Friday, April 2, 2010

What not to buy... in bulk?

Most of us in the US have seen or shopped in a big box store. I'd wager to say that a majority have also step foot in the big club stores (like Sam's Club, Costco, BJs and so on). Anecdotally, I gather that you used to actually be a small business of some sort and pay a fee to gain membership and the privilege of buying mondo boxes of pretzels, mints, paper towels and toilet paper. Now, anyone can go in, sign up, pay their fee, and shop the bulk aisles. As far as I know, there are still perks or extra discounts (or something) for actual business owners.

If memory serves, about 10 years ago, it seems that it was only businesses and Y2Kers who were buying in bulk. (Ok, so maybe 11 years for the