I married an Italian food-lover, who is also cheap (see a previous blog about his Italian grandmother). For years in our early marriage, I would create excuses as to why he couldn’t go to the store with me. I knew that there would be a sale on something we didn’t need, and he’d come home with bulk. Bulk messed up my pantry storage system! “But Chaya,” he’d argue—“we know we’ll need it eventually!”
I consider myself to have a high level of common sense. In regards to bulk and shopping practices in general, I was really stupid. Wilson had it right.
The Common Sense of Bulk: The Top 7 Reasons
#1 Savings & Dollar Cost Averaging
You meticulously wrote out your shopping list, and began the shopping trip with an estimated cost in your mind. You begin walking the produce section, “Carrots” you read. Oh great—they’re half off! Next on the list, “Green peppers”—yes, produce is on sale this week. Score! You round the corner into the pasta/sauce/ethnic aisle. You knew you’d need spaghetti sauce, rice noodles, and water chestnuts for this week’s menu. Sale, sale, sale.
That is what happens when you buy bulk. Every day is a sale on exactly what you need. Sure, people stare at the checkout line when your full cart only contains 3 items—“No, we don’t actually eat 15 bananas apiece, daily. We dehydrate them.” I’ve had to say it a few times, but my pocketbook isn’t proud (just fatter). It’s not just sale items and coupons that give you this effect. Buying from a bulk bin or bulk-packaged items will save you as the consumer between 30-60% of the product cost! Sometimes the bulk bin is frustrating because of the lack of information (is this organic, does it have food coloring, etc?) and questionable hygiene (did you just see that kid reach in there?). This is my shameless plug for buying bulk spices through Pantry Paratus—the cheaper packaging but informational labels and sterile packaging procedures!
“Bulk always seems to be in health food stores, which is overpriced. I don’t see the savings!” Remember that a product can look bigger than it is. The product sizes are shrinking; the packaging seems to be morphing into crazy shapes to hide the fact that the product is shrinking. This sometimes means larger containers than ever before.
We should probably insert a paragraph here about dollar cost averaging. Savings are generally viewed as the dollars not spent on the food item in relation to its’ average or typical cost. Dollar cost averaging instead refers to the money not spent due to inflation. For instance, you are really glad you filled your gas tank yesterday—did you see how they raised the price overnight? That is dollar cost averaging. You save money by virtue of pre-buying the item that is bound to increase.
You discovered the meat didn’t thaw in time for dinner and you were sidetracked from starting the meal on time. You glance at the clock, and panic at the thought of a last minute meal change. You open the cupboard, and there you have options! My mom had the “just enough” approach to the cupboard which is where I’m sure my early-marriage contention came from. Every three days was a trip to the grocery store because there wasn’t enough of something, or an ingredient for a dinner was forgotten last time. When husband says, “Can we eat something else for dinner? The boss called in lunch, and that’s exactly what we ate,” no panic here.
Not only do you save money and have more options, you are prepared. I grew up in rural Ohio and though you might not consider it as harsh in winter as where I now live (Montana) there were times it was worse. Ice. That ice would cover the power lines and blow the whole grid for multiple city blocks; people in the city needed electricity to stay warm, cook, and survive. In the summer, huge thunderstorms might knock the electricity out for a day or more. A full pantry gives you options in those times, too.
Here are few other reasons it makes sense:
4) You are lowering consumer waste—less in landfills—with bulk packaging.
5) Food is safer in alternative packaging (no BPA in the metal can or less plastic, etc)
6) You can see what you are buying in alternative packaging or from a bulk bin—some commercially branded food packages hide the product.
7) Alternatively-packaged products generally have fewer “food miles”. This is the distance the food has traveled to get to you. If the product is bulk, it was not likely shipped to a packaging plant first, but came to you straight from the processing facility.
When Bulk does not save
If Wilson were to come home with a trunk load of prepackaged snack cakes, he would not be saving money no matter how excellent the deal may seem! If it is not something that you would normally buy or use or could be a detriment to the long-term status of family health, then it certainly is no bargain! There are times I may buy something I otherwise wouldn’t—but that is when I would not buy it simply because, at its normal price, it is overpriced or is an unknown price-risk. Maybe I’d love it but what if I hate it? Do I want to pay for the taste test? So if the deal is excellent but for those above reasons I would not normally buy it, I might break my own rule. Live a little! But be reasonable.
Anyone new to the Bulk World will experience waste a time or two. It takes a certain experiential knack to time the expiration dates with the food rotation. Check dates before you purchase the item—that expiration date might very well be why it’s on sale in the first place! If you are buying canned goods, I recommend using a permanent marker and writing the expiration date very largely on top so you’ll remember to rotate out before things are wasted.
There is always a charity food pantry nearby that would appreciate the donation—do not let it go to waste!
The bulk produce pictures were used with permission from www.rgbstock.com