Reader Tip: Buying from the bulk bins could have saved me over 70%!

 Caren from The Prudent Pantry emailed the following tip:

While making pancake mix recently, I ran out of flax seed and purchased the prepackaged flax for $2.79. When I made a trip to a health food store later in the week, I realized how hasty I had been and how much it had cost me.

I had paid $2.79 for a 7-ounce package of organic flax seed. However, at the health food store, the organic flax seed is sold in bulk for $1.89 per pound. At $2.79 for a 7-ounces, that prepackaged flax seed cost $6.38 per pound.

Buying flax seeds from the bulk bins would have saved me over 70 percent. Not all savings are that spectacular, but they are savings none the less.

If your regular grocery store does not have a bulk section, check out the smaller specialty or health food stores in your area. My grocery store does not have a bulk section, but it is worth it for me to visit a local health food store occasionally to purchase items in bulk.

The bins are also great for items you just want to try, or for when you only need a small amount of an ingredient for a recipe. This is especially true of spices. You may only need a small amount of a particular spice for a new recipe you want to try. There’s no need to pay for an entire jar if you just need a teaspoon. -Caren

For more frugal encouragement and ideas from Caren, stop by The Prudent Pantry.

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  1. says

    In one local grocery store in my area (Wegmans), they have sprinkles (like for ice cream or cupcakes) in a bulk bin. So I can refill my containers (which are $2-3 normally) for about 50 cents. Typically they are seasonal colors, so I hit them up a few times a year.

  2. Kim says

    I’ve purchased from the bulk bins at Whole Foods where I’ve seen lots of people buying bulk items. However, I wonder about the freshness of the items at the regular grocery store because I never see anyone buying from the bins. Does anyone know about the freshness quality of the bulk bins?

  3. Joyce says

    This is a great idea for saving money. However for people who have to avoid certain foods it may not be such a good idea due to the possibility of cross-contamination when using the open bins in the bulk food area.

    • Kristina says

      That is my problem, I am severely allergic to wheat so cannot risk trying the bulk bin for fear of cross contamination. : (

  4. Sporksoma says

    What are health food stores? Does anyone know if there are any in the Biloxi, MS area? I’d love to be able to buy more whole foods and stuff in bulk, but unfortunately I don’t think we have anything like that in this area.

  5. Jeannine says

    I am experimenting with buying in bulk too and another area of savings is gas and time. If you have the space to store large quantities of food this could result in lots of savings.

  6. Casey says

    Definitely! I buy bulk spices at my health food store. Savings are UNREAL! Wish I had number to report, but trust me. BIG SAVINGS. Don’t buy the little 1-2 oz jars at your local store. Can easily save 50% or MORE. I bring it home in their little plastic baggies than transfer to 1/2 pint canning jars or smaller glass spice jars.

  7. Lisa says

    We LOVE bulk bins! We buy rice, pasta, raw nuts, dried fruit, flour and other baking staples, dried beans to cook in the crockpot, oatmeal, quinoa, spices, even cereal. A bonus for us is that we can buy the dried fruits, nuts, and seeds our parrot enjoys as add-ins to his food 😉

    • Lisa says

      I just remembered: a friend told me she started buying honey in the bulk area of our local store. I’m looking forward to giving it a try!

  8. Jen says

    Definitely compare costs if you are buying larger quantities. I’ve found at Whole Foods in Chicago that the bulk actually costs more in some cases if they only offer organic in bulk. While I would love to only buy organic, that’s not usually in my budget. The packaged 365 brand usually offers a better value.

  9. says

    So true! I was looking into buying Quinoa the other day at Kroger. Bulk bin price was $3.49/lb and the cheapest shelf pre-packaged price was $6.99/12 oz ($9.32/lb!!!). I was SO glad I checked the wall of bins!

  10. Sarah says

    I’m a big fan of the dispenser type bulk “bins” where people can’t actually touch the food inside. I avoid the bins themselves.
    We used to buy from the bulk bins often, but stopped after I saw one too many kids (and adults for that matter) stick their bare hands in for samples. Just last week, at my health food store I saw two little girls stick their fingers in the sugar bulk bin, lick their fingers, and repeated it several times before their mom noticed them. I’m sure that’s a fairly common occurance unfortunately.
    Another issue I have is there is no expiration date for the bulk bins. Some things go rancid fairly quickly, and not knowing when it was stocked or how old the product is makes me uncomfortable.

    • Stacey says

      Yep, that would gross me out, too!

      Also, for any family with severe food allergies the cross contamination issue is a big one. A scoop used for one item could be easily switched to another bin without being washed. Even in stores where the bulk items are prebagged (as our health food store does), cross contamination is an issue. A visit to the ER is not worth the grocery savings!

  11. Mo says

    We are lucky enough to have a win-co nearby (SLC, UT) and they have great bulk bins. The spices are a fraction of the cost of pre-packaged and they have honey you pull right from the bee house!! Also, fresh ground nut butters. It doesn’t always have to be whole food/organic stores, even our Smith’s (kroger affiliate) has a nice selection of bulk food. Our Whole Foods is quite a drive for me so it’s not always worth it for me to trek that far.

