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Does Buying in Bulk Really Save You Money?

Updated: Mar 4


With the cost of living crisis showing no signs of improving, in fact completely the opposite, people are looking at ways to save some extra money on their shopping. I was talking to somebody recently who mentioned that they bulk buy their groceries to save money, which got me thinking about how cost-effective that actually is.


Is buying in bulk the answer to the cost of living crisis?


With the cost of living crisis showing no real signs of improving and putting money back into the pockets of those people struggling to keep the bills paid and food on the table, people are looking at ways to save some extra money on their shopping. I was talking to somebody recently who mentioned that they bulk buy their groceries to save money, which got me thinking about how cost-effective that actually is?


Does bulk buying save money?


Many of us have purchased in bulk to save money; after all, I've always assumed that buying in bulk is far more cost-effective than buying little and often, but is it the answer to the cost of living crisis? I know I bought a fair bit of bulk buy products when the pandemic was in its infancy, purely down to the concern that I had no idea what to expect to happen to the supply chain. I wanted to ensure that we had what we needed to survive, should everything grind to a stop, and suddenly we were in some sort of apocalyptic movie where people hoarded their food and water to survive, which luckily didn't happen to that extent, but still, having a few weeks supply of goods was useful, especially as getting into the supermarket was a nightmare and to be avoided as much as possible!


Having purchased in bulk, I came up with the following conclusions about how good it was for my family and me; there were good points and also bad; I'm not so sure it's going to make a positive difference to our bank account.


That said, I'm getting married in August this year, and we'll absolutely make some bulk purchases for guest snacks and drinks in the evening, as that will make a decent difference to our wedding budget, as we will make good of the convenience and money saving aspect of buying bulk!



Space! 


If you have plenty of space in your home to be able to store your bulk buys, then great; if you don't, this is a problem! There is little worse than opening a cupboard and a thousand tea bags falling on you; you need somewhere you can safely store the products that are easily accessible. We tend to bulk buy certain household items such as laundry powder, paper towels, toilet paper and dishwasher capsules, normally buying when the products we buy are on promotion at Costco. The savings can be decent, but we are very limited in storage space (although we could have a clear-out and get rid of some of the clutter in our cupboards, which would help), and a massive box of laundry detergent takes up a lot of room, so realistically unless you have the room to store big boxes of products, space may be your enemy!


A good memory


You need to remember where you stored the products so you don't come across random cases of products months, if not years, after buying them, having forgotten you had stored them in this place (guilty). Write down what you have and where they are stored, and also their expiration dates! To be fair, in my house, with its poor amount of storage, it means I'm not likely to forget I have 10kgs of detergent and 20 packs of loo roll under the stairs, but if you do have lots of storage, it can be easy to forget its there, and it can be wasted, or not used before it should be!


The cost of the goods


Having plenty of products in the house is great, and buying bulk 'might' save you money when comparing the cost of purchasing the products in smaller pack sizes, but bulk does generally mean a higher initial expense. Sure, it might be cheaper in the long run, but actually, it can be a significant upfront expense, and for many, it's not in the budget right now, no matter the long-term savings it might bring if you can't afford it, it's not a saving, it's an expense, and I personally don't want to start adding the types of products we would normally buy in bulk onto my credit card unless I knew I was going to be able to pay that off, in full, when the bills come in, as you won't enjoy the benefits of a lower price if you're paying interest on the purchase on your credit card! 


Shelf life


Many products you buy will have a best-before date or use-by date, and the problem with buying bulk is that if you don't use it all up before it expires, you may potentially end up throwing the product away, which means you are throwing much-needed money down the drain. Products such as shelf-stable foods will likely be fine to use after the best-before date; after all, remember, a best-before date means that the food will be at its best up until that date, but it can still be used after that date, it just might not be as of such high quality. This is especially relevant to products such as tinned or jars of food, detergents and cleaning products.


Products with a use-by date really shouldn't be consumed after the date has passed, as there is a chance that you may become ill from eating them, so if you happen to purchase a bulk buy of meat or dairy goods unless you have frozen them or preserved them in another way, you run the risk of having to bin what you have, again losing out on money and potentially adding to your food waste, which defeats the object of bulk shopping.



Prices changes


You really have to weigh up how cost-effective buying bulk is for you, and you need to shop around. It's very easy to shop at a bulk-buy retailer and get caught up in the excitement of buying big. There's something quite fun about having a trolley of cases of your favourite products, but unless you do your maths, you may find you are paying more, not less for your purchases. Impulse buys can stretch the grocery budget, and it's very easy to add a few extra items to the shopping cart, isn't it, but it can add a lot of money to the final bill, so you do need to give careful consideration as to whether that item is really a saving for you, or if these impulse purchases are going to set your budget backwards, not positively. 


