To do or not to do: buying in bulk

Buying in bulk…we usually assume we’re going to save money, but do we REALLY save money with those bigger bottles, entire cases, giant sized cans, and overgrown boxes?

Not always.

It’s a huge surprise to most of us, but often, that larger package actually costs more per ounce than the smaller package.  This is very likely to occur in things such as laundry soap, cereal, sugar, flour, etc.

In addition, shopping gets more complicated when comparing actual units-of-use.  (A unit-of-use is the amount required to do a load of laundry, dishes, etc.)  With laundry detergents and dish soap, brand x’s formula a may require a capful that actually holds about 4 oz. while brand z’s formula b is a concentrate that requires a capful that only holds 1/2 ounce.  Is it fair to compare these two product’s prices per ounce?  No!  In this case, comparing the number of loads is more appropriate for price comparison.  Dish soap is trickier–without a set amount per use, it’s hard to compare strength or formula, except by trial and error.  This is probably why many of us have strong brand preferences!  I know that I prefer Palmolive dish soap, and I know my grandmother insisted on Dawn dish soap, etc.

Flour and sugar are another place that the bigger bag is a misconceived source of savings.  Shopping recently, I was going to purchase a ten pound bag of flour, but upon checking the price per ounce…it was quite obvious that the ten pound bag cost about 25% more!  Since the five pound bag is more convenient to store, why spend more?  Often, the most popular size is more likely to be the least expensive per ounce package of a product.  This rule of thumb is illustrated over and over as you carefully compare prices in the grocery store.  Even so, failing to compare sizes will often lead to shopping errors.

Another shopping error is buying packages that are too large.  If you have two people in your household, buying a gallon can of something can be a huge mistake.  Will  you use that entire quantity before it spoils?  Americans waste more money buying food that ends up in landfills than many people in other parts of the world even can spend on food!  Shop for sizes that are appropriate, and reduce your household waste as well as your grocery spending.  Re-package for storing larger quantities when it IS cheaper to buy in bulk.  Freezer bags and vacuum sealers are a huge help when freezing foods too.  They also work for storing dry goods in your pantry.

Another enemy to your grocery budget is a common thief on the Gulf Coast.  It’s known as the grain beetle, and that tiny brown beetle can wreak absolute havoc in your pantry, ruining hundreds of dollars of dry goods in a matter of days after their invasion.  They hitch hike into your house from the grocery store, pet food store, or on bird seed.  Freezing dry goods for 24 hours helps reduce their potential for invasion, and pet foods, bird seed, and similar products are huge offenders.  These beetles can penetrate normal packaging, drilling through plastic bags like they work for BP!  Storing these items in tightly sealed plastic or metal containers outside of the kitchen (garage works well) will help reduce their ability to invade.

Then, there is your spice cabinet.  Most spices and herbs have about a twelve month shelf life…if you purchased them while fresh.  Grocery stores notoriously have their spices and herbs on the shelf and in warehouses far too long before they are in your hands, as well as having the highest prices.  Herbs and spices are essential for the good cooks of the world, as they transform inexpensive meals into gourmet meals.  So where to buy these items if not at the grocery store?  Some health food stores carry these in bulk, and they can often be a good source, as many herbs and spices are ingredients in herbal teas too.  This ensures that they are fresh because of the higher turnover.  If not, I would suggest mail order spices.  My favorite companies are Pendery’s and San Francisco Herb Company.  Buying in bulk may leave you with substantial quantities of herbs and spices left as you approach that 12 month marker.  Often, even if half the quantity I bought was not used for food, I still spent far less than I would have at the grocery store, and can use the leftovers for crafts, potpourris, and simmering aromatherapy guilt free with virtually no extra cost.

For buying in bulk on other items, ask at your grocery store if they offer a discount on case lots.  Often, they may not advertise such a discount, but may still offer it.  For items that are heavily used in your home, such as a particular brand of tomatoes, fruit, etc., this can help cut your costs.  Other options are careful shopping at warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam’s Club.  I have found that often, I could purchase the same item at the local grocery store at the same or lower cost, depending on brand preference, size, and local sales.  For other items, it is consistently less expensive to purchase the quantity at one of these clubs.  Typical items I save on?  Flour, coffee, creamer, mixes, herbs & spices, dried fruit, chocolate chips, cheese, olive oil, eggs, frozen food, and some fresh vegetables.  Items I avoid include granulated sugar, soft drinks, and canned vegetables, as these items have consistently been higher priced and in larger quantities than I normally would purchase.

Bulk purchases require careful comparison of prices, and knowing what you do…and don’t use.  Purchasing a huge bag of flour may cost far less per pound than a small bag, but if you rarely bake, are you really saving any money?  Just like buying a case of vienna sausages might be very inexpensive, but for my family, it would be a waste of money, as no one likes vienna sausages!

As we navigate difficult economic times and hope for better times, we all look for ways to keep more of our money in our pockets and spend less at the grocery store.  Purchasing in bulk can be a money and time saving measure, but it can also cause more work and cost more money if done improperly.  Knowing your family’s use of products, brand preferences, dietary needs, and product costs can help you make informed and smart choices when shopping.  Impulse purchases are the most likely candidates for buyer’s regret, especially in the grocery category, so plan ahead and do your homework.  Don’t let commercial hype and attractive packages distract you from your goal of purchasing the best quality and quantity for your family!

About giascott

Writer, blogger, cook, grandmother, mother, wife, radio personality, outdoor enthusiast, dog enthusiast, crafter, artist, and part-time nut~~I've earned a lot of t-shirts in my day! I'm one of those crazy independent women who can cut down a tree, build you a shed, sew you a dress, cook your dinner, make some soap, pitch a tent, build a fire, catch some fish, dig in the garden, chase a kid or two, write you a poem, paint you a picture, and a dozen other things...just don't ask me to sing! I'm also embarking on a relatively new portion of my life, one of being disabled. I'm learning some lessons along the way about a lot of things too.
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