Too Much of a Good Thing
While the frugal part of me cringes to admit this, not all things are great to buy in bulk. The truth is that some items go bad too quickly, take up too much space in your house or actually cost less to buy it individually. Here are some tips you should know when considering what you should and shouldn't buy in bulk, as well as our list of products that you should generally stick to buying in small doses. Obviously, prices on these items do vary from store to store, but keep these examples in mind. Also, we each consume products differently. If you live in a house with 10 other people, you might want to skip reading this and spend your time looking at apartment listings instead.
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We all know that it's usually not a smart idea to buy perishable products like eggs or milk in bulk, but there are plenty of other things out there that people tend to store indefinitely without realizing they expire within six months to a year. Case in point: brown rice. In general, we tend to think of rice as something that just lasts and lasts, but brown rice (which happens to be better for you than white rice) has a much shorter shelf life because it contains more oil. So, buy in moderation and make sure to store it in a refrigerator if you plan to keep it for long periods of time.
One key rule of buying in bulk is that you should beware of purchasing guilty pleasures like candy and other junk food. Otherwise, bulk buying can turn into bulk eating. One consumer put it best on Savingadvice.com: "If I go to my local store and but 2 candy bars for $1 a piece, I spend $2 and they will last a week. I buy a box at Costco of 24 candy bars for $12, they still will be gone in a week. Even though the unit price is less, I end up spending more."
It may sound like a good idea at first. Paper towels are not perishable and they do tend to cost less when you buy them in bulk. But according to Joshua Thomas, a spokesperson for Target, there is a downside to buying this in bulk. "Paper towels may be more evergreen but before you buy them in bulk, you need to think about how much space you have in your home," he said. And the last thing you want is to have paper towels taking up space you could use for other necessities. Just because some bulk items are lighter on your wallet doesn't mean they won't weigh down your life in other ways.
Just like with paper towels, you don't want to go overboard purchasing toilet paper. Yes, we all dread that moment when we go to the bathroom only to find there's no toilet paper left, but at the same time, you don't want to have your cabinets and shelves overflowing with rolls of Charmin.
In general, you should try to avoid buying nuts in bulk, unless you're the kind of person who munches on them throughout the day. They may be more affordable in bulk, but nuts usually expire within one to two months. "The high fat content in nuts (particularly in peanuts, pecans, and walnuts) causes them to go rancid rather quickly," said Alejandra Ramos, home-cooking expert and creator of the site AlwaysOrderDessert.com. "If you must buy them in large quantities, remember that roasted nuts last longer than raw ones, and shelled ones last the longest. Light, heat, and moisture also affect the quality and they have the tendency to absorb smells so always store nuts in the fridge or freezer. This also goes for seeds and nuts like sesame seeds, flaxseeds, and pine nuts."
Mayo (and Other Condiments)
Ramos also recommends shoppers avoid buying condiments like mayo, ketchup and salad dressing in bulk "unless you'll be using them right away at a large party or event." These items, she said, tend to only last six months to a year and "take much longer to get through than you'd expect."
Vitamins and Nutritional Supplements
Even stuff that's good for you may end up being a bad investment. Several consumers wrote to us about why it's not worth buying vitamins and other supplements in bulk and the experts agree. "Unless you are absolutely certain that you won't mind drinking the same flavor of protein shake every day for the rest of the year, avoid buying the jumbo containers of soy-isolate. Even the most hardcore fitness enthusiasts need variety, and these products do eventually expire," said Linsey Knerl, better known as The Dealista. "The same can be said for vitamins. Unless you are certain that you'll tolerate them well, don't stock up. Sample a smaller size of packaging for a few weeks, note any side effects, and only proceed with an 'economy-size' package if it agrees with you."
Knerl also urges parents to refrain from buying diapers in bulk when their children are entering a growth spurt. "I've run into problems when I purchase a large case right before baby grows," she said. "While you can squeeze some kiddos into a smaller size for a time, it can be a hassle to have purchased a large case and then have them go to the next size -- with over 150 diapers in the old size still hanging around."
Bleach is another item that you might be inclined to buy in bulk but unfortunately it goes bad over time. According to The Scripps Research Institute, bleach has a shelf life of six months and then "starts to degrade." Each year you keep the bleach around, it loses 20% of its effectiveness, and you lose that much more of the money you put into it originally.