Big warehouse clubs, food co-ops, natural food stores, and even regular supermarkets sell bulk quantities of food. The key to figuring out whether or not the savings is significant depends on several factors. Here are four things to keep in mind:
1. Frequency of use It's no big deal to buy paper towels, paper plates, or toilet paper in bulk since these items last forever and will eventually be used. But buying a 10-pound bag of pears or a huge carton of salad greens takes a little more careful assessment. Will these delicate fresh foods be used up before they spoil?
2. Cost per ounce Sometimes shelf tags underneath a food item break down the cost per ounce for different-sized packages of an item so it's easy to compare cost. But keep a calculator handy to crunch these numbers yourself. The biggest package is sometimes cheaper. Other times it's not.
3. The "sale" factor Supermarkets and discount merchants run weekly specials on fruit, meat, or even laundry detergent. Many times these prices are below cost, or are "loss leaders" meant to draw shoppers to the store. In this case, buying on sale can be better than many warehouse deals.
4. Membership dues Most warehouse clubs charge $40-$50 annual membership fees, so the savings disappear if you shop there infrequently. Still, most families find the savings secured on one or two trips is enough to recoup the cost of joining. One downside: it can be tempting to overbuy in warehouse clubs, particularly on nonfood items.
More tips for the bulk-minded:
- Start your own bulk co-op with friends, family, or church groups. Buy 50 pound bags or rice, beans, flour, and oats and divvy them up between the group.
- Steer clear of single serve packages since price tags can be double or triple the usual cost. Instead, buy yogurt, pudding or chips in bulk and repackage them yourself.
- Buy steaks, hamburger, chicken, and pork chops in bulk packages and rewrap and freeze for future use.
- Purchase large blocks of cheese and grate yourself with a food processor. Repackage in
usable quantities and freeze.
- Consider cooking in bulk; this way you can freeze leftovers for future meals. For example, if a big package of hamburger is on sale, cook triple the usual chili recipe and divide leftovers and freeze. See our Freezing Foods article for more ideas.