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?