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When Should You Buy in Bulk?

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Buy Bulk and SaveOne of the common admonitions that consumers often hear is to buy in bulk. When you buy in bulk, the reasoning goes, is that you get an overall discount for buying large quantities.

In some cases, this works well, providing you with a lower per-unit cost on items that you purchase regularly. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t make sense to buy in bulk.

When it Makes Sense to Buy in Bulk

It makes sense to buy in bulk when you plan to use items regularly, and when it can get pricey otherwise. My family doesn’t do much shopping at the warehouse store because we don’t often get through some of the bulk items. There are some things that we do get all the warehouse store, like over the counter medications, but many things, like fresh produce, we don’t get through before they spoil. (And some items, like paper products, are a better deal when we buy them on sale elsewhere.)

If you know that you will get through the items before they go bad, it makes sense to buy in bulk. It also makes sense if you are purchasing non-perishables that you know you will use over a long period of time. We stock up on toilet paper and paper towels when they are on sale at the local Shopko in order to pay higher prices at other times. We also buy pasta in bulk, as well as many canned items that we rotate as part of our home food storage.

Stocking up can mean that you aren’t at the mercy of higher prices when you really need something. However, it doesn’t make sense to buy in bulk if you end up throwing a portion of it away. Think about how often you use the items, and whether you are better off buying smaller quantities and not paying the large up front cost that often comes with buying in bulk.

Interesting Things to Buy in Bulk

It’s fairly clear that you can buy paper products and groceries in bulk, and save. However, there are actually other items that it might make sense to buy in bulk:

  • Cell phone minutes: I use Tracfone because I don’t like the idea of paying for some of the plans out there. I buy my minutes in bulk, getting phones that come with double or triple (my current “plan”) for life. A prepaid cell phone plan of $50 a month for unlimited talk and text can also be a good choice if you use your phone a lot.
  • Airline tickets: If you are a frequent traveler, this makes sense. JetBlue occasionally offers packs of tickets at a discount. Additionally, other airlines offer low costs if you travel frequently, buying three-packs, or meeting other requirements.
  • Sporting event tickets: We’re considering getting season tickets for the college football team near us, since we usually attend a few games a season. Season tickets could help us save on per-game costs. Plus, if you can afford season tickets for pro teams, you can usually find someone to buy the tickets for games that you can’t attend.
  • Gift cards: This is one of my favorite items to buy in bulk. I regularly purchase gift cards this way, and then have them on hand for various occasions. I’m also a fan of buying discount gift cards.

In the end, it can be worth it to pay a little extra up front in order to save money over time. Evaluate your needs, and your own spending habits, and then decide what items you should be buying in bulk.

(Photo: wachovia_138)

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8 Responses to “When Should You Buy in Bulk?”

  1. SLS says:

    We have a small family – just 2 of us – but we have a Costco membership because there are some bulk deals there that are so great for items we frequently use that its worth it.

    But we go there only once a month or two and try to focus on the things we always use. For us, its kalamata olives, honey, saurkraut, ranch dressing (my partner’s favorite), organic quinoa, organic sugar, and some other things. I’ve done the price comparisons and those things are so much cheaper at Costco that it makes sense to buy them there.

  2. Christian L. says:

    Miranda,
    I haven’t bought groceries in bulk. I think I’d waste a ton of food. But my roommate buys his food and bulk and I can’t remember the last time he let anything go to waste. He’s not a big guy either. He just has a system.

    I’m thinking about going to Aldi with him today to try it out.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

  3. admiral58 says:

    Any paper products is worth getting in bulk.

  4. fabclimber says:

    I buy in bulk to store non parisables for the coming financial collapse.

  5. Suzanne says:

    I am not a big believer in the warehouse store. I don’t have enough storage to put all that stuff away somewhere. Now buying organic veggies in bulk from the local co-op is a different matter. That’s something I will use regularly and feel good about it.

  6. Shirley says:

    We have not bought a membership at Costco because I don’t think the annual saving for our groceries and household goods would equal the membership price. I do buy in bulk at our local stores when paper products and long shelf life items, that we would use anyway, are on sale.

    If we had had a local Costco when we were raising kids, I’m sure we would have benefitted from shopping there.

  7. Steph says:

    Sam’s Club has a student membership for $40 that comes with a $25 gift card, so the membership ends up costing only $15, so it was totally worth getting the membership. I’ll have to reevaluate my membership after it expires as I’m no longer a student, but I’m 90% sure I’ll renew since I go through a lot of fresh produce and very rarely throw out any of it. It helps to only purchase 1 week’s worth of groceries at a time, too.

  8. Did anybody else load up on paper towels and toilet paper at Staples last week with that sale? I think we’re set for the next year or so.


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