One of the biggest, and perhaps most daunting aspects of living on your own is grocery shopping. While it can be exciting at first (I get to shop for ME and not for my parents!), going through your fridge and cabinets every week, making lists and spending money (sometimes more than necessary, oops) becomes a dreaded task.
Especially the “spending money” part. How can we do all the shopping we need and get good deals?
There’s a solution: buying in bulk.
Bulk-buying habits are different for everyone, based on lifestyle (student, employed, newlywed, parent, etc.), family or household size and other factors. I’ve found that buying in bulk is a science, and that science differs from person to person.
This serves as a guide for first-time bulk shoppers, or those who want to shake up their shopping routine and try something new:
1. Where can I shop for bulk items?
Wholesale clubs are perfect for bulk shopping. The three most popular clubs are BJ’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club. My family has shopped at all three in the past, and we have things we love about each. BJ’s produce is great and always has what I’m looking for. Sam’s has great meat selections, and an amazing bakery section. Costco has the best variety of items, overall. I shop at BJ’s, since there’s one where I live right now.
Memberships seem expensive at first, but they’re well worth it. My BJ’s membership is $50 per year. Sam’s Club memberships start at $45 and go up to $100 for the “Plus” membership. Costco’s membership is $55 per year. BJ’s also offers a free 60-day membership so you can try it out and see if it’s right for you.
2. What do I buy? What’s the best stuff to buy in bulk?
The best way to think about this is to think, “What do I use the most often?” Whether it’s food, cleaning product or some other household item, if you use, eat or drink it often and in large quantities, then it’s probably worth it.
Here’s what I buy in a routine trip to BJ’s:
- Strawberries and raspberries: I eat these daily, so it makes sense for me to buy these in larger quantities. I go through them fast.
- Milk: Believe it or not, this works great in bulk. I’m an almond milk fan, and BJ’s sells my favorite kind in a box with six, 1-quart cartons, for a great price.
- Bottled drinks: This is more my mom’s thing, but BJ’s and Sam’s have great options for bottled drinks, from tea, flavored water, juice and more. My family goes through a case of diet green tea in a week or two.
- Snacks for school or work: Fruit snacks, popcorn, pretzel chips, 100-calorie snack packs… the options are nearly limitless. It’s great to pick up a box of snacks that I can toss in my lunch bag and enjoy on my lunch break.
- Packaged pasta: BJ’s offers these great packages of organic pasta in different varieties (tortellini, ravioli, etc.). I love picking these up and making them for dinner once a week. They’re delicious and provide tons of leftovers.
- In addition to food, I like to buy face wash and shampoo in larger bottles. That’s definitely a money-saver over buying the smaller bottles at Target that only last a couple of weeks. Sanitizing wipes are another frequent purchase of mine; they clean most anything and are handy to have around.
3. What should I avoid buying in bulk?
Some things just aren’t worth buying in bulk, usually because you likely won’t go through that item fast enough. For instance, some women shave their legs a lot during warmer months, but not so much during the winter (admit it, it’s okay). So during the colder months, do you want a 40-pack of razors taking up space in your bathroom cabinet?
Pay attention to variety packs of certain foods, too. It’s great to buy a 48-pack of granola bars, but if you only like two of the four flavors offered, is it worth it? I won’t buy a variety pack of my favorite Greek yogurt, because out of 12 cups, only 4 are in a flavor that I like.
Also, when buying in bulk, think about what you have room for in your living arrangements. Buying a 50-roll pack of toilet paper may be great for usage purposes, but do you have space to keep the other rolls? If you’ve got a larger family or household, or are shopping for a business, it might be worth it. But for an apartment or small household, things like toilet paper are better left to your local grocery store. Some items and goods are great in larger quantities, but others aren’t.
Again, what you buy in bulk will be different from what your friend or neighbor might buy in bulk. But for starters, think practically about what you can afford and keep at home. It will take several shopping trips until you figure out what works best, but once you’ve got it down, buying in bulk will prove to be a great addition to your shopping habits.