Are There Things Not To Buy In Bulk?

March 30th, 2010 · 20 Comments

My blog was recently cited in a story on MainStreet.com about what items you shouldn’t buy in bulk.  Specifically they were referencing my comparison of Costco prices to those at my local grocery stores in Austin.  If you haven’t read the post, you might want to check it out because it is kind of interesting to see how the pricing stacks up.  In 2009 I compared 39 items that are kind of standard items that people would buy on a fairly regular basis.  Of those 39 items, Costco was cheaper on 30 of them.  And even though there were nine items that Costco didn’t have the absolute lowest price on, the overall total for the 39 items was significantly less at Costco: $25.72 (about 17%) less than the closest competitor of HEB and at the other end was Randall’s/Safeway that was a whopping 36% more than at Costco.  So, obviously, my big conclusion was that if you can afford the space and up front cost of buying these items in bulk (or somewhat bulk) at Costco, you really can come out ahead.

One of my big issues with stories like this is that they assume you won’t possibly be able to use the items that you are buying in bulk before they go bad.  I don’t really agree with that because not everyone eats the same way or has a small family, and that kind of gets glossed over when people are discussing bulk buying.  For instance, they say you shouldn’t buy brown rice in bulk because it has a higher oil content and will get kind of gross after about 6 months.  But what if you eat brown rice on a daily basis?  Or several times a week?  Well, the truth is you’re going to be paying far more by not buying it in bulk.  In this article they also say buying paper products like toilet paper and paper towels in bulk is a bad idea because of how much storage space it takes up.  So, that is another thing that may or may not apply to you.  I had tons of storage space in my Austin house, so buying in bulk was cheaper and not a problem to store.  I guess my theory about bulk buying has always been to use your common sense:  if you can use it and store it, go ahead and buy in bulk.  Everyone knows what their family eats like or how they consume different products, so you really need to make the judgement for yourself on what to buy in bulk.  I mean, I love Costco but we can’t buy everything there because some of the products are in quantities that are just too big for us.  The first thing like this that comes to mind is orange juice, the fresh stuff in the fridge case.  They sell it in a 4 pack of big cartons.  Dave drinks orange juice but not that much that quickly that we can keep that hanging around taking up all that space in the fridge.  However, for a family that has 4 kids that are all drinking a big glass of OJ every morning, this is probably a wise purchase.  It really just depends on your situation.

Also, with regards to the comparison, the big factor is that you have to make sure you are comparing the same quality.  One of the things the article pulled from my comparison was that HEB’s store brand apple juice is cheaper than that at Costco.  And while that is certainly true, the quality isn’t really the same.  For one thing, the Costco store brand is organic and not from concentrate, and the stuff from HEB definitely was from concentrate and it wasn’t organic either.  So, that’s a pretty clear example of how you can save money on some of the items, but you’re not really getting the same quality.  I’m pretty sure the farm raised tilapia that was cheaper at Walmart, falls into the same sort of situation with it being of lesser quality.

So, take a look at the article on MainStreet.com but also check out my original post about the comparison of Costco prices.  I’m just trying to provide information so that you can make your own judgements on what makes sense for you to buy at Costco versus your local grocery stores.  Not everyone shops the same way, and not everything that is a bargain for one person is a good deal for another.  Really, it’s all down to how you shop and consume!

But what do you all think?  Are there things that you would never buy in bulk?

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Tags: Costco in Blogs · Food · Household Items · In the News Share

20 Responses so far ↓

  1. 1 Tampa Slim // 2010.04.01 at 7:02 pm

    I should add on Main Street Website it says ”

    I can tell you that it’s absolutely possible to make an extra $1,000 per month on this. The trick is finding the right recurring gigs. Sites like MainStreet, for example, pay freelancers every month to write stories. Rates will vary and are often commensurate with experience.” http://www.mainstreet.com/slideshow/career/work/life-balance/15-easy-ways-make-1kmonth

    So Seth is probably not a smart savvy shopper like all of you are and is just simply turning articles to make a buck.

    The apparent difference between Seth and your typical addicted to costco reader is Seth probably doesn’t shop.

