Does Buying in Bulk Really Save You Money?
9 MINUTE READ
Buying in bulk can seem pretty intimidating—especially when you’re trying to stick to your budget. You need a game plan before you even walk through the door of the store. And we’ve got one ready for you! Here’s what you need to know:
How to Buy in Bulk
While it might be tempting to grab that 80-ounce jar of mustard, ask yourself, Am I really going to eat that? You don’t want to buy in bulk just to end up with the “bulk” of it in the trash. Stick to buying things you know you or your family will eat.
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Comparing prices is always the right idea—but that’s even more true when it comes to buying in bulk. Cost per unit is super important here. But what the heck does “cost per unit” even mean? Don’t worry, there’s only a tiny bit of math involved. All you need to do is figure out how much you’re paying per item. You can do the math like this:
Total item price ÷ unit weight or number = price per unit(Example: $1.79 ÷ 12 eggs = $0.15 per egg)
It’s pretty quick and painless to figure out on your phone (even when you’re standing under all that fluorescent lighting in the store).
Where Can I Buy in Bulk?
There are two heavy hitters in the wholesale world: Costco and Sam’s Club. Both stores are pretty similar when it comes down to what they sell. If you want to buy a 10-pound bag of cubed cheese, this is where you’ll find it! But you can also buy in bulk at other stores like BJ’s Wholesale Club and even online outlets like Boxed and Amazon.
What Should I Buy in Bulk?
It might not always shake out this way, but in general, there are some items you can count on to be a better bargain when bought in bulk. Still, try to resist the temptation to stock up on things to avoid making a return trip, or the (not real) pressure to do all of your grocery shopping at the warehouse store so you “get your money’s worth” out of your membership. Watch out for overspending!
Here are some items you should buy in bulk:
- Dental care items (electric toothbrush heads and dental floss)
- Paper products (toilet paper and paper towels)
- Canned goods
- Dry beans
What Should I Not Buy in Bulk?
This goes without saying, but you don’t need to buy everything in bulk. Some things just won’t make sense for your household or your budget.
And yes, we’re going to keep saying this: Don’t buy anything in bulk you won’t actually use—especially if it’s perishable. Buying perishable items like produce in bulk is always a huge gamble. The odds are ever in your favor that it’s going to spoil before you can eat all of it. Yeah, 20 avocados for $3.99 is a steal. But if they all go bad before you can eat them, what’s the point?
Go ahead and save yourself the heartbreak of having to toss food in the trash, and just avoid buying things like:
- Perishable items (aka food that goes bad quickly)
- Spices (they can outlive their shelf life and flavor)
What About Buying Meat in Bulk?
If you’re serious about buying meat in bulk—and we’re talking “live off it for the rest of the year” serious—there are a couple of options you can look into.
You can buy meat at many warehouse stores, through online farm-to-table suppliers like Crowd Cow, or straight from a local farmer in your area (use a website like Eat Wild or Local Harvest to find a farm near you).
Let’s just cut to the chase here: If your grocery budget is tight, dropping $75 on a big pack of meat in one month won’t be the right thing for you. But if you can eat off that 40 pounds of chicken for the next six months (and you already have a deep freezer, vacuum sealer and a massive number of zip-close bags on hand), then $75 might be a worthwhile investment for you.
Cost Comparison of Buying in Bulk
We went out and compared 15 items you might find on your family’s Kroger grocery list against their bigger cousins at Costco (tax not included). Keep in mind, these prices are based on our local area of Franklin, Tennessee, so prices may be different where you live.
