Does Buying Food in Bulk Save Money?

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by Ryan

This is an Other Side of the Fence article, in which I take the opposite viewpoint of a popular idea and/or debate a specific thought.

A while back Matt at Debt Free Adventure wrote a post about buying in bulk it was titled: Save Money by Buying Sale Items in Bulk. Now as I looked at the image of 10 bags of tortilla chips and 14 cans of sauce that he bought to save money, I couldn’t help but think to myself… I would eat that all in a weekend, especially if I had some coronas to go with it!

This got me to wondering: Does buying food in bulk save money?

I see where Matt is coming from and it probably works for a lot of people, but it wouldn’t work for me. Here’s why:

I don’t have anywhere to put it all – I live in a tiny apartment with a living room, small bedroom for myself, and a tiny kitchen. I don’t have a storage cellar for my gallon buckets of peanut butter and pickles.

I would eat it in a weekend – As I mentioned earlier I would eat it. I’m not sure about you, but I tend to eat around the house when I’m bored. If it’s out of sight it’s out of mind. Same goes for this concept. If you don’t have a bunch of food in the fridge you can’t eat it.

It would be an excuse for a party – C’mon if you have 14 bags of chips you need to invite people over and make a party out of it! I like my friends and all, but I don’t want to feed them all the time.

I’d have to use an evil grocery cart – Earlier I wrote a post about why using a grocery carts are evil. A bit extreme, yes, but if i bought in bulk, I’d most certainly have to use an evil cart.

Fresh foods can’t be purchased in bulk – I’m a bit of a food snob so buying fresh fruits, veggies, and meats really isn’t possible in bulk. Most of the foods bought in bulk are full of preservatives so they aren’t a good investment in your health, but are usually quick fix type foods.

So those are my reasons for not buying food in bulk. Obviously my situation is different than a lot of other people. I see where Matt is coming from and it probably works great for him, but for a person such as myself, bulk in the grocery store means more bulk in my belly and in the end doesn’t really save me any more money.

What do you think? Do you buy food in bulk at the grocery store?

Do you have enough self control that it doesn’t change your eating habits?

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy January 29, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Buying in bulk is wonderful for large families, but I’m with you Ryan. I save more in the long run by only buying what I need. It keeps me from eating too much as well. The only exceptions are pasta and some canned goods, because they never go bad and since I live in the middle of nowhere in earthquake country, it’s a comfort to know that I have supplies for a few weeks if the grocery store falls down. I also purchase paper towels and toilet paper in bulk. Same reason. ;o)
.-= Tracy´s last blog ..Another Measure of Wealth =-.

LeanLifeCoach January 29, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Take a look at my OJ post, I save a ton buying fresh Oranges in bulk!

That being said, I am not a big believer. Several months ago I went on a price comparison mission and found several products we buy routinely actually cost more in bulk. You cannot make assumptions when it comes to shopping!
.-= LeanLifeCoach´s last blog ..How To File Taxes ā€“ Let Me Count The Ways =-.

thriftygal January 29, 2010 at 10:13 pm

When I first signed up at the bulk store, I went nuts and bought candy on bulk, but then my bathroom scale forbade me from even looking at the candy aisle and my waist thanks me for it! Now I only buy non-perishables like oil or diapers in bulk for the exact reasons you mention. Once in a while, I’ll buy their boxed party foods like pigs-in-a-blanket if we are expecting company.

I feel like a food snob myself because I mostly buy fresh fruits, veggies and meats. Since starting a budget and planning my meals, I’ve been trying to find coupons for them, but have not yet been successful. Does that mean all those coupon clippers who buy $100 worth of groceries for $0.25 are really only buying processed foods???
.-= thriftygal´s last blog ..How to extend the life of your clothes =-.

Matt Jabs January 29, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Thank you for the link.

We just freeze the salsa then thaw when we go to use… it comes out just like it did when it was fresh. We created a pantry in our basement to store all the extras, and we just don’t eat it all in one setting. šŸ˜‰

Now instead of going to the store when we need more food… we go to our pantry. It’s pretty awesome actually. Cheers.
.-= Matt Jabs´s last blog ..Turbotax ā€“ Prepare Taxes Online ā€“ Free eFile =-.

Ryan January 30, 2010 at 12:53 am

@ Tracy – Toilet paper in bulk is a must… however that also tempts me to relive my high school days and toss it on my neighbor’s tree! I can’t seem to win with bulk…

@ Coach – Interesting, a lot of people probably just assume so the stores just raise the price. I heard that about Wal-Mart from a documentary I watched… a lot of their products aren’t the cheapest, but the really low ones are showcased to make you assume everything is cheaper than competitors… tricky.

@ Thriftygal – I hadn’t thought about it that way, but yes… I almost never clip coupons because there aren’t any for what I buy… this can be explained in a word… MARKETING. Farmers selling produce don’t market or advertise, while coca-cola, nabisco, kraft, market a ton. I wonder what would happen to American’s eating habits if marketing for food was illegal… Extreme, but it would probably make us a lot less fat and we wouldn’t associate certain foods with being cool or fun.

@ Matt – No worries, thanks for giving me an article to link to… If you wanna just ship me some of those awesome chips and salsa we’ll call it even. šŸ˜‰
.-= Ryan´s last blog ..The Part Time Job Search =-.

