A Guide to Buying in Bulk

Written by Kate Fane

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Ah, bulk shopping. There's nothing like strolling down those fluorescent lit aisles and filling your cart with five pounds of sour keys, chocolate bark, and pork rinds. But once you get over the novelty of bringing home more junk food than you could ever possibly eat, you start to wonder: Is bulk shopping really the best bang for your buck?

First off, some basic advice: bulk shopping is really not the time to take a chance on that three-pound bag of spicy yogurt almond clusters. Instead, fill your cart with tried and true items you'd be buying anyway, even if they weren't significantly cheaper, and use the store's scales to avoid over-buying.

And don't be afraid to shop around. Use an item's “unit price" to compare prices between the bulk or wholesale shop and the supermarket. You'll need to do some math, or cheat and use a unit price calculator.

Here Are Your Five Best Bets for Buying in Bulk:

1. Rice and Grains

These pantry staples last forever, so they're great to stock up on. And while smaller bags of pre-seasoned or “artisanal" rices and pastas are expensive, the massive no-name or international brands are total steals. Just compare a box of branded basmati rice with a 20lb bulk bag. The difference in price is significant.

2. Spices

Constantly shelling out $5 on tiny spice jars at the grocery store isn't ideal. Name-brand spices are marked up as high as 97%, while your local bulk store or market will have them for a fraction of the price.

3. Cereal

Brand-name cereals are legendary for their price inflation, since a lot of money goes into creating that perfect cartoon character to lure children's limited attention spans — all while high-end cereal prices are increasing and package sizes are shrinking. Meanwhile, you'll find generic corn flakes at bulk shops for pennies on the pound. Your kid will never know the difference, promise.

4. Nuts

Nuts are a great bulk buy, since they typically have a long shelf life and can be really pricey at your local supermarkets. Case in point: organic cashews purchased through online distributors are generally much cheaper than they are in stores. You could also get adventurous with it and make your own nut butters!

5. Batteries

If you haven't made the switch to rechargeable, then you might want to opt for bulk batteries. People tend to buy these out of desperation when their TV remote dies, and grocery and drug stores take advantage by boosting their prices. Prices at wholesale stores are a fraction of what they are at drug stores—you just need to plan ahead.

And Now, the Items You May Want to Avoid:

1. Liquid Bleach and Laundry Detergent

Surprisingly, this stuff tends to expire after six months. And supermarkets have sales on detergent and bleach all the time. Unless you're using very high quantities, you probably don't have a need to stock up.

2. Pop and Chips

Grocery stores constantly put pop and chips on sale for holidays and other promotions. And their regular prices are pretty close to what you'll find at wholesale stores.

3. Diapers

You'll want to watch those diaper sizes: the smallest quantity of diapers that a major wholesale store sells is a 120-pack, and at the rate that kids grow, your little one might be too big for their size before you finish the pack. You might want to consider an online diaper subscription service instead.

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