8 big ways to save at bulk stores

Buying in bulk is cheaper on most things, but you can save even more if you follow these tips about what to do -- and not do.

By Stacy Johnson Feb 10, 2012 6:26PM

This post is from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.


Bulk stores such as Costco and Sam's Club do have some great deals, but that doesn't mean you'll always save money shopping at one of them. If you're like me, three things are working against you while you push that ginormous cart.

  1. You assume everything is a good deal because it's bulk pricing.
  2. You really believe you won't let it go to waste.
  3. You greatly overestimate your love for one type of food.

Fall prey to those pitfalls and you might end up wasting money. Shop smarter and you'll not only stop wasting money -- you'll start saving a lot of it.


Before we begin, check out this video from Money Talks founder Stacy Johnson about the best deals at warehouse stores. Then meet me on the other side for more.

Now that you've gotten Stacy's take, here are some tips for bulk-food shopping that really helped me:


1. Stick to one membership.

Having multiple bulk-store memberships ensures you get deals on different products -- since they all carry slightly different stuff -- but you could end up paying more than $100 each year just to get inside the stores. As of December, club memberships varied from $40 to $55 annually.
It's cheaper to pick one bulk store and stick to it for a year. If you need help choosing, check out How to Pick the Best Wholesale Club.

2. Or don't buy a membership at all.
Bulk stores generally let a member bring in one guest. (I usually bring a friend with me to Sam's Club.) If you don't plan on going more than a few times a year, why not piggyback on someone else’s paid membership? You just saved at least $40.
If you do plan on going regularly, you can split the cost of membership with a friend or family member. For example, Sam's Club gives you two membership cards for $40, which I split each year with my sister. We don't live in the same house -- or even the same city -- but it's never been a problem.

3. Compare price per unit.

Bulk stores have cheaper prices on most items. A study conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (.pdf file) showed that 86% of the food items it compared cost less at a bulk store. (The USDA found the largest savings in meat, canned goods and store-brand foods.)


But that means 14% didn't cost less. When you factor in sale prices or store card discounts, it may be cheaper to buy certain foods at the grocery store. To be sure, calculate the unit price for the things you buy at the bulk food store and the unit price for the same items at the grocery store. Then compare the two.


4. Buy the store brand.

Many of the bulk stores carry their own brands of cleaning products, laundry detergent, pet food and some nonperishable foods. And the store brand usually costs less. For example, Sam’s Club sells Tide and their brand, Member's Mark.

  • Tide with ActiveLift, 170 ounces/110 loads = $19.98
  • Member's Mark Liquid Laundry Detergent, 225 ounces/146 loads = $13.68

In this case, buying the store brand will save you 12 cents a load. Doesn't sound like a lot, but how much laundry do you wash in a year?


5. Split perishables with a friend.

Bulk stores have good deals on fruits and vegetables, but I know I'll never eat 5 pounds of apples, and I don't want to freeze them. Instead, I split bulk packages of perishable food with a friend. We each pay for half, and I get the bulk price without wasting food.


6. Freeze food before it goes bad.

After years of wasting countless perishable items because I just didn't get to them in time, I finally learned to start checking expiration dates and freezing whatever was left before it could go bad.


Check out When Does Food Really Expire for a cheat sheet on freeze times.


7. Don't plan too far ahead.

I have 14 cans of peaches in my pantry. They've been there six months. Why? Because six months ago, I ate a lot of peaches. I thought I'd love them forever.


I didn't.


If you don't have a large household, it can take weeks or even months to use up a bulk size. And if you get sick of it -- or no longer need it -- you've wasted money. You're better off sticking to staples such as flour, sugar or rice and avoiding the giant-sized frozen barbecue shrimp. 

8. Make use of store perks and discount offers.

Bulk-food stores come with extras -- a gas station, a tire and car-care center, a cafeteria -- to make the most of your membership. So use all of the perks the store offers. And most extras have a discount (like tires, which are dirt-cheap at Sam's Club), so you’ll save even more.

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:


Feb 10, 2012 8:52PM
We shop Costco only partly for price. Equally important is that most of the time, Costco meat, fish and produce is simply of better quality--choicer cuts of meat, fresher seafood, fresher, tastier produce--than at typical grocery stores. Costco's frozen berries and vegetables, too, are excellent. Another thing we like about Costco is that they seem to conscientiously avoid stocking bad products. There are exceptions, but they are rare. Most of the time, if it buy it at Costco, you can count on the product to be dependable. And finally, our experiences with Costco employees have been consistently very positive--and unlike one of its competitors, Costco isn't in the news every other month facing lawsuits for mistreating or cheating its employees. The savings are nice---and we definitely reap savings... but there is more to life, and to shopping, than saving a few dollars.
Feb 10, 2012 10:48PM
I have been a member of B J 's  for 3 years. Eyeglasses and contacts can be really cheap in the club warehouse stores. B J''s is very good in that they offer not only their own coupon books every month but also coupons in-store and accept manufacturers' coupons plus will take both theirs and manufactures coupons at the same purchase increasing your savings. Cold cuts at B J's are better for the price or even cheaper that sale prices at supermarkets. Name brand tires are not only priced competitively but they charge a lot less than regular tire shops for installation, balancing and road hazard warranty. When I had a problem with a tire, they didn't charge me for removing the tire, and finding out the wheel had a hairline crack, they put it back on and when I got a replacement wheel, they put the tire on it balanced it and put it on - NO Charges!. As to the food, yes one has to be careful of not overbuying but with care one can buy stuff if have enough room, including in the freezer, found can get brand name stuff for grocery store brand prices.
Feb 11, 2012 4:56AM

Best article! Best place to find and print coupons of major brands during holidays is Printapons search online and find.

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