One way we save at least $100 or so per year on our grocery bill is by buying select items in bulk. While I think that buying in bulk can definitely save you money, you need to be mindful of three things:
1. Bigger is Not Always Cheaper
It’s easy to get suckered into thinking that purchasing in bulk is always going to be cheaper. Oftentimes, the larger size is the same price — or even more than a smaller size. Always analyze the cost per ounce of items you are considering purchasing in bulk to determine whether or not it truly is a good deal to buy in bulk.
2. It’s Not a Good Deal If You Won’t Use It
I’m sure this is a no-brainer, but it’s not a good deal to buy 25-pound bag of coconut which expires in a year if you routinely only use four cups of coconut per year. Yes, I’m sure you could get creative and dig up a hundred new recipes which use coconut, but unless you got that 25-pound bag for a few dollars, it’s like better to save your money and buy items in bulk which you use on a very frequent basis.
3. Just Because You Buy Something in Bulk Doesn’t Mean You Should Use More
The biggest pitfall I’ve found to buying in bulk is that it’s easier to use more when you have more of something. For instance, I once bought a five-pound bag of chocolate chips at Sam’s Club. Usually, we go through around five pounds of chocolate chips in an entire year because we only buy a small bag or two at a time as needed. Instead, we’d used up that entire five-pound bag of chocolate chips in four months or less!
Now granted, we’re talking chocolate chips here, but I do think it’s important to make sure you aren’t consuming more of something because you’re buying it in bulk. If this is the case, you might consider portioning out the bulk package or else possibly just not buying that particular item in bulk.
How To Get Started Buying in Bulk
::Set Aside a Small Amount of Grocery Money for Bulk Purchases
The simplest way to slowly integrate bulk purchases into your grocery budget is to squeeze a little extra money out of your grocery budget each week and set it aside for bulk purchases. If you’re on a really tight budget, this might not seem feasible, but even $2 to $3 set aside over the course of two months can give you a large enough amount to make one bulk purchase.
And I’ve found that the more bulk purchases I make, the more it frees up wiggle room in my grocery budget to be able to set aside more money for more bulk purchases. It’s a domino effect — in a good direction.
::Prioritize Your List of Possible Bulk Purchases
I’d suggest writing down a short list of possible bulk purchases you’d like to make and then researching out the best places to purchase in bulk and how much the savings would be. Prioritize the list based upon the savings you’ll reap and the money you are able to set aside each month.
If it helps, you might even set goals. For instance, within two months, set a goal to have purchased two pounds of yeast. In four months, aim to have purchased a 50-pound bag of wheat. And so on. Start with the item(s) which you can afford with the money you’ve set aside.
Prioritizing your list and breaking it down into bite-sized goals will not only help to keep you organized, but it will also enable you to stick with your budget. Sure it might be nice to go plunk down $500 and have a completely stocked bulk pantry, but that’s just not really doable for most people.
Where To Buy in Bulk
There are many different options for buying in bulk. I’d suggest you start with perusing what’s available in your local area as well as online. Ask your friends, check the phone book, search on Craiglist, look for local co-ops and Amish Food Stores and contact local farms which sell to the public.
Getting a membership to Sam’s Club or Costco might be worth it for your family, but I’d encourage you to explore other possibilities before just settling on either of those stores as your only bulk purchasing option.
I’d also suggest you talk to your local grocery store or health food store or couple who run the farmer’s market stand you purchase from and ask what discounts they would give you if you’d purchase items in bulk. They might not give bulk discounts, but you never know until you ask!
If you’re really ambitious, you might even consider starting your own co-op.
What are your best tips for buying in bulk? I’d love to hear!
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Besides shopping WinCo and Sam’s. We do a huge group order from Wheat Montana every so often. We live about 4 hours away. So, our order is whenever someone with a truck/trailer is going through during warehouse hours. You can get warehouse prices if you have a large enough order (about 1000-2000 lbs. minimum) and pick-up at the warehouse (Three Forks, MT) during warehouse hours. They also have a price list and freight rate chart for those farther away.
