Is Buying in Bulk Really Worth It?

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Finding a great bulk deal on a quality item you like (or even love) can seem like something you can’t pass up, but is it really worth it? The answer depends on a variety of factors, but the important thing is to not get suckered into buying a whole lot of something that ultimately wastes your hard-earned money.

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Stores are in business to make money, and only you have your best financial interest at heart, so it pays to be savvy. To help you determine when buying in bulk is worth it and when it’s not, here’s some valuable advice.

When Buying in Bulk Is Worth It

You’re cruising the aisles of your favorite big-box store, trying to fill your cart with enough groceries to last your family a couple of weeks without breaking the bank, and you spot a great deal. However, you have to buy a large amount to get the deal. Is it worth it? Here’s what the experts had to say.

Make Your Money Work for You

If You KNOW You Will Use the Items

“According to a recent survey conducted by TopCashback.com, the USA’s most generous cashback site, 31% plan to spend money on bulk-buying food and drinks this summer,” said Rebecca Gramuglia, consumer expert at TopCashback. “When it comes to buying items in bulk, if you use the item — it’s worth it. For example, if you’re hosting summer barbecues, you may opt to buy items like cutlery, napkins, hot dogs and hamburgers in bulk.”

Consumer analyst Julie Ramhold with DealNews said that while some bulk items will keep for a while, others will go bad if you don’t use them. 

“Something frozen like pizzas, veggies, fruits, even desserts are all fine to purchase in bulk as long as you have the room to store them because they’ll stay good for a decent amount of time,” she said. “However, if you’re looking at things like breads from the bakery, fresh produce, or dairy, you want to be sure that you have plans for the items, or that you’ll at least use them before they have a chance to go off.”

Make Your Money Work for You

If You Have Room To Store the Items

“You may find buying in bulk to be worth it as long as you have room to store the items,” said Gramuglia. “So whether they’re non-perishable items that you can store on shelves or perishable goods that you’ll eat, having space for the products is another important factor when shopping. Regardless, if it’s a food product, check the expiration date and make sure you’ll use/freeze the items by that date.”

If the Unit Price Is Less Than You Can Find Elsewhere

“Buying in bulk can be worth it for households of all sizes as long as they’re savvy about their shopping habits,” Ramhold said. “The times it’ll be really worth it is when the unit price is less than what you can find elsewhere.”

Make Your Money Work for You

But this is just part of the equation.

“Never underestimate the power of marketing,” said Alec Pow, CEO at The Pricer. “Just because something is sold in bulk at a considerably lower price than the per-piece cost, it doesn’t mean that you’re actually getting a great deal.”

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When Buying in Bulk Is Not Worth It

In theory, it’s easy to justify buying in bulk, but sometimes it’s just not worth it. Here’s when you should opt out of bulk buying. 

If You Have No Real Justification for Buying the Item

“It won’t be worth it to buy things in bulk if the only interesting thing about them is the price,” Pow said. He added that it’s best to avoid bulk buys if you find the products by accident but you have no real need to use them — or if you are required to buy more than you’d be able to use before they expire.

If the Cost Per Unit Doesn’t Help You Save

“While stocking up on products may seem like the cheaper option, that may not always be the case,” said Gramuglia. “Analyze the cost per unit and see if it’s worth buying large quantities that you will actually use. For example, loose apples may be cheaper than purchasing a grouped bag. Also, beware of ten-for-$10 deals — you can usually buy less than ten items and still receive the discount (i.e. buy three items for $3).”

If You’re Unsure You’ll Like the Product

Smarts found Brian Meiggs said, “If the goal is to try a new product, it may not be worth buying a large quantity of something that may not end up being used or liked. In these instances, purchasing a smaller size or just enough for single use might be better.”

If You Have To Go out of Your Way To Buy in Bulk

“Your time is valuable, too, and it may not be worth making regular trips to a bulk store if it isn’t close or convenient,” said Annie Hanson, financial coach and owner of Mindfully Money. “Plus, you might end up spending more on gas than you save by purchasing the bulk item.”

Other Tips for Buying in Bulk

“Remember you can buy more than just what you need,” said Tanya Peterson, vice president of brand with Freedom Financial Network. “You may find it worthwhile to share large purchases with family members, neighbors or friends.” She added, “Bulk buying can be worthwhile at locations other than warehouse clubs, too. You can find great prices at farms, orchards and farmers’ markets when buying larger quantities (think bushels of fruit). Traditional retail stores often will be able to provide bulk pricing upon request for certain items, too.”

Finally, Hanson had one more piece of advice to keep in mind when comparing bulk purchases to individual. “Don’t forget that coupons and sales can often make the unit price of a regular item lower than that of the bulk item,” she said. “And the cost of shipping or a membership can make the unit price higher.”

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About the Author

Cynthia Measom is a personal finance writer and editor with over 12 years of collective experience. Her articles have been featured in MSN, AOL, Yahoo Finance, INSIDER, Houston Chronicle, The Seattle Times and The Network Journal. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

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