Bulk stores like Costco and Sam’s Club do have some great deals, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always save money shopping at one of them. If you’re like me, three things are working against you while you push that ginormous cart…
- You assume everything is a good deal because it’s bulk pricing.
- You really believe you won’t let it go to waste.
- You greatly overestimate your love for one type of food.
Fall prey to those pitfalls and you might end up wasting money. Shop smarter and you’ll not only stop wasting money – you’ll start saving a lot of it. Here are some tips for bulk-food shopping that really helped me…
1. Stick to one membership…
Having multiple bulk-store memberships ensures you get deals on different products – since they all carry slightly different stuff – but you could end up paying more than $100 each year just to get inside the store. As of December, club memberships varied from $40 to $55 annually.
It’s cheaper to pick one bulk store and stick to it for a year. If you need help choosing, check out How to Pick the Best Wholesale Club.
2. …Or don’t buy a membership at all
Bulk stores generally let a member bring in one guest. (I usually bring a friend with me to Sam’s Club.) If you don’t plan on going more than a few times a year, why not piggyback on someone else’s paid membership? You just saved at least $40.
If you do plan on going regularly, you can split the cost of membership with a friend or family member. For example, Sam’s Club gives you two membership cards for $40, which I split each year with my sister. We don’t live in the same house – or even the same city – but it’s never been a problem.
3. Compare price per unit
Bulk stores have cheaper prices on most items. A study conducted a few years ago by the United States Department of Agriculture showed that 86 percent of the food items it compared cost less at a bulk store. (The USDA found the largest savings in meat, canned goods, and store-brand foods.)
But that means 14 percent didn’t cost less. When you factor in sale prices or store card discounts, it may be cheaper to buy certain foods at the grocery store. To be sure, calculate the unit price for the things you buy at the bulk food store, and the unit price for the same items at the grocery store. Then compare the two.
4. Buy the store brand
Many of the bulk stores carry their own brands of cleaning products, laundry detergent, pet food, and some nonperishable foods. And the store brand usually costs less. For example, Sam’s Club sells Tide and their brand, Member’s Mark…
- Tide with ActiveLift, 170 ounces/110 loads = $19.98
- Member’s Mark Liquid Laundry Detergent, 225 ounces/146 loads = $13.68
In this case, buying the store brand will save you 12 cents a load. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but how much laundry do you wash in a year?
5. Split perishables with a friend
Bulk stores have good deals on fruits and vegetables, but I know I’ll never eat 5 pounds of apples, and I don’t want to freeze them. Instead, I split bulk packages of perishable food with a friend. We each pay for half, and I get the bulk price without wasting food.
6. Freeze food before it goes bad
After years of wasting countless perishable items because I just didn’t get to them in time, I finally learned to start checking expiration dates and freezing whatever was left before it could go bad.
Check out When Does Food Really Expire for a cheat sheet on freeze times.
7. Don’t plan too far ahead
I have 14 cans of peaches in my pantry. They’ve been there six months. Why? Because six months ago, I ate a lot of peaches. I thought I’d love them forever.
If you don’t have a large household, it can take weeks or even months to use up a bulk size. And if you get sick of it – or no longer need it – you’ve wasted money. You’re better off sticking to staples like flour, sugar, or rice and avoiding the giant-sized frozen barbecue shrimp altogether.
8. Make use of store perks and discount offers
Bulk-food stores come with extras – a gas station, a tire and car-care center, a cafeteria – to make the most of your membership. So use all of the perks the store offers. And most extras have a discount (like tires, which are dirt-cheap at Sam’s Club), so you’ll save even more.
Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.