All their products are chemical free, GMO free, and their Natural White flour is unbromated. They have several types of wheat, flours, rice, beans, oats, Kamut, and Spelt.
Once you try their Natural White Flour you won’t like any other unbleached flour!
We buy in bulk from Costco and from a local meat market.
Costco is great to try out different brands of things you already use (like rice, baking supplies, paper goods, etc.) since they offer a full money back refund if you don’t like it. We were just there and someone was returning a large bag of potato chips because they didn’t care for that particular flavor (after eating a portion of the bag). No questions asked, and you don’t even need your receipt, they look it up. Paired with the Costco coupons, you can get some really good deals. We usually stock up on items when a coupon is available, that way we are always getting a good deal and we buy a few items at a time.
I also buy in bulk a couple times a year from a local meat market, then separate it into meal size portions and freeze. Last week we bought 40 lbs. of chicken (pre-cut) for .25/lb and the week before we bought 30 lbs. of New York Strip for 1.25/lb. They will slice everything just the way we want, too.
Rebecca Cox says
@Carrie, What do you mean by a local meat market? Would that be related to a farm, or more like a meat processing plant? I would love to learn how to get meat that inexpensively! Thank you!
@Rebecca Cox, It is a family-owed IGA store that also raises their own beef, chicken, and pork. So the small grocery area is “normal” food, but the meat counter is all food they have raised themselves, therefore passing on the savings to the customers. They always have good prices, but they have weekly specials as well, and that is when we stock up!
My family and I are LDS (Mormon). We utilize the LDS Cannery quite heavily for bulk buying of staples like whole wheat, oatmeal, dry beans, rice, dry onions, dried carrots, dry milk, Sugar & Flour. They also carry cocoa mix, pudding mix, fruit drink mix and some other items that we just don’t happen to buy. The prices are great and you can can your items in #10 metal cans (like a coffee can) for easy and long term storage.
This resource is available to non mormons too. I’ve taken lots of my non-mormon friend, neighbors and relatives to the cannery for canning night with me. It’s a fun evening and you can come home with lots of stockpile for a very reasonable price. For more info on pricing and inventory go to http://www.provedentliving.org I think it’s under the family canning tab.
There are LDS canneries across the country not just Utah (I’ve never lived in Utah).
Oh yeah, a couple times a year they do wet pack canning as well, they can salsa, jam, chili, spaghetti sauce, and some other stuff. And a member friend can check out the home #10 dry pack canner with you for a home canning day. I checked it out and my DH and I canned up a bunch of spelt, rye and soft white wheat.
What you say about buying in bulk making more room in the grocery budget in the future is so true!
In 2009 I decided I wanted to purchase a 1/4 grass fed cow from a local farmer. It was a great price per pound, but all together it was going to cost me about $455. So, all year any time I had leftover money in my grocery budget or got a rebate from something I saved it in a special account. Early this year we picked up my 1/4 cow and now we have a freezer full of beef. Always having meat on hand is such a blessing! It freed up so much room in my grocery budget that then I was able to buy about 10 organic roasting chickens when they went on sale. Right now I’m on the look out for veggies that I can freeze.
Other things I buy in bulk at BJs are pine nuts, raisins, yeast and baking soda.
Our weekly budget is $100 cash. Starting January 1st, I am setting aside $250 in a checking account that we aren’t using at the moment (it was my very first account out of high school). Using a debit card attached only to this account, I will use this money to buy the 6 gallon bucket of wheat I need next summer, extra meat when I find a crazy deal, bulk spices, rice, and beans, and other items that are purchased just a few times a year.
Each week starting in January, I will move $5 into our savings account at our regular bank. We don’t really use this account for our savings since we use ING. I will only take out $95 each week for our regular groceries. If we have extra money left at the end of the week, I will deposit it into this account. That way, I will have $250 ready to move into the special checking account on January 1, 2012. Any excess at that point will be my money for upgrades to my kitchen appliances. The initial $250 is coming from my Christmas money so I have no guilt in taking any excess the first year :)!
