The 4 Myths of Buying in Bulk Dispelled

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This article shares tips from the newest episode of Dealista, our podcast that'll help you get more for less.

Ask most people for a common way to save money on groceries and household goods, and they may come back with this answer: Buy in bulk. While it can be an amazingly simple way to potentially save some bucks, it can also be a buying trap. Here are the 4 misconceptions we typically attribute to bulk buying, and the truth for each.

Myth #1: Buying a larger package usually means that the cost per unit (ounce, pound, etc) is lower.

Truth: It's one of the many reasons people rush to buy bulk, but it isn’t always so. Just because a bottle of vitamins has 3 times the number of pills in it, it won’t automatically mean that each of them are cheaper than if you had bought the small bottle. Even when the price per unit is clearly marked on store signage or the store shelf, you may need to do some careful sleuthing to determine if it’s a good deal. Price books are a great way to make sure that you’re always familiar with what a “good” price is for any item you buy regularly, and can be made simply from a lined notebook. (Sometimes the best prices per unit happen with the smallest packages!)

Myth #2: Bulk-buying clubs don’t allow non-members to shop with a friend who is a member.

Truth: Representatives from major buying clubs have themselves proven this to be untrue, with statements that bringing a friend is allowed. In fact, most warehouse stores want you to bring a friend in at least once to sample the experience of shopping these kinds of stores. Yes, they’re hoping that the allure will lead your friend to buy their own membership (and sometimes this makes sense), but if you are content to shop in tandem with a relative or buddy, don’t feel like you’re breaking the law. After all, it’s twice the sales for the store!

Myth #3: Bulk-buying clubs can only be shopped in-store.

Truth: Most, if not all, major warehouse clubs can be shopped online (although fresh produce and groceries may not be available via online ordering). This, combined with the addition of several web-only items and the perk of free shipping for some larger items (like furniture, exercise equipment, and power tools), makes it an attractive way to buy your wares without ever leaving your home.

Myth #4: You can’t find good bulk buys outside of a warehouse club.

Truth: Remember our good friend, Target? They are just one of the many national retail outlets gearing up to offer our warehouse bulk stores some friendly competition. With special aisles dedicated to providing a bulk-buying experience to everyday shoppers, they have much to offer. Examples include 3-packs of boxed cereal, enormous boxes of diapers, and light bulbs by the 20’s! In addition to being competitively priced to bulk clubs, you can save big time by using manufacturer’s coupons (something the big box stores usually won’t let you do) and snagging items on clearance.

Still hoping to use bulk buying as a way to stretch that grocery budget? That’s OK! Be sure to keep these additional tips in mind when roaming the large concrete aisles:

  • Use it or lose it. Remember that jumbo container of hummus you had to buy the last time you went shopping at a bulk club? If you don’t, chances are good that it’s rotting in the back of your fridge — and wasting you money. Be sure that you’re committed to making every last penny of bulk savings work to your advantage, and use up perishables in a timely manner. (You may want to read up on how even dry goods can go bad if not stored correctly.)
  • Out of cart, out of belly. Ask anyone who buys yummies from a warehouse store if they are saving money, and they’ll probably tell you that the giant box of fruit snacks they bought were far cheaper per ounce than buying from a retail store. They may also admit that they were eaten just as quickly as the small box they usually buy. If you’re inclined to tear through giant cases of gourmet pecans or, in my case, those jumbo jars of refrigerator pickles, within days after purchase, look to scale back your buying (and your calorie consumption) with a package from your grocerer’s aisle, instead.
  • Bring a list. There’s something truly dangerous about a store that sells baby formula, frozen mini eggrolls, and firepits within 25 feet of one another. If you’re destined to stroll the aisles that you won’t be shopping from, bring a list, and stick to it! Keep in mind that warehouse club offerings may change from month to month, and the joint supplement you’re used to buying may not be offered the next time you shop. Bring your list, shop the clubs first, then buy whatever is not available or affordable at your local store. If you put all your eggs into the warehouse basket, you’ll end up with quite the eclectic (and expensive) cart of stuff.

Dealista is a collaboration between Wise Bread and Quick and Dirty Tips, the producer of popular podcasts such as Grammar Girl, Money Girl, Winning Investor, and Mighty Mommy.

If you enjoyed these tips you can find more in our show's archive.

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Guest's picture

regarding myth #2 - sure, your friends can shop, but (at Sam's, where i worked for a few years) they cannot buy. you must buy for them. they can't even pay cash at the more strict stores.

Linsey Knerl's picture

You can't actually pay for your purchase if you're not a member.  I always just give my mom cash and have her buy it for me!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

Definitely all good things to remember when shopping a warehouse stores. I have found that, especially for the quantities of items that I use (single and live alone), I can get better deals combining coupons and sales at grocery and big box stores on many things. I also don't have to worry as much about spoilage that way.
But there are some things that I regularly buy at my local Sams for cheaper than at other stores. These include chocolate chips and some baking ingredient staples (if I'm not buying around the holidays). Honey is much cheaper at Sams as is cat litter and a few other things.

I sometimes find books or DVDs that I'm interested in for cheaper prices as well (Sams has the best prices I've found for recently released mass market paperbacks. They can also be counted on to usually have the Firefly DVD box set in stock for less than $20. Since that's a gift that I tend to give to people, I appreciate that.). They also have good and affordable cakes, which are especially good for big group/church events.

And one other myth: You can't share an account with someone outside your immediate family. At least at Sams, the "Spouse card" does not have to go to your spouse. I share a Sams membership with my sister - who lives in a different state and has a different last name. We were together when we initially signed up and specifically asked about that. The employee had no problem with us splitting the membership. We have to deal with one person writing a check to the other come renewal time, but that's a small inconvenience.

Guest's picture

Just a couple things. My philosophy about shopping is that if you have time you can shop the sales--there is no beating that, even by club stores. But if you don't have the time, which I don't now, you should shop someplace that has consistently good prices on everything. The clubs definitely fit in that spot. On things you want to keep in bulk, they're great. You have to be careful though--they often get you to buy brand names when if you had the choice you'd get a store brand.

Guest's picture

Sometimes the bulk goodies aren't cheaper than in your favourite grocery store. They may look like a great deal, but be familiar with regular prices whenever possible.

Guest's picture

...well, kind of.
The trick here comes from the fact that they get you to buy more than what you need. The lure of the bulk buy discount tricks you into paying full price, less the slight bulk discount, in order to "stock up". You would do better to buy the minimum quantity you need to get you by until the next time the item goes on sale at your regular grocery. When it does go on sale, that's when you stock up.
Obviously, all that depends on the regular and sale price vs. bulk price. So, like sylrayj said, know your prices.

Guest's picture

BTW, Target is clearing out a lot of bulk buys right now. I bought jumbo packs of Sharpies yesterday for $2.50/each and Soft Scrub 2-packs for $4.50/each... which I was able to use my BOGO coupon on because it was Target & not Sams. They had a lot of other stuff available, too, such as 40-packs of Capri Suns for $4.50 and diapers, ranch dressing, etc, that I didn't price. In my store, it was along the back wall near the seasonal merchandise. Good bargain hunting!

Linsey Knerl's picture

Me too!  I got a 6-pack of CFL bulbs and floodlights for my porch for just a couple of bucks and several liters of apple juice for less than a buck each.  Good deals!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

Costco will not allow your friend to purchase items at their store unless they are members (this is the case at the Costco I shop at). If I bring a friend, I have to do the purchasing and my friend has to repay me rather than making her purchases directly.

Guest's picture

Agreed. left Sam's club because we were buying waaay too much. And we frequently bought items we didn't really need!