Because I write about smart shopping, you’d think that I’d be adept at shopping in all forms. Not always! As a new member of Costco, it took several visits to get my bulk shopping under control. Enough sunscreen for 1,000 sunny days? A lifetime supply of multivitamins? C’mon, how can you stop yourself? But you should, in fact, stop yourself. Buying in bulk can be a cost-effective way to stock up on essentials, but it’s also possible to have too much of what seems like a good thing.
How to shop in bulk at a wholesale store
Do consider your shopping habits
Buying wholesale isn’t for everyone. Before joining Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s or an online price club, like Thrive, which specializes in healthy and natural items, compare the membership fee with how often you might shop there. For large families, it’s probably worth it, but for couples or small families who eat out a fair bit, the membership fee might outweigh the benefits.
Do think outside of the box
There’s also no-fee option, Boxed.com. You place your orders online or on the Boxed app, and shipping on non-perishables is free on orders $49+. Perishables are available through the Express service, where the items are hand-delivered. I used Boxed all the time for non-perishables and find it really affordable for things like lunch-sized snacks and household items I use frequently, like all-purpose cleaning spray and fabric softener sheets.
Don’t be price blind
While most items purchased in bulk are well priced, don’t assume that you’re getting the best price. Take the time to compare unit prices before springing for a case of toilet paper (a quick online search will do). To avoid overspending or buying things that spoil before you get through the box, make sure you are only buying what you need rather than buying because it’s a bargain.
Don’t ignore the ‘house’ brand
Don’t turn your nose up at the “house” brand, i.e. Kirkland at Costco. In many cases, the quality measures up to the branded option and the price is usually lower.
Don’t shop on weekends
To dodge crowds and long lines at the register, avoid going on weekends (unless you arrive right when the doors open). Other busy times are right before a holiday weekend or before an impending storm.
What to Buy in Bulk — & What to Skip
Liquid detergents and soaps tend to lose their efficacy over time, so unless you are doing laundry very frequently, avoid buying them in bulk. Powdered cleaning products typically have an unlimited shelf life, so buying your Comet in bulk is fine.
Before investing in 400 soft gels of Vitamin C, calculate how long it will take you to get through them all. If your timing exceeds the expiration date, better to buy them at the pharmacy instead.
New parents: try to avoid going overboard at the price club. $30 for 120+ diapers seems like a great deal until your baby grows out of them halfway through the box.
Wipes will eventually dry out, so while buying a case for your newborn is a good value, avoid stocking up when potty training is right around the corner.
With baby formula, remember that your baby will start eating solid foods soon enough. Think twice before buying a full case unless you have a twins or a very hearty eater.
If the whole family uses the same body lotion or hair conditioner, a bulk purchase can be a smart purchase. However, that 32oz vat of night cream that’s just for you…maybe not.
For sun products, SPF is most effective if used within a year so, if the whole family is using that giant spray can all summer, great. Just you? Maybe wait to get it at the drugstore.
The beauty product rule also applies to fresh produce. If the whole family loves red seedless grapes, by all means, get the 7-pound bag. If they’re just for you, get a smaller amount at the grocery store, even if the unit price is better at BJ’s.
Snacks might be cheaper in bulk, but unless you’re having guests tonight or tomorrow, those cheese puffs could go stale halfway through the bag.
If you have a large family or a kid who puts mayo on everything, that humungous jar may not be the best idea, given that mayonnaise is only at its best for 3-4 months after opening. You have a little more time with ketchup and mustard. They last about 8-12 months, according to Shelflifeadvice.com, a handy resource for topics like this.
Sundry Food Items
These items are usually priced similarly to those at your local grocery store, so compare prices, factoring in any coupons, and think hard about how quickly you might go through them.
Rices & spices
Brown rice has a shelf life of about six months. 6-12 months, if refrigerated. Are you going to get through that huge bag in time? White rice will last 4-5 years, so that’s a better pick.
Spices last 6-12 months, so give it some thought before you throw a 32oz jar of cumin in your cart.
This category is hit or miss in terms of pricing. While the prices on basic office supplies are usually better at your price club, you can find deep seasonal discounts at office supply and big box stores. Also, do you need 36 pens?
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