Buying in bulk can be a great way to save money and stock up on items you use most often. Warehouse clubs such as Sam’s Club, Costco and BJ’s Wholesale Club each offer a huge selection of items in large quantities. In fact, one member of Team Clark saved nearly $2,500 by shopping at BJ’s instead of a local grocery store.
But not everything works well in bulk when you take into account expiration dates and storage space in your home. Here are my favorite things to buy in bulk, followed by several items that aren’t a good idea to stock up on.
Buy These Items in Bulk
Some condiments are OK to buy in bulk depending on how much you use. Vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, honey, hot sauce, salsa, BBQ sauce, pasta and pizza sauce, mustard, ketchup, bouillon cubes and jams tend to have a long shelf life. Check the expiration date and make sure you can use them before they expire.
Salad dressings, marinades and mayonnaise have much shorter shelf lives so you should avoid buying those items in bulk.
Trash bags, food storage bags, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, napkins, paper towels, paper plates, tissues and toilet paper don’t go bad, and you can save a lot by stocking up on these items. Just be sure you have a place to store them!
Most canned goods have a long shelf life. If you use a certain product often, it’s worth stocking up. Again, just check the expiration date and decide if you will use the items before they expire.
Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Frozen fruits and vegetables are great items to buy in bulk. Typically, they store well for 8-12 months in the freezer.
Meat is another item you can save a lot on by stocking up. If you have the freezer space you can buy in bulk. Once you get it home, divide it up and pack it in individual serving sizes before freezing. How long meat will last in the freezer? Here’s information from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration:
- Steaks: 6-12 months
- Ground beef, turkey, veal, pork, lamb: 3-4 months
- Chicken and turkey: 1 year (whole); up to 9 months (parts)
- Fish: 6-8 months (lean); 2-3 months (fatty)
- Shellfish: 3-6 months
Dry dog and cat food and treats are often good items to buy in bulk especially if you have multiple pets that eat the same food. Pet foods do expire, so check the date.
Depending on how often you and your family eat pasta, it is OK to stock up on it. Again, check the expiration date and calculate how much you can store and use before that date. Most dried pasta can last a year or two. It does not necessarily spoil, but the taste quality can diminish over time.
Breads, sandwich buns, bagels, English muffins and the like can generally be frozen for up to six months.
Cleaning products are not something we think about having an expiration date, but many items do, and some can even become dangerous after they expire. It is OK to buy in bulk if you will use the items before they expire. Here are some common cleaning products and how long they last:
- Liquid bleach: 6-12 months
- Laundry detergent: 6-12 months
- Fabric softener: 6-12 months
- Antibacterial cleaners: 12 months
- Dishwasher detergent (opened): 3-6 months
- Dish soap: 23-18 months
Health and Beauty Items
Makeup, soaps and lotions, deodorant, shampoos and conditioners, and medications all expire eventually. It is OK to buy in bulk if you will use those items before they expire.
Do Not Buy These Items in Bulk
Not everything should be bought in bulk. Some items cannot be stored long-term due to expiration dates. Here are a few examples.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Unless you plan on freezing those items, you don’t want to buy them in large quantities. Some fruits and vegetables freeze well; others do not.
Some herbs and spices have a longer shelf life than others. How and where you store them is important.
Many people keep spices near the stove, and heat from the stove and oven can cause the spices to go bad or dry up and lose flavor. Some should even be stored in the refrigerator. It is better to buy these items in smaller containers to ensure freshness.
Check the expiration date. Batteries start to lose energy from the time they are manufactured, so if you keep batteries past their expiration date they may be completely useless by the time you open them. Not only that but they can become corroded and even dangerous.
While it can pay to buy diapers and baby wipes in bulk, be sure to consider how fast babies grow. Be careful not to stock up on one size of diaper unless you think you can use them in time. Baby wipes can dry up after a time.
Snacks such chips, pretzels, crackers, popcorn and the like typically have short shelf lives and can go stale quickly. Better to buy these items when you do your weekly or monthly shopping.
Eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream and other perishable dairy items should not be bought in bulk. Some types of cheese can be frozen, and ice cream will keep in the freezer once opened for about six weeks. Unopened ice cream will remain fresh for about two to three months.
Buying in bulk can potentially save you money and also save trips to the grocery store (which can save on gas as well).
One thing I like to do when I get home from shopping is to arrange the items I purchased by date. In the pantry, I sort things so that the newest items are in the back and the oldest in the front. That way I know I am using the items that will expire sooner first.