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Buy in bulk
This topic gets a little bit tricky, in my opinion. Maybe it is because of my opinion. We have a larger family than either my husband and I ever planned. Definitely larger than the families we grew up in. So, we have need of buying in bulk a little more than smaller families.
But I do not stockpile! In fact, I kind of get frustrated with those shows which glorify couponing to create massive stockpiles. The allure of saving money with coupons – the strategizing, the excitement of a low total price – belies the fact that these people are typically buying what they do not need. Yes, I am sure there are some who buy to donate. And I know there are some with large families, on a budget, who will go through all that food. But the general “I have 300 rolls of toilet paper in my basement” buyer is what I am talking about.
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The concept of having a small store of food and supplies is not lost on me. Done wisely I am all for a trip to Sam’s Club. But sometimes it can be a little bit overwhelming for those who are just starting out in the savings game.
- What do I buy?
- How much?
- When do I buy?
These are the questions we ask ourselves as we seek to follow others in the saving game.
Guidelines for Buying in Bulk
The answers to these questions vary from family to family but here are my guidelines for buying in bulk.
1. Bulk Means Small Quantities, too.
Locate the bulk bins. They may be in your local health food store or independent grocer. Buy small quantities of things you only need for a recipe or two.
This would be an example where buying in bulk means not coming home with a gallon of oil or a vat of flour (a la Costco). Instead you may need a quantity of an item as small as 1/4 of a cup. Why buy the entire container when you only need a little bit?
Put a little in a bag and bring it home from the bulk bin and save yourself money and shelf space in your pantry.
This is also helpful when you want to try out an item, but you are not sure you will like it. I had never used bran in a recipe before, but I had a recipe that called for a little bit of it. Instead of buying a big bag of bran that would sit on a shelf and rot if I didn’t like the recipe, I got a small quantity at the bulk bin and used it in the recipe.
It cost me very little out of pocket and I didn’t have a bunch left over.
2. Buy in Bulk on Selected Items
Buy in bulk when you know you will use the item a LOT and it is a great deal. After watching the sales for a little while, you will notice the prices of many of the items you buy each time you go to the grocery or drug store run on a cycle.
If you buy at the bottom of the price cycle, you can stock up at the best time and have the items on hand for everyday use. This way you can get as much as you estimate you need until the cycle hits the bottom again, when you can stock up again.
Be aware of shelf life of items, some have built in sell by dates that are hard and fast for a reason, but some only have sell by dates so that they can move merchandise off the shelves and get you to buy again sooner.
3. Limit your Bulk Buying
Set aside a space to keep your bulk buys and limit yourself to this space only.
We don’t have cable, but I cannot tell you how many of my friends told me about the show on TLC about extreme couponing where people buy ridiculous amounts of food and toilet items and keep them wherever they can stash them.
Not to judge what they do, because every situation is different, but there is a difference between hoarding and having a little extra on hand for a rainy day. Earlier this year, I set up a storage section in our garage for our bulk buys on hand and I have found that seeing it everyday as I leave the house reminds me not to bring home more than I can fit right there. I can also see, at a glance, what we are running low on and what we really need. This picture reminds me I need to get in there and reorganize it!
4. Beware the Bulk Buy Pricing
Some items you can get at Costco (and the like) are a great bargain. I went there today and got some butter, eggs, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, pita chips and Cheez-its (our family loves these and goes through them WAY TOO FAST!!). We are having a party for our daughter this weekend and I needed a large quantity of some of these things. But right next to all these reasonably priced bulk items are other items that are sized way too large and are too expensive per unit.
Always look at the per unit price and compare it with what you could get it for at the regular grocer (with or without a coupon). Often you will find that your grocery store has a better price per unit than the vat vendors.
Another consideration at the checkout lane: Will I use all x pounds of this before it goes bad? If the answer is no, you are wasting money and shelf space.
5. Snack on a Budget
Earlier last year we noticed our Sam’s Club bills were inordinately high. We go on a pretty regular schedule and buy much the same stuff each time. So it took me a while to figure out where our money was going.
Our kids – four of them – were in desperate need of portion control! The problem lay mostly with snack times. Immediately I did a number of things to make sure we were not wasting our money on snacks from Sam’s Club.
- instituted a no waste policy on snacks
- put kid portion sized bowls within reach
- insisted the kids put their snacks into a bowl and the big container back in the pantry
- implemented a more regimented schedule on snack times
We are home all day. And if I let my kids, they would eat all day! I am thankful for bulk buys because we have a large family. But the large size of our family does not mean we have to break our budget.
Psst…I have some tips for Snack Planning on a Budget. You can find them here.
If you are new to this ABCs of Savings series, you can check out the first post in the series here.