No matter how much you try to trim your budget, there are items you can’t avoid buying like groceries and household cleaning supplies. Considering that prices for food are expected to increase between 2.5% and 3.5%, though, as reported by the 2020 Food Price Outlook survey from the USDA, it’s more important than ever to stretch your shopping dollars.
One easy way to save on daily essentials is to buy in bulk, something many Americans are already doing. In fact, the Wholesale Clubs: Shopper Attitudes and Behavior study conducted by Field Agent found that the top five items consumers buy from warehouse clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club are toilet paper and paper towels, salty snacks, laundry and dishwashing supplies, and packaged meat. However, Joanie Demer, co-founder of The Krazy Coupon Lady, a deal and coupon site, cautions consumers to beware of such warehouse retailers.
“When it comes to wholesale clubs, I think they’re dangerous. Shoppers assume everything is a good deal, when in fact some of it isn’t, especially for those willing to use coupons,” Demer says, warning that while there are some great deals you can snag at stores like Costco, other items found there are not the best deal around.
And don’t overlook the potential of bulk savings from big-box retailers like Target, Walmart and your local grocery store, where you can stock up on multiple smaller packages during a sale to reap bulk savings. “This idea of shopping around sales instead of buying the exact same things every week is one of the very best ways to save money, even without coupons,” Demer says.
Although a quick, price-per-unit calculation will identify which bulk options provide the best deal, there are other considerations to add to the equation as expiration dates and storage space can pose problems. Not to mention that you will need to spend more upfront on oversized or multiple packages to reap the overall bulk savings, and that’s where having a plan is key.
Before you stock up on your favorite foods and household items, review this list of expert-backed recommendations on which items are best to buy in bulk.
— Baking staples.
— Canned food.
— Protein bars.
— Pet food.
— Diapers and wipes.
— Paper products.
— Cleaning supplies.
Meat often takes the biggest bite out of a family’s food budget and is the most expensive ingredient in any meal. According to the 2018 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average household spent $961 on meat eaten at home in one year. However, you don’t have to give up your favorite meats or protein sources to save. Instead, buy in bulk, says Kumiko Love, accredited financial coach and founder of the personal finance blog The Budget Mom, who advises comparing local circulars to figure out which store has the best deal on meat at that time.
“I also like to use my vacuum sealer to separate my bulk meat into individual meal portions, which helps with meal planning,” Love says.
Though bulk packages of meat provide the best price per unit, you have to shell out significantly more upfront on large packages than if you were buying individual meat slabs. This is why Love recommends using a separate savings fund for these meat purchases. “It allows me to save a little from each paycheck so I am prepared in cash for the higher upfront cost,” she says.
If you enjoy baking, stocking up on flour and sugar in bulk is a great way to lower your overall cost without worrying about expiration dates since these pantry staples have a long shelf life. Just make sure to store these baking essentials in airtight containers to keep them fresh longer. Buying these items in bulk also ensures you have all the essentials when you feel the urge to whip up a favorite treat on a rainy day.
Keeping your pantry stocked with foods that won’t perish quickly such as pasta can give you plenty of options for last-minute recipes to save you from ordering takeout. “Pasta, when stored correctly, can last a couple of years,” says John Schmoll, founder of Frugal Rules, a personal finance blog. “Pasta is extremely versatile for meals and always helps in a pinch when you need a quick meal.” Although many pasta options are affordable, especially when opting for the store brands, Schmoll advises paying attention to those per-unit costs to find the bulk packages that offer the best deal.
Although you need to be careful about buying some dairy items in bulk due to their expiration dates, Lauren Greutman, a debt-free life coach, says buying blocks of cheese in bulk is a great way to save on this meal staple.
“Large blocks of cheddar cheese are always on my list when I go to a bulk store, which are usually at least 30% off what I would pay in a grocery store,” Greutman says. Meanwhile, you can freeze any leftover cheese you don’t need right away for up three months — just make sure to shred it first, she says.
When it comes to canned food like tuna fish, soup, beans or tomatoes, buying in bulk is a smart move since these items generally have a long shelf life and you don’t have to worry about them spoiling, Greutman says. Specifically, she suggests stocking up on large containers of canned tomatoes to prepare multiple batches of homemade sauce.
If you’re looking for something healthy to snack on after a workout or while out on an adventure, stock up on bulk cases of protein bars to get the best bang for your buck, recommends Karen Cordaway, a money-saving expert and blogger at KarenCordaway.com.
“They have a longer shelf life than other items that may spoil if you don’t eat them in time,” she says. “Plus, stocking up on protein bars and snacks makes it easy to head out on simple day trips and other bucket-list adventures, and you can use the extra savings on fun experiences instead of paying more for groceries.”
From potato chips to pretzels to trail mix, snagging bulk bags of your favorite household snacks is an easy way to save on this pantry essential, Cordaway advises. You can create small snack-size versions of your favorite snacks using plastic or reusable snack bags for daily outings or for your child’s lunch. Since some snacks can become stale after opening the bag, though, only choose one or two large bags at a time so you don’t end up wasting any.
Just like humans, animals need high-quality food to ensure optimal health and longevity, but this comes at a higher cost. According to the 2020 Cost of Dog Food Study from WoofWhiskers.com, grain-free dog food is 42% more expensive than other options. However, buying in bulk is one way to reduce the cost without sacrificing quality. Although you may be tempted to stock up from an online pet food site offering a discount, online options aren’t the cheapest. “Even though Chewy.com has pretty good prices, Sam’s Club is actually the winner with Walmart not far behind, and the bigger bag size is almost always substantially cheaper than the rest,” Demer says.
Keep in mind that buying pet food in bulk also ensures you don’t run out unexpectedly and have to rely on the nearest convenience store, where prices are marked up tremendously.
Diapers and Wipes
Having a baby is expensive, with latest Cost of Raising a Child report from the USDA estimating that the average middle-income family spends roughly $12,300 to $13,900 on child-related expenses each year. When it comes to daily essentials you need no matter what, like diapers and wipes, stocking up can offer serious savings and keep you from experiencing the inconvenience of running out of them in the middle of the night, Schmoll says. He advises signing up for Amazon Family for 20% off bulk orders or stocking up on favorite brands from Target when it runs a sale or offers a free gift card with a big purchase of baby goods. Just keep in mind that babies grow quickly, so it’s better to go up a size in diapers when they’re in between sizes before stocking up.
When it comes to toilet paper and paper towels, you can’t go wrong buying in bulk, Love says. “You always need it, and it will never go bad,” she says, noting that buying toilet paper in large packages from stores like Costco can result in nearly 50% savings compared to smaller packages from your local grocery store.
“The hardest thing about buying toilet paper in bulk is where to store all of it when you get home,” she says. “Upper cabinets that you don’t need to access frequently and under the bed are always good options.”
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
From laundry to dishwasher detergent to sponges and microfiber cloths, buying in bulk is your ticket to lower-cost cleaning supplies. Since these are items you will likely use on a daily basis and have a long shelf life, you can find yourself in a sticky mess and shopping more frequently without your favorite cleaners on hand, says Teresa Britton, founder of MomsWhoSave.com, a frugal-lifestyle blog for families. She advises looking out for special promotions and stocking up when cleaning supplies are on sale for even further savings.
When it comes to toiletry staples like soap, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, buying in bulk ensures your bathroom is fully stocked. Love says you can stretch your savings even further on these items by tapping into coupons and cash-back apps for these purchases.
“Checkout 51 had a deal for $1 off each bottle of my shampoo. I mixed that offer with Walmart’s savings for 50 cents off each bottle, and it saved me money when I decided to stock up on my shampoo,” she says.
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