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31 Weeks to a Better Grocery Budget Video Series: Save Money By Buying in Bulk

My husband and I shot this short two-minute video last night on three things to consider to make sure you are actually saving money when buying in bulk.

I’d love to hear what pitfalls you’ve discovered when trying to save money by buying in bulk.

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  1. says

    For the last couple months, I’ve been doing a “Costco Price Comparison” on my blog. I don’t think the issue is the price (for example, you’d need to find a 1 oz jar of pure vanilla extract at the grocery store for $0.42 to beat costco’s price-not going to happen even with coupons), but the issue is in the self-control. We save a lot buying in bulk (flour, sugar, dried beans, etc), but only when we have a list and I don’t say “well, we *could* use this” when I wasn’t planning to buy it in the first place. Go to the warehouse stores knowing what’s cheaper and what’s not, and sticking to your list.

  2. says

    I should add that you should never assume anything with bulk items. Sometimes it’s cheaper, sometimes it isn’t. Unless you’ve specifically compared unit price, you should not have an all-or-nothing attitude. I’ve seen people who despise warehouse stores with all their heart, only to tout a grocery store sale that isn’t 1/3 as cheap as Costco. I’ve also seen people go to Costco for everything, when they could be saving money elsewhere. For a basic “what’s cheaper”, my comparison is here: http://www.savemoneylivejoyfully.com/p/saving-money-onseries.html

    My one Costco weakness is the churros, though :)

    • Danielle B says

      Mmmmhmmm! Preach on the churros, Mama! ;-)

      Now that we only go up to Costco once every 6 weeks-2months, it’s a several hour event to get everything we’re there for. We do one of the pizzas for $10, which feeds all five of us with a few slices leftover, and then 2 churros to split. Yum-O! Sometimes I’m just not sure which is better, the savings or the churro.

    • WilliamB says

      I regret to say that stores can’t always do math. The egregious mistakes in calcuating unit price are easy to catch, but the small ones are harder. It’s gotten to the point that I often do a rough calculation in my head, because stores make so many mistakes.

      But what are you supposed to do when the unit pricing is in different prices? Most commonly I see berries: one box priced by the pound, the next by volume. How am I supposed to compare a pound with a pint? The store scales are just not accurate enough.

      • says

        Usually there are two unit prices listed at the grocery store: one for sale price and one for the regular price. Sometimes they don’t even provide the unit price for sale prices, so it is good to carry a small calculator when you shop. (This allows you to stick to your budget as well.)

        As for differing sizes, if there are 16 oz in a pound, just divide by 16 if you want to figure out the per oz size.

        Fruit is different. For some things I look at the price per pound, and other times I look at price per container. If you shop for fruit regularly enough, you should be able to know off the top of your head whether or not something is a good price.

      • Kelly says

        I was trying to compare unit prices on toilet paper at Sam’s a few weeks ago and had the same problem! One kind was priced by roll, another by square feet, and another by inches! It was next to impossible to figure out, so I just went with our traditional brand! (Plus, I get in trouble if I buy the cheap brand! :P)

  3. says

    Great points! Especially the part about not using more just because you have it. I know it’s cheaper to buy the bigger container of whipping cream, but when I do that we use a lot more of it instead of using it as a treat.

    My motto is: eat what you store and store what you eat.

    Buying in bulk totally backfired on me when we stopped eating wheat in my family. However, we feel so much better that it was worth it to give it away.

    Wonderful video again. Thanks!!!

  4. says

    The key for me when buying in bulk is the way I store my items. Anything new goes in the back & all the older items get moved to the front.

    The bigger question I have when I go into Costco- what family is buying that huge double pack of Hellman’s Mayo??? Seriously! There is no way that can be finished before it goes bad…..

    • says

      Costco, Sam’s Club, etc. are actually geared for small restaurant/concession owner’s. They also happen to be great for large families, or bulk buying families, but if you look at their stock through a restaurant owners eyes, it looks quite different. Watch the carts at checkout. It’s fun trying to figure out what kind of foods these folks must sell! :)

    • Bree says

      A teenage girl was purchasing that huge thing of mayo once at Sams. My husband overheard her tell the cashier that her school was providing supplies for a local church barbecue. You just never know at warehouse stores what the customers’ stories are.

