at your local grocery store — can be a great way for frugal shoppers to save money. It’s important to put some forethought into buying in bulk though, otherwise it’s easy to get carried away and spend more than you save.
Here are a few things to consider when buying in bulk:
Obviously, some items store better than others. While frozen foods, canned goods, and staples like rice and pasta may be good choices for bulk buying, perishable items like milk, eggs, mayonnaise, and fresh vegetables are not smart choices. Before making a purchase, consider the shelf life of the item, and give some serious thought to how long it will take you to use it up. It does you no good to save a lot of money on an item if you’re only going to throw it in the trash in a few weeks.
Make sure you have enough room to store the massive quantities of food and other household goods you buy in bulk before you get them home. If you don’t have a large pantry, give some thought beforehand to where you might keep your bulk purchases. Can you create a larger pantry? Can you install some new shelving in your kitchen, laundry room, basement, or another area of your home? Do you have enough space in your freezer for large quantities of frozen meats, vegetables, berries, and other items? Do you have room to keep a small chest freezer? The amount of time and effort you’re willing to put into creating room for bulk purchases can dictate how much or little you can save in the long run. You don’t need a lot of room in your home, either, just some creativity and a little elbow grease.
Sure, the price may be right, but will your kids honestly eat that 10-pound box of Cheerios? Some items, like toilet paper, are no-brainers. You are guaranteed to use them up. And while you definitely want to steer clear of those short shelf life items mentioned above, other items fall into more of a gray area. There are plenty of staple food that will last for months, or even years, as long as you don’t get sick of eating them before you run out.
How much money are you really saving? Sometimes it can be tempting to buy a large quantity of something before you really know what your actual savings will be. That’s where unit price comes in. Most grocery store shelf tags include a unit price for items of different sizes. If your store doesn’t, bring along a calculator and do the math yourself. If the unit price between a smaller and larger item isn’t very different, you may feel it makes more sense just to opt for the smaller quantity.
Some discount warehouse stores and buying clubs cost money to join. Is it worth it to pay these membership fees? It can be if you regularly shop at these stores and are aggressive about finding bargains. If a membership to a discount club costs $50 a year, you will have incentive to save at least that much money — and hopefully much more — during the year. If you’re not sure, keep a log of how much money you save on each outing and tally it up at the end of the year. You may be surprised by the outcome.