If you’re far enough west, Azure Standard is another great place to buy bulk (I’m part of a local delivery site for them). Cheapest wheat berries I’ve found!
The Prudent Homemaker says
I buy in bulk all the time! With 6 children, buying in bulk saves me a lot of money. Recently we bought 50 lbs of rice for just a little over $14 at Sam’s Club. We also buy bulk popcorn (50 lbs for under $17), salt, yeast, baking soda, spices, bread flour and all-purpose flour, olive oil, and several kinds of sugar in bulk at Sam’s Club (my complete list for Sam’s Club is here; most everything we buy there is a bulk purchase).
I also buy in bulk from several other sources, including Walton Feed. I get red and white wheat, beans, oats, mung beans for sprouting, lentils, barley, and more. (If you live east of the Mississippi, Amish stores are cheaper; many carry wheat from Walton Feed!) I am looking at buying barley from Azure Standard as well; they have a drop point near my house and shipping is less; those who want to order organic in bulk should check them out as well. Walton Feed’s shipping costs can be high, but if you get together a huge order with several other people, you can get a lower shipping cost, because they’ll send a truck out to you. This is how I ordered from Walton Feed both times. (Also, if you’re looking for wheat, Costco carries wheat in bulk as well).
My next planned bulk purchases will be 25 lbs of oats for $7.60. I am also planning on buying 25 lbs of white beans for $14.10 from our local LDS cannery.
Not only do we eat a lot of rice and beans (we’ve had beans every day this week!), but we do it for even less than buying a bag of beans on the shelf at the store would be (my family can easily eat a pound of beans for dinner. That pound could cost me $1.25, or it could cost me .564 cents). Buying in bulk cuts my cost by MORE than HALF! I can serve my whole family of 8 dinner for under $1.50, and we can have leftovers as well. I even added 2 hungry misssionaries to my table today for lunch and it only cost us $2.50 for all 10 of us, and there was even a little bit left after everyone took very large second helpings.
We store our bulk items, like wheat, rice, flour, oats, sugar, powdered milk, beans, etc. in 6 gallon food-grade buckets with gamma lids. I got mine from Walton Feed, and I bought them filled. You can see how I store them
in my pantry.
@The Prudent Homemaker, Where is the wheat at Costco? That’s been on of my only complaints is that I can’t get Whole Wheat Flour there. Thanks!!
I really have to hide bulk purchases from my husband and kids or they will run through them like water. But it’s easy: I have a Rubbermaid cupboard in the basement that I put the groceries in as soon as they come in the house.
Another possible is to “share” a membership with a friend. My best friend and I “share” my Sam’s membership and just shop together for those trips. Sometimes that also allows us to save by buying a bulk item that we will split up when we get home – if it’s something that will save you money but you don’t need or want the whole amount split the cost and the bulk! This year she’s planning on getting a Costco membership so that we can do a little shopping at both since we’ve discovered some things that we calculate will be worth splitting both memberships.
I haven’t ever shopped at one (because our local WINCO offers such great prices on EVERYTHING!) but for those on the west coast, many of my friends and family swear by Cash & Carry as a substitute for Costco. There’s no membership fee and you can usually find similar items that you would find at Costco.
Great post! We don’t buy much in bulk yet, except for a side of pasture-fed beef every year. That saves us so much money on meat and means I know exactly where and how my meat was raised.
I’m also looking into buying a grain mill so I can grind my own flour. Whole grains store for so long, compared with flour which goes rancid within a few days. I hope that buying grain in bulk will save us money on all our breadmaking and baking, AND be better for us.
We buy most of our organics in bulk at Whole Foods. Even if you don’t buy a case, just what you need, ie a cup, it’s generally cheaper than HEB, King Soopers, Kroger, Meijer, Wegmans, Giant, etc….. I’ve checked each time we’ve moved across the country for four years. IF you buy an entire case you get a 10% discount!
Thank you for that tip! I’m just getting into organics and couponing so I’ll definitely look into cases.
Could you give me an example of what a farm store would be?
Click on the link in the post and it will take you to a listing of local farms in your area which sell to the public and their contact information.