      • says

        Those are fantastic reasons!!

        Sorry, I should have been more clear. I was really only thinking of my little family of 4…. and my huge adversion to mayo. We don’t even go through the little jar….

        I am sure that jalapeno dip is delish!

  5. Danielle B says

    I’ve made plenty of mistakes with buying in bulk, but most of it was simply because I wasn’t well-prepared or organized. The biggest key to not making huge blunders on buying in bulk is to have a price per ounce list. For some people they want to track the price per ounce of every product they use, others just on the products they will buying in bulk.

    I really learned how important tracking your price per ounce is from Brandy from The Prudent Homemaker (http://theprudenthomemaker.com/default.aspx) especially on bulk purchases. She’s also got some great lists on her site for the things that she purchases from Sam’s Club. I just used those lists to create my own price-per-ounce book in Excel. That’s made such a huge difference in how I shop for bulk items now. I’m never standing in the store wondering, “Hm, is this the lowest price?” I just check my book, and then I know if it’s worth it to buy in bulk.

    Another mistake that we were making was trying to get to Costco too often. Our nearest Costco is 30 minutes away, so any trips more then every 6 weeks-2months really cuts into how much we’re actually saving by purchasing in bulk. I didn’t really think about that until reading on Brandy’s site about limiting how many times you’re going to the store. So now our goal is to only go to Costco every other month, since that really makes the trip worth it!

    Lastly, one of the pitfalls to buying in bulk that I personally failed with for a long time was how to store it. Here in Virginia (and I’m sure further down south too), the humidity will make flour go rancid pretty quickly. If it isn’t stored properly you may find quite a few pounds of flour unusable several months later…..speaking from experience here! :-) I think that’s certainly a topic worth exploring in depth before purchasing in bulk- “How do I store this for the time it will take to consume it?” If you can’t store it properly to keep the bulk amount from going bad, then it’s cheaper just to purchase it a little at a time.

      • Danielle B says

        I had some Tupperware bowls- a set of 3 big blue bowls- that my mom had bought for me a while back. I never really used them, but couldn’t get rid of them since Mom had bought them. (I know, I know.) I realized I could store cornmeal in the smallest, sugar in the bigger one, and flour in the biggest one. The bowls have great seals, even though I’m sure they aren’t “airtight” and it at least keeps one 5-lb. bag of flour fresh at a time. Bonus: they sit very prettily on top of my refrigerator and it’s much easier to measure flour, sugar and cornmeal from the bowl then most other containers.

        What “airtight” containers do you use?

        Since we’re looking into stockpiling flour in much larger quantities, storing them in our freezer isn’t an option. We only have our upright fridge with the freezer at top, and I’m filling it full of meats, veggies, etc.
        Eventually we’ll get to the place of being able to purchase wheat berries and grind our own wheat flour, but that’s going to take at least several months. We’re just now learning to like wheat flour mixed in small amounts with white flour. Plus, we’ll have to save up the money to purchase a mill or grinder. It’s in our goals, and eventually we’ll get there! ;-)

        • says

          I find the airtight containers at Target and Homegoods. Some are plastic, some are stainless steel, but they all have rubber gaskets to make them seal fully. We have been doing the mix of white and wheat flour as well–especially in cookies/pancakes. My family doesn’t notice until it gets 50/50 ratio, then they complain about the grittiness. So, I keep it at 51 AP/49 WW, and everyone’s happy :)

        • Kelly says

          I use Lock N Lock for my dry goods. They make a few sets that have big enough containers to hold a 5lb bag of flour or a bag of sugar. They have the silicone seals around the edge of the lid- NOTHING gets in or out! Plus, I like that they’re clear so I can see what product I’m grabbing out without having to look for a label!

