Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Is Bulk Buying Worth It?

Is bigger really better? My husband and I frequent Costco every few weeks to stock up on essential (okay, and maybe some non-essential) items. As I cram every storage space in my house with huge cereal boxes and 4 liters of ketchup, I ask myself "How much money am I really saving?" Here's what I found out:

The savings:

*My husband and I really like to get our proteins at Costco - steaks, chicken, and fish. They have a good selection, great quality, and they freeze well (which helps when you have two months' worth of meat). For instance, we buy a 6 lb bag of frozen chicken breasts for $18 ($3/pound). This week, my nearby grocery store is having a sale on the same brand's chicken breasts for $5/pound. Okay, score - I save $2 a pound! We eat A LOT of chicken, so that definitely adds up over the course of a few months.

*I think getting nuts at a grocery store is a total ripoff. Usually, they are in small containers and they cost a ton of money. At Costco, we get a 3 lb bag of roasted, unsalted almonds for $9; if I wanted the same amount at a grocery store, I'd pay double or triple. Normally an 11 oz canister of roasted, unsalted almonds costs around $5.

*We go through milk like it's going out of style. For 2 gallons of milk at Costco, I pay $3 ($1.50/gallon). At the grocery store, I've seen milk for $2.99/gallon, but occasionally on sale for $1.99. It's a little bit of savings for something we constantly go through, but it's like a jigsaw puzzle trying to figure out how to fit two gallons of milk in your refrigerator. Plus, they're a little odd-shaped and tricky to pour...okay, I actually might be talking myself out of buying them now.

*And it goes without saying that a Costco meal, while most likely very bad for your health, is a really good value. For $1.50, you can get a huge hot dog and a 20 oz. soda. Just eat a salad or something for dinner.

The tradeoffs:

*Obviously, you have to have a certain amount of space or storage to keep extra food or supplies around. If you're tripping over 50 toilet paper rolls, it might not be worth the couple of bucks you save.
*Food spoiling. I have learned my lesson not to buy produce at Costco unless I have a strict plan of what I'm doing with it. It sounds great to get a huge bin of mixed greens for salads for 1/4 of what you'd pay at the grocery store. But then, I get tired of salads after Day 2 and all that money I "saved" gets thrown in the composter. It doesn't count as saving money if you're not going to eat it.

*Limited brands or selections. Usually the Kirkland brand is just fine by me, but some people are really commited to certain brands that aren't always available at Costco. I love Yoplait yogurts, but they only have the 18-pack of strawberry and peach. I want lemon burst or key lime pie!

The moral:

*It isn't always better to buy in bulk. For my family, I like to buy fresh and frozen proteins to build meals around. It saves money, plus makes grocery shopping cheaper and easier knowing my proteins are already taken care of. But buying too much of other things will just end up taking up space in your pantry and you won't be able to finish it before it goes bad.

*Make sure to check the unit pricing to make sure you're getting the best deal. Just because something is at a wholesale club doesn't necessarily mean you're getting the best price.

*If you'd really like to cash in on the savings, see if a friend is interested in splitting some items with you. Maybe you won't use 50 batteries, but you could probably find a use for 25. Maybe you can split produce or bread or other items that have a shorter shelf life.

Who goes to Costco or Sam's Club out there? What products do you prefer to get in bulk? What do you think is a better buy at a grocery store?

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