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When Bigger Isn't Better-Pros and Cons of Buying In Bulk

Sometimes, buying in bulk can offer great savings. Many items have a lower per-unit cost when bought in a larger container, and some major warehouse retailers like Sam's Club and Costco specialize entirely in bulk purchases. Unfortunately, bulk shopping isn't always a clear-cut path to saving money, and it can often lead to expensive wastefulness. Before you go shopping, take the time to decide what's worth purchasing in large quantities and what you only need a little bit of; this will help maximize your grocery savings and prevent wastage.

Why Some Foods Are Better in Bulk

The first truth of affordable grocery shopping is that something isn't a great deal if you won't use it. No matter whether you have a coupon, get the item free, buy it on sale or get it in bulk, there is no point in getting something that you and your family won't eat. Unnecessary purchases fill up space in your refrigerator or pantry and make it seem like you have food when in reality you have nothing you'll want to cook; this will make you more likely to over-spend on meals away from home or additional grocery visits when you open the pantry and realize there's nothing to make for dinner.

Even if your family will eat an item, you may not eat a large enough quantity to warrant buying in bulk. An item could easily go bad before you use it up, requiring you to throw it out before you've finished using it. The cost of all your unused groceries will add up quickly and eclipse any savings that you might have made. Worse, foods that go bad can pose serious health hazards to your family if you don't realize they've gone past their prime.

What Not to Buy in Bulk

You should think twice before buying large quantities of any of these items. Of course, your family may go through any of these items quickly, and if so, feel free to buy in bulk. For most people, however, buying smaller quantities of these will be more economical:

  • Candy and other junk food. The problem with buying junk food in bulk is that it encourages you to eat it in bulk, which is bad for both your wallet and your waistline.
  • Paper towels. Though they're cheaper in bulk and don't spoil over time, paper towels are bulky and hard to store. They also generate a lot of trash that ends up in landfills. You're better off buying a washable towel or rag that can be re-used.
  • Nuts and seeds. Unless you eat a lot of them per day, you should restrict the amount of nuts you buy at a time. They have a high fat content, and they can go rancid after just a month or two. To get the best price and economy, buy as many nuts as you'll reasonably eat in a month; purchase them in the shell and keep them frozen until you're ready to use them.
  • Condiments. Although you can buy a massive container of mayonnaise or ketchup, there's no real need to do so as you'll go through them very slowly. Large containers take up a lot of space in your fridge, and if crumbs or other material gets introduced to the condiments, they'll go bad quickly.
  • Herbs and spices. These lose potency very quickly, and the expense will be wasted. It's much smarter to only buy the spices that you use regularly and restock them frequently so that you can get the best possible price.
  • Oil. Cooking oils can go rancid within a few months on the shelf, and you may not immediately realize that they've gone bad. Cooking with spoiled oil can cause numerous health problems, so it's a good idea to opt for a smaller bottle of high-quality oil and use it sparingly.

The best foods to buy in bulk are those with a long shelf life that you will use frequently in your home. Staples such as flour, pasta and rice last a long time, and they usually get used up quickly. The same is true of canned goods and some frozen foods. When shopping in bulk, it's smart to look carefully at the expiration date and determine how quickly you will be able to use up the foods. This will help maximize your savings and reduce wastage.

Jessica Bosari is a freelance writer and blogger for various publications and her own blog. You can read more of Jessica's work here. If you have any comments or questions about or about saving money, leave your comments in the form below or email Thanks!


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