          • Stephanie says

            At our local Shaw’s they will sell the icing buckets from the bakery to us for .50 each. they are different sizes and have the rubber seal, and are food grade containers, and are very nice quality. Perhaps you can check into your local grocery store bakery to see if they will do the same. I guess they just throw them out when they are done with them! They used to give them away, but I guess they saw a small money making potential there :)

    • Kristine says

      I used to buy in bulk when we had a big freezer in our garage. Now we live in a smaller house with no garage and no room for a freezer. So bulk shopping no longer works for us.

    • Casey says

      You mentioned creating your own price book in excel. I’m currently in the process of doing this myself, but my knowledge of excel is rather limited. I already use it for my personal budget, so I’m familiar with many features, but I know there is far more that excel can do that I just don’t know how to use! Could you give any tips or ideas for how you set up your price book?

      Basically what I’ve done is take a store like Aldi and list the item, the details of the item (size or quantity and flavor, etc) then the 3rd column is for price. Then I start another store like Kroger. This is hard to then use to compare though. Do you have a better way? I have recently bought a smart phone and know there is a way to link the excel document I create on my computer with my phone (but haven’t figured out how to do this yet.) Would love to be able to look at my list in the grocery store. For now, I have a small little hand written notebook I carry with me. Love the many uses of the smart phone and thought what a perfect idea, but making my idea reality is far more challenging than I anticipated! Please help! Thanks! :)

      • melissa says

        I use excel for price comparisons, too, but mainly because of the pre-built columns and rows, not necessarily for the other features. I categorize things alphabetically in the first column. For example, it might read “cereal”, “diapers,” “eggs,” “feminine products,” etc. Then the next column is a listing of the specific item (e.g. “Raisin Bran Crunch”). The third column shows the package size (in ounces or quantity). In the fourth column, I put the price. The fifth column tells the store that price was found. The sixth column is a YES/NO column… YES if it was on sale and NO if it wasn’t. I like to be able to record what my lowest prices are so that I know what I’m aiming for as well as regular prices. The last column is where I do a price/ounce or price/each listing. It depends on the product, but it gives me a way of comparing them.

        I just add and update prices and products as needed. For example, a 32 oz. canister of coffee used to be $7 something at Walmart, but the last time I was there, I noticed it was over $10! I also try to list the products according to the same size packaging. So I might have comparisons for a jumbo size package of diapers from Rite Aid, CVS, and Walmart, and then below that I’ll have a comparison of the mega-box at those same stores.

        It took me a long time to get this set up in the beginning, but it was the only way I knew if I was getting a deal. Now I only check it periodically. I don’t know if this is at all what you were looking for, but hopefully it helps someone.

      • Danielle B says

        Well, I’m not sure how much what I do might actually help, seeing as how I’m still just working out the kinks myself. But, I’ll tell you what I do and if any of it sounds good you’re welcome to it! ;-)

        In Excel I just made the first column much wider. This is where I list all my supplies broken up into general categories (baking supplies/pantry staples; canned goods which is broken up into smaller categories of fruits, meats, soups and vegetables; condiments; etc.). Under each “item” such as baking powder, I’ll list the various brands available, regardless of store.

        For example, under Baking Powder I have Clabber Girl (8.1 oz.) and then Great Value brand (8.1 oz.). (I’m still working on my price book so I don’t have the available brands of Kroger or Costco. Once I get to go back to those two stores I’ll pencil in the brand, size and price.)

        My next three columns (B, C and D) are labeled with Wal-Mart, Kroger and Costco, respectively. These are the only three stores I shop at, so I really only need to keep track of these three. Then, I list the price of the Clabber Girl at each of those stores. In parenthesis after each price I have the price calculated per ounce. So under Wal-Mart it says $1.47 ($0.18/oz.) This way a quick glance tells me how much per ounce it costs at each store. Out from the Great Value brand baking powder the price is only listed under Wal-Mart. If it’s something Kroger brand, of course its price is only listed under the Kroger column.

        I can’t think of any other way to list the prices of all three stores in a way that is easy to glance at the specific item and make a quick decision. I tried several different formats until this one materialized. It works for me, but you or someone else may have a better way to do it.

