Here’s the thing about buying in bulk: If you want to do it, you have to be really committed to it.
OK, so you can buy a mega-pack of paper towels at the drugstore on occasion and otherwise just shop normally, but the best bulk deals are to be found at warehouse club stores that require annual membership fees. (Costco and Sam’s Club, for instance, will cost you $55 and $50 per year, respectively.)
So if you decide to take the plunge and sign up for the membership, you’ll want to take full advantage of the best bulk-buying opportunities these stores have to offer. Here, then, are the things you should always aim to buy in bulk.
T.P. meets the main criteria for bulk-buying: It doesn’t go bad, you’re always going to need it and you use it all the time. Just make sure you have room for it in your house, and that you buy a brand that you and your family actually like.
Leah Ingram, who writes the Suddenly Frugal blog, says that she gets twin 12-packs of Scott 1,000-roll toilet paper and uses a coupon, which brings the per-roll cost down from $1 to about 70-80 cents.
Needless to say, the same goes for paper towels, though Ingram notes that this isn’t always the case – she recounts how she recently used a coupon to get the cost of a single roll down to 29 cents. Most of the time, though, you’ll want to get a large package.
“[Bottled water] is not always the greenest choice, but if you find yourself needing to quench the thirst of a large group, going for bottled in multipacks always makes sense,” says Ingram. She recounts how she recently needed to provide water for her daughter and her 10 friends. Rather than buy individual bottles at Wal-Mart for $1.50 each, she instead bought a 12-pack of Propel flavored water for $6.
At even larger quantities the savings will be greater, of course. Just make sure you’re capable of carrying the water bottle pack to and from your car.
“When my kids were very little, I only bought diapers in bulk from Sam’s Club or BJ’s,” says Ingram. “I’d get 72-or 96-packs. If you were traveling, you’d have to have a suitcase for it.”
Buying a 100-pack of diapers might sound daunting – in addition to the logistics of fitting it in your car and then finding room in your house, it also reminds you that you’ll be changing 100 diapers in the coming weeks. Still, doing it this way will save you money until you can get the kid potty-trained.
Dog Food and Treats
Kendal Perez of the Hassle-Free Savings blog says that when she buys treats for her dogs, she goes big. How big? Try a 14-pound box of large Milk-Bone treats at Sam’s Club, which can be had for around $10 and which she says is enough to last her two dogs for half a year. She also buys rawhide dog chews in bulk, though they don’t last as long in her house.
Just be careful that you don’t buy dog food with an imminent expiration date.
“Yes, dog food has an expiration date,” says Toni House of Save Your Money, Save Your Family. “Please do not feed your pets old, bad, outdated food. It does go bad and can mold.”
When people talk about buying in bulk, they probably think of hilariously oversized jars of food and towers of toilet paper. They probably wouldn’t think of joining Costco to get good deals on gum.
But if you’re already a member, you like to chew gum and you have a favorite brand, it’s worth buying it in bulk.
“At Wal-Mart, if you grab gum from the checkout it’s $1; at Sam’s Club in bulk, it’s 84 cents,” says Perez.
Just make sure you consider how often you chew gum – yes, even gum has an expiration date.
Toni House says that she’ll buy laundry detergent in bulk, which usually means two giant containers of liquid or powdered soap sold together.
“If you buy the Arm & Hammer brand powder, you’ll save 40%-50% and it will last you forever,” she says.
She adds that if you want to make the most of your purchase, follow the instructions and moderate your usage.
“People don’t pay attention – it tells you how much to put in for what size load,” she says. “If it tells you that you can get 240 loads, you should get 240 loads.”
Normally perishable goods should be avoided at the bulk store, unless you’re feeding one of those enormous families that they make reality shows about. But one notable exception is meat, which tends to freeze well. If you eat meat on a regular basis, it makes sense to find it when it’s on sale, buy a ton and put it in the freezer – but be careful to seal and freeze it properly, and don’t fool yourself into thinking that it will last forever in there.
“I do [buy meat] if it fits into my meal plan for the month,” says House. “But secure [it] like you're supposed to: Once you're opening it up and resealing it, it only lasts about 60 days. If not, it will last six to nine months, but you have to completely take all the air out of it… If you don’t freeze it correctly, it's wasted.”
Our tip? Open that package of chicken breasts, separate them into meal-size portions and store them individually in Ziploc bags. You can defrost them as you need them, without any need for resealing or refreezing.
When you buy all that meat, you’ll need something to store it in. The shopping experts at FatWallet.com point out that it’s good to buy storage products like foil, freezer bags and Tupperware in bulk.
As with anything you buy in bulk, just consider your usage. If you use Tupperware sparingly and tend to wash and reuse it, you probably don’t need to take up space in your kitchen with a dozen plastic containers. If, on the other hand, you freeze a lot of bulk meat, you’ll get a lot of use out of buying a ton of freezer bags.
Personal Care Items
It’s not just clothes that need washing. Rather than buy three-packs of bar soap at the drugstore, get a block of a dozen or more bars at Costco. The FatWallet experts likewise recommend shampoo, toothpaste and razors for your next trip to the warehouse club store.
And don’t forget deodorant – hey, it’s not like you’re going to stop stinking anytime soon. House says that her husband just picked up a six-pack of deodorant, which she says should last him at least a year.
Paper Plates and Plastic Forks
With barbecue season just a couple of months away, you might want to keep an eye out for deals on the paper plates and cups you’ll need to throw a good cookout. While you’re at it, get plastic cutlery and napkins, too. If you don’t use them all, there’s always next summer.
“If we have parties and such I hit the bulk stores to get paper plates and cups, I’ll have plenty to use for that party and the next couple,” says Perez.