Tuesday, October 6, 2009

To Bulk or Not to Bulk?

Over the past year or so, I have started to dip my toes into the pool of bulk shopping. (Pretty sweet analogy, no?) I've set out on a mission to compare prices between Costco, the Bulk Barn and grocery stores to figure out where I can get the most bang for my buck. Yes, I am that girl, who shows up at the Bulk Barn with a pad of paper, calculator and pen and begins writing down the cost/kilo of every single item in the store and then wanders across the street to the grocery store to start comparing. I'm not ashamed. What I've figured out is this - it doesn't always pay to buy in bulk. Sometimes they want to trick you. I've started to compile a list of things that I use that are and are not worth purchasing in bulk.

I have also learned a few tricks about buying in bulk. My first trick is that I do not pay for a Costco membership. I just mooch off my mom, sister, cousin, friends, whoever I can possibly find that will take me to Costco. This way, I have better control over how often I go and everyone else has to pay for the membership will I can simply enjoy the rewards (read: free samples). Costco friends, please don't stop taking me!

Second, I discovered that the Bulk Barn offers a 10% discount to students and seniors on Wednesday. Apparently I fit into one of those categories. 10% isn't a huge amount, but it's still something. I have a "Bulk Barn" list on my fridge where I write down things I need from there. Once I get a good number of items on the list, I plan a Wednesday trip to the barn and load up.

So, here's the list I have compiled so far. Some I have very specific pricing details, some I don't.

Good Bulk Buys
Chocolate chips - $2-3 (depending on the brand) for a 300g bag at the grocery store vs 6.99 for a 1Kg bag at Walmart vs 10.99 for a 2kg bag of Chipits at Costco
Yeast - 4.99 for 113 g at the grocery store vs 4.00 for ~250 g at Bulk Barn
Flax Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Poppy Seeds - I buy a lot of this stuff for baking bread and I don't have exact cost comparisons, but it's definitely cheaper at BB with my 10% discount.
Spices - once I have a container for each of my main spices, I buy my refills at Bulk Barn. It's dirt cheap. For example, I bought enough cinnamon to refill my container for 32 cents.
Dog food - 28.99 for a 15 kg bag at the grocery store vs 31.99 for 20.7 kg bag at Costco
Powdered milk - $9-12 at the grocery store vs $7-8 dollars for more at the bulk barn (I'm not sure exactly how much is in the bag at the grocery store but I know the amount I buy at BB is more - but only do a large bulk purchase if you go through powdered milk quickly because it will go rancid)
Dog Treats - I can get a whole big bag of them at Bulk Barn for less than $2.00 and they are WAY more expensive than that in other stores
Ciabatta Buns (or triangle bread as my sister so eloquently calls it) - It's something like $3-4 for a bag with 20 in it I think. She buys them and puts them in the freezer and they last a long time. And they are good.

Bad Bulk Buys
Flour - I guess I kind of buy this in bulk, just not at a bulk store. I buy 10kg bags from the grocery store for $7.99. I calculated how much it would cost to buy this amount at the Bulk Barn and it was over $15. Also, I think it would be kind of awkward to scoop 10kg of flour into the little bags there. Also, whole wheat flour is more expensive at bulk barn, whereas at my grocery store, whole wheat, all purpose and unbleached white are all the same price. I haven't compared the cost of flour at Costco but will on my next trip. Again, this one is really only useful if you use a lot of flour. However, I do purchase speciality flour (gluten free, rye etc) at bulk barn so I can get just as much as I need.
Sugar - $2-2.50 for a 2 kg bag at the grocery store vs $3-3.50 for a 4 kg bag at Costco.
Gluten Free Pasta - Gluten free pasta is becoming more and more available in grocery stores now. I used to only be able to get it at the Bulk Barn but now I can get it for cheaper in the health food section of the Superstore.
Snack Mix - buying these in bulk is just a plain rip off.

**These prices are based on Canadian products and prices and may not be accurate for all locations.

I am sure I'll be adding to this list as I find more products that are and are not worth purchasing in bulk.

Are there any products that you find useful or not useful to purchase in bulk? Any other bulk buying tips or suggestions?


New England Girl said...

We don't do any of our buying in bulk, as we don't have any stores around that cater to such a shopping excursion, but I can see how some of it would definitely lighten the financial load when it comes to buying food/supplies!

