To Buy… or Not to Buy in Bulk

Written By:

Does Bulk Buying Save Money?

Does Bulk Buying Save Money?

Sometimes we make financial decisions on the “bigger is better” principle. Buying a new home can mean more square footage for a growing family. A higher credit score is always a good thing.  But what about shopping at supermarkets, discount department stores, or member warehouses?  Is bigger always better?

If you’re prone to pushing that oversized shopping cart up and down the concrete aisles, you owe it to yourself – and your budget – to think about bulk buying.

1.  Avoid impulse buying.

We live in an era of pared-down budgets.  Maybe you’re saving for something big, like that new home.  Spur-of-the-moment buying in bulk can really put a dent in your household resources.  Impulse buying, like impulse eating, is often driven by emotion rather than by need.  A rational approach to bulk buying is best.  If you didn’t know you needed it when you entered the store, there’s a very strong possibility that you still don’t need it.

[Check Your Credit: Don’t Guess. Know.® Get your free credit report and score. No credit card required.

2.  Use it, don’t hoard it.

Think first about how you will use that bargain case of canned lima beans. Then be persuaded by the price.  Don’t haul it home and jam it into your pantry “just in case” because you might use it “someday.”  Chances are good that you won’t.

3.  Where will you store it?

If you don’t have a place to put your half-gallon jug of dishwashing liquid, it’s not as big a bargain as it seemed when you were pulling it off the shelf.  On the other hand, if you have room for that treasure trove of bargain bathroom tissue, grab that 48-roll package and bring it home.

4.  If it has an expiration date, think twice.

So you’ve found a giant vat of queso dip or a 5-pound bag of coffee beans for an unbelievably low price.  Check its “use by” date, or at least its “sell by” date.  If you end up trashing “bargains” that have spoiled, bulk buying is false economy.

5.  Bigger is not always cheaper.

The per-unit cost is the key.  It’s often cheaper to buy bathroom tissue on sale in the usual 12-roll package than to purchase a 24-roll package in my local member warehouse.  The same holds true for laundry and dishwasher detergent.   Carry a calculator with you, and compute as you go.   The results will sometimes surprise you.

6.  Remember the cost of membership.

Great bargains abound in membership warehouses.  But consider the annual fee in calculating your true savings.  If you’re paying $50 a year to walk through the door, and you trim your household expenses by $45 a year by shopping there, a warehouse is not helping you.  On the other hand, if you pay $50 a year to slash your expenses by $500, warehouse buying makes sense.  Being a smart budget planner puts you in a position to know whether membership shopping is a good idea for you.

[Check Your Credit: Don’t Guess. Know.® Get your free credit report and score. No credit card required.

For more great tips on budgeting and building your financial health – including a free credit report, credit score and budget planner – visit Quizzle.com.  Also, check out these related budget-smart articles:

Photo credit: @Nate Kay on Flickr

  • Becky

    There’s definitely no “one size fits all” policy when it comes to wholesale buying. The price per unit thing is something I often neglect, I must admit, so I should keep an eye on that.

    However, just because something has an expiry date, doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t buy it in bulk. It depends on your situation or on your family. If the household happens to go through a perishable product like nobody’s business, it’s often worth buying in bulk. Obviously, there’s the potential problem of devouring much more of it in the same amount of time, so you need to be careful there too but expiry dates don’t always have to be a problem.

    And one other thing, it sounds obvious but I forgot the first time and I’m betting a lot of people do. If you buy meat in bulk, whatever you do, separate it into smaller portions before freezing it. Otherwise you’re going to have to take a hammer and chisel to it further on down the line.