Bulk Buying and Warehouse Stores
I don't currently have a membership at Sam's Club (nearest to my location).
Mind you, when we had growing kids at home, we shopped routinely at Sam's. It was more than worth my while to buy six heads of romaine at once when I knew full well we'd eat them in less than two weeks time.
In some ways I miss shopping there because invariably dairy products were an excellent buy, as were Over the Counter meds, minerals and vitamins and fresh seasonal produce (like blueberries or cherries) for canning or preserving. Flour, sugar, olive oil, seasonings were almost always good buys as well. The meats at our Sam's were beautiful cuts, and fairly priced but buying two HUGE chuck roasts would eat up a chunk of the budget for just the two of us. And that's why I no longer have a membership, though I do visit about once a year as a guest. I simply cannot use the volume of perishable bulk purchases I once did and it was in the perishables that I found the very best buys.
I confess I've found warehouse shopping terribly, terribly tempting! Books, appliances, dishes, jewelry, gorgeous gift baskets, were all too tempting for words and distracting, too. I do NOT miss the temptation to spend more than I have (and I so often did). I don't miss the limited selection of brands which often led me to believe that I should buy 'x' brand even though I'd normally have opted for a less expensive or store brand, etc. I don't miss going because invariably someone else was along (Mama, Granny, sister in law, etc) and I was tempted to purchase things I'd normally bypass. I don't miss the long treks through the store when I'd shop with Mama (she has always had stamina plus when it comes to being behind a buggy she can fill to the gills and beyond), that I started tossing things in just to be done and not have to go anywhere else later in the week.
I think NOW I'd be far more disciplined than I was way back then. For one thing, I have a better viewpoint and grasp of spending money overall and I think I'd go it all alone rather than tandem shopping. But again, not having a family at home it hardly seems worthwhile.
I follow certain 'rules' when purchasing in bulk.
My Rules for Bulk Purchasing:
#1. Know pricing. Use a price book if you must. For some reason, I've been blessed with a memory for numbers. My price list is in my head. I can tell you right now the lowest and average prices I've seen recently on hundreds of items but I'm weird like that and I admit it. (And by the way that awesome memory only works for numbers. It's unlikely I can tell you your name the day after we've been introduced. Also highly unlikely I can tell you where my keys are if I haven't tucked them into my purse as I've trained myself to do... so don't envy me, lol).
Recently 40 ounce jars of Jiff peanut butter were Buy One Get One Free at Publix. The cost worked out to about $3.99 a jar. I knew the cost of a 40 ounce jar of Aldi brand peanut butter was $4.29. Two jars of Jiff went on our shelf that week. The average cost of ketchup at present is $1/12 ounces. If I see it for less than that price, I'll buy several bottles for the pantry stock. A good sale/coupon combo price on bottles of mustard right now is about $.66 a bottle. If I see it for less, I'm stocking up.
#2. Buy at the lowest price available. I learned this while working in central supply at a nursing home. It was a given that we were going to use certain items over and over again regardless of the special needs of patients. Things like Ensure, Depends, syringes, etc that were used on a daily basis for most of the general population. If a sale came up that had those items I stocked up, buying enough to carry us until the next sales cycle (it's universal, truly, that sales go in cycles no matter what you're shopping for) rolled around. Initially, the corporate office thought we were spending too much money, but at the end of the quarter we were spending LESS money than the other nursing homes the same size. Since they charged for these items at the same rate of markup their profit margin was higher, too.
I am ashamed to admit it took me probably six years after that job to realize that I could purchase my personal home's foods using the same principles. I only wish I might have charged my family the same markup and earned a heaping big profit, lol.
#3 Know the average sales cycles of foods. I'll grant you sales cycles have changed a bit in the 35 years I've been homemaking. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter used to generate great sales on baking items, while summer brought on sales on condiments. Winters you could expect to find roasts and round steaks, short ribs and such on sale, while summers there were better prices on steaks and ground beef and ice cream.
There are still cycles of sales, but it takes a little harder look at sales sheets to know which foods are considered seasonal sales. The best way to learn is to look over multiple sales sheets (you can access most store ads online now.
Mayonnaise is generally a better buy in summer months, not so much throughout the rest of the year. I realized this past winter how much less expensive it was to stock up on mayo in summer as compared to the prices throughout the winter months. You can bet this summer I've watched for sales and mean to have 12-14 jars on hand by end of the season just for the great savings it will net me.
#4. Don't be too hard and fast about what you will buy. If you find an item on clearance that you can substitute for one you normally use (tomato sauce vs. pizza sauce for instance) then buy as much as you can reasonably use before the listed expiration date.
