A Savvy Shopper’s Secrets for Buying in Bulk: How to Tell a Bum Deal from a Real Steal

Buying in bulk is an article of faith in these cost-conscious times, and judging by the boom in discount warehouse paradises and mega-markets, the trend is showing no sign of slacking. But is bulk buying really the answer to our prayers?

That depends. When you first visit a discount warehouse, it’s stunning — aisle after aisle of gift packages at seemingly low, low prices. How can you afford not to buy? Even the carts are supersized, and you feel downright insufficient if you can’t fill one to the top. So you become a bulk hulk. You spend a couple hundred dollars, drive home and load up cupboards, freezers and the basement with those glorious deals. And three months later, lots of them are still around, only now they’ve spoiled, gone stale and gathered dust. Welcome to the seed side of bulk shopping.

How do you cultivate bulk smarts? Start by tearing out this guide and hanging it on the inside of a cupboard door. And do it now before it’s too late.


— Take an inventory of family standbys, bearing in mind that not everyone may be willing to commit to using the same shampoo for the next year.

— Make a list, remember to bring it with you and stick to it. If it’s not on your list, don’t buy it. It’s that simple.

— Establish a buddy system. Maybe you get starry-eyed over the low price of dishcloths in bulk, but do you really need 24? Divide great deals with a friend to really save.

— Shop with a conscience and you’re likely to boost your savings. If your kids drink more boxed juice during warm weather, instead of doubling your standing inventory, consider 32 ounces of presweetened lemonade mix. Needless packaging costs money — especially in bulk.

— Be on the lookout for post-season bargains. Look for a rack of reduced-price clothes and bins of seasonal goods such as holiday wrapping paper and accessories.


— Outshop your space. Yes, you’ll eventually use up all the toilet tissue, but 48 rolls stored on the basement floor is an open invitation to all manner of nasties from floods to creepy crawlies. By the way, don’t even think of adding on to hold all of your “wise” buys. The idea is saving money, remember?

— Buy perishable or fashionable. No one can eat an entire case of prune yogurt in two weeks. Period.

— Forget to comparison-shop to be sure you’re getting the best deals in your area. Bring along your last grocery or discount store’s itemized cash register receipts to check against bulk prices.

— Buy before you try. If you’ve not tried a product before, for heaven’s sake don’t buy 50 of them. Most warehouse stores offer samples or single items.

— Buy more than you can store safely. Large quantities of flour, soup and biscuit mixes can host insects and their eggs. If you live in a damp climate or store your goods in a moist place, buy realistic amounts so you don’t have to deal with bugs.

— Buy food that others may have inadvertently contaminated. If you buy from a bin, do so only in stores where there’s a lid on each bin, a tethered scoop for each product and plenty of bags.

Buying in bulk can be an amazing way to cut the cost of food and household items. And it takes a savvy shopper to know how to make that work. Hopefully, these guidelines will help you to stay on the straight and narrow path without falling into a ditch!

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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