Here’s our grocery store vs. buying in bulk breakdown:
|Grocery Store Item||Grocery Store (price per unit)||Bulk (price per unit)|
|Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats||$4.49 ÷ 2.6 lbs. = $1.73||$7.99 ÷ 10 lbs. = $0.80|
|Sabra Classic Hummus||$3.99 ÷ 10 oz. = $0.40||$7.99 ÷ 32 oz. = $0.25|
|Trash Bags (store brand)||$4.99 ÷ 80 ct. = $0.06||$16.99 ÷ 200 ct. = $0.08|
|Folgers Classic Roast Coffee||$7.99 ÷ 30.5 oz. = $0.26||$9.99 ÷ 51 oz. = $0.20|
|Honey Bunches of Oats Cereal||$3.89 ÷ 18 oz. = $0.22||$7.19 ÷ 48 oz. = $0.15|
|Clif Bars||$1.25 (per bar)||$21.99 ÷ 24 bars = $0.92|
|Whole Milk (store brand)||$2.99 (one gallon)||$3.59 (one gallon)|
|Chobani Yogurt||$1.25 (each)||$16.79 ÷ 20 ct. = $0.84|
|Eggs (store brand, cage-free)||$2.57 ÷ 12 eggs = $0.21||$4.09 ÷ 24 eggs = $0.17|
|Cheez-It Crackers||$4.99 ÷ 21 oz. = $0.24||$8.99 ÷ 48 oz. = $0.19|
|Prego Pasta Sauce||$5.19 ÷ 67 oz. = $0.08||$10.19 ÷ 96 oz. = $0.11|
|Late July Tortilla Chips||$2.99 ÷ 6 oz. = $0.50||$8.19 ÷ 28 oz. = $0.29|
|Mott’s Applesauce||$3.47 ÷ 46 oz. = $0.08||$8.89 ÷ 138 oz. = $0.06|
|Kraft Macaroni & Cheese||$1 (per box)||$16.79 ÷ 18 boxes = $0.93|
|Charmin Toilet Paper||$18.99 ÷ 18 ct. = $1.06||$24.49 ÷ 30 ct. = $0.82|
So Does Buying in Bulk Really Save You Money?
The short answer is yes. But it all depends on what you’re buying.
Looking at our list, you can see some winners right away. If you’re eating oatmeal every day, it makes more sense to buy 10 pounds of it for $7.99. To get 10 pounds at the grocery store, you’d have to buy four boxes of oats. That would set you back almost $18! And to equal the amount of chips you get in bulk, you’d have to buy five 6-ounce bags. That would cost $15 instead of $8.19—nearly a $7 difference!
You might think savings like that won’t add up to very much. We hear you. So let’s break down what your yearly savings can look like if you switch it up and start buying in bulk for just three things:
Let’s say you and your spouse drink a combined four cups of life-giving coffee a day. If you buy your coffee in bulk, that’s a $16 savings each year. And if both of you grab yogurt to snack on at work each day, buying that in bulk would save you a whopping $214 over the course of the year. On top of that, tossing Clif Bars into your kids’ lunch boxes every day while going the bulk-buy route would save you right around $178 each year. Now bust out your calculator and get excited—that adds up to more than $400 in yearly savings! That’s your Christmas fund right there!
|Item||Grocery Yearly Cost||Bulk Yearly Cost||Annual Savings|
|Folgers Classic Roast Coffee||$56||$40||$16|
Things to Consider Before You Buy in Bulk
We know, filling up your shopping cart to the brim with bulk items can feel thrilling, but remember to ask yourself these questions before you get too carried away:
- Will this go bad before I can eat all of it?
- Do I have enough freezer or pantry space to store all of it?
- What is the price per unit (or ounce)?
- Do I really need so much of this item?
- Have I budgeted for it?
And don’t forget that these warehouse stores require you to become a member to get all the perks of their club pricing. That’s an annual fee of $45 to $60 for basic membership, depending on the store.1,2 And if you have to drive an hour out of your way to get to the nearest store, what you save might not cover the gas it costs to get you there.
Stick to Your Budget When Buying in Bulk
Is buying in bulk the most budget-friendly thing to do? Not always. It really depends on your needs. Like everything else in your budget, think through whether or not it works for you and your specific situation. If it does fit your lifestyle and budget, grab a few staple items in bulk and see how much you can save!
It’s sad, but true—sometimes you won’t see that much of a difference in savings. For example, buying eggs in bulk will save you a whopping 4 cents! That’s not much to write home about. That’s why you have to crunch the numbers and find out what’s worth it (to you) and what’s not.
Don’t feel the pressure to buy in bulk if the up-front cost doesn’t make sense for your budget. And watch out for how easy it is to buy things in bulk that you weren’t intending to purchase. Even though it might seem like a pretty good deal, if it’s going to derail your budget—it’s not worth it, folks. Don’t get sucked into buying stuff you don’t need.
And whether you’re buying in bulk or not, make sure you plan out your grocery budget long before you ever set foot in the store. It’s easy with our free budgeting app, EveryDollar. You can set up your first budget in as little as 10 minutes and then move right along to your grocery shopping list. There’s no excuse not to do it!