A guide to help you learn How to Buy Food in Bulk while save yourself time and money. Learn about unit cost, food storage, & more.
I get a lot of questions about how to buy food in bulk … how does one buy in bulk? What do you buy in bulk? Where do you purchase from? And the answer to these questions will vary from family to family depending on what is available in your area as well as your storage capacity, budget, style of cooking, and taste preferences. This post is meant to provide you with a guide while giving you some details about how we buy in bulk to save ourselves time and money.
When buying in bulk makes for a funny story
I might have been that roommate in college who came home with ten pounds of bananas just because they were “on sale.” The best part of this isn’t that I bought so many bananas but that my roommate’s finance didn’t know bananas could be frozen easily and so he felt obligated to try to eat them all before they spoiled. We still laugh about this!
As a newly married woman, I was just getting into the swing of bulk purchasing. There was an ice-cream I really loved called “Hemp Cream” and I happened to find it for a great price and proceeded to purchase 16 pints of ice-cream. When the ice cream arrived it was all expired.
Pretty much every time I go through the check out at Trader Joes’ they ask me if I am hosting a large barbecue.
The Costco checker asked me last visit if I was stocking up on their new Kirkland Organic Almond Butter for the year. Haha, nope….but Costco plays some serious mind games with their consumers because I never know if my favorite items will be there next time I go back!
Ensure adequate storage (freezer & pantry)
The fact that space is needed in order to buy food in bulk is a no-brainer. The question is, how much space? I have personally been able to buy in bulk in all of these scenarios:
- During college while living in an apartment
- During early years of marriage when we lived in apartments/townhouses
- Currently bulk buying more than ever and we own a 1200 square foot house
Think outside the box when it comes to storage! In college, I used my own bedroom and the laundry room as storage space for more pantry items. I also owned the smallest chest freezer from Sam’s Club and was able to cart it around from apartment to apartment (who says freezers can’t go in the living room?). Owning this chest freezer enabled me to buy a side of beef every year which allowed me (and my roommates!) to eat plenty of red meat at a super cheap price. It also allowed me to stock up on freezer items and chicken when it went on sale.
Other storage spaces that we have used include: attics, crawlspaces, garage shelving, under beds, spare rooms, on top of cupboards, in dresser drawers, in bedroom closets, under the stairs, and in basements.
Don’t underestimate your savings – invest in a good freezer now
It doesn’t take a lot of freezer space to be able to buy food in bulk.
For example, we still have my small 7.1 cubic foot chest freezer, an old upright freezer that was a freebie, and, lastly, we have the freezer portion of our fridge unit inside the house. We are able to fit the chest freezer and upright freezer in the corner of our very standard sized two car garage plus we have shelving on all three walls, our water heater, garbage/recycling containers, and are still able to fit our vehicles in the garage.
With this amount of freezer space we are able to purchase an entire steer every fall (hanging weight averages 500-600 pounds), keep the bones/joints, keep a bag of fat to render into tallow, purchase organic chicken in bulk (30-40 pounds at time), have frozen chicken feet on hand, buy butter in bulk, freeze the fruit we pick in the summer (cherries, berries, apples, peaches), buy several bags of our favorite foods from places like Costco at once (e.g. I usually come home with 3 bulk sized bags of blueberries and several bags of frozen veggies), store expressed breastmilk, fit 5-10 freezer meals in, and still have room for odds and ends (chopped zucchini, frozen green onions, popsicles, ice cream, etc).
Basic concepts of how to buy food in bulk
- Price per unit: Bulk buying usually yields a lower cost per unit. Simple math … take the total cost of your purchase and divide that by the number of units.
- Units are not whole items (e.g. roll of toilet paper, bottle of vinegar), but rather “a unit” is the actual amount of something you are getting (e.g. square of toilet paper, fluid ounces of vinegar).
- Don’t buy an item in bulk that you haven’t tried before
Saving small amounts on items you love and use regularly will save money over time
Some experts suggest that one should only buy in bulk if it costs 50% less per unit. Sometimes I am able to find deals like this but it usually isn’t quite that much savings. However, in my opinion, even saving 10-25% on items that we love is worth it.
Example: Sucanat is an unrefined sugar that is mineral rich and a much healthier option to brown sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, agave nectar, etc. I can purchase it from the local grocery store for $3.66/pound or from Azure standard in a 2-pound bag for $3.45 per pound. Not much savings, right? Azure Standard also offers sucanat in 25-pound bags for $2.32/pound which is a 37% savings; definitely worth it for our family!
How to lessen the initial impact on your budget
- Split bulk purchases with friends and family (this works really well when buying livestock)
- Stock up on a 1-2 items each month. You might be over budget for a few months (I was!) but if you are smart about your purchases you should see the amount you spend on food decrease later.
Buy the best deals from the best places
I personally shop at several different stores in order to get the best price on the items I need. Before you think I am a crazy Mom running to several stores a week, here is how I roll:
- Costco every 4-6 weeks
- Trader Joes every 6-8 weeks
- Local grocery store once a week (but I skip it on the week I go to Trader Joes)
- Azure Standard (online ordering, quick pick up when truck delivers) every 4 weeks
- Amazon as needed
- Misc. online vendors as needed (e.g. Thrive Market)
This system allows me to go to the grocery store once a week with the exception of the week I go to Costco. When my babies are newborns I go to the store even less (more on food prep pre-baby later). Despite how cute the kids are looking in this picture …and how perfectly behaved they are (haha), a trip to the store more often than necessary just isn’t something I want to do!
A couple years ago I literally went to the grocery stores and wrote down the price per unit for my favorite brands and then compared them against each other and with the online vendors I use. I found out things like how Costco has better prices on organic quinoa but Azure Standard is much cheaper for organic rice. It wasn’t a lot of work to do this; I just jotted down prices as I shopped a few times and then took a couple hours to compare everything.
Know how long certain foods will keep
I remember googling quite a bit when I was first learning how to buy food in bulk. How long does oatmeal last before going stale? Noodles? Sugar? Flour? And in reality, I went way overboard … here is what I do now:
- I use food grade buckets with gamma seal lids to store oatmeal, sucanot, coconut sugar, coconut flakes, cane sugar, etc. I have found that 25 pound bags usually fit inside a 5 gallon bucket.
- This guide is handy and lists how many pounds of different dry foods will fit in buckets.
- Flour should be used within six months.
- I check expiration dates and make sure I only buy what we can use before expiration.
Always have a minimum of two of each item
This pertains more to grocery shopping in general and is a little time-saving secret I learned from my Mom years ago. Here is an example: buy two bottles of ketchup, open one of them and put the other in the pantry. When you open the pantry bottle put ketchup on your grocery list. This way you never run out and can avoid making unnecessary trips to the grocery store.
Stayed tuned for our Healthy Bulk Food Buying Guide (publishing on 10/3/2017) where I will share with you all the nitty gritty details of exactly what we buy, where we buy it from, how to store it, minimizing waste, meal planning, & our favorite foods to freeze.
Please help us share this knowledge by saving HOW TO BUY FOOD IN BULK to your favorite Pinterest board for later!
Was this post helpful? What else should I include in part 2 that will help make shopping for your family easier?