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I still remember shopping at Sam’s Club with my parents when the buying in bulk phenomenon took off.
It was fun to roam the store, eat a few free samples, and marvel at the number of toilet paper rolls you could buy in one package.
I didn’t really think much about it at while we were shopping, but I remember my dad was very impressed with how much money he saved buying in bulk. It makes sense: when you purchase a large quantity of an item, your cost per item is greatly reduced and you can theoretically save a ton of money.
My wife and I didn’t start buying items in bulk until we got serious about budgeting. Today, we have a good list of which items are cheaper when purchased in bulk, and we rely on it to keep our budget as low as possible.
What is buying in bulk?
There’s no mystery here – buying in bulk is the process of buying large quantities of an item all at once time. For example, you head to Costco and come home with 264 rolls of toilet paper (OK, maybe that’s an extreme example).
Why do people buy in bulk? It’s all about saving time and money.
When you stock up on common household items that you know you’re going to use, you’re saving yourself time by eliminating extra shopping trips. You also save money because you’re purchasing items for a lower price per unit than if you were to buy smaller quantities.
See: 11 Ways to Save Time and Money
Does Buying in Bulk Really Help You Save Money?
According to our research, buying in bulk almost always will help you save money for a few reasons:
- You’re getting a lower price per unit, as we mentioned previously. You can figure this out easily by comparing figures such as price per ounce, price per pound, etc.
- You avoid emergency trips to local convenience stores that mark up their prices and kill your budget.
- Buying in bulk creates better shopping habits and deal awareness.
When is buying in bulk a bad idea? Here’s when bulk shopping will actually cost you more money:
- You’re purchasing perishable items that you’re not likely to use up before they go bad.
- The items are extremely large or you don’t have a practical place to store them. This could lead to damaged items and a financial loss.
- If you’re moving soon, skip the bulk purchases until later. Goods could get damaged during the move.
- Don’t buy in bulk if it causes you to go deeply into credit card debt. The interest paid on your bulk purchases will far outweigh your savings.
- If you have a small family, be very selective on bulk purchases. It might be a great deal to snag 5 gallons of milk, but will your family of two really drink it before it expires?
Best Practices for Buying in Bulk
Shopping in bulk doesn’t have to be complicated. And while it’s simple economics in most cases, there are a few simple rules of thumb that everyone should follow in order to make the most of bulk shopping.
1.) Keep an inventory of the bulk items you already have
If you buy 60 paper towel rolls when you already have 75 waiting to be used at time, your money could have been spent better elsewhere. Which leads us to our next point.
2.) Buy only what you need
Sure, this might seem to go against the grain of buying in bulk. But you have to balance out taking advantage of great bulk purchases with your actual needs. A lifetime supply of shampoo is a waste of money and space sitting in your closet.
3.) Be sure to purchase items that will last until you need them
One of the most common mistakes when buying in bulk is failure to pay attention to expiration dates, “best by” dates, and recommended use dates. It is important to be sure that the items you buy won’t go bad or lose their effectiveness before you need them.
For example, many sunscreen products begin to lose effectiveness over time. Many household medications, teeth whitening products, household bleach, and some cleaning products fit this mold, too. So be sure that the items you buy in bulk won’t go to waste.
4.) Keep a log of common bulk prices on items you regularly need
If you’re a large family, there are many items you’ll go through frequently, such as milk, eggs, bread, toilet paper, paper towels, pasta, rice, etc. For these items that you use frequently, we recommend keeping a price log in order to maximize your purchasing power. Simply record the item name, cost per unit, and quantity you typically purchase and keep your log handy when shopping. If you notice pricing changes, you can update them in your log.
5.) Pay attention to sales
Sale prices can often be gimmicky or come on the heels of secret price markups, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes sale prices can help you get even better deals on bulk buys!
6.) Stick to the brands you know and trust
Sometimes it can be tempting to save even more money by trying relatively obscure or unfamiliar brands when buying in bulk. But there’s nothing worse than finding out that great toilet paper deal actually feels a bit more like sandpaper on your tush.
