How Much Does Buying in Bulk Save You?
Who doesn’t like strolling the aisles at Costco, picking up a jumbo pack of toilet paper for a fraction of what you’d pay in store, an entire case of water for $3, or two outdoor throw pillows for $14.99? Bonus points for the $1.50 hot dog and soda.
While buying in bulk can certainly save you money in the long run, it all depends on how smart you are as a bulk shopper. In short: Yes, there is a right way to do it. Below, a breakdown of how much you can save in one year by buying bulk, what items to buy in bulk and which to skip, and other considerations to keep in mind when bulk shopping.
How Much Can Buying in Bulk Really Save You?
So how much does buying in bulk really save you? The answer depends on the item. While some experts estimate it can save you around 20 percent on your purchases, others have found that buying in bulk saves you as much as 83 percent on some items.
The number one thing to keep in mind when buying bulk: It’s not the price of the item. It’s the price per unit (or ounce) that matters. Use the calculator on your phone or bring your own when bulk shopping. That way, you can calculate if the jumbo bottle of dish soap is really worth it.
Other bulk shopping strategies that may be helpful: Bring a list, and stick to it. Consider splitting the cost of a membership with a family member or friend and splitting items to a more manageable size.
While stockpiling items may not always be a wise financial decision, if it’s something you or your family uses every day and it’s cheaper per unit at a bulk store, then go for it. Also, it may also be smart to stockpile things like non-perishable food and other toiletries if your income changes month-to-month.
What to Buy in Bulk
Meats, ready-to-eat meals, canned items, and any non-perishable, shelf-stable items are a good bulk buy. Paper products like toilet paper, paper towels, and paper plates are also smart purchases.
If you’re a parent, buying diapers and wipes are Costco, Sam’s, BJ's or other bulk stores will also save you big. When we had our son, we did the calculations on diapers: at Target, Pampers Swaddlers cost $0.25/diaper. At Sam’s, it’s $0.21. Our son goes through about 12 diapers a day. So, buying diapers in bulk saves us about $0.48 per day. While it doesn’t seem like much, it saves us roughly $175/year.
Other items to buy in bulk: candy, laundry, and dish detergent, garbage bags, coffee (if you drink a lot), even dog food or treats. Toothbrushes, cereal, and even jewelry can also be great buys.
Worth noting: Don’t forget to factor in the cost of membership when calculating your yearly savings. For Sam’s, you’ll pay $45; for BJ’s, $50; and for Costco, $60, though many clubs offer different levels of membership.
If you’re a serious bulk shopper, you may want to consider opting for a higher membership. Costco’s Executive Membership, for example, costs $110 but offers you 2 percent cash back on purchases, as well as other perks like discounted home, auto, and dental insurance.
What to Skip
In short, skip food items that will go bad before you have time to eat them. While the jumbo package of strawberries or avocados are definitely cheaper per unit than your grocery store, that’s only a good deal if you actually eat them all. Same with the jumbo pack of spinach, (half of which I throw away every single week) or items that go bad quickly, like bread.
Most bulk packages of fresh produce or perishable food are only smart buys for those with larger families, or who plan to serve it at a large family gathering or other parties.
Another reason why many avoid buying in bulk? When you have a lot of something, you’re more likely to eat more of it, or not feel bad about being wasteful. So be sure that if you buy in bulk, you continue to be a smart consumer of your purchases, i.e. you don’t eat the entire jar of peanut-butter filled pretzels.
In my family, we love bulk shopping. Costo’s salmon, mini frozen quiches, and baby wipes are all at the top of our to-buy list. But we’ve made some unexpected purchases at bulk stores, as well.
My husband and I both have life insurance policies through Costco. We found that the monthly premiums for the amount of life insurance offered couldn’t be beaten elsewhere. And when our new house needed a new air conditioning unit, we met with four different companies for quotes and who ended up being the cheapest? You guessed it: Costco. This bulk buy saved us about $2,000.
Sam’s is another must-shop for us. We’ve bought hydrangeas for our yard (at one-third of the price at our local home and garden store), and, as mentioned, more diapers for our son than I care to count.
Also, many bulk stores sell home items at a deep discount. Think: throw pillows, outdoor furniture, and cheap shelving and storage containers.
Other Things to Consider
Are you planning a long trip out of town? How much freezer space do you have? What about a pantry? Are you planning on moving soon? You should consider all of these questions before buying in bulk.
Think about it: That 24-roll pack of paper towels might be an epic deal, but where will you put it? If you have a basement with ample storage, you can store it there, and it’s safe to take the leap. But if you live in a one-bedroom apartment with limited closet space, you may want to reconsider (unless you want to use those paper towels as a makeshift coffee table.
Also, consider what you or your family will eat. That family size pack of pasta sauce is only a good deal if your family will actually eat it. Same goes for frozen meats, bulk snacks, fruit, and any other perishable foods that may be a good deal at a discount big box store.
Lastly, if you are planning on leaving town for a few weeks or a month, or may even move in the near future, think twice before you load your freezer with frozen food since transporting the food can be complicated – and costly.