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Is It Really Better to Buy in Bulk?

Michael Pollick
Updated Feb 02, 2024
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The question of whether or not to buy in bulk is not easy to answer definitively. Certainly there are consumer goods which can be sold much cheaper in bulk because of reduced shipping and packaging costs, but there are also other products which are not intended to be stored indefinitely or sold in larger size packaging. Paper goods, for instance, are often better to buy in bulk because they have a long shelf life and consumers buy significant amounts of the product over time anyway. Snack foods such as cookies, on the other hand, have a limited shelf life and consumers only buy them intermittently.

Bulk shopping in members-only warehouse stores has become very popular in recent years, primarily because consumers can readily see the price difference between products sold in bulk and their individually wrapped counterparts in traditional grocery stores. Even considering the cost of membership fees, shoppers at warehouse stores can still expect to save a significant amount of money on their grocery bills, plus reduce the number of shopping trips overall. By reducing the number of impulse shopping trips or emergency supply runs, shoppers can also save on fuel costs.

It is not always feasible to buy in bulk, however. Perishable foods such as milk, eggs and bread can easily spoil when bought in bulk. Some staple foods purchased in bulk can be safely frozen or stored in airtight containers, but this may necessitate the purchase of a large deep freezer or additional dry food storage containers. When the individual portions of food bought in bulk can be safely stored or consumed within a reasonable amount of time, it does make financial sense to buy in bulk whenever possible. This will not necessarily eliminate the need to visit a traditional grocery store for certain perishable foods or other items not generally sold in bulk.

Many shoppers at warehouse stores discover a number of specialty or exotic products not always available at traditional grocery stores. The benefit of having access to these hard-to-find foods may outweigh the upfront expenses of a membership fee and bulk shopping. A warehouse store may also keep their prices more stable than a traditional grocery store, so it makes sense to buy in bulk on a popular food item which tends to run out quickly, like snack chips and carbonated beverages.

There's no way to say definitively that shopping in bulk is better than any other shopping philosophy. As a rule, products sold in bulk are less expensive per unit that products sold individually, but there are also a lot more units to consider. A large family with young children may do better by shopping in bulk, but a single person may not benefit as much from the experience. If a person can properly store the excess goods and can truly say a bulk purchase is a bargain for his or her personal needs, then it does make sense to buy in bulk. Otherwise, it may be a good idea to buy non-perishable or popular consumables in bulk, but find other ways to purchase other essential grocery items.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By annettec — On Feb 05, 2011

You can still buy perishable foods in bulk without worrying about shelf life. Just split the bulk goods with neighbors and friends and take only the amount that you can handle. You can even get real wholesale prices by placing big orders directly from distributors or farms. That's what we're doing in our neighborhood with the help of an online tool called SplitStuff.

By anon138812 — On Jan 02, 2011

Bulk can make you fat if you eat too much because you get such big portions.

By anon130499 — On Nov 28, 2010

When you buy in bulk you eat too much and waste too much. Therefore it's cheaper not to buy in bulk.

By anon130298 — On Nov 28, 2010

Most of the foods I have found in the "warehouse" places are not the kind I eat. The foods seem to be of the highly processed kind. Buying chips and carbonated drinks is of the lowest priority of my shopping as I view these kinds of foods in a category of anti health foods. It has always amazed me of how many billions of dollars are paid for water, sugar, artificial flavoring and carbonation.

By milagros — On Nov 27, 2010

I also buy nuts in bulk. Since I like to eat nuts, but also use them for baking, buying in bulk can be a wiser choice.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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