The 15 Best Items to Buy in Bulk to Save Money
Over time, you’ll become a more savvy shopper and quickly recognize good bulk buys when they present themselves. If you pay close attention to unit price, expiration dates, and the quantities your family actually uses, bulk shopping is a great way to save money over time.
Here is our list of the top 15 items to buy in bulk.
- Alcoholic beverages – If you’re going to drink, do it sparingly, responsibly, and cheaply! Most products, including beer, liquor, and other adult beverages can be purchased at a fraction of the regular cost when you purchase them in larger quantities. Just be sure you store them properly to maximize their shelf life.
- Eggs – They’re generally inexpensive to start, but great deals can be found on organic eggs when purchased in large quantities.
- Meat – If you’re not a fan of freezing meat, this won’t work for you. But the best deals on ground beef, chicken, steak, pork, and just about any meat will be had by purchasing large quantities. It’s worth investing in high-quality freezer bags and carefully recording dates when you re-package meat purchased in bulk.
- Dishwasher detergent – Liquid, powder, and detergent tabs will all keep very well if you make sure they don’t get wet.
- Soap – We always keep large containers of hand soap and body wash on hand in our household.
- Batteries – It pays to purchase batteries in large quantities once every year or two.
- Light bulbs – Even if you’re purchasing long-lasting LED bulbs, you’ll save the most money when buying light bulbs in large quantities.
- Diapers – Short of potty training your children as early as they’re ready, buying diapers in bulk will always help you get the best possible deal.
- Wipes – Similarly, buying packages of wipes in large quantities can be a game changer.
- Butter – Butter has a long shelf life, is a staple in most kitchens, and can be a great deal.
- Pasta – Dry pasta has a long shelf life and should always be purchased in large quantities.
- Rice – If you eat a lot of rice, buying in bulk is a great way to keep your family full for a very low price.
- Toilet paper and paper towels – These items will never go bad, and the unit price drops significantly when you buy large quantities.
- Toothpaste – This is a great buy, especially for large families.
- Toothbrushes and toothbrush replacement heads – They’re much less expensive the single-item packages.
Common Items You Should NEVER Buy in Bulk
It might seem like buying in bulk is almost always a good idea, but some items just aren’t worth it for one reason or another. They might seem like good deals at the time, but buying these items in bulk could actually cost you more money in the long run:
- Olive oil
- Canned vegetables
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Bread *unless you freeze it
The Best Bulk Buys for Your Kitchen
Buying bulk items for the kitchen can be tricky because you’re dealing with sensitive expiration dates and potential space issues in your pantry and cupboards. But if you can develop a system and pay close attention to your family’s needs and storage capabilities, you can save a lot of money with minimal effort.
Here are our top choices for buying in bulk for the kitchen:
- Paper towel
- Aluminum foil
- Plastic wrap
- Trash bags
- Zipper storage bags, all varieties
- Surface cleaners
- Dish soap
- Antibacterial wipes
- Coffee filters
- Tea bags
- Dishwasher detergent
- Bottled water
- Milk *only if you have a big family
The Best Bulk Buys for Your Bathroom
Bathroom products often present the best money saving opportunities for bulk shoppers. As long as you have sufficient space, buying these items in large quantities can help save a lot of money in your budget:
- Toilet paper
- Body wash *Opt for larger containers when possible to reduce unit cost
- Shampoo *Same as above
- Dental floss
- Glass cleaner
- Antibacterial wipes
More Strategies for Buying in Bulk
If you’re serious about saving money by shopping in bulk, there are a couple additional strategies you can implement to potentially save extra money in your budget. They’re not for the faint of heart, but they work.
Wholesale suppliers like Sam’s Club and Costco may not like it when customers do this, but they know it happens all the time. It can help you save $20-25 per year if you share your membership with a family member or friend. One of you will need to put the registration in your name, and then you’ll need to shop together or put one person in charge of buying for the group.
Use coupons and savings apps whenever possible
If you can take advantage of coupons and apps like Ibotta when shopping for bulk buys, it’s a simple way to save even more money.