USU Extension: The Benefits of Bulk Buying

Don’t get me wrong, there are bargains to be had, but just shopping at a warehouse store does not guarantee that you are getting a bargain. Is it because of the quantity they need to buy? Just what are the benefits? When does it make sense to buy in bulk? How do I store all of it after I have it?

Teresa Hunsaker, Family and Consumer Science Educator with USU Extension, Weber County, presents another fact-filled segment on what you need to know about bulk buying.

When does it make sense to buy in bulk?

1. When you have a large family or have plenty of mouths to feed.

2. When you have worked your budget to allow for the extra cost at time of purchase for the amount you are required to buy. My budget can handle one loaf of bread and one pound of ground beef, but maybe not 2 loaves of bread and 6 pounds of ground beef—even if the cost per loaf is a little less or the cost per pound is less.

3. When you have enough storage space—freezer, refrigerator, pantry. Buying in bulk means storing in bulk, so be sure that you have a place to keep everything.

4. When you can use the perishable foods up fast enough—either through careful menu planning, or the sheer quantity of those to be fed.

5. When you have appropriate and sufficient containers and coverings to protect the food items.

6. When it is something you buy regularly and often—toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags, detergent, salt, sugar, spices, canned goods, pasta, flour. These are things that even a person living alone will eventually use up. Not only might you save money on these items but you’ll be less likely to run out of them.

7. When you have watched sales in your regular super market (teamed up with coupons) and it is still less expensive.

Now, let’s talk storage:

Perhaps the biggest pitfall is buying something that will spoil before you can use it all. Unless you are feeding a large household avoid fresh fruits and vegetables or dairy products that can spoil within days. Baked goods can also be difficult. However, using the refrigerator can get you around a lot of problems. For instance, many places sell two loaves of bread together. You can freeze one loaf while you eat the other. Buying meats in bulk can also be a good idea, especially if you freeze them by separating the meat into dinner portions before you freeze it. Otherwise you will have to struggle whenever you only want to use some of the frozen meat. Before you buy anything that could spoil, or get moldy, try to decide if you will be able to use it all before it goes bad. Buying a lot of something and then having to throw half of it away will cost you more. Beware of things like large bags of chips which may go stale or big bottles of soda that go flat. If you normally wind up throwing some of these things away then be sure to avoid them in bulk.

There are a number of ways you can store bulk items:

– recycled food grade plastic containers and glass jars

– Rubbermaid or Ziploc type containers (4 4-cup Ziploc containers cost less than $2)

– re-sealable bags, plastic wrap, freezer paper, aluminum foil

– for some items (e.g. oatmeal) you can re-use the original container

The key to selecting your container is determined by the time you intend to store the item and whether you plan on accessing the food frequently out of the container. Each container has its advantages and disadvantages—cost, seal type, access, durability, light penetration, water proof, etc. Another important step is to label the item and the date. Make sure all containers are air-tight and stored in cool dry areas of your home.

For dry storage this chart may help you decide what size container you will need to store various amounts of food.

Wheat, Beans and
Dry Milk or
Macaroni/Pasta Oatmeal
275 lbs. 225

What About Storage Times?- for optimum quality, color, texture, nutrition.

Meat and Poultry – Uncooked

• Chicken and turkey – Nine months

• Steaks, beef – Six to 12 months

• Chops, pork – Four to six months

• Chops, lamb – Six to nine months

• Roasts, beef – Six to 12 months

• Roasts, lamb – Six to nine months

• Roasts, pork and veal – Four to six months

• Stew Meats – Three to four months

• Ground meats – Three to four months

• Organ meats – Three to four months

Dairy Products

• Butter/margarine – Six to nine months

• Cheese, soft and spreads, dips – One month

• Cheese, hard or semi-hard – Six months

• Eggs in shell- Do not freeze

• Ice cream – One month

• Milk / Cream – Three weeks

Dried Food Items – Shelf Life

• Baking powder/soda – 18 months

• Bread Crumbs – Six months

• Cereals – Six months

• Coffee creamer, dry – Six months

• Flour/cake mixes – One year

• Gelatin/pudding mixes – One year

• Herbs/spices – Six to 12 months

• Milk, nonfat dry – Six months

• Pancake/pie crust mixes – Six months

• Pasta/noodles – Two years

• Potatoes, instant – 18 months

• Rice, white – Two years

• Sugar, granulated – Two years

• Sugar, brown, confectioners’- Four months

Warehouse shopping can actually be more expensive if you are not careful. If you are considering joining one of these clubs make sure you go first and take a look around. If you pay to join and only wind up going once you certainly aren’t getting any deals. However, bargain shopping is not particularly convenient. Usually you cannot do all the shopping at a warehouse store so you will have to shop at a regular store as well. Bulk shopping does not need to be done on a weekly basis but it is probably best to go about once a month. Also, most times the warehouse store is not nearly as close as the local grocery store, and typically has more restrictive hours of operation.

One last note:

Buying in bulk may be causing you to eat in bulk. So many of the foods we purchase in bulk are snack and treat foods. Sometimes having them around in quantity is tempting to eat in quantity. A lot of times the availability of snacks and treats just means they get eaten faster. If you find that twice as many cookies still only lasts the same amount of time then you’ll have to stop buying that item in bulk. One trick is to only keep a week’s worth of the item on the kitchen shelves and store the rest somewhere else to be brought out the next week.

Remember that buying bulk is not always as convenient as shopping from week to week but if you follow a few simple rules you can save a lot of money. It can also mean an end to running to the store for something that you just ran out of. Bulk shopping is different depending on who’s doing it, but as long as you keep in mind the specific needs of your household there are plenty of bargains to be had.

For more tips on this and other consumer issues, call USU Extension at (801) 399-8200 or online at

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