When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, many people found themselves without stocked pantries. This led some shoppers to panic buy in large quantities. While panic buying is never recommended, the practice of bulk shopping can be both practical and economical. Consider these tips for whether to buy in bulk and how to calculate bulk deals.
Bulk Purchases: Buy or Bypass?
When considering items to purchase in bulk, ask yourself five questions.
Is this a product your family likes? When purchasing bulk items, always start with something your family loves. Make sure you have tried the particular brand and it suits your family’s tastes, likes, or preferences. Bulk purchases aren’t the time to try a new product, flavor, or brand because it could take months to consume the larger quantity.
Is this an item your family regularly needs? If you frequently run out of an item or find yourself regularly adding the same items to your shopping list, they may be worth buying in bulk. Bulk purchases should be driven by need. This reduces waste and prevents items from going unused. By keeping your home stocked with the items your family uses most frequently, you will reduce trips to the store (which could also reduce impulse buys — another cost-saving tip).
Will this product go to waste before we use it all? When buying in large quantities, always pay attention to expiration dates. Is the item shelf-stable, or will you need to use it by a particular date? If buying fresh meats or produce, can you portion and prep the items to freeze or preserve? Remember to clearly write the expiration date on all perishables before storing. Bulk buying can cost you more money over time if items are wasted or expire before you use them.
Do I have room in my house to store the overflow of this item? Bulk purchases require storage space. Consider where you will keep any overstocked items before you purchase them. Never buy more than your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, cabinets, or shelving will reasonably accommodate. Also consider where in your home to store the overflow. For example, storing excess food in your garage may attract unwanted pests or could become easily contaminated.
Will buying in bulk save me money? Buying items in bulk isn’t always cheaper. To determine whether a bulk purchase actually saves you money, it is important to calculate the cost per unit. To do this, divide the item’s price by its quantity. For example, if a bulk package of toilet paper is $20 and contains 9 packs of 9 rolls, divide $20 by 81, which roughly equals $.25 per roll. If the same toilet paper is $10 for a 24-pack at your local grocer, this is $.42 per roll. The bulk purchase is cheaper per unit in this case. For liquid items or items measured by weight, divide the purchase price by the total number of ounces. Buying in bulk can be a useful shopping method to keep your household stocked with items your family uses on a regular basis. It is often cost-effective over time but can require a larger upfront expense. These may include surplus-store membership fees or more expensive initial purchase prices (like the $20 vs. $10 toilet paper example above). A small way to begin stocking up on needed household items is to purchase bigger quantities when an individual product you like goes on sale or when you have a costsaving coupon.
When deciding whether your family should buy in bulk, consider these tips to reduce waste, save money, and begin to keep a consistently stocked pantry.
Written by Nichole Huff, Ph.D., CFLE, Assistant Extension Professor for Family Finance and Resource
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