        Other notes:
        -I leave one space between every line when I print the price book out so I can write in any changes in price that have happened in between shopping trips.

        -I print my price book out in landscape orientation and use a clipboard. I tie a pen to the clipboard so I don’t have to worry about dropping or losing the pen- which is something that happens multiple times managing three littles in the store! I tried it in a binder with page protectors, but it just didn’t work for me.

        -I don’t have a smartphone, so I have no earthly idea how to get the spreadsheet to it. I did a search to test it out though, and if you enter into a search engine like Swagbucks something along the lines of “How do I send an Excel spreadsheet to my (your model of smartphone)?” you might be able to find the instructions.

        I hope I didn’t make all of that too confusing! Hope it helps! :-)

        • Susan says

          Danielle, just a quick tip … you say that you leave a space between each row for printing. I interpreted that to mean that you have empty rows in between your rows of data. If you highlight your entire worksheet and then drag the row height down a little, it will make them “double space,” so to speak. The you can quickly undo to get your spreadsheet back to single space.

          If I misunderstood your spacing method, then please disregard this comment. :-)

  6. Sara says

    I love to buy in bulk.. I started with little experience so I have had many pitfall. The main one is…. Even if you like it some thing are not meant to be bought in bulk…For example, pizza bagels for my family is not a bulk item we don’t eat this often enough to go through a bulk container. While it does save money since we do buy them sometimes, because we don’t eat them frequently…they end up taking space in my freezer and get freezer burnt :( So for us we stick to veggies, some meat, coffee and other non specific items we use and can be cooked in a varity of ways, depending on the cost.

  7. Katie says

    DON’T BUY SUGAR IN BULK!! For whatever reason, it’s always cheaper to buy smaller bags of sugar than the larger ones. So strange!

    • Katie says

      Seriously?!? I made a price per ounce list and compared everything I needed for my last big freezer cooking day. The cheapest option for sugar was the 5-pound bag at Walmart. It was about 1¢ per ounce cheaper than Sam’s 25-pound bag. Could this be a regional thing?

      • says

        Walmart carries a 5lb bag instead of a 4lb bag like everywhere else?

        We have a Walmart right next to Sam’s Club, and the prices at Walmart are much higher.

        Sugar prices change throughout the year and have been rising each year quite substansiably.

        • Danielle B says

          I checked the sugar a few weeks ago and the unit prices of the 5 lb. bag and the 25 lbs. bag of Great Value brand sugar were exactly the same. I double checked it myself just to be sure, since the unit prices on the shelf are sometimes wrong. I’m not sure how that compares with the 25 lb. bags of sugar at Costco yet though. I really do think it has a lot to do with geographical location and what stores are in what areas.

    • says

      our Walmart only carries 4, 10 and 25 pound bags and I noticed a couple days ago, the 4 lb bags went up in price $0.40. i wasnt going down the baking isle so my mom is supposed to check on the pices of the bigger bags for me.

  8. Michelle says

    I do have an exception to the “don’t use more just because you bought in bulk” rule. If the item I bought in bulk, at a discount, can displace another (more pricey) ingredient, then it is worth it to eat more of that bulk item. For instance, we may eat more dried beans when purchased in bulk, because it can help displace some meat in our diet (which costs much more).

  9. Patti says

    I do not shop in bulk, per se, but do stockpile ingredients according to good sales. I am currently trying to use my pantry and freezer items “to clean out” and also to save money. It is amazing how much we have in the nooks and crannies (not “extreme”, just normal amounts)!! For instance, this week my husband picked 12 green bell peppers off our two plants – more than we two need and we already have a bunch in the freezer. So I decided to fix something that used a lot of green peppers – ah! pepper steak. But I didn’t have any steak so off to the store I need to go… except I stopped myself in time, looked on http://www.allrecipes.com and decided to make stuffed green peppers utilizing items that were already in my stockpile: rice, black beans, and tomatoes. I am determined to do this for the next month or so until I clear out some of this stuff that I just have sitting here. It doesn’t pay for me to continue stockpiling or buying large amounts when I already have good food that needs to be eaten.

