What Is Buying In Bulk?

By Janet Siroto · September 07, 2023 · 10 minute read

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What Is Buying In Bulk?

Buying in bulk means purchasing large quantities of a single product at a lower cost than you’d usually pay for the item. For example, you might buy a six-pack of shampoo for less than the per-unit price you typically spend on a single bottle. Or you might save big by buying a 10-pound bag of grapes instead of the usual one- or two-pounder.

But, like many things in life, buying in bulk has its pros and cons. For instance, you probably have to shell out more upfront to purchase larger quantities, and you might have trouble storing the items or using them up before their expiration date.

Here, you’ll learn more about this topic, including:

•   What is buying in bulk?

•   How much can you save by buying in bulk?

•   What are the pros and cons of buying in bulk?

•   What are tips for bulk shopping?

How Much Is “Bulk”?

How much is bulk doesn’t have an exact answer. There is no specific quantity you need to purchase to have something qualify as bulk buying. Rather, the term means you are buying large quantities of a single item to reap a discount.

That might mean you are buying one jumbo box of cereal (the kind that could feed a cabin full of summer campers) or a 12-pack of regular-size boxes bundled together. You might be buying 36 eggs at a time vs. the usual dozen.

The point is, it’s a larger quantity than what you might find at your local supermarket and at a lower price. And when you buy in bulk and save, you may be helping your overall financial health, too.

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The Pros of Buying in Bulk

A firm financial foundation starts with saving. While the big deal is the potential for saving money on the cost per item, there are other reasons to shop in bulk.

You’re Saving Money

Who isn’t looking for ways to save money daily? If you are wondering, “Does buying in bulk save money?” the answer is usually yes. By buying in bulk, you can likely enjoy a double-digit discount vs. supermarket prices.

You’re Helping the Environment

It can be more socially responsible and environmentally friendly because bulk purchases usually have significantly less packaging per use than smaller purchases have. (Envision a mammoth pickle jar or tub of frosting.)

Ideally, buying in bulk also means you shop less, and that’s less time spent on the road and burning gas.

You May Avoid Impulse Buys

You may rack up additional savings just by being in the store less frequently and having fewer opportunities to pick up things that weren’t on your list. If you’re motivated to save money, avoiding those impulse purchases can be a big plus.

You May Plan and Budget Better

If you’re the organized type who is big on preparing meals in advance, cooking lots of food and freezing it, buying in bulk can make that endeavor easier. That, in turn, can help you take better control of your food budget.

For sure, it’s cost efficient to prepare your family’s favorite pasta dishes and soups and have enough for today and whenever you’re ready for round two or three.

Finding the Price Per Unit

If saving money is important to you, there’s a good chance you want to know exactly how much you are benefiting by buying in bulk. To figure out the real cost you are paying, this is one time you need to do the math. To capitalize on a bulk buy, determine the cost per unit. Sometimes, this number will be listed on the price signage at the store; otherwise, you can use the calculator function on your mobile phone.

•   What is a unit? Think measurements like ounces, square feet, grams, and gallons. For example, a bottle of olive oil is not a unit. A fluid ounce of olive oil is. A roll of paper towels is not a unit. A square foot of paper towels is.

•   Figure out how many units you are buying. Take the total cost of your purchase and divide that by the number of units to get the price per unit.

•   Then compare the unit prices of a few packages of the same product to determine which is the better value.

Ideally, the cost per unit of a bulk buy should be 20% to 35% below what you would normally pay at the supermarket.

Although a supersized item usually has a lower cost per unit than its smaller brethren, crunch the numbers to see.

How Much Can You Save By Buying in Bulk?

No doubt, it can be hard to save money today, and you may wonder whether buying in bulk is worth it. The answer is: It depends. While the amount shoppers save depends on the item, they can anticipate saving around 25% on purchases, according to one recent study across 20 categories of products. Another study found savings of up to 35% at the wholesale clubs vs. supermarkets.

You can also up your savings from buying in bulk by using coupons for those items.

Remember, what’s important isn’t an item’s price but the price per unit.

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3 Tips for Buying in Bulk

When you want to stop spending so much and begin buying in bulk, you need a game plan. It’s a good idea to reach for the familiar and sweeten the deal by looking for familiar items that are also on sale. That will snag you the best prices and help keep your bank account well padded.

1. Stick With What You Know

This is not the time to experiment. If you’re loading your cart with goods, you don’t want to be guessing about whether you’ll love them or not. Go for the family’s beloved items.

Buying in bulk and getting a deal is worthless if nobody wants to eat or use what you buy. That’s money down the drain.

2. Search for Your Favorites on Sale

Don’t want to buy what’s on sale solely because it’s on sale. When trying to cut your grocery bill, the goal is to get what you know and love on sale, not to be overly adventurous. The latter can leave you disappointed, with a few fewer dollars in your pocket to boot.