Lucky in Love said...

Ah Costco. The other love of my life. We go once every two weeks. Here are the staples:

Milk, fruit, Dr. Pepper, toilet paper, mexican shredded cheese, Fiber One bar

We each buy a gallon and it lasts us for the two weeks and is cheaper than the grocery. I take fruit everyday for lunch in my yogurt and by itself so I can buy a lot and use it before it goes bad. The cheese is a huge bag that Matt uses often and never seems to go bad. And the Fiber One bars are a steal. I eat them everyday, sometimes twice a day...and in the grocery store they are so expensive! Love it!

Lucky in Love said...

Oh, and powdered sugar for my cakes and icing...also get that at Costco. It's a crazy good deal :)

Mandi @ Finding Home said...

Can I just tell you that I am going to STUDY your list? I'm like you - I've wanted to dabble into the bulk buying and such just wasn't sure it was always a good deal. There are only two of us so sometimes having a giant bag of carrots (or whatnot) makes little sense to me. Definatly buy toilet paper, papertowels (non perishables) in bulk. I'm always trying to stay aware of prices and never shop without reading the ads. I price match at Walmart though I'm sure it annoys everyone behind me. So I'm always looking where I can stretch our dollar even further. I also do the Costco thing too. My mom-n-law has a subscription and I use hers with her. We also sometimes split stuff too. It makes it more cost effective for both of us.

Jessica said...

I wish we had either of those stores where I live so I could use your lists! I'm a Wal-Mart grocery shopper but will sometimes use Brookshires depending upon the sales. I should do this kind of comparison between the two. I may be surprised.

SnoWhite said...

I'm just getting started in this, but I second your yeast and spices!

I've also found that canned tomatoes as well as some in-season fruit and almost all meats are better priced in bulk. But, you have to have a place to store it :(

katie said...

you sure have done your research!

Anonymous said...

I get our frozen chicken and frozen fish in bulk. I also get out frozen veggie there - broccoli & green beans - because I know frozen is better than canned and I can get broccoli florets there for the same price as broccoli stems elsewhere.

Also our bulk store (Sam's) has really good deals on produce. We stock up on blueberries and tomatoes.

Oh, and milk. Can't beat it anywhere else.

TRICIA @ The Zoo said...

Hey there!
First, let me say that this was a gret post, full of great information! Second, let me say that I am not so good with the gram to ounce conversion, so this sort of went over my head. Hahahaha!! No seriously though.

P.S. Uh, don't be ashamed of that senior discount. There's nothing wrong with claiming your age. ;p

C @ Project Pretty said...

You are so detailed! I love it! We always used to buy our cereal and granola bars at Sam's.. but that's about it.

The First-Year Wife said...

I love the idea of shopping in bulk! Unfortunately, nobody we know around us has a membership and we don't want to pay for it right now. But every time we drive past the store, we mention how we're going to get stuff there all the time once we have kids! :)

Llama said...

I loove to shop in bulk...but i mostly buy cleaning products bc its just my boyfriend and I right now and we can never finish a supersize bag of chips or pounds of meat before it goes bad...but one day i know it will def. come in handy if we have a family...it is also great for parties!

Brittany Ann said...

I'm a half-and-half bulk shopper. I buy some things, but not everything. Sam's Club is worth it for somethings, especially proteins (chicken breasts, fish, etc.)

Tereasa said...

Did you ever get the email about the food co-op?

Brooke said...

sams is our bulk warehouse down here and i do the same as you - my mom has a membership and occasionally i'll go along for the ride! :)

Annie said...

i dont compare prices all that much and i feel that if we buy in bulk, we don't eat everything.
some things i do buy at sam's club....bottled water, bananas, individual bags of cheese-its, peanuts and gardettos (if i buy a box of these items, my fiance leaves them open and they are stale in a few days...buy in bulk and the 35 bags last us around 6 months), we also buy chicken breasts at sam's and then i cook them all at once. the breasts are so big, it makes 2 lunches for me and we can use them for dinners as well.
i feel like i'm a big time $$ waster when grocery shopping even though i plan out my list and shop with coupons. i would love to know on average how much people spend on groceries for just 2 people. pretty sure we'd be in the high end. i also have a fiance who thinks he is hungry 24/7.
okay, sorry for the long post....i grocery shopped last night, it's been on my mind. haha!