How to Buy in Bulk: Beginners Guide

By Kylie Ora Lobell · August 02, 2022 · 8 minute read

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How to Buy in Bulk: Beginners Guide

Lately, it’s been hard to avoid the news that inflation is rising and fast. It’s been equally hard to not feel the sting when paying for groceries or other basics. Those are ka-ching moments, but not in a good way.

One option for dealing with high prices, whether now or during a period of less intense inflation, is to buy food and household items in bulk. It can help reduce your monthly spending.

How much money you can potentially save will vary depending on the item, but some experts estimate that bulk buying can cut your bills by 20%, and sometimes significantly more.

Keep in mind, though, that buying in bulk doesn’t always save. Indeed, buying multiples or large quantities of some items can be a losing proposition if much of it ends up going unused or entices you to consume more than you normally would.

To help you avoid the potential downsides, here are some smart shopping strategies for buying in bulk, including:

•   The pros and cons of buying in bulk.

•   What to stock up on?

•   What you may want to skip?

•   What tips to try when buying in bulk?

•   Where to buy in bulk.

Why Buy in Bulk?

As mentioned above, inflation can be intense; it soared to 9.1% in June of 2022. Food prices are heading upwards, too. The average cost of groceries to feed a family of four in the United States runs between $682 to $1,361 a month.

Families, as well as individuals, may be able to reduce spending on food and other household goods and improve their financial health by buying in bulk, since the cost per unit (or ounce) is generally lower. Here are some of the key benefits of shopping this way:

•   Lower costs, as noted above. A benefit of buying in bulk is saving cash.

•   Convenience, since your home will be well-stocked. You’ll save time since you won’t have to run out and purchase items as often.

•   Lower gas costs. Fewer trips to the store, in turn, saves on gas.

•   Eco-friendliness. Driving to the store less often reduces your carbon footprint. What’s more, buying one, say, 10-pound bag of rice is likely to involve less packaging than 10 one-pound containers.

•   An easier time managing emergencies. Another reason why stockpiling can be a smart buying habit is that if there’s a bad storm or heatwave, you’ll be well-supplied and won’t have to brave the elements.

Drawbacks of Buying in Bulk

Despite all the great reasons above to opt for jumbo sizes of toilet paper and family packs of drumsticks, buying in bulk isn’t always a smart money rule to follow. There are few downsides to consider. These include:

•   Having to pay upfront, rather than spacing out the purchases. For instance, a grocery run with a mega-pack of burgers and loads of juice boxes will cost more than a small-scale supermarket visit.

•   When you have a large quantity of something on hand, you might be tempted to overuse it or overeat it.

•   Buying in bulk requires storage space (plus a large enough car to transport purchases).

•   Buying in bulk means less variety in the products you use.

•   Items bought in bulk can sit around past their expiration or “best by” dates. It can be hard to use up a large container of, say, fresh fruit before they go bad.

•   Bulk buying for many products requires a warehouse club membership or other additional cost.

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Things To Buy in Bulk

Bulk buying can be a great way to save on household items and foods that you use or consume daily or have a long shelf life. These include:

•   Household supplies (e.g., toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, tissues, trash bags)

•   Cleaning supplies

•   Laundry detergent

•   Pet food (though keep in mind that some pet food is perishable)

•   Pasta

•   Rice

•   Dry beans

•   Toiletries (e.g., shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, moisturizer, soap)

•   Canned goods

•   Peanut butter

•   Cereal

•   Flour

•   Vitamins

•   Diapers/wipes

•   Beverages that are safe to store at room temperature

•   Batteries

•   School and office supplies

•   Lightbulbs

Recommended: 15 Creative Ways to Save Money

What Not to Buy in Bulk

While there’s often lots of temptation when buying in bulk, hit the pause button in some cases, or you may be wasting your hard-earned money. In general, buying perishables in bulk may not make good economic sense. For instance:

•   Fruits and vegetables. While the jumbo packages of strawberries or avocados may be cheaper per unit than your grocery store, that’s only a good deal if you actually eat them all.

•   Buying meat in bulk may only make sense if you have a large freezer where you can store it (keeping in mind that some meats should not be frozen for more than six months).

•   Avoid stocking snack foods and treats in bulk if you think that you or other members of the household might overindulge.

Recommended: How to Protect Yourself from Inflation

Tips for Buying in Bulk

Buying in bulk can be an easy way to save money. To get the most out of it, you may want to keep some of these shopping strategies in mind.

Shop With a List

Write a shopping list before going to buy in bulk. Otherwise, you might be tempted to buy more than you need or can afford. For instance, products you sample in store or see at the end of the aisle, as you make your way to the registers, can cause you to blow your weekly budget.

Keep a Calculator Handy

When buying in bulk, it’s wise to keep in mind that it’s not the price of the item, but rather the price per unit (or ounce) that matters. If the unit price isn’t listed, using the calculator on your phone (or bringing a separate one) when bulk shopping can help ensure you are getting a good deal.

Recommended: The 50/30/20 Budget Rule, Demystified

Consider Quality

Typically, buying generic and store-brand versions of products is going to be cheaper than buying brand-name items. But before you go totally in that direction, remember that quality can count too. If a cheaper paper towel isn’t very absorbent, you may end up using more each time you use it, and erasing that savings. Buying a 12-pack of store-brand peanut butter, only to discover you don’t care for the taste at all is another example of why this is an important consideration.

Keep an Eye on Expiration Dates

Before purchasing something in bulk, it’s a good idea to check the expiration date and then calculate how long it will likely take you to consume the product.

If you won’t go through it before the expiration date arrives, any savings could be wiped out when you toss it in the garbage.

Protect Bulk Items From Pests

Because moths, roaches, and other pests may go after food, it’s a good idea to seal food products well when they are not being used.

Keeping flour, pasta, and other bulk food items in airtight containers can help with pest control.

Go in on Bulk Purchase With Friends

If you want to get the savings from buying in bulk but don’t have the storage or a large enough household for it to make sense, why not buddy up? You might want to ask some friends or neighbors if they want to split the product and the costs. Maybe you buy bulk meat, bread, snacks, and cereal, and a friend takes care of the produce and beverages. Then you each swap half to the other, and settle up costs as needed. That way, everyone can save money.

Where to Buy in Bulk

You can generally buy in bulk at any grocery store or mass market retailer, simply by buying larger than usual sizes. That said, there are certain stores that are specifically designed for it.

Popular bulk stores include Costco, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Sam’s Club, Smart & Final, and Big Lots.

Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club all require a membership fee, which can range from $45 to $60 per year.

Along with being able to buy food and household products in bulk, these stores may also have perks, like convenient on-premises tire centers and pharmacies, plus discounts on entertainment and travel expenses, which can help defray that annual membership charge.

In addition to these locations, there are also a growing number of environmentally-friendly bulk food stores that may ask you to bring your own containers or sell reusable ones. Stocked with items like grains, nuts, dried fruits, coffee, tea, soaps, and more, they may describe themselves as “zero-waste.” You can find a directory in your area on Litterless .

The Takeaway

Buying in bulk can be a great way to save cash if the product bought is something you use regularly, won’t go bad before you can use it all, is cheaper per unit at a bulk store, and is not lower in quality than what you typically buy. While not appropriate for every item on your shopping list, it can help you make a dent in the costs of some basics and stay on budget.

Now, what to do with all that money you’re going to save by buying in bulk?

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