3. Keep Expiration Dates in Mind

Do check expiration dates when buying in bulk. Items can expire before you get to use them, which is akin to throwing away your hard-earned money. Everything from sunscreen to olive oil can deteriorate when left to sit for long periods because you bought a mega-pack, so shop carefully.

What to Buy in Bulk and What to Avoid

Some products are perfect for stockpiling. While your list will depend on your family, think of items like:

•   Paper towels

•   Toilet paper

•   Tissues

•   Detergent

•   Dishwashing liquid

•   Sponges

•   Aluminum foil and plastic wrap

•   Toothpaste

•   Canned beans and fish

•   Frozen foods

•   Rice

•   Sugar

•   Flour

On the flip side, generally, you don’t want to load up on fresh produce unless you are cooking for a crowd, as your family may not be able to eat it all before it wilts or gets moldy.

The Cons of Buying in Bulk

Buying in bulk can work to your advantage, but it’s not without caveats.

Larger Quantities Can Mean Spending More

Paying $40 for $60 worth of lotion may be a good deal, but what if $40 puts a bigger squeeze on your budget than buying individual bottles one at a time, weeks apart? If you use a credit card in order to buy bulk and save, can you pay off the entire bill when it’s due. If you incur interest charges, that will eat into your “savings.”

You’ll Need Storage Space

Keep in mind, too, that you need space to store all that stuff and a car to pile it in to take home. If either of these are issues, buying in bulk may not be ideal for you.

You May Get Bored With Bulk Products

Know thyself…and your family. Maybe you are the person who gets bored quickly, or your kids will beg for some variety after you’ve bought 24 boxes of the same cereal. When you’ve got mega amounts of the same product, be prepared for the “same old, same old” for a long stretch. That’s all the more reason to purchase only what you love, as you may be using it for months.

You May Have to Pay Membership Fees

If you’re going deep into bulk buying, you likely won’t settle only for what you can get in bulk at the grocery store but will want to shop at the warehouse stores like Costco and BJ’s. Consider the annual membership fees that are required.

Costco’s “Gold Star” membership is $60, and the “Executive” level is $120. BJ’s tiers are $55 and $110. Sam’s Club advertises membership fees of $50 and $110.

Will you frequent the store enough to make the fee worthwhile?

Bulk Quantities Can Lead to Overuse

If you have something in abundance, it’s all too easy to be less conscious of how much you’re using. Knowing you have 12 rolls of paper towel stashed away could lead you to use it up more quickly because you know you have backup waiting.

Bigger Quantities Means Spending More Cash

There’s also the issue that if you’re earning a lower income and/or have considerable debt, you may not be able to come up with enough money to purchase bulk products versus their smaller and less expensive single-use versions. One big purchase could blow your weekly budget. If you spend a chunk of money to buy a mega-pack of toilet paper, can you then afford other necessities?

Products May Expire

Buying in bulk can be a fun way to save money, but don’t get so giddy grabbing great buys that you forget important things like expiration dates. Products like bleach and sunscreen may expire in 12 months or less. And certainly food products can expire as well. Getting a gallon of milk for the same price as a half gallon doesn’t do you much good if it sits in your fridge for so long that it goes bad.

Buying in Bulk at Local Grocery Stores vs Wholesale Retailers

You may wonder if you should buy in bulk at your local grocery store vs. at a wholesale retailer (meaning places like Costco or Sam’s Club). It’s true that you may find good deals at your local supermarket (such as buy two cans of tuna and get two for half-price), and coupons can boost your savings.

However, it’s likely that it will be the occasional or somewhat regularly available items that are worth buying in bulk locally. At a wholesale retailer or wholesale club, the business model is to have bulk quantities always available at good prices. That’s the company’s mission and what gives them bargaining power. In other words, their reason for being is to help customers buy bulk and save.

While you may find great deals at your neighborhood grocery store that encourage you to stock up, you are likely to find smart deals in every aisle of a bulk retailer.

The Takeaway

Buying in bulk has its advantages. Getting a good deal can keep you motivated to save money, but you’ll need to be savvy. Buy only what you need and what you can comfortably store and use in a timely fashion.

As with your local supermarket, temptation likely lurks at bulk retailers. It’s best to know how to compare cost per unit and to prepare and follow a shopping list.

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How much do you save if you buy in bulk?

While individual savings will vary, one recent study found that you can save up to 25% by buying in bulk.

Why is it cheaper to buy in bulk?

When you buy in bulk, you are purchasing items that involve less manufacturing and packaging time and materials (aka economies of scale). They may also offer savings on marketing and distribution costs. These price breaks are passed along to you when you buy in bulk.

What are 2 downsides of buying in bulk?

Here are two downsides of buying in bulk: It can involve paying more upfront (say, purchasing 12 boxes of cereal vs. one at a time), and the products can expire or otherwise go bad before you can use them up.

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