On a recent visit to my son, at college, I took him to the nearest warehouse store. It had been a long time since he and I shopped together at a warehouse store. After reviewing the unit prices on items, discussing the packaging, and comparing prices to what we usually pay, he became enlightened. Not everything at the warehouse store was the ‘deal’ it proclaimed to be.
Here’s my list of do’s and don’ts I adhere to for saving money, time, and resources when shopping at the big, bulky warehouse stores:
- Be smart: Don’t try and buy everything in bulk. Know what your essential needs are and only purchase those items in bulk. Coffee, dental floss, frozen fruit, nuts, and toilet paper are items that I know we’ll always need more of and I don’t want us to run out of these – ever! Everything else can wait until the next month but I keep a close eye on these essentials. (Make your own mixed nuts with this recipe.)
- Be aware: Be aware of the unit price of items. Sometimes the bigger packaging found at large warehouse stores can have different prices than the smaller sizes found at the neighborhood grocery store or market and it’s difficult to compare prices. Knowing the unit price of items can help determine if the buy it bulk price is actually better – or just a bigger box.
- Be reasonable: Let the store keep the inventory for you. Don’t think that you have to store lots of items in your home – just the essentials. If you’re buying items that your supply will last more than 3-months, perhaps that’s not a good item for you to buy so much of. Make sure your purchases make sense. Still want to take advantage of a great price? Share with a neighbor or friend. My neighbor and I share a package of paper towels and it lasts us both about a year. (Here’s how we eliminated using paper towels – but I do keep a secret stash.) The price is right on the paper towels and the quality is excellent – both do’s when buying in bulk.
- Be organized: Keep a running list of what items are to be purchased at the bulk/warehouse store and have your family add to the list as they need to. Whenever someone says, “I’m out of shampoo!” I say put it on the list. This is a good life skill – everyone needs to know how to manage a household. If your kids are young, have them write up a list, too. Little kids love “helping” and as they get older, they’ll know the drill. (Although you may need to do a refresher course like my guy…)
- Be timely: I try and only hit the ‘buying in bulk warehouse store’ for shopping once-a-month. If we run out before the monthly run, depending on what the item is, I may buy it in a smaller quantity elsewhere but it’s not usually worth the trip to the warehouse store to purchase one item. I also only buy fresh food items that I know we’ll eat in the next few days. If I buy 2-pounds of fresh organic spinach, dinners and our meals will involve fresh spinach so that none of it goes bad before we eat it.
Buying in bulk at a warehouse store is smart as long as the dollars tied up in the purchased items don’t outweigh the benefit of the better price. Make sure to consider time, money, and resources when buying in bulk. And, stick to your list. Here’s my – Costco Shopping List – for your refrigerator.
What would you add to the list of tips? How do you stay on budget at the big, bulky stores?