    We come to this website because we’re hunting for good quality value, something we all get from A2C and Costco.

    Keep up the good work – Kimberly

    • 2 Kimberly // 2010.04.08 at 2:37 am

      Tampa Slim, I agree with you that Seth might not be as advanced at the shopping arts as all of us. I feel a little like I was picking on him in my response, but the reality is that there are so many people writing articles like his for actual news sites that I finally had to respond. It was unfortunate timing, I guess. The whole concept of these types of articles annoys me: you don’t know how to shop, so we will tell you. So very condescending! I always think I’m going to write a response post when I read one, and since this one mentioned me I felt compelled to really let everyone know that it was out of context and wasn’t completely true to what I’ve found or stated in my blog.

      However, I’m glad that some new readers found there way here to the land of savvy shoppers. And I’m also glad that my readers were smart enough to use it as a good point of discussion about buying in bulk, and no one has been belligerent or crazy. We Costco shoppers rock! :-D

  2. 3 Tampa Slim // 2010.04.01 at 6:45 pm

    Hello Everyone

    my my my this Main Street article has certainly generated some interest. The article is certainly lacking something (good comprehensive journalism). But there is a vast difference between Kimberly’s Blog here and this article. Good solid journalism.

    If you click on the authors name it takes you to this link:
    http://www.mainstreet.com/category/authors/seth-fiegerman

    He writes multiple articles regarding a wide variety of subjects so we shouldn’t expect, NOR make much out of his article. It’s no big deal.

    TS

  3. 4 Coupon King // 2010.04.01 at 4:16 pm

    I often buy in bulk – but by bulk I mean large numbers of regular sized packages. While I am a member of Costco, there are only a few things I buy there regularly because most items are far too expensive. I do much better shopping grocery and drug store sales with manufacturer’s coupons. Last week, Ronzoni Whole Wheat Pasta (16oz) two for $0.19 ($1.29 BOGO free less two $0.55 coupons). This week, Tropicana OJ (64oz) two for $2.50 (2 for $5 less BOGO free coupon) — Costco will never come close to that.

  4. 5 Neesy // 2010.04.01 at 1:36 pm

    I have to say that I was actually offended by the mainstreet.com article. Articles such as this talk down to the consumer as if we are all a bunch bumbling illiterate idiots who can’t do simple math. The average American consumer is in fact NOT a simpleton and can probably figure out on their own how to read an expiration date and judge the size of their storage space. I read the article thinking they might offer some information that I wasn’t privy to, but once again it was regurgitated common sense.

    Whether you buy 1 lb of cheese or 8 oz, it’s a waste of money if you don’t use it before it goes bad. The same rules apply whether buying in “bulk” or “average” quantities, and most people know this.

    We started shopping at Costco when my husband and I first moved in together. We were living in a two bedroom, two bath apartment in the LA area. We bought paper towels and toilet paper in bulk as well as meats and frozen items on a monthly basis. We had no problem storing these items in our little apartment and our fridge/freezer (just the unit in the kitchen – no stand alone freezer). We were able to go at least a month before needing to restock. After my son was born, we added diapers, wipes, and formula to the shopping list. We found plenty of room to store that stuff as well, and one case of wipes lasted nearly a year. I never did the math, but I imagine we saved a ton by buying formula at Costco, and we weren’t constantly running out to pick up more. Now we live out in the desert and Costco is a good hour’s drive away. So we make the trip about every 6-8 weeks and bring along a large cooler. Our savings have increased (even with the added cost of gas) because prices are higher at the local stores than they were in LA. Also, we are able to store more now that we have more space.

    I enjoyed reading your post way more than that patronizing article. Thanks!

