8 Minute Read
Does buying in bulk really save you money? There’s only one way to find out: Swing by your neighborhood warehouse store, eat the samples, and load up that shopping cart! Okay, we’re kidding. But we are serious about eating some samples.
Buying in bulk can seem pretty intimidating—especially when you’re trying to stick to your budget. You need a game plan before you even walk through the door of the store. And we’ve got one ready for you! Here’s what you need to know:
How to buy in bulk
While it might be tempting to grab that 80-ounce jar of mustard, ask yourself, Am I really going to eat that? You don’t want to buy in bulk just to end up with the “bulk” of it in the trash. Stick to buying things you know you or your family will eat.
Comparing prices is always the name of the shopping game—but that’s even more true when it comes to buying in bulk. Cost per unit is extremely important here. But what the heck does that even mean? Don’t worry, there’s only a tiny bit of math involved. All you need to do is figure out how much you’re paying per item. Calculate it like this:
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Total item price ÷ unit weight or number = price per unit
(Example: $1.79 ÷ 12 eggs = $0.15 per egg)
It’s pretty quick and painless to figure out on your phone (even when you’re standing under all that florescent lighting).
Where can I buy in bulk?
There are two heavy hitters in the wholesale world: Costco and Sam’s Club. Both stores are pretty similar when it comes down to what you’re there for. If you want to buy a 10-pound bag of cubed cheese, this is where you’ll find it! But you can also buy in bulk at other stores like BJ’s Wholesale Club and even online outlets like Boxed and Amazon.
What should I buy in bulk?
In general, there are some items you can count on to be a better bargain at a wholesale store. Things like dental care items (electric toothbrush heads and dental floss), paper products (toilet paper and paper towels), batteries, gum and cereal are usually cheaper when purchased in bulk.
Resist the temptation to stock up on things to avoid making a return trip, or the (not real) pressure to do all of your grocery shopping at the warehouse store so you “get your money’s worth” out of your membership. Watch out for overspending!
What should I not buy in bulk?
This goes without saying, but you don’t need to buy everything in bulk. Some things just won’t make sense for your household or your budget.
And yes, we’re going to keep saying this: don’t buy anything in bulk you won’t actually use! Especially if it’s perishable. Buying perishable items—like produce—in bulk is always a huge gamble. The odds are ever in your favor that it’s going to spoil before you can eat all of it. Yes, 20 avocados for $3.99 is a steal. But if they all go bad before you can eat them, what’s the point?
And as appealing as it is to buy things like condiments and spices in bulk, they may outlive their shelf life and potency. Nobody likes lackluster garlic powder, after all.
What about buying meat in bulk?
If you’re serious about buying meat in bulk, and we’re talking “live off it for the rest of the year” serious, there are a couple of options you can look into.
You can buy meat at many warehouse stores, through online farm-to-table suppliers like Zaycon Fresh, or straight from a local farmer in your area (use a website like EatWild to find a farm near you).
Let’s just cut to the chase: If your grocery budget is tight, dropping $75 on a big pack of meat in one month won’t be the right thing for you. But if you can eat off that 40 pounds of chicken for the next 6 months (and you already have a deep freezer, vacuum sealer, and a massive amount of zip-close bags on hand), then $75 might be a worthwhile investment.
Cost comparison of buying in bulk
We went out and compared 15 items you might find on your family’s Kroger grocery list against their bigger cousins at Costco (tax not included).
Here’s our buying in bulk vs. grocery store breakdown:
|Grocery Store Item||Grocery Store (price per unit)||Bulk (price per unit)|
|Quaker Old Fashioned Oats||$4.49 ÷ 2.6 lbs. = $1.73||$7.99 ÷ 10 lbs. = $0.80|
|Sabra Classic Hummus||$3.99 ÷ 10 oz. = $0.40||$5.99 ÷ 32 oz. = $0.19|
|Trash bags (store brand)||$4.99 ÷ 80 ct. = $0.06||$15.79 ÷ 200 ct. = $0.08|
|Folgers Classic Roast Coffee||$7.99 ÷ 30.5 oz. = $0.26||$10.49 ÷ 51 oz. = $0.21|
|Honey Bunches of Oats Cereal||$3.59 ÷ 18 oz. = $0.20||$5.99 ÷ 48 oz. = $0.12|
|Cliff Bars||$1.25 (per bar)||$19.99 ÷ 24 bars = $0.83|
|Whole Milk (store brand)||$2.79 (one gallon)||$2.51 (one gallon)|
|Chobani Yogurt||$1.00 (each)||$17.39 ÷ 20 ct. = $0.87|
|Eggs (store band)||$1.79 ÷ 12 eggs = $0.15||$3.49 ÷ 24 eggs = $0.15|
|Cheez-It Crackers||$5.99 ÷ 21 oz. = $0.29||$7.99 ÷ 48 oz. = $0.17|
|Prego Pasta Sauce||$5.49 ÷ 67 oz. = $0.08||$6.99 ÷ 134 oz. = $0.05|
|Late July Tortilla Chips||$2.99 ÷ 6 oz. = $0.50||$6.79 ÷ 28 oz. = $0.24|
|Del Monte Peaches||$2.49 ÷ 29 oz. = $0.09||$6.29 ÷ 106 oz. = $0.06|
|Kraft Macaroni & Cheese||$1.00 (per box)||$13.99 ÷ 18 boxes = $0.78|
|Charmin Toilet Paper||$18.99 ÷ 18 ct. = $1.05||$21.49 ÷ 30 ct. = $0.72|
Does buying in bulk really save you money?
The short answer is yes. But it all depends on what you’re buying.
Looking at our list, you can see some immediate winners right away. If you’re an oatmeal fiend, it makes more sense to buy 10 pounds of it for $7.99. To get 10 pounds at the grocery store, you’d have to buy four boxes of oats. That would set you back $17.96! And to equal the amount of hummus you get in bulk, you’d have to buy three 10-ounce tubs of it. That’s $11.97 instead of $5.99—basically a $6 difference!
If you just want three Cliff Bars, grab a couple at the grocery store for $1.25 a pop. That’s a lot more budget-friendly than dropping $20 on a box of 24 bars. But if you toss those bars into your kid’s lunch box every day (and you already plan on buying 24 of them anyway), going the bulk-buy route would save you right around $10. Just don’t get sucked into buying more than you actually need.
But sometimes you won’t see that much of a difference. Buying eggs in bulk will save you a whopping $0.09. That’s not much to write home about.
5 questions to ask yourself before you buy in bulk
- Will this go bad before I can eat all of it?
- Do I have enough freezer/pantry space to store it?
- What is the price per unit (or ounce)?
- Do I really need so much of this item?
- Have I budgeted for it?
And don’t forget that these warehouse stores require you to become a member to get all the perks of their club pricing. That’s an annual fee of $45(1) to $60(2) for basic membership, depending on the store. And if you have to drive an hour out of your way to get to the nearest store, what you’re saving might not be covering the gas it costs to get you there.
Always stick to your budget
Is buying in bulk always the most budget-friendly thing to do? Not necessarily. It really depends on your needs. Like everything else in your budget, consider whether or not it works for you and your specific situation. Don’t feel the pressure to buy in bulk if the upfront cost doesn’t make sense for your budget. But if it fits your lifestyle and budget, grab a few staple items in bulk and see how much you can save!
Whether you’re buying in bulk or not, make sure you plan out your grocery budget before you ever set foot in the store. It’s easy with our FREE budgeting app, EveryDollar. You can set up your first budget in as little as 10 minutes!