Musings: Buying in Bulk

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Back to thinking about food costs and ways to keep them down. Today I’m specifically interested in how buying in bulk can ultimately save money, despite a larger up front cost. Since we are just two people, it can seem like buying in bulk might not have the benefit it does for larger families. But it does! The advantages we have found are:

  • lower cost per unit price.
  • one-time expense vs. numerous smaller purchases, theoretically keeping one out of the store.
  • food on hand in case of emergency.

The disadvantages to buying in bulk that we have experienced are:

  • finding ways and places to store a LOT of food.
  • can be difficult for one person to transport.
  • food spoiling before being used up.

Overall, though, we’ve managed to refine what we buy in large quantity to reflect what we eat and how we cook. At first I just got overly excited about large bags of things and would stock up without thinking about whether or not we’d eat them or if we even like them. I’ve gotten a bit better, too, about realizing that bulk doesn’t have to mean the biggest container of a particular item so much as figuring out how much we’ll use of a particular item over a specific period of time and finding the best opportunity to purchase a large quantity of that item at a low price. The period of time reflects how long a particular food item will store and still be good (this is often a LOT longer than you might think). And because I am looking for a good price, first and foremost, this means that sometimes I buy multiples of small packages rather than just finding the biggest package of whatever food item it is I want.

One thing I do continue to struggle with, though, is the discipline to stay out of stores OR not buy “same category” items once I have my bulk purchase made. An example would be oats — I have found it economical to buy 50lb bags of rolled oats at a local natural food store when it goes on sale. Also these happen to be some of the best tasting oats my husband and I have ever eaten. We both eat oats for breakfast regularly, but lately I have been buying breakfast cereal in addition to those rolled oats. This is fine for occasional variety, but really my focus should be on ways to use those oats as opposed to filling in with other cereals. I think of my bulk purchases as the backbone to my pantry; the staples around which I can build many meals.

These are foods I’ve found it helpful to have in my pantry at all times and which I purchase in large quantity:

  • rolled oats
  • dried beans (black, white, kidney, pinto, lentils, chickpeas)
  • rice (brown, jasmine)
  • flour (all-purpose, whole wheat)
  • nuts (almonds, chopped walnuts, pecans)
  • dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots)
  • chocolate chips
  • cocoa powder
  • some spices (peppercorns, chili powder, oregano, salt, seasoned salt)
  • vinegar
  • oils (vegetable, olive, cooking spray)
  • noodles (pasta, egg, ramen, soba, rice)
  • grains (quinoa, couscous, barley, grits/polenta, farina)
  • sugar (white, brown, molasses, corn syrup)
  • canned vegetables (tomatoes, salsa, pumpkin)
  • canned fruit (pineapple, mandarin oranges)
  • frozen veggies (corn, peas, spinach/kale, broccoli, edamame)
  • frozen meats (ground beef, ground turkey, ground chicken, sausage, chicken breasts, ham, turkey breast, fish, shrimp)
  • butter (in freezer)

The quantity I buy, as mentioned above, depends on how long the items will last, how much space we have to store them, and how frequently the best price comes around. I buy almost a year’s supply of butter at one time simply because it rarely goes on sale. I buy a a few months supply of frozen veggies at a time because I just like to have them on hand, even though I can frequently find them at low prices. It’s a balance of convenience and cost, for me. And the space I have to keep things is the background noise I always have to remember. I have a BJs haul to report, and I want to go through and note why I purchased each item and how long I expect it to last.

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4 thoughts on “Musings: Buying in Bulk

  1. I have found that the only things worth buying in bulk is meat, then breaking it in to smaller portions for my vaccum packer, spices and toilet paper. It seems like everything else I purchase in bulk tend to be too much for too long as too high of a sunken cost.

    1. Yes, there are some things that it doesn’t make sense for me to buy as much of at one time or to buy the smaller package, as I mentioned. I do buy the #10 size cans of crushed tomatoes because I use them to make red sauce, which I then freeze. But I would never use that many tomatoes if I just opened the can and used a few in a soup or stew. So for those purposes I keep smaller parcels on hand. The upfront cost for some things can be a real issue, though.

  2. I am loving this post. I occasionally go to the Bulk Barn to buy large bags of certain items to keep in glass containers in my “pantry”. I put pantry in quotation marks because my pantry includes the freezer and cupboards all over the house. (I have a very tiny kitchen). Some of my basics are different from yours, but I love to see what other people consider must-haves. I know that I will have to start a price book soon so that I will know at a glance whether a package on sale at the grocers is a better deal than the Bulk Food store. As you pointed out very well, several smaller packages may be a better deal than the biggest container you can find.

    1. My pantry includes my freezer and even my fridge. I am lucky enough to have a large pantry closet in my kitchen, although it is not as large as some I have seen!

      I need to update my price book (spreadsheet). There are definitely some prices that have changed. I also need to keep a price range, not just lowest common price. Some things are big enough staples that I’ll continue to purchase them no matter what, as long as they don’t exceed a certain price.

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