Thanks to the internet, it’s easy for me to buy items in bulk, especially when I think I’m going to save money in the process.
But when I end up with six unused cans of shaving cream or only wearing five out of 10 shirts I bought at once, I realize I actually spent more than necessary.
It turns out that buying in bulk the right way takes some effort. After years of buying in bulk from wholesalers, such as Costco, and click-to-buy websites, such as Amazon, I’ve learned a thing or two about the practice.
5 do’s and don’ts of buying in bulk
Buying a product in bulk only helps your wallet when:
- You need it (and don’t just want it).
- You can store it.
- You won’t use it faster because you have more of it.
Here are five actionable do’s and don’ts to make the most of buying in bulk.
1. Don’t buy more than one without a trial
If you need a new item, it’s always wise to buy one of it first. If it’s a piece of clothing, for example, wear it, wash it, and see how it holds up. If it doesn’t last, then you avoid the mistake of buying a bunch of it.
I learned this lesson the hard way. My wife and I bought a 200-count box of Costco’s Kirkland Signature trash bags. Its “tear-stop technology” is touted on the box. Unfortunately, the technology doesn’t stop the bags from leaking at the bottom.
I think we still have about 175 trash bags left.
2. Don’t shop without a list
Whether you shop at a wholesaler or your local store, you might be tempted to take advantage of sales. You can usually find discounts online or near a store’s entrance.
But buying in bulk is only worthwhile when you’re investing in a product you need. Discounts might encourage you to buy a bunch of something you don’t need.
To combat this, write a shopping list before browsing online or in a store. Once you know what you need to buy in bulk, look for coupons to score even more savings.
3. Do buy items you need and can store
The shopping list will help you stick to items you need now. But you can also include items you’ll need in the future. Before you buy these items, ensure they:
- Have a long shelf-life
- Could be shelved in your living space
- Aren’t priced lower elsewhere
Toilet paper is an easy example. You know you’re going to need it, and it doesn’t have an expiration date. But you do need to ensure your store is offering the best price.
However, initial savings won’t make up for overflowing closets at home if storage is an issue. Many times, my wife and I have skipped a bulk purchase simply because our New York City apartment didn’t have space for it.
4. Do be careful about buying food in bulk
Speaking of shelf life, avoid buying large amounts of food that’ll spoil before you can eat it. You want to be wary of buying produce, such as fruit and vegetables. Anything you can’t freeze might not be a good candidate for buying in bulk.
Zero in on nonperishables that you consume regularly. Think about what you normally buy, whether it’s rice, pasta, or something else. Examine the potential savings of buying in bulk by:
- Using cost per unit to compare prices
- Asking for wholesale discounts at your local grocery store
If you stock your kitchen with essentials that don’t expire, it’ll become easier to save money with meal planning.
5. Don’t sacrifice quality for immediate savings
When buying in bulk, you might be tempted to buy a lower-quality version of a product to score the biggest possible savings. However, being cheap ends up costing more in some cases.
Say you have the option of buying five low-quality work shirts for $50 or five higher-quality work shirts for $100. The lower-quality shirts will save you more money today, but the higher-quality tops could save you more over time. If they’re truly higher quality, they’ll last longer, and you won’t need to spend more money to replace them as quickly.
Avoid the mindset that you’re buying in bulk strictly to save money. Instead, adopt the mindset that you’re buying products you already know and like, so you might as well buy them in bulk to save money.
Consider the benefits of buying in bulk
Being a better shopper might not swing your finances the way that earning a big raise or making wise investments could.
But if buying in bulk trims your expenses, it gives you more money to do other things. Say you have student loans or other debt to pay off. Increasing your monthly payment by as little as $20 per month could save you hundreds of dollars in interest, according to our loan prepayment calculator.
Consider creating a budget to manage your spending and see how buying in bulk could play a role. Once you know how you’ve spent your money in the past, you can be more decisive about where it goes in the future.
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