How to Buy Bulk Foods for the First Time

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If you had asked me 5 years ago how to buy bulk food, I would have told you that bulk foods weren’t really worth it. I would have said that buying in bulk was a waste of money and a great way to increase your food waste.

Of course, none of those statements are true, if you’re careful with what you buy. But those were my fears about buying in bulk. At the time, we were on an extremely tight budget, and I thought–why risk it?

It was a couple of years before I finally looked at bulk buying seriously. Once I did, though, I never looked back.

I’m careful to buy what I know we’ll use, and it’s so convenient to know I always have several basic ingredients in the house!

Know Your Prices

The whole purpose of buying foods in bulk it to get the foods cheaper. At least, that’s my whole purpose for buying in bulk.

Now, before we discuss just how to find the cheapest bulk foods, we need to talk about unit prices first.

It’s easy to dismiss the unit price because you usually have to do math to figure it out. And don’t get me wrong–I don’t like doing math all that much either! But this is worth it.

How to Find the Unit Price

If you’re not sure exactly what a unit price is, then let me explain. If you already know what it is and how to find it, then this might just serve as a nice refresher.

And yes, you’re going to have to do a little math, but I’ll try to make it as painless as possible.

When I talk about the retail price, that’s the price we all know–the one listed on the shelf. The unit price, however, isn’t always listed.

The unit price is the price per measure–the price per pound, per ounce, per gallon, per liter, etc.

It is important to know the unit price because manufacturers are constantly changing the size of packages. A box of cereal may stay the same retail price, but be 24 ounce one month and the next month it goes down to 20 ounces.

Or when comparing prices between brands or even at different stores, it can be difficult to determine who has the best price when all the packages are different sizes.

If you know your the unit prices, though, you can avoid all of that guesswork. Comparing prices becomes simple–the lowest unit price wins.

So how do you find it? Many stores list the unit price in small letters on the price tag. This is really helpful, so be sure to look for it.

But if the unit price isn’t listed, you’ll need to take out your phone and open your calculator. Take the retail price and divide by the size of the package–typically how many ounces or pounds.

Say you pick up a package of bacon that is 12 ounces and is $2.49. Take the price ($2.49) and divide by the number of ounces (12). You now know that your bacon is about 21 cents per ounce–not bad for bacon!

How Grocery Store Pricing Works

There is a common belief that the larger package is always cheaper in the long run. While this is sometimes true, it is not always true. Which is why you should always check the unit price.

The truth is, no one store always has the best prices. Not Costco, not Aldi, not Walmart, not [insert the grocery store of your choice here].

It just doesn’t happen. Stores need to make a profit, so they all have two types of products:

  • Loss Leaders: These are the products that stores actually lose money on. They change regularly and are usually the great sales that are on the front page of the sales ad. These are designed to get you in the door so you buy more of the profitable products.
  • Profitable Products: This is the bulk of the products in the store. Everything that is at regular price, and even many of the products that are in the ad, are still profitable. This is normal and to be expected.

However, you should keep in mind that even among different stores, the regular price profitable items can still vary greatly in price. The price differences between stores depend on many factors. Just a few examples of some factors that may affect pricing are building costs, advertising costs, whether or not the store offers childcare, and how often carts need to be replaced.

Using a Price Book

Ideally, you will want to buy in bulk when you find absolute rock-bottom prices.

So, how do you know when a sale price is rock-bottom? Use a price book!

Having a price book allows you to know which stores have the best price. And if you have a coupon for a product, you can use it at the cheapest-priced store to save the most money.

If you’re trying to watch your budget (I think most of us are!), it helps to know prices when you build your grocery list. That way, you know exactly how much you will spend even before you hit the grocery store.

And most importantly of all, it lets you know exactly when a sale is a “just okay” sale, or a great sale!

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Shop the Sales

I’m a pen-and-paper type of gal, so I like to have the sales ads come to my house. Every Monday or Tuesday, they show up in my mailbox and I check out all the sales for the upcoming week.

If you’re a more techy person, I also like the Flipp app. I love that they tell you what the top 10 best sales are in the flyer. Plus, you can peruse sales ads from all kinds of stores, not just grocery!

Whenever I find a rock-bottom sale price (which I know from my price book!), then I stock up. It’s that simple!

What Should You Buy in Bulk?

The short answer? The foods you’ll use.

I like to start with dry goods. You don’t need any extra fridge or freezer space to buy dry goods in bulk. Plus, most dry goods will keep for anywhere from 6 months to 2 years at room temperature.

Both of these facts makes dry goods an excellent place to start if you’ve never bought anything in bulk before.

My personal dry bulk staples are rice, flour, and oats. Why those? Because we use them–regularly.

We love to eat fried rice, stir fry, and burritos. I love to bake, so for me, it is super convenient to always have flour on-hand. And I regularly use oats to make muffins, overnight oats, cookies, and energy balls.

Related: Strawberry Overnight Oats for a Crowd

Of course, you still need to be able to store them. For example, don’t stock up when chicken breasts are on sale if you have no freezer space.

This is why I recommend starting with dry goods–they are easy to store anywhere.

How to Store Your Bulk Goods

So, how exactly do you store your bulk goods?

No matter what bulk dry goods you buy, they’ll likely be in a giant sack. Not the best for long-term storage!

These food-grade 5 gallon buckets with gamma-ray lids are perfect for keeping dry goods fresh. You can line it with a plastic trash bag, then dump in your flour, sugar, oats, or any other bulk dry goods of your choice.

Seal the trash bag with a twist tie, then put on the lid. The bag just offers an extra layer of protection to keep your dry goods safe from unwanted guests. This is especially helpful if you’re storing them in a garage!

Of course, the bucket gets heavy when it’s full, so you (or someone in your family) should be able to lift 25 lbs at a time.

If you want an easier option, these nesting pet food storage containers are great! No need for heavy lifting when you can just roll it to where you need it.

Again, you’ll want to line your container with a plastic trash bag to help keep your food extra fresh. Or an added bonus of the rectangular containers is that you may be able to fit the whole sack right in with no fuss!

Do you buy your food in bulk? What is your favorite tip for someone who has never bought bulk food before?

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