Buying in bulk pitfalls

By Stew


Mrs. Stew does the majority of the grocery shopping in our home. She knows where to find the deals, which coupons are best and what we need. She does a nice job of feeding our family of five for as little money as possible. Every once in a while, she asks me to pick up one or two items on the way home . . . usually a mistake.

I do several things wrong when I go to the grocery store. Sometimes I purchase the wrong item and sometimes I do not get the least expensive option. I am working on the former problems and I have not made a huge mistake in those areas for a while. The one habit that I still have not quite handled is buying bulk. I almost cannot help myself. If Mrs. Stew needs one or two of a particular item and I see a “4 for . . .” or “10 for . . . ” sale. I get as many as possible. If we need peanut butter, I head straight for the bulk foods aisle. If we need toilet paper, I get the biggest package possible.

However, while buying in bulk can be a good cost containment strategy, I have learned that it is not always the most frugal option. Here are some buying in bulk pitfalls:

overspending your budget

A bulk buy can sometimes blow your budget. A bulk buy almost always costs more up front and can cause you to run a budget deficit for that month. You might think that you will make it up next month because you will not have to buy more of that particular item . . . but it does not always work out that way.

consuming faster than normal

A bulk buy means that you have more of a particular item lying around the house. Those of us who like to snack or eat things because they are “there” might just eat more and not really save any money in the long run. If bulk buying is going to save you money, you need to have good self-control. If I see that there is a really big box of Cheerios in the pantry, I might have a second bowl, even though I do not really need it.

might not actually be cheaper per unit

This one is sneaky and I have fallen for it more than once. Store managers know that most of us assume that buying in bulk is cheaper. Be sure to check the unit cost before you buy. The other area is with warehouse stores that have a membership fee. If you do not shop with the membership card often, you are not saving money!

spoilage before it can be used

Sometimes I do this with bananas. Three dozen bananas just seems so cheap, but if you don’t eat them in a week, you will need to make banana bread or throw the rest out. Fruit is almost impossible to buy in bulk, but there are other items that can go bad – bread, dairy products, meat, eggs, etc. If you do not have a big freezer, be careful what you buy in bulk.


Most people can only eat certain foods a certain number of times during a month. A lack of variety can cause you to waste or even throw food away.

buying more than necessary

Before you buy in bulk, make sure that you actually need the item. The truth is that sometimes you just don’t need two gallons of vanilla extract or the bulk size oregano.

Here are some items that are almost always good to buy in bulk if you find a good price:

  • paper products – toilet paper, kleenex, paper towels
  • light bulbs
  • canned goods
  • diapers
  • coffee
  • laundry detergent

Do any of you have any bulk buy stories? – Article by Stew

Photo by Shannon at Zeer

7 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Buying in bulk pitfalls”

  1. Tiffany Says:

    Great post! I have made some mistakes with bulk buys, too (mostly with food that will spoil before my small family can eat it all). I just did a post on my site about baby wipes in bulk, and how that has been a GOOD thing for my family!

  2. Gina Says:

    I too am a bulk shopper. Luckily I figured out long ago that some items are good for bulk (your list above) but others were wasted (cereal). Now when I buy canned goods, I give a couple to my church’s food pantry. My favorite time to buy bulk is when I am having spend the night/weekend guests.

    One thing I’ve done is share w/a neighbor. An elderly lady that lives by herself splits the cost of paper products/canned goods w/us. She takes 1/3 and we keep the other 2/3. It helps stretch her limited budget and gets rid of some of the clutter that goes along w/buying bulk.

  3. Dramon Says:

    As you stated, it is imported to understand cost per unit. Many companies are now making smaller sizes ( 4 lb of sugar vs 5 lb).
    Good post.

    I do well on vitamins since they are taken daily. But have made mistakes with other medicine ( don’t get sick enough to use it all before it expires).

    Splitting is a great idea.

  4. Craig Ford Says:

    Stew. I think consuming faster than normal is the biggest disadvantage. It is hard to really cacluate how that impacts the cost of buying in bulk. However, I know when our family has more on hand we go through the item faster. This is especially true of food things like cheese, bacon, snacks …

  5. Gholmes Says:

    The wife and I have this debate monthly as she is the bulk buyer. I use all the reasons you mentioned in your post but food budget is hers to run.

    I dont complain in October because I enjoy the bulk halloween candy.