    • Moriah says

      this is a great idea. I think I might do it soon too, since we are going on a mini-vaca I might want to cut costs just a little bit. I don’t have a lot of meat on hand right now though, so it might be interesting to see what I come up with. How did the stuffed peppers come out w/ no meat?

      • Patti says

        We loved them – my husband more than me due to how spicy I made them! I’ll reduce that next time. This past May I made two taco casseroles for a high school graduation party – one had hamburger and the other used black beans. I put them out side by side and the one with the black beans was voted “better”… so I am using the black beans a lot more these days!! Just cook up a bag in the crockpot and freeze for later use.

  10. says

    I love my 25 pound bags of wheat berries and oats from Azure. :) The 5lb raisins are also one of our favs. I just tried a baked oatmeal this week thanks to you, it scored with most of my family so that’s good enough for me.

  11. Heather says

    Unless you have a lot more self-discipline than I do, only buy boring staples in bulk! If I were to buy those Sam’s choc. chips in the giant bag – well, they would just be snacked on more often and quickly! Same thing with fun convenience foods – we would just eat it faster, and that stuff isn’t much cheaper in bulk anyway. Not to mention that convenience and snack foods tend to be very unhealthy.
    So I stick to flour, wheat, oats, yeast, dried beans, cocoa powder, rice, etc. It keeps a long time, and can be the base for many meals. It takes a while of buying in bulk to start seeing the savings, but it’s worth it in the long run.

  12. Dreya says

    The chocolate chips at Sams Club always get me. Yes. They are way cheaper. But needing new pants because I’ve made (and eaten) way too many chocolate chip cookies is not saving our family money. Now, I only buy that big bag around the holidays when I am baking to share. The other suggestion I would have is to split the packages when possible. A good example is yeast. I don’t bake that much, but Sams club yeast is so cheap, and comes with two packages. A friend and I split this amount and it works well.

    • Angie D says

      The chocolate chips would get me too! I agree with Heather–buy the boring, bulk-ingredient items. Even if it may kill me that my husband will buy convinient candy/snacks at the gas station, my alternative is buying a big box of Snickers from Sams, only to have him eat twice as much b/c they are available ALL the time. Thus, we spend more money and he has to run twice as many miles. lol! It probably really just boils down to discipline (me with chocolate chips and he with candy bars)…but not having the temptation around helps too. I also have a friend do my Sam’s shopping…I send a list and money and am not tempted by the other items. I repay her kindness in other ways.

  13. says

    I guess the thing about buying in bulk that we all have to evaluate is self-control. Can I buy this and use it wisely without wasting any savings I may have? We have always bought in bulk and having that extra food storage has been very useful since I lost my job. I can “shop” my pantry and still come up with delicious meals.

  14. says

    I’m all about buying in bulk. As our family continues to grow, it makes even more sense for us. Beans at the grocery store or Walmart are $1.12 or more a pound. Beans in bulk are .65 a pound.

    A 50 pound bag of popcorn is $17 at Sam’s Club, and lasts us a year–and we make more popcorn than we used to! We used to make 6 bags every Sunday, and one would always burn. Now we get the exact same brand of popcorn (Act II) and it all pops, and it doesn’t burn, and costs quite a lot less than buying the microwave bags (and we used to buy the microwave bags at Sam’s Club, but this is SO much less).

    We buy rice in a 50 pound bag, oats in 25 pound bags (I’m going to switch to getting the 50 pound bag from Azure Standard for even less), bread flour, all-purpose flour, sugar and beans in 25 pound bags.

    We get the #10 cans of tomato sauce for under $3 at Sam’s Club.

    Is it worth buying in bulk for us? Completely. My family of 8 eats for $3-$5 a day TOTAL (for everyone) .

    • Rachael says

      Olive oil is also much cheaper at Sam’s Club. I like buying peanut butter there, too. It can sometimes be cheaper at the store, but we substitute it for meat all the time, which I know saves us a ton of money. How do you place an order from Azure Standard?

