If you’re serious about saving money, chances are you already belong to a big-box discount store like Costco or Sam’s Club, where buying in bulk is not only possible, but encouraged. On nearly every aisle, it seems, there are enormous quantities of everything from household goods to hamburger buns.
If you have the storage (and the cash), you may be tempted to stock up on everything all at once and limit your shopping trips to just a few times a year. How well that will work, however, depends on what you buy. A 48-count bag of hamburger buns may seem like a great idea heading into the summer grilling months, but will your family of four really get through it before freezer burn sets in or someone starts saying, “Burgers? Again?”
Here’s how to ensure you buy things that are sure to get used, so you get the best bang for your bulk-buying bucks.
What to buy in bulk
1. Toilet paper
Let’s face it, there are few things in our day-to-day lives more desperate than running out of toilet paper, so it makes sense to stock up. You’ll do so at a savings, as well, as most producers reduce the cost per square when you buy in bulk.
2. Paper towels
Like toilet paper, you’ll see a savings by buying more. If you have the storage space, get the size that requires you strap it to the top of your car (because you’ll want to hide your bulk purchase of toilet paper in the trunk, am I right?).
3. Cleaning products
Maybe running out of cleaning products seems fine if you hate cleaning house anyway, but it’s a horrible feeling when your Aunt Dorothy is coming over, the house is dirty and you’ve suddenly run out of cleaning supplies. Whether it’s Scrubbing Bubbles for your bathroom or detergent for your dishwasher or washing machine, stock up on these items, which often come at a discount for buying bulk sizes.
4. Feminine hygiene products
Speaking of aunts, Flo comes with regularity, so stay stocked up and save some money to boot by buying these items in quantity. You can even consider having them delivered regularly through a service like Amazon.
5. Storage products
Whether it’s sandwich bags or aluminum foil, putting your food in something to take with you or store for later is such a convenience. They last forever and often come at discounted prices when you buy in bulk, so look for the jumbo or multi-packs whenever you buy.
This one is especially true for large families with big meat eaters. Buying in bulk and storing your cuts in a deep freeze can save you a lot of money, particularly if you can find a local butcher who sells, for example, sides of beef.
No, we’re not encouraging you to drink heavily, but if you’re going to buy it, you may as well save money. Beer and wine by the case are frequently cheaper than by the six-pack or bottle. The same is true for hard liquor. Those giant bottles with the handle grips frequently cost less per ounce than smaller bottles. Stored properly, alcoholic beverages last for a very long time (forget those “born on” dates), so stock up whenever the price is right.
8. Trash bags
Like toilet paper, it just stinks to run out of trash bags. Fortunately, most manufacturers sell these items in large quantities, so grab that 100-count roll and enjoy the fact that you saved money on a per-bag basis (and that you won’t need to buy trash bags for another year).
Multi-packs of toothpaste are a great way to save money, especially when they’re on sale. They also don’t take up significant storage space.
10. Canned goods
Whenever you see some of your favorite canned goods on sale, it’s a great idea to buy several, even if you don’t plan to use them anytime soon. Stored in your climate-controlled pantry, these items will be good for potentially years. But what about that expiration date, you ask? Check it, but keep in mind that expiration dates on canned goods mean the product will taste as the manufacturer intends it to taste until that date, not that it will spoil on that date. In fact, many people are fond of aged canned goods, particularly sardines, anchovies, smoked oysters and the like. They say aging mellows and improves the flavors of these products, as long as there are no visible signs of damage to the cans and no bulging, you can rest assured the product inside is quite good.
What to buy individually
1. Fresh foods
Ever had a bunch of bananas turn black before you could eat them all? Such a waste. When it comes to fresh foods – fruits, vegetables, herbs – it’s typically best to avoid buying in bulk. If you intend to preserve these items in some fashion, then buying in bulk can be a great idea. If not, it’s not a good idea to buy more than you can consume within four to five days.
2. Spices & dried herbs
You may be tempted to save money by buying the larger sizes or multiple jars here, especially when they’re on sale, but spices and dried herbs lose their potency quickly; often within six months of opening.
3. Snacks & sweets
We care about you. That’s why we don’t want you stocking up on unhealthy foods that will be waiting for you whenever you have a craving, feel sad or need to stress eat. Buy the little packages (not in bulk!) for when you need a treat. You’re welcome.
4. Milk & other dairy products
Like fresh produce, dairy has a limited shelf life. Unless you have a master plan for the two gallons of heavy whipping cream in your shopping cart, it’s probably best to go with the pint.
5. Tea & coffee
Like spices and herbs, tea and coffee (especially ground coffee, even if it’s vacuum packed) tend to lose some of their flavor over a period of time. Buy enough to get you through two or three weeks, but you may notice a difference in flavor if you stock up with much more.
Want another way to save a few cents at the grocery store? Here's how to get the most out of coupons.