Buying in bulk can help save money and time, but only if you do it the right way. Don’t assume that an item in bulk is less expensive than buying in smaller quantities. Even if it seems like a good deal, that doesn’t mean it’s a useful purchase. If you’re compromising quality for quantity, or if the item ends up unused, spoiled, and in the trash, then what’s the point?
Shopping smarter takes thought, but as long as you understand some basics of buying in bulk, you can make decisions that waste neither your valuable time nor your hard-earned money.
Check Unit Pricing on Bulk Items
Remember that just because you get a lot of it, doesn’t mean it’s the best value. Take a look at the per unit price and compare that to the price you’d pay when not buying bulk. Dividing the price of the item by the number of units in the package will give you the price per unit. Use the calculator app on your smartphone if numbers in your head make you dizzy.
Example: If a 32-count variety pack of Yoplait Go-Gurt is $9.29 at Costco, that means you’re paying about 29 cents per unit of yogurt. If Walmart is selling an 8-count variety pack for $5.49, that’s about 22 cents per unit. Seven cents per unit might not seem like a big deal, but it just goes to show that bigger packaging doesn’t necessarily mean bigger savings.
It’s always a good idea to stick with non-perishables when buying bulk, unless you’re certain your household can eat that 25 pound bag of grapefruits or strawberries before they start to go moldy. Buy what you will use so nothing is wasted.
For some people, storage space can be tricky when buying bulky items. Smaller freezers may not accommodate large bags of frozen veggies, and that super mega 36 roll pack of Cottonelle toilet paper won’t look very welcoming in your entryway if it can’t fit in the powder room cabinet. Some ideas on decluttering and organizing may help, otherwise, stick with smaller packages that fit your space.
If hitting up a crowded warehouse retailer just doesn’t appeal to you, that’s understandable. Thank goodness for online shopping where you can compare prices for the best deals all without having to change out of your pajamas. As an added service, some places like Costco deliver, just check with the one in your area.
Best Bulk Items for the Kitchen
Cleaning Supplies and Paper Products: This includes dish washing liquid, cleaning wipes, degreasing sprays, and sponges. Most cleaning supplies should be used within two years. If you don’t clean enough to go through a spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner in that span of time, perhaps you should allow your weekly cleaning service to use those supplies.
Paper towels and napkins don’t have an expiration date and generally are a great bulk buy, but those packages are large and can fill up the entire cart. Unless you have space to accommodate it, or you don’t mind that it sits on your kitchen floor as you whittle away at the contents, you might prefer to shop smaller for these products.
Food Storage Supplies: Plastic wraps, aluminum foil, plastic containers, and sandwich bags also have a long shelf life. Keeping these products on hand helps keep the kitchen running smoothly. Sometimes you can find deals on containers like individual food storage for leftovers, or long term food storage solutions for things like flour, sugar, oatmeal, or rice. Again, per unit pricing is key here, so keep that in mind as you’re shopping around.
Non-Perishable Essentials: Keep your pantry and your emergency larder well stocked with canned goods. They do have expiration dates, but generally those are far in the future. Keep your stock regularly rotated so you use up anything with an expiration date in the next year before breaking into one that has a few years to go.
Coffee: Beans, grounds, or powders are extremely important for those who can’t function without a morning cup of joe. Keeping a supply at the ready will save you from the terror of facing the day without that life-giving elixir, and keep you from spending too much on a throw away cup at your local coffee shop. Coffee can go stale, so purchase what you can use before that happens. If you grind your own beans, your coffee will stay fresh longer.
Best Bulk Items for the Bathroom
Cleaning Supplies and Toilet Paper: As with kitchen supplies, toilet bowl cleaners, scouring powder, glass cleaner, and bathtub sprays are recommended for use within two years. Running out of toilet paper is a nightmare no one should ever suffer, so stay well stocked, and be sure you have a place to store this bulk purchase.
Soap and Shampoo: Bathroom essentials like these get used almost daily, so it’s easy to run out. It makes sense to keep a steady supply on hand, but if you’re not brand sensitive and like to experiment with different products and scents, you might be better off purchasing these in non-bulk amounts.
Toothpaste and toothbrushes: If you’ve ever overslept and only had time to brush your teeth before running out the door, only to find that you’re out of toothpaste, hopefully you learned your lesson and have committed yourself to never running out again. Purchasing these in bulk means you’ll never have to face your coworkers with morning breath again.
Bulk Household Basics
Lightbulbs: These have a long shelf life. Buy them in bulk and leave them on a shelf so they're available each time one goes out every few months. Delicate storage is required so they don’t end up breaking when you're rummaging through the linen closet.
Printer Paper: You’ve got a 35 page document you need to sign and scan, and the last person who used the printer neglected to tell you there was no more paper. After you consider firing that person, take a breath and throw a bulk box of paper in the closet so that hopefully it doesn’t happen again.
Laundry Detergent and Trash Bags: If you don’t mind your own special funk, running out of detergent might not be a big deal. For the rest of us, detergent is imperative, but they can be large heavy jugs at the warehouse store. Buy them if you have the strength to lift it out of the cabinet each time you do a wash load. And while we should be reducing and reusing, some things inevitably will make it to the landfill. Trash bags are necessary and an economical buy from the warehouse store.
If you have the bug to purchase in bulk, but don’t have the storage space, you can always split the cost of purchases with friends or neighbors. Throw a party, divvy up the booty, and enjoy the savings.
Rowena lives and works in paradise, where a year round growing season inspires more projects than she can afford. She currently works as a Programming Librarian at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) where she is proud to serve US Marines and their families. She received her BA in English at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), and her Masters in Library Science at San Jose State (SJSU).
Prior to moving to Hawaii, she wrote catalog descriptions for an antique bookseller specializing in artifacts from the Civil Rights Movement, Japanese internment during World War II, and events that shaped LGBTQ history. Her research/writing career was preceded by 13 years of public service at the King County Library System in Washington.
Rowena got her start in DIY as a builder of cages and enclosures for the pets she regularly brought home during her youth. When not DIY-ing she&rsquo;s paddle boarding, snorkeling, or hanging out at the beach. She has the honor of being a mom, a wife, and a barely mediocre ukulele player.
H.R. Helm is an accomplished DIY craftsman. He has been DIY since childhood and is now a septuagenarian. He is experienced in wood and metal construction, having designed and built several houses and metal buildings. He built every permanent building on his current homestead and did all the plumbing and electrical work.
He has several years experience as a professional cabinet builder, and he is an accomplished auto repairman, having operated an auto repair business for many years. He currently has a home shop where he sharpens and rebuilds saws, repairs lawn mowers, mobility scooters, hydraulic jacks, and anything else that comes along. He also builds custom tools for metal working.
Invention prototypes are another of his many accomplishments. He owned and operated a manufacturing business building Compact Utility Vehicles for homeowner use. H.R. enjoys making jams and jellies during fruit season along with cooking meals. He is committed to outdoor cooking in a Bar-B-Q pit he welded together several years ago. He maintains fruit and nut trees along with helping his wife with a vegetable garden. He farmed commercial garden produce for several years. It helps to have over 50 years of farming and ranching experience.
ASE Certified Master Auto Technician
Cross country truck driver -- over dimensional freight
Design Engineer/Project Manager for injection molded plastic company
Bus Driver/Substitute Teacher
Inventor with two patents (weight training &ndash; anti-rollback for manual wheelchair)
BS in Industrial Technology