  5. 6 Sandee // 2010.04.01 at 1:11 pm

    Hi Kimberly!
    I too followed the article to your site to see what you REALLY had to say! I am so glad I did. I love Costco too. Until a year ago I was a single mom of a teen boy and I would buy a lot of the huge bags of apples and onions etc. and take half to my mom and sister. The prices were so good I used to rationalize I would be spending this amount at the grocery store for about half this and so I know I wasn’t saving money but it really made me happy to share all the good stuff I found there.
    My ex husband always bought the Kirkland toilet paper and paper towels and every time he ran out at his home and bought more, he bought some for me and our son! Every time he brought them I felt like it was Christmas (that was something I felt I couldn’t afford, I had to spread my money around more,but I always wished I had). Even though we lived in a two bedroom apartment I ALWAYS happily found a way to stash them!
    Now there are three of us, all adults and we all love Costco and shop there every one to two weeks. Lately we have been making weekly menus and then shopping for mainly those items and so we may end up having a whole “mexican food week” so we can buy the tortillas, cheese, salsa, etc. in bulk and use it up. It is really fun. I still can’t pass up some of the really great buys and share them with my mom and sis or neighbors or my ex and his wife. I really want a freezer too! That has been on my wish list for a long time. I want to use the benefits of buying bulk to also cook in bulk and freeze a bunch of meals ahead.
    Thanks again for putting together such an informative and fun site!
    Sandee from Southern Calif.

  6. 7 Sana // 2010.04.01 at 8:31 am

    I agree that most Costco shoppers are able to figure out for themselves what they can realistically use. There are 2 of us and there are only a few things we won’t buy in the large quantity, like eggs, potatoes, and other things that would spoil before we could finish them. Costco has smart packaging with a lot of its products, so you aren’t buying 5 or 6 lbs of ground turkey, instead you get 4 separate containers of it. And I have to say, the Kirkland brand apple juice is the best apple juice I’ve tasted by far. It’s definitely worth the price!

  7. 8 Sandy // 2010.03.31 at 9:33 pm

    I agree that people who don’t shop at places like Costco kinda look down on those of us who do, thinking we’re getting duped or something! I only recently got my Costco membership, and I already love it. We buy a lot of organic, and the fact that Costco has so much organic stuff for cheaper or the same price as its non-organic counterpart in other stores is awesome! I have been buying the organic chicken broth that comes in a 4-pack, and I think it’s like $7 at Costco? (Somewhere around there. ) The other day I saw just ONE carton of the exact same brand organic chicken broth at Publix for $4 for just ONE!!! It made me feel so smart and thrifty. :) We have four children, and I know for a fact that Costco saves us a ton. Love that.

    • 9 Kimberly // 2010.04.01 at 5:07 am

      Sandy, I do hear the snide remarks about shopping at Costco quite a bit too. I just ignore those people because they are usually completely clueless and have never even been in a Costco. Costco’s selection of organic products is getting to be pretty impressive, especially given the prices.

  8. 10 Suity Hip // 2010.03.31 at 8:38 pm

    Did you read their top things to buy in bulk list? The list some of the same things (e.g. nuts, cereal, vitamins) that are on the DON”T buy in bulk list!

    • 11 Kimberly // 2010.04.01 at 5:08 am

      Suity Hip, didn’t you find it funny that you shouldn’t buy in bulk, the same things you should buy in bulk? How does that work exactly? :-)

  9. 12 John // 2010.03.31 at 7:26 pm

    Well, at least the article got me to come check out your site! I’ve saved it and will visit now and then to check things out.

    I like Costco and shop there. Like everyone with a brain, I too pick and choose what I buy there or elsewhere. Some things they are good on price. Some things it isn’t really “bulk” when you use it in a month. Some things are bad quality. You just have to be a smart shopper is all.

    I like your site and all I have read so far. Keep up the good work!

    • 13 Kimberly // 2010.04.01 at 5:11 am

      Hey John, thanks for stopping by & I’m glad to hear that you like the site! I agree with you, just like at most everyplace else, it’s all about being a smart consumer. You can’t just buy things without thinking about it.

  10. 14 Carmel // 2010.03.31 at 4:45 pm

    I agree with you, this article was frustrating. We shop almost exclusively at Costco for our household of two adults. When we tell people this, they often ask what we do with all that bulk stuff.

    We buy the fresh OJ and if we can drink one carton/week, it is good for usually over a month (unopened). Big savings over a grocery store. Using the freezer is essential. I have to store TP and paper towels in the basement but it’s no biggie: they’re individually wrapped.