Wojciech Kulicki January 30, 2010 at 6:44 am

I think you hit all the major pitfalls of shopping in bulk.

The “I would eat it all in a weekend” effect is something that really interests me in human psychology. We seem to use things at a higher rate when there’s abundance and at slower rates when there’s a shortage. I guess it’s only human nature…

I really like Matt’s approach of freezing and putting it out of sight.
.-= Wojciech Kulicki´s last blog ..How Personal is Personal Finance? =-.

Ryan January 30, 2010 at 10:03 am

@ Woj – I agree with you, which is why I try to create forced shortages in my life. Whether its by only having a little food in the fridge or not having any cash in my wallet it’s good to stretch yourself.
.-= Ryan´s last blog ..The Part Time Job Search =-.

Financial Samurai January 30, 2010 at 4:10 pm

With only two of us in the household buying in bulk will probably make us poorer and fatter.

We only buy what we need, and if we’re hungry, we make due what what we have.
.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..The People Asked To Get ROCKED & A Boulder Drops On Their Heads =-.

Daddy Paul February 1, 2010 at 10:53 am

Buying in bulk is a great idea for things like oatmeal or tuna. I cannot imagine buying chocolate candy in bulk. Iā€™d eat whatever I bought in one day. Many times the stuff gets old. Where is the savings?
.-= Daddy Paul´s last blog ..The 2010 IRA portfolio =-.

Ryan February 1, 2010 at 11:21 am

haha, I’m totally with you there with the chocolate. We made cookies about a month ago and had an extra bag of chocolate chips… they were demolished after about 2 days… Out of sight, out of mind!

Ileane February 14, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Hi Ryan,

I saw your site being featured over on Lisa’s blog.

I have to admit, I don’t have the most healthy eating habits so I’m going to take this concept a step further and say that eating out saves money for me too. I’m single so if I spend $5 at McDonald’s I save money, time and energy. I save on dish washing liquid, electricity, water, paper towels condiments…the list goes on.
When I actually go to the grocery store, I feel like I’m splurging.

I like it here, so I’ll look around some more.
Thank you.
.-= Ileane´s last blog ..Twitter, Tweetmeme, and Your Retweets =-.

Bradley Gauthier April 4, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I don’t buy in bulk because of the holding costs associated with it. If I spend $40 on 8 boxes of cereal, instead of $6/month, what else could have been done with the $34 that month?
.-= Bradley Gauthier´s last blog ..Workforce Motivation: 12 Psychology Concepts Every Entrepreneur Should Know =-.

Deborah San Gabriel May 29, 2010 at 6:43 am

Do please be careful about buying bulk oils and some bulk pasta dishes.

The oils start losing their flavor and nutritional values after about year; longer than that, they start to go rancid. Keep oils in a darker place (like a pantry with a door) and away from warm and hot pipes (my hot water pipes go right through my pantry).

I used to buy mac and cheese boxes in bulk, but no more. I had no idea the cheese packets went bad! I had one two years old, and the dried cheese was getting moldy. A visual hint for those who like this stuff: if the powdery cheese becomes clumpy, or looks like large sand grains, it’s gone bad. You won’t have to taste it to find out. Most brands have a freshness date stamped on the box.

And, as always, check for cereal moths and larvae.

Bulk paper products can be stored under tables and in bureaus and closets. (I have a small place, too.)

When buying in bulk, don’t assume you’re getting the best prices. Use coupons religiously in stores that accept them.

Related to this and another entry, shop the perimeter of the store, so if you do use the dreaded shopping cart cited in the other blog, you’re sure to get the fresh foods first.

But don’t worry – we all need our indulgences :)

Norah @ Femita September 8, 2010 at 7:02 am

I guess a lot depends on what you buy in bulk. If I would buy tons of ice cream, it would be gone in a weekend but this doesn’t hold true for canned beans… Buying in bulk can be a great money saver if you restrict it to ingredients you use for dinner only. No candy, no snacks etc.
.-= Norah @ Femita´s last blog ..How To Save Money On Groceries Without Sacrificing Food Quality or Taste =-.

ElleX February 19, 2011 at 11:22 am

I do buy some items in bulk such as toilet paper when on sale and I have coupons. I have room to store a bunch of bulk items but I just don’t want to. I agree with Bradley in that these items have a holding cost. I purchase what I can use in a month or two. I keep all food stuff in one (3 shelf) cabinet. I, too, buy primarily fruits, veggies and nuts.

Elisha September 20, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I buy a lot in bulk. Most food items are good for at least a year with the exception of fats and oils which are usually 6 months to a year. I look at th experation dates to get an idea. I buy dry pastas, crackers, tuna, beans, flour, rice, etc. I have been teaching myself to can, so I can buy fresh produce in bulk and can it. I know what is in it when I can and it is not full of preservatives that way. I make my own jelly also, which when I calculated it out, cost less and had less sugar in it than store bought. I have a year to use my store and I rotate through all my items. That is the realy trick is buying stuff you use, so you do not find yourself throwing away large amounts of food from spoilage.

Jeff September 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Bulk food saves money…no doubt about it…just compare per unit price with any non-bulk food store and its obvious. Many people have complicated lives and maybe lack the skills to make it work, but it’s less expensive for anyone who sets his or her mind on using bulk food and making it work.

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