The bulk buy retailers that allow you to larger sizes can be better value, but it's not always the case. I've been caught out before bulk purchasing products we use at a good price, to then go to the supermarket and seeing that the same products are on a price promotion and work out just as cheap, if not cheaper, than the large quantity we purchased, meaning those significant savings I thought I made, turn out to be less than I hoped, or potentially costing more than I could have bought it for, from my local supermarket!   


Use price comparison sites, such as Trolley, to see if there are better deals around; you may find a far better deal elsewhere. 


What if you get bored with what you bought?


If you have kids, you have likely experienced the 'I don't like that anymore' conversations with your kids (or partner), and all of a sudden, that cereal or drink you just bought a whole case of is no longer liked, and no matter how hard you try, they won't eat it, and it doesn't get eaten! Again, I've been there and done that. I've bought bulk foods before because I liked them, but then I realised I do like them, but I don't want to use them every day, so I ended up purchasing something else, which defeats the object of buying bulk!  Sometimes, buying smaller pack sizes and different types makes more sense!



Gluttony!


Now, I'm the first to admit I'm a bit of a pig! If we suddenly have a whole case of something I like, there is a high chance I'm going to raid the case more often, purely as I know we have lots available, and before you know it, you've gone through the case far faster than you would have done if you had smaller amounts available, as its easier to be rationed!I know kids can be the worst at this; a few extra snacks here and there and your case is empty, and you spent more money initially, buying bulk, to now have run out and need to spend more, meaning you spent more money than you would have done if purchasing a smaller amount! It can be a real problem! 




So, what makes sense to buy bulk? Do you get a discount if you buy in bulk?


In my experience, the best products to buy in bulk are the items you use the most but are less tempting to be abused by the family! 


For my family, if we buy bulk, and this isn't very often these days, purely down to the initial purchase, we'll purchase non-perishable items. Fresh produce can be cheaper, sometimes, but unless you do some serious meal planning, you may find the food spoils before you use it all. 


  • Washing detergent - We tend to buy Costco's own brands as they're decent and well-priced; however, when on promotion, some branded products can work out to be cheaper.

  • Pasta - We go through a lot of pasta, so we tend to buy the 5kg bags from the supermarket

  • Toilet Roll - If the pandemic taught us anything, we all need toilet rolls in moments of panic, so we tend to buy the Costco own brand of loo roll, as it's good quality and reasonably cheap.

  • Rice, beans and pulses - Like pasta, this is quite popular in our house, so we buy the large packs, but in my experience, buy the smaller pack first and make sure you like the brand and product; I've been caught out with some shocking rice recently, and ended up throwing some away, as we bought a large bag and hated it! 

  • Drinks - This is probably the item we buy bulk the most; I used to be a Diet Coke fan, but have now stopped drinking this, and would buy this by the case regularly, from either Coca-Cola direct, Costco or the supermarkets if it's on promotion. These drinks work out a much cheaper way to buy for our family than buying smaller packs. I still buy cases of water as it's much cheaper than alternative retailers and handy to be able to buy the big pack size, rather than lugging smaller amounts, or bulk amounts of smaller sized cases, around a supermarket!

  • We did buy crisps, but as per the gluttony information above, this is a bad idea; I guarantee that unless you ration them out, they will be abused! |

  • Pet food - We tend to buy cat food from Costco as the price is pretty good compared to buying from the supermarket, but we only do this every few months, mainly due to a lack of variety at Costco, and our cat gets pretty bored with the same thing all the time, so we also grab some different cat food products when we are on a shopping trip at the supermarket, so we can incorporate that into cats meal plan; last thing you want is the cat in a huff!

So, where should you buy bulk from?

So you have decided to buy bulk, but where should you purchase bulk from?


  • Firstly, a lot of supermarkets are now offering products in larger packs. I've seen entire bays of bigger packs in some supermarkets and some pretty good prices on big-brand products. Again, you need to make sure it's really good value by checking prices and looking at the supermarket's own brand/value ranges, as the bulk-buy products are all big-name products, never their own products. Yes, 1,000 tea bags from the big brand for £10 is a great deal, but their own brand might work out at only £7 for 1,000 tea bags and will work just as well and be considerably cheaper!