    Many people think that when you buy in bulk, you’ll buy a 3-gallon tub of ketchup. At Costco, we can buy a pkg of three bottles. This makes a huge difference in the term “buying in bulk.”

    Buying in bulk does get tricky in terms of being wasteful. I can buy 3lbs of sour cream at Costco for the same price as 1lb of sour cream at the grocery store. Financially I come out ahead but I won’t always buy the 3lbs since waste has such an environmental impact, it’s not worth it.

    • 15 Kimberly // 2010.04.01 at 5:18 am

      Carmel, it sounds like you are in the same situation as us. There are only 2 of us, but we do almost all of our grocery shopping at Costco. It’s never caused us an issue because we know what we can buy there and what we can’t because we will just end up wasting too much of it. Having good freezer sense, is a key to shopping there. And like Clue, you might want to invest in the FoodSaver (which luckily, you can also buy at Costco).

      I’ve actually bought the very large container of sour cream! I was able to use all of it by adding sour cream to sauces and stuff, along with my baked or mashed potatoes. Although, the cream cheese that I bought (it’s a big 2 or 3 pound block) was a bad decision. I was using it for some holiday baking project and it was a lot cheaper at Costco, so I bought it and then got stuck with a big chunk of it that I just couldn’t get through before it started getting, um, less desirable for eating.

  11. 16 Kimberly // 2010.03.31 at 2:42 am

    I thought I was just being touchy about the article’s subject because of my Costco love; good to know I’m not crazy :-)

    I really feel like people don’t just go there and go nuts buying crazy large amounts of stuff that they’ll never use. But maybe I just hang out with the ultra rational and reasonable crowd, not the crazed shopper types? It’s not a bargain if you won’t use it or don’t like it; then it is just something you are stuck with for a long time.

  12. 17 Cookie // 2010.03.30 at 7:14 pm

    There are only 2 of us and we live in a 2-bedroom apartment in the city, but I still shop at Costco almost every weekend. It’s not really about how many people there are or how much space you have. It’s about what your particular household uses. I agree that I can’t buy those huge bages of vegetable and fruit from Costco because they’ll definitely go bad before we get a chance to eat them. I also don’t buy the milk or cheese for the same reason. I do buy ALL of my paper products, cleaning products, canned food and alcohol at Costco because they don’t go bad and I create places to store them. It’s just great knowing that I’m saving money AND I don’t have to run out and buy the things I need every week!

  13. 18 Nabeela // 2010.03.30 at 2:52 pm

    I read the article…..and I don’t agree with a lot of her points either. The only point I agreed on completely was mayo, mustard, salad dressings..etc.
    I can understand why she listed spices as one of the things you shouldn’t buy in bulk, because most of my friends don’t cook that often. But I’m an Indian and I run through grocery store spices almost every two months or three……so it makes sense for me to buy in bulk at Costco.

  14. 19 Clue // 2010.03.30 at 12:27 pm

    I too have a problem with the tone of those types of articles. They often tend to belittle Costco for offering bulk items and act as if consumers are idiots for falling for it. When in fact, the real issue that some consumers (and writers, apparently) do not think far enough ahead to consider to the quality of what they are buying and where, and they fail to consider how to best store and use the items they purchase in bulk.

    It’s just common sense to think ahead about how to best use and store your purchases. Before I ever got a Costco membership I bought a small chest freezer, knowing that I would not have room to store and get the benefits of many of Costco’s bulk items without one. After joining, I quickly determined that I would also be needing a way to store bulk dry goods and meats as well, or I would be forgoing even more savings. Thus, the FoodSaver joined my kitchen.

    But I guess using common sense doesn’t make for catchy clickable headlines and doesn’t leave readers with much material with which to leave snarky comments.

  15. 20 XUP // 2010.03.30 at 9:31 am

    I buy almost nothing in bulk because I don’t have the space to store it and there are only 2 of us in the household. I will occasionally buy non-perishables like toilet paper or paper towels or cleaning products in bulk, BUT only if they are a brand I know and like. As you point out with the juice, it’s no bargain if you have a ton of something that you don’t like.

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