We buy lots of bulk foods – wheat, oats, sugar, rice, beans, yeast, popcorn, raisins – just to name a few. And, oh yes, those giant bags of chocolate chips from Sam’s! If you’re storing lots of bulk foods, it’s a worthwhile investment to get some high quality food storage buckets with gamma seal lids, as they make storing and accessing the food so much easier. We ordered ours from Pleasant Hill Grain.
Another dangerous bulk purchase at Sam’s is that huge box of tortilla chips!
I love this post! I recently purchased a few bulk items myself (wheat, rice, and oats) but haven’t yet found the best way to store them. Any suggestions? Thanks!!
@Ann, We are a fan of the gamma seal lids. We ordered ours from Emergency Essentials (beprepared.com). You attach them onto 5-gallon buckets. They are really easy to seal, even if you’re not strong (I’m not!!) – they screw and unscrew and make an airtight seal. We have been using these for two years for our flour, sugar, and rice.
Laura at TenThingsFarm says
Keep in mind that when you purchase a big bag of something in bulk, you may need to transfer it to some sort of containers for long-term storage. If you have the containers, or can get them free, that’s great…but if you go spend a bundle on the storage, it can quickly eat up the savings.
I mill my own flour, and buy different grains in bulk. They come in paper sacks, then we transfer them to 5 gallon food grade buckets for storage. The buckets have airtight seals, and you can even add an oxygen absorber for long term storage. I got my buckets from bakeries – cleaned them out well then set them in the sun, then cleaned them again (setting in the sun took away the ‘sugar’ smell in the frosting buckets). I also got some gallon glass jars with lids from a beekeeper that was retiring, also free. They are great for storage too.
Just today I was reminded that the bigger size isn’t always the cheapest. Normally I purchase the Kroger brand travel wipes in the largest size possible because I assumed they cost less and I also didn’t have to remember to replace them in the diaper bag as often. For some reason I chose today to compare prices and discovered that the smallest size was cheapest – almost a penny less per wipe! With two in diapers that extra penny really adds up.
For my food bulk purchases, I’m lucky enough live close to a farm store where I buy all of my cooking and baking staples. Spices are especially cheap there. I can’t imagine how anyone pays full price when I am often paying less for more product (as much as 5-6 times the amount in a little McCormick bottle).
@Whitney, This is a great point. I primarily bring a calculator so that I can do the math in situations like this. Plus, in our family of two we don’t go through food that fast or make large quantities at dinner, so often the smaller containers are a better value.
I also buy my spices, flour and pasta in the bulk bins at our local grocery store – they are so much cheaper!!
Linda @ Linda's Lunacy says
Great post! We live in such a rural area we don’t have that many options. We live about 25 miles from Walmart, and about 2 hours away from a city with a Sams or Costco. Makes it challenging to lower the grocery budget.
Paying attention to cost per ounce is a great tip. You do have to check it every time, though, I have found. They are sneaky in trying to get our money, the cost per ounce can change from week to week. Sometimes the larger is a better deal, and the next week the smaller.
@Linda @ Linda’s Lunacy, Sometimes the listed price per unit is wrong, too. I hope it’s accidental.
My biggest annoyance is when the units are different. How am I supposed to compare a 1 quart box to a 1 lb box? Store scales aren’t nearly accurate enough.
don’t buy something in bulk if you’ve never tried it before. we got burned on a 15lb bag of rice, because it was cheap, but a store brand we’d never had before. It was sticky and so starchy always boiled over unless i was right there to catch it. now i buy the smallest size to try and then go back for the bulk or multiple package purchases.
Kassandra Wood says
The main items we purchase in bulk are those that usually do not go on sale. We definitely buy staple items in bulk. For instance, I always buy rice, sugar and flour in bulk. Another item we buy in bulk is pet food. We have a 100 pound AmStaff. She eats about 40 pounds of food per month. We find that it costs a lot less to feed her when we buy her food in the largest package possible. The only time we don’t do this is when there are incredible coupon deals which would make these items near free. 🙂
Rebecca (Craving Simplicity) says
This is really helpful! Thanks!!