I've just used the last jar of pizza sauce I bought last October. I found the jars of sauce on the clearance rack at Dollar General for something like $.50 each. I knew I could easily make two large homemade pizzas with each jar (I think they were 12 ounce) and that price was less expensive than el cheapo store brand tomato sauce with my own seasonings added in which I'd been using. I checked expiration dates (October 2012) and figured how often I'd likely make pizza (about every third week) and bought as many jars as I thought we'd use before they expired. I think I ended up with 10 jars.
#5 A monthly budget should allow room for stocking up and impulse buys. I learned this one the hard way...I have a set number of dollars to spend each month. I think it's very reasonable to plan to spend at least 10% of the monthly budget on stocking up and higher if you can afford it and set a dollar limit on impulse items. I personally average about 15% per pay period for stocking up and no more than $10 for impulse buys (which sometimes is also used for stocking up).
#6 Ask two simple questions: Can I make it myself cheaper? I happen to like pancake mix from a box. I've finally pinpointed why: it's a little sweeter than most recipes for pancakes This week pancake mix was on sale for $2/box which is a good price and in the past I've picked up at least 2 boxes each time it was on sale. BUT for $2.59 I can buy 5 pounds of flour and for another $2.59 a 4 pound bag of sugar at Aldi. I can make a LOT of pancakes for $4 and have flour and sugar leftover to make breads, muffins, cakes,cookies, etc. I like the pancake mix because I can just add water which is handy for those times when I may be out of eggs and milk. I'll likely continue to keep a box on hand but I won't stock two-four boxes as I have in the past.
A few months ago I purchased a dozen jars of Ragu spaghetti sauce at Publix. It was buy one get one free, and I had coupons for $1 off two, which meant I was paying about $1 a jar for spaghetti sauce. I bought a variety: traditional, three cheese, chunky garden vegetable and again I made sure we'd be likely to use them all before they expired (sometime in 2013, I have three left). Can I make homemade spaghetti sauce for $1 a quart (more or less)? Not buying raw ingredients I can't. If I had a garden I'd still need to purchase certain things (like onions and tomato sauce) in order to make the sauce and so I'd be hard pressed to keep my costs as low as the Ragu came in.
Question 2: WILL I make it? In the case of pancakes or cookies, I can safely answer "Yes, I will." For a few other items the answer might be "No," because it's a degree of difficulty I haven't yet mastered, or because it's labor intensive and the end result not noticeably better than store bought.
#7 Know what you will USE. I've fallen victim a time or two to purchasing an item in bulk because it was a great buy...only to end up tossing half of it in the trash. If you cannot possibly eat six (or even three) heads of romaine before it will need to be tossed, then don't buy it. If your family don't really like pork and beans but you see a case for $.25/can, pass it up. If you don't understand the idea that food tossed out is money in the trash, look at it this way. It's better to have four cans of green beans at $1 each that your family will eat on the pantry shelf than a dozen cans of something you bought for $4 they won't.
On the other hand, I grossly underestimated how much mayo we use and so ran out about February. It was quite a shock to have to pay full price for something I'd been buying for $2.25 a jar.
#8 Don't get tunnel vision. The dollar store, the drugstore, a grocery, warehouse store, Target (we don't have a super Target) etc all have great sales on items at one time or another. My last toilet paper purchase was made at Target when they had an awesome sale. I bought a 36 roll pack of a name brand paper double roll for $16 including tax. That's $.44/roll which is a good buy. I mentioned my pizza sauce purchase at the dollar store. For about two years, I stocked up on coffee at the drugstores in my area which had the best sales.
#9 Check the expiration date. I cannot repeat this often enough, check the expiration date. If you have some stock of an item at home, and you know you plan to purchase more, know the expiration date of what you have at home first! Recently I found a good sale on Mayonnaise (sale/coupon combo) which I took advantage of, buying four jars. I checked the expiration date on the jars in the store before I purchased them. The newer jars had the same expiration date as the jars I had at home (March 2013) which limited how many I would buy. I decided I'd wait until I found jars with an expiration date beyond March 2013 to stock. If they had expired in October 2013, I'd have bought a dozen jars.
#10 Go for items meant for long term storage over short term. Here's where you need to know two things: how often do you use any product and what is the expected life of the item? I do not find it viable to stock up too heavily upon batteries, bread, soda or beef or chicken as a rule. I might have several weeks worth in the house, but rarely do I have several months worth. These things tend to expire long before I can use them up. On the other hand, canned goods, light bulbs, whole turkeys, personal care items (but not gel type deodorants, they tend to solidify) have a longer storage life. They are well worth stocking
up on and keeping a rotating stock on hand. A frozen whole turkey is good for up to a year in the freezer. Most meat cuts have a limited life of about 3-6 months at most in the freezer before losing a degree of taste and texture and overall quality. Know this when you shop to help determine what is worth stocking more heavily.