  • Costco is the big boy in the UK for buying big; it's easier to get a warehouse membership, but of course, membership isn't free, so you have to factor that cost into what you're buying, so if you hardly ever go, those savings may be eaten up by the membership fee, and there are a wide range of products available, both own brand and big brand names. The plus side is that they specialise in buying big, the downside is that it isn't necessarily all that cheap compared to a supermarket. They do classify themselves as penny businesses, meaning they may only make a few pence on each product, but it's a volume business, selling billions of items a year, so they make a decent profit! It's really easy to get carried away and add more to your cart than you intended, which can be expensive! Prices don't include VAT, so make sure you check that you are working out your costs on the price, including VAT!) if you are only getting a membership for cheaper loo roll or laundry detergents and only going a few times a year, then is this actually more cost-effective than buying at the supermarket?


  • Booker Cash & Carry, Bestway and Makro are really good options for buying bulk at trade prices; the downside is that it is only for bonafide businesses to buy from; the general public cannot buy from these wholesalers. This is because many smaller/independent retailers buy from these wholesalers, such as your local corner shop/convenience store, and they don't want you buying from their suppliers at the same price they do; it would potentially kill trade!If you have a business, then definitely register, as you can save a fair amount on certain products, but again not even Booker or Makro are always cheaper than the supermarkets on everything; it pays to check around!

  • Hancocks Cash & Carry - Again, this is a trade-only wholesaler specialising in the sale of confectionery products. It's a fab place to visit if you get the chance, and it's like going to the Willy Wonka chocolate factory; there are so many fabulous sweets!

  • Online stores - There are loads of online retailers you can buy bulk from online. Amazon offers bulk products from a wide range of producers, which can be a cheap way to stock up; again, check the pricing; all that glitters isn't necessarily gold! There are also a lot of online retailers (and offline too) offering discounted bulk-buy products to the general public; many offering liquidated stock or short-dated products at low prices (again, always check!). You need to factor in postage costs and the use-by date, but this is one way you could save, BUT only if you buy these products instead of something else. A saving is only a saving if you aren't spending more than you intended to! Look at companies such as DeeBee & Approved Food, as these offer some decent deals, and there are plenty more; I've just mentioned these as I've used them in the past.

So the moral of this story is that buying bulk can be cost-effective, but it has its downsides as well as plus points! The most important thing is to ensure the pricing is as good as you think it is; there is no point cramming your house with cases of products if you're not making decent savings!


Why might bulk buying be better?


  • Minimised Trips: Fewer trips to the shops means reduced impulse buying, ultimately saving money.

  • Less packaging waste as you may not have to buy some may individual smaller items (remember you may be able to get paid to recycle your waste with Bower), plus it represents less packaging being used by the manufacturers as well, which isn't a bad thing! 

  • Convenience: Having a stockpile of goods means fewer trips to the shops, saving time and transportation costs, plus it reduces your carbon footprint

  • It is a good way to buy non-perishable food items that you have space to store

  • Long-Term Savings: While the initial investment might be higher, bulk buying often leads to long-term savings over time, but you do have to be careful, as this isn't always guaranteed! 

  • Cost Savings: Bulk purchasing often comes with significant discounts per unit, resulting in overall cost savings

  • Reduced Price Fluctuation Impact: Buying in bulk can buffer against price fluctuations, providing stability in costs over time. The cost of living crisis has shown us that the price of groceries can increase dramatically in just a short period of time! 

  • Emergency Preparedness: Having a stockpile of essential items bought in bulk can be beneficial during emergencies, saving money during crises. In the UK, this is less of an issue than in other countries, but again, the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine has taught us that food supply chains can break during difficult times, and you can never be certain that there will be food on the supermarket shelves! 


What are the disadvantages of buying in bulk?


  • The potential annual fee for being able to use the retailer, which increases your prices

  • Tied-up Capital: Investing in bulk purchases ties up capital that could be used for other investments or expenses

  • Impulse Buying: Buying in bulk may encourage unnecessary purchases due to the perception of a good deal

  • Limited Variety: Bulk purchasing options may be limited, restricting choice and variety in products

  • Expiration Dates: Some items have shorter shelf lives and may expire before they can be fully utilised in bulk quantities

  • Risk of Waste: Buying in bulk can lead to waste if the products aren't used before expiration or spoilage

  • Higher Initial Cost: Buying in bulk often requires a larger upfront investment, which may not be feasible for everyone

  • Storage Space: Storing bulk purchases requires ample space, which might not be available to everyone, especially those living in smaller homes

  • Preference Changes: Preferences may change over time, leading to unused bulk items


In conclusion, do you really need it, will you use it up, how much will you save buying it, can you afford it, and have you got room for it.. if the answer is yes to all, or at least most of those questions, then bulk buying may be ideal for you. If not, record what you use and how much of it, over two weeks and that will show you, more or less, what you use, and how much you use, and this will help you to factor in the benefits, or not, of buying those items in bulk.




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