      • says

        Get on their site and create an account so that you can see prices. Then you’ll need to find out if there is a drop ship place in your area. They require a $50 minimum order (but prices include shipping) if there is a drop point. If there isn’t a drop point, you’ll need to get together a much bigger order to create one. Details on on their site.

        I get olive oil at Sam’s Club, too! I have a list on my site of what I buy at Sam’s Club; there are a lot of thigns I love there. Also, if you go to my Well-Stocked Pantry page, and then click on the Grains tab, it will take you to a list of places to buy grains and other bulk foods, including storage buckets and wheat grinders.

        • ERIKA M says

          About Azure Standard Im in Ohio and they don’t have any drop points here in Ohio @ all… the shipping seems like it would be too much….does this rule out Azure for me? I am still a bit confused onthat.

  15. Conni says

    In the past 25 years that I have been buying items in bulk, these are 2 of the most costly mistakes I have made: 1) I didn’t realize that the 25 pound pail of natural almond butter I purchased through my coop was unsalted until I had already opened it and started consuming. It tasted nasty! All was not lost as it worked well for cookies and such, but it was not what I had intended it for, and learned a valuable lesson about carefully reading labels; and 2) not all brands taste the same. I learned this buying natural cereal by the case. It did not taste like the name brand equivalent and we had to throw it out. Again, it tasted icky. Lesson learned, ask for a sample, or see if a friend will let you try some of hers before you order lots!

    • Susan says

      Conni, you didn’t mention what warehouse store you shop at, but Costco has a very generous return policy. You can return anything for any reason, even if it is already opened and partially consumed. If you tried the cereal and didn’t like it, Costco will take it back and refund your money. You don’t even need a receipt — they will just look up the price you paid on their computer. They have that information because it’s tied to your membership card.

      • Conni says

        Susan, I was buying through a coop, and not at a warehouse club. It would have been great if it was at Costco so I could return the items. I learned to ask others in the coop about products I was wanting to purchase, and even buy a sample of the item in question from them. Saved me from making costly purchases for items we didn’t like.

  16. amanda says

    I usually just buy in bulk my meats (mostly chicken) at Sams Club , seasonings and i do buy the gallon of mayo. I make lunches everyday for my children and my husband and they prefer sandwiches so i do go through mayo in about a month or so. And I found the chicken , like chicken breast to be cheapest their so i buy 6-8 packs at once and seperate and freeze. I don’t usually buy the red meats because I seem to get them a lot cheaper when my grocery store is having a sale.

  17. robyn says

    does anyone else have trouble hearing crystal on these “31 weeks…” videos? i have both my computer speakers up all the way and the youtube volume up but she’s so quiet. i haven’t had this problem with other youtube videos or other online applications involving volume.

    • Teresa M. says

      Yes, Robyn. I’ve always had a problem hearing the videos. It’s nearly impossible when the kids have the T.V. on!

      • ERIKA M says

        Agreed. Same here, I have to really blare the speakers to hear. Crystal, we love to hear what you have to say, maybe you could try to get a little closer to the microphone!

  18. Nicole says

    These videos are soo encouraging! I watch each one several times, even though I don’t do the menu planning in our house (my mom does, lol, but I help out a lot too).

    I’m still in school, and I want to be a lot like you, Crystal when I grow up. Thanks for being willing to share your life with us!

  19. says

    Great video! We’ve only bought in bulk once when I was pregnant and having huge lemon cravings…guess who no longer wanted lemons once we had 100 of them?? We’ve recently been talking about buying in bulk items that we buy all the time and use lots of, so this video was perfect timing!

  20. Emmie says

    BJ’s wholesale stacks coupons here. So we can use the store coupon, as well as manufacture coupons per upc item bulked up. We have used this method many ways plus they have organic grass fed beef at prices that can’t be beat.

    Sam’s Club we buy our flour, and markdown meats if the price is right.

    If you have a Restaurant Depot they are also awesomely priced on so many items, but you will need storage for these items because it is structured for business :D

    Haven’t heard anyone comment about Bj’s wholesale so not sure how far they go up the State’s. Anyone else shop there with good results?