Friday, September 26, 2008

Buying in Bulk

There is something so amazing and gratifying about bulk food shopping:
10 toothbrushes for less than a dollar a brush--yes!
48 double rolls of toilet paper for the cost of 40--you betcha!
12 chicken breasts more than $2 off per pound (in comparison to the grocery store)--hallelujah!

We are relatively new to the bulk food/sundry shopping world, having just joined the local COSTCO in town for a "mere" $50 membership fee. And while I'm pretty sure we're recouping that cost with all the savings, there's part of me that questions--is it really that great? Does my family really need to stock up on everything from A to Z in such vast quantities? And why does our fridge still seem empty midway through the week? Are we actually saving money or rather buying extra of things we really don't need?

Using Costco for buying diapers and gasoline seems to make good sense, but I'm finding myself returning week after week. It is an additional shopping trip when I'm already feeling swamped heading to the regular grocery store once. Can there be a better way? Can the words "budget" and "meal planning" by synonymous with the word "bulk"?


Anonymous in NY said...

Neil Templin had a good piece on the "Costco Effect" in yesterday's WSJ ( Basically argues that we "save" money, but spend and eat more. We cancelled our BJs membership recently, now that everyone is out of diapers. Not worth the temptation to overspend.

Right Said Red said...

Anon in NY--Great link.

In our experience, we have to go into BJ's (our local bulk club) with a very specific list. We have figured out what items are actually money savers, and we only buy those items. Our food purchases are limited primarily because much of the food is very processed (long shelf life), and if it doesn't have a long shelf life, we wind up eating more!

I think the situation may be different if we had a larger family?

So I have a regular list and I stick to it! Some items include (wine/beer, cheerios (1 box only!), olive oil, white flour, peanut butter, diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, detergent, zip lock bags, cling wrap, garbage bags). I only add an item to the list if:

1. We we continue to consume the same amount of that item and truly save money (as opposed to eating more)

2. It is a non-perishable/ non-food item that we will use over time (like toilet paper)

3. It is cheaper to buy it in bulk (must do a price comparison here).

4. The item will be used w/in 6 months of purchase (this avoids me purchasing 20 toothbrushes or 20 D batteries and filling my house with unnecessary clutter).

This is just our system, any other tips out there?

Right Said Red said...

Oh, one more thing, we only go to BJ's once per month (self-imposed rule). and must spend less tan $200 dollars while there. This really helps!

Sophie said...

It's been several years since I did lots of comparisons and number crunching to figure out if Costco was worth it, at that time it wasn't for us. But i suppose it depends on your lifestyle. As a rule, there are very few processed foods that we eat, so having them in bigger boxes would definitely lead to a lot of wasted $ for us. Also, I found that with diapers, unless you normally buy the most expensive ones, it's also not worth it. For me I buy the basic version, wait until they are on sale, and always use coupons so Costco wasn't close to cheap for that.

One year we did have a membership and bought wrapping paper there. It is so enormous and I still have it 5 years later. We are so sick of that role of wrapping paper!!

I really think that if you must have name brand stuff, it's likely worth it, but if you don't mind store brand or even cheaper versions of name brand, and are a coupon shopper, it doesn't seem worth it to me, considering the cost for membership.

Also, when you have little kids, you have to weigh the cost of schlepping them to yet another store. That's a huge cost to me, and I'm not talking gas costs!

Rachel said...

We have a membership at Sam's Club. Since we have a very strict grocery budget, with little room to buy anything more than what we'll use/consume in a month, I find myself visiting Sam's only once/month -- if that. You're right -- their meat is much cheaper than the grocery store, so I mostly stock up on chicken and ground beef. I know that the more I spend there, the less I'll have for my week-to-week staples like milk, bread, fruit, veggies, etc, so I try to be VERY careful.

A friend of mine swears by ALDI. Great prices, and no membership fee or buying in bulk. If you're not set on name brand stuff, I hear it's excellent -- but not a one-stop shop. You'll probably still have to hit the grocery store to find everything on your list!

Anonymous said...

We have a Costco membership. We have come to accept that a trip to Costco is never cheap, so we only go when we need diapers. In addition to the items mentioned above, we have found butter and fruit to be good buys there. The fruit packages are big, but often it is much better fruit than we see in the grocery store (you can of course debate whether your fruit should be flown in from Chile, packaged in plastic and bought in a warehouse). They usually have nice kids clothes for relatively cheap too.

clara said...

I have a strict rule: don't buy anything that's not on the list. unless I just happened to forget to write it on the paper list but it was otherwise in my mind to buy. :). That works for me.

clara said...

I have a strict rule: don't buy anything that's not on the list. unless I just happened to forget to write it on the paper list but it was otherwise in my mind to buy. :). That works for me.

B-Mama said...

Going once-a-month would definitely help to curb my bulk spending, especially if I set a monthly dollar limit. Just have to get on that budget already!

Kerry said...

hey there!
my husband and I have a very love/hate relationship with Costco. (He loves it, I hate it). I think it's great for diciplined, organized large families.
But for us, we are none of those, and we end up spending more, eating more....
Good suggestions in the comments!

And to comment on a previous post- I LOVE THE OFFICE TOO!!!!!!

Joanne said...

I love the Kirkland (Costco generic) diapers and wipes. The wipes are my favorite, ever. When I used formula with my first, I bought the Kirkland there and it was ridiculously cheaper than other formulas. They also have amazingly great birthday cakes. Their generic coffee beans are the same as Starbucks. You can by movie passes and stamps and beer and wine and liquor. The only problem we run into is WHERE to put all the toilet paper, we have a small house and sometimes it gets very crowded when I have bulk stuff. I set up a shelf in the basement for TP, tons of chicken broth, tomato paste, etc. - stuff that I use which makes it worth it to buy in bulk, but don't use all of it at once. Also they have good prices on books and DVD's, which makes it a great place to do Christmas shopping.

teresa said...

Costco also sends coupon booklets in the mail! We try to use the coupons for the nonperishables that we actually need - soap, paper towels, etc.

Erin said...

We unabashedly LOVE Club-C. Here are our fave buys which, after research, we are confident are good buys that reduce our monthly grocery bill:

-Kirkland baby wipes

-Kirland butter (freeze what you are not using)

-Kirkland boneless skinless chicken breasts.

-Kirkland bacon (freezes well too)

-Kirkland Organic 1% milk

-Kirland T.P.

I am noticing a pattern. We also usually do one bread item-- Einstein's bagels or English muffins. We get these staples and usually plan a trip around dinner time (hot dog and soda for $1.50!), and our grocery bill goes way down.

Plus, we just got Bumkins cloth diaps on i'm so excited to get them.

Mary Alice said...

We have adopted a good strategy for Costco/Sams -- make a list, then send Dad! In our case, he is better at sticking to the list.

Costco has great Kirkland brand organic, natural peanut butter, I actually just bought 16 jars for my emergency preparedness stock up (more on that later).

We eat Barilla pasta, and find that it is more expensive at Sams then on sale at the grocery store, that is just one price comparison that I have done.

We also buy Nature's Path Granola there, which DH eats almost everyday, and Cinnamon Harvest, and Oatmeal if they have the whole oats kind.

The meat there is cheap but I am moving towards local grass fed beef, and I already buy local chickens, so I won't be buying meat there.