Here are some great tips on how to shop bulk and save money:
Make a list of the items you might buy in bulk, or the ones you know you’ve seen at your favorite retailers, and visit each store to compare. Write down the prices for the bulk buys, and also write down the cost of buying the same item as a single. Then, do the same search online, and make sure to take shipping costs into account.
Do the math
Divide the price of the bulk package by the number of individual items in the package. For example, if there are 12 paper towel rolls for $9.99, each one comes to about 83 cents a roll.
The bulk math is a tool you can use for any kind of purchase.
Then take that $.83 figure and compare it to what you’d pay for a single roll.
Then do the math for a three-pack or a six-pack of the same item, and bingo — you know if bulk pricing for that item, from that store, or which bulk item from which store, is worth your while.
If you have a coupon for the item, remember you’ll save more per unit if you use the coupon for a non-bulk purchase.
Be realistic about storage
No matter how great a deal is on any product, you first need to make sure you have space to store the items.
If you’re in a small apartment, you might want to keep your bulk buying to a minimum — unless you have other small apartment friends who want to split the bargain with you. Or, get creative. No one says you can’t store extra toilet paper next to your dishes in the kitchen cabinets if you have the space.
If you have a larger home with a basement or a garage, or even a second freezer, buy away if the price is right.
Be realistic about expiration dates
We know that misunderstanding “use-by” dates and plain-old expiration dates leads to lots of waste.
But still, bulk food can go bad, so use common sense when you buy. Those delicious looking loaves of bread that you can get three-for-one and those half-priced veggies aren’t worth the extra money if you can’t eat it all before it spoils.
There are times when bulk perishables make sense. If you buy a gazillion tomatoes, for example, and you plan to head home to make a few jumbo pots of sauce that you can freeze, that’s great. We don’t advise trying to freeze the tomatoes. Okay, well, you can freeze tomatoes, but that’s one bulk buy on which I’ll take a pass.
So what is a good deal? Like we said, you have to shop around and do the math. Here’s the lowdown on some common items sold in bulk packaging.
Meat: When all that uncooked protein is on sale, you can save a bundle. Just make sure you have a plan to prepare it, or you have a very large freezer. But you can’t just chuck the meat in the freezer in the supermarket’s packaging. Take some time to store your mass meat the right way.
Paper products: It’s one of the most commonly bulk-packaged products, and it all depends on the math. Just don’t count on the bulk packaging as a promise of lower per-unit pricing.
Diapers: These are almost always cheaper when you buy in bulk, but we repeat: do the math. Costco regularly offers coupons in the flier for $ off diapers.
Prescriptions: If you take any regular prescriptions, ask your doctor for a prescription for a 90-day supply rather than just 30 days. You’ll save on co-pays, and you’ll find some pharmacies have a cheaper per-pill price for bulk buys. Also, note that you don’t need to be a member of Costco nor Sam’s Club to get prescriptions filled at their pharmacies.
Big-ticket items: If you’re traveling and need train or plane tickets, or if you’re buying seats for a sporting event or Broadway (or other) show, you can find group discounts. Hotels will do the same. You can save 15 percent or more.
Insurance: It’s a different form of bulk pricing. If you insure your home and your car with the same company, you’ll get a discount.