Buying in bulk can be a budget saver or a money drainer.
Many consumers automatically think they are saving money when they buy products in large quantities, but that’s not always the case, especially if part of the product goes unused.
“People often simply assume that bulk means cheaper. That's not always the case,” says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor at Golden Gate University. “Sometimes it's such a tiny difference in price that it's not worth tying up your money for a whole year's supply of something in order to save 45 cents.”
At the end of the day, buying in bulk can save a lot of money, but you have to do it strategically.
According to Stephanie Nelson, founder of money-saving website Couponmom.com, buying in bulk is smart if you know your prices, stock up on items when they are at their lowest prices and you are able to manage your inventory without wasting money or any of the product.
Here are four tips every shopper should know before heading to the warehouse club:
Consider the Shelf Life
Whether you are buying strawberries or bleach, most products have an expiration date that should be taken into account before heading to the check-out counter.
“You have to consider the shelf life of various goods and how quickly you will go through that product or how much storage room you have before buying in bulk,” suggests consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. She says products like laundry detergent have a longer shelf life and are safe to buy in bulk, particularly because you usually get a better deal per unit.
Don’t Sample in Bulk
You may think you are getting a great deal on a new kind of shampoo or a frozen bag of appetizers, but buying new products on a large scale is risky.
“I’ve encountered many, many bulk-bought items that weren't ultimately satisfying hiding in the backs of cabinets or the bottom of freezers,” says Yarrow. “People seem to be okay tossing or just suffering through smaller quantities, but big quantities just hang out and haunt people.”
If you see an appealing product, try it in a smaller quantity first before committed to buying it in bulk, she says.
Avoid Buy Fattening Food in Bulk
Even the most disciplined consumers will ultimately end up eating more candy or sweets if a larger bag is purchased, says Yarrow. Avoid the temptation and save both your wallet and waistband by buying treats in smaller quantities.
Avoid Money-Wasting Traps
Not having a list is an easy way to overspend, particularly when you are at a warehouse store.
“There are lots of tempting things at warehouse club stores; impulse-buying in bulk will wreak havoc on your budget,” says Woroch.
Just because something is cheap, doesn’t make it a deal—particularly if you don’t need it. Same goes with buying bundles of related items as one deal. “You have to evaluate if you’ll use each item at the same pace,” Woroch says. “It may be a better value to purchase the one item you use the most in bulk and purchase the other items in smaller form from the grocer.”