We’re all feeling the squeeze of the current economic outlook with inflation driving up consumer costs at a 7.1% increase in the past year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And food prices are no exception with a 12% increase over the past 12 months.
The Harris Poll, in partnership with Alpha Foods, recently found that 90% of Americans are worried about the rising cost of groceries.
As prices rise, how will you save money on necessities like food, household, beauty, self-care and pet products? One option is to buy what you truly need and use in bulk. About one-third of us are already buying in bulk for convenience and saving money.
Buying in bulk isn’t just for minivan-driving families with walk-in pantries. Done right, buying in bulk can help reduce spending, even if you’re a household of one.
We’ve got the tips you need to score high-volume essentials while avoiding the potential pitfalls of buying in bulk.
The Benefits of Buying in Bulk
Despite the higher cost at the register, buying bulk products can help you save money when what you purchase is less expensive per unit than at regular retail stores.
Let’s say a single apple costs 75 cents at the grocery store. A 3-pound bag containing six apples costs $3. Purchasing the apples in bulk means you’d be paying 50 cents for each rather than 75 cents.
In addition to a lower cost per unit, there are other benefits of buying in bulk. Since you’re stocking up on more in one shopping trip, you don’t have to go out to the store as frequently. That means less gas spent driving to the store and fewer opportunities to give in to impulse purchases. You’ll also have more of your free time back.
There’s an additional environmental benefit if your bulk purchases involve less packaging. Also, having more in stock at home means you’re not in dire straits when an emergency hits — whether that’s a bad storm that prevents you from going to the store or a sickness that leaves you unable to get out of bed.
Just be careful: It’s easy to justify big bulk purchases in the moment only to have giant jars of olives gather dust in the pantry. And when buying in bulk, make sure what you purchase won’t go to waste. Stick with products that have a good shelf life that you like and use on a regular basis.
What Should You Buy in Bulk
Smart bulk buys include shelf-stable food like pasta, rice, cereal and dried beans and nonperishable items like canned food, oils, flour and sugar. Household items like paper towels, toilet paper, batteries, school and office supplies and laundry detergent are also good bulk purchases.
Other savvy bulk purchases are self-care and beauty products like toothpaste, deodorant, soap and diapers. Don’t forget pet food and pet products!
Here are several items that can save you money when purchased in bulk.
Food and Beverages
- Canned vegetables and fruit
- Rice and grains
- Pasta sauce
- Beans (canned and dried)
- Frozen food (veggies, fruit, meat, prepared foods)
- Gum and mints
- Vanilla and other extracts
- Bottled water
- Toilet paper
- Paper towels
- Paper plates and bowls
- Plastic flatware
- Coffee filters
- Laundry detergent
- Cleaning supplies
- Air freshener
- Dish detergent
- Trash bags
- Plastic wrap
- Parchment paper
- Plastic storage bags
Beauty and Self-Care Products
- Shaving cream
- Cotton balls, rounds or swabs
- Over-the-counter allergy medicine
- Rubbing alcohol
- Antibacterial wipes
Supplies for Babies
- Baby food and snacks
- Baby formula
- Baby wipes
- Pet food
- Dog waste bags
- Kitty litter
How to Know When Buying in Bulk is a Good Deal
With a few easy steps, you can check prices to find out if buying a product in bulk will save you money.
First, find the total price of the item. Second, check the price per unit. Units could be ounces, pounds, liters, etc. Most of the time, you can find the cost per unit right on the price label. It’s typically off to the side and in a smaller font.
Next, divide the total price by the price per unit. Or, if you’re like us and calculating math problems while standing in a store isn’t your thing, let technology do the work for you with apps like Unit Price Comparison and CompareMe Price Comparison.
What Not to Buy in Bulk
Shy away from buying in bulk any item that will go bad before you have the chance to use it all, such as fresh produce, meat, eggs, milk, cheese, condiments and spices. However, if you’re going to freeze meat, can fresh veggies or make multiple casserole dishes for an upcoming dinner party, buying those items in bulk might work for you.
Look at the expiration dates on non-food items, too. For example, fabric softener and teeth whitening strips may lose their effectiveness after a year.
Think about how long it’ll take your household to use what you buy before investing in a large quantity of it.
Places to Shop for Bulk Buying
Warehouse stores — like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale — are likely the first places that come to mind when you think about buying in bulk. These types of stores typically require a membership to be able to shop.
Membership costs at those three warehouse chains range from $50 to $120 annually. If you shopped there only once a month, you’d be paying an extra $4.17 to $10 each trip, but hopefully your savings would surpass that amount.
While warehouse stores have more options for bulk buying, don’t overlook the opportunities available at your regular grocery store. Look at the cost per unit of that family-size package of cookies or that economy-sized bottle of laundry detergent. Pay attention to merchandise located on the bottom or top shelves. Bulk packages aren’t always found where you normally look.
If you prefer shopping online, Amazon and Boxed are good options for bulk buying. To save on these transactions, make sure your total is over the minimum threshold for free shipping.
How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Buying in Bulk
Though buying in bulk can be a good way to stretch your money, that’s not to say it doesn’t come with its share of disadvantages. Here are five tips to help you get the most out of bulk buying while avoiding potential drawbacks.
1. Careful With the Credit Card
Buying in bulk means you have to have more money upfront, which can be tough if your budget is tight. Don’t feel tempted to charge purchases on a credit card, because you’ll rack up interest if you’re not able to pay it off right away.
2. Pace Yourself and Plan Ahead
Start small by choosing one or two things your household uses often and buying those in bulk rather than converting your entire grocery list to bulk buys. Take advantage of coupons, sales and other special deals to reduce your costs.
3. Share the Cost
Splitting a bulk purchase with a friend or family member is another way to lower that upfront cost. This tactic is also helpful if you are concerned about consuming something before it goes bad or if you lack adequate storage space.
4. Consider Storage
It’s important to think about where you’ll store your haul. Before you go out and purchase an additional freezer or shelving system to store your extra goods, think about unconventional storage, like unused closet space or an area in your garage for the stuff that doesn’t need to stay a certain temperature.
5. Exercise Restraint
Don’t be tempted to use up what you have just because it’s there. For example, if you had only two paper towel rolls at home, you’d probably be more conservative with each sheet than if you had 12 in stock. Stick to how you’d normally use the item and don’t overindulge.
Contributor Veronica Leone Matthews is a North Carolina-based freelance writer with 11 years of experience writing for nonprofits and higher education. She covers lifestyle topics for The Penny Hoarder.
Former senior writer Nicole Dow contributed. Assigning Editor Karen Grigsby updated this post.