It seems to make sense: if you buy everything in bulk, you'll save money. Wrong. Even if the per-item price is cheaper, you could end up spending more money in the long run. How?
A Fridge that Never Empties
When your refrigerator is always full, it's hard to know what needs replenishing and what doesn't. For instance, you come home with a 10-pound bag of potatoes, an 18-pack of eggs, a five-pound sack of grapefruit and then realize you're missing the ingredients you wanted to make a salad. Or worse, items spoil because they are buried in the back of your fridge. (Learn the tricks of saving on your groceries in Coupon Shopping: Clip Your Way To Savings.)
For example, suppose that you buy a gallon of milk instead of a half gallon because there's only a 50-cent difference in price. The problem is the 50 cents is wasted when you barely drink a half gallon before the expiration date.
Buying in bulk can also lead to overspending in general. When you buy more, it costs more, even when the price of individual items is lower. When you buy in bulk because of sales, you may feel you have an excuse to use your credit and pay it off later. But then what happens when there's another sale and another reason to buy in bulk next week?
As long as you have a system in your cabinets, pantry and fridge where you can find everything, some amount of buying extra items can be helpful. Buy one extra deodorant or buy extra chicken to freeze. But the extra items you do buy should come out of your regular weekly or monthly grocery budget. Going over your budget to stock up rarely makes sense. (Shop from the comfort of your couch and avoid the market, read Shopping Online: Convenience, Bargains, And A Few Scams.)
The Grass Isn't Always Cheaper on the Other Side
Buying in bulk seems like a savvy way to shop, and you watch your friends who say they save tons of money on groceries buy multiples of certain items or large amounts of everything. But they may have a large family or just feel like they are saving money because the unit price is cheaper. The truth is there is no substitute for shopping with a list that's flexible enough to allow you to buy items of which you do use bigger quantities, while always sticking to your weekly or monthly grocery budget.