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The Ups And Downs of Buying Groceries in Bulk

Posted on Friday, January 7, 2022
by AMAC, D.J. Wilson

Ever go to the store and feel intimidated by portion sizes? It can easily happen when you’re greeted up and down the aisles by big bags of potatoes and carrots, giant gallons of milk, bulk packages of meat, or huge rotisserie chickens. One might assume this is simply too much food to consider. But don’t be intimidated. Often, things sold in bulk can save you money over time if the per-unit price is low. For small families, the key to buying in bulk is to do it sparingly and in a practical manner, to only buy products they need and will use and stick to those that are within budget.

Buying in bulk has many benefits. Purchasing in larger quantities is often beneficial for large families as they tend to use what they buy and get deals which means saving money over time. You also tend to run out of products less often. It can also be beneficial for those prone to impulse buys as it equates to fewer trips to the store. But it can be a pitfall for those who have small families or live alone. Drawbacks of buying a lot of products in bulk include overspending on the budget, lacking storage space at home for the products, and increased food waste. However, it can make sense when buying in bulk is done judiciously. Here are three rules of thumb:

1) Only buy in bulk products you plan to use. Never buy simply because of the price. For example, if you only need one can of chickpeas, and buying twelve cans can save you a little money, don’t do it if you only use them occasionally. It makes zero sense to pay ahead for a product you likely won’t use up fast. However, if you drink several cups of coffee daily, it may make sense to buy coffee in bulk, given that it is an item you use frequently.

2) Consider expiration dates. If something has an expiration date, such as mayonnaise, and you only plan to use a little, do not buy in bulk as it will likely go bad before you can use it all. Also, it is generally advisable to avoid buying perishables in bulk, such as raspberries or tomatoes that can turn bad quickly. Should you decide to buy ground beef for meatballs in bulk, it may be sensible to get the savings if you plan to use some and freeze some for later.

3) Only buy select items in bulk and keep the budget in mind. Do not buy in bulk if it hurts your budget. Also, remember your objective is to save money. Thus, it’s important to learn how to calculate cost per unit. This will allow you to compare different brands. Though it’s not technically hard to do, calculations may seem confusing because units vary from item to item. For example, toilet paper goes by square foot, whereas ketchup may be measured in ounces. You may often see unit prices on store shelves, but it may vary depending upon state requirements, and sometimes they may be unreliable. To figure out the cost per unit, you need to know how many units you want to buy and then take the cost of your purchase and divide that by the number of units. Simple example: $3.00 for a 24-oz. jar of bolognaise sauce, it would be 12.5 cents per ounce. By comparison, a 32-ounce jar for $3.50  would be about just about 11 cents per ounce. Thus, the bigger jar, if you’ll use it and can afford the difference, is the better buy. Other sales and coupons can also invalidate reasons to buy in bulk. Thus, they must be considered, too.

Generally, the best thing for a smaller family to do is to avoid going crazy buying things in bulk and instead do it sparingly and thoughtfully to not waste hard-earned money. Another idea is to shop with a trusted friend or family member to split some bulk items. Whenever doing transactions with family and friends, be sure that everyone involved is fair to avoid potential issues, such as getting stuck with their portion of the tab.

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2 years ago

I’m a household of one, now, but going through a gallon of milk before it spoils is not a problem. I sometimes freeze half of it. It stays good short term, but after a long time in the freezer, it gets “lumpy”.

Since moving to a rural location, it’s not cost effective to drive 60 miles to Costco. I miss a few things, but, still, it’s not worth the trip. There’s a lot more room here for fruit trees, berries, an asparagus bed, and a bigger vegetable garden. A minimally heated greenhouse, too, is in the plans for year-round greens, among other things.

I’m a life-long gardener. If you want to save lots of money, grow what you will eat–tomatoes and peppers, pole beans, a cucumber on a trellis, a bed of carrots. Grow parsley and freeze leaves for winter use. One sage plant, a bay laurel, a couple of basils, marjoram ‘Compactum’, Italian oregano, French thyme…cilantro if you like it. In a week or two, I’ll be planting peas. Then the cool season greens (arugula, Swiss chard, dinosaur kale, pac choi, tatsoi, mustard greens, mini broccoli, gai lan…) before the summer crops.

With rising prices for produce at the grocery store, growing your own is a no-brainer. Find a really good salesperson at the garden center or ask vendors at the farmers’ market for advice. You don’t even need a garden; for a few years, I grew everything in pots.

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