  12. says

    This is an important part of my grocery savings strategy! I shop at a health food coop grocery store once a month. Bulk yeast, oatmeal, beans, grits, coffee, tea, sugar, honey, peanut butter (freshly ground on the spot), and ESPECIALLY spices and salt are much cheaper purchased this way.

    I can even buy organic in bulk cheaper than packaged food conventional at the store.

    I keep a post it note inside my cabinet and add to it when we run out of something.

  13. says

    I just wanted to mention one caveat, however: it’s not a good idea to buy nuts bulk since they go rancid so quickly. These should be purchased in small quantities in bags, ideally from the freezer. If they taste dusty or not sweet, they’re rancid. Ditto for whole wheat flour, it goes back quickly due to the oils in the whole grain. Buy it in packages from a store that goes through their stock quickly, and taste it. It should taste sweet, not dusty or bland.

  14. Heather says

    Only have one store with bulk bins, and the selection is limited, but I have gotten some good deals. Unfortunately all of the candy bins are also there, and so the kids start up . . .
    Items that I’ve found to be a great deal: quinoa, craisins, and sprinkles! Don’t use them often, and it’s nice just to buy a small amount for a b-day cake. Also, when I made a gingerbread house this past Christmas, I was able to get small amounts of a variety of candies for decorating, instead of buying large packages and having leftovers migrate onto my kids’ teeth and my stomach. Saved a lot of money, too.
    Things like wheat, oats, flour, and beans I usually get cheaper in 25 lb sacks at our local Mennonite store.

  15. says

    One more thing! has some great buys on bulk items like oats, beans, rice, coffee and tea. If you know your prices, you can often save quite a bit, and many purchases qualify for free shipping.

  16. says

    I’ve started buying spices from the health section of my local HEB (a Texas chain of grocery stores) – it all started with sesame seeds. I wanted to make sesame chicken, but didn’t really want to pay $4 for a small package. I remembered the jars in the bulk/health section and I can buy more for $1 than I could get out of the $4 package, and after speaking with the department manager about their replenishment policies, I have no worries about freshness.

    I expanded from there, and most of the time I can get my little baggie of spice for less than $1, and not have to worry about wasting what I might not need, especially if it’s something I use infrequently.

    Also, they have dark chocolate covered almonds in the bulk bin (the kind you pull the handle on) and I am hooked, lemme tell you…

  17. MamaK says

    I buy from the bulk bins at Whole Foods frequently. They are always very busy so I feel there is enough product turn around to keep things fresh. Still, I only buy enough for the next few weeks at most. That is one of the advantages: you can buy just what you need and don’t have to overbuy to get the good pricing.

  18. says

    I’m in NV and I LOVE Winco for bulks. They have an incredible bulk section. I buy almost all my spices there (saved almost $40/lb on ground ginger, compared to buying in a McCormick container), most of my sugars, flours, candies for decorating cookies, etc., beans, rices, etc. It’s awesome!

  19. says

    I shop the bulk food regularly at our local Winco Food. You can really save a lot. They also have dairy free chocolate chips which we really like and much less than the other stores.

    I agree with Jessica, the spices are really good priced and you only have to purchase what you know you can use.

  20. Lisa says

    Very true that bulk can save so much! Like Crystal we *adore* popcorn around here. We only get boxed popcorn when it’s free after sale/coupon, so we do a LOT of popping at home. One bag(in our area) that weighs 2lbs(regular yellow popping corn) averages 1.89ish for the cheapest bag. A 50-lb bag at Sam’s Club ran me about $12. That’s a savings of $35!! It lasts just fine and we always freeze the kernals for maximum pop anyways, so we divided it into gallon size baggies, added a date to them and tossed them in our deep freeze. It’s not the only thing we buy in bulk, but just an example most people don’t think of(in my experience).

    • Lisa says

      Oh and while we do airpop in the microwave, we LOVE stovetop popcorn with butter flavored oil. Buying that oil from Sam’s as well saves a FORTUNE! It’s about $10 for a large jug, while a very small bottle is about $3. The savings is incredible for those two items for us.

  21. MerricksMom says

    Thanks–this reminded me that a friend said I should get our pet food from the local feed store (as in, farm supply). I haven’t yet checked it out, but I’ll google their hours now! We have a cat and a bunny, and I think we spend about $50 a month on them now….

  22. says

    So true! And when you buy in the bulk bins you can store it in your canning jars, which are much cuter than the store packaging AND are safer for you because a canning jar does not have all the packaging chemicals.

  23. Michelle Haviland says

    I found this to be true with regards to bulk herbs recently. I was trying a new recipe that called for an herb I didn’t have. I put roughly the teaspoon of the herb in the bag and then checked out. The bag was so light it didn’t register on the scale. The clerk then charged me ten cents BECAUSE it didn’t register on the scale.

    I guarantee you that if I had purchased enough of that herb to fill a spice jar, the unit pricing would not have been as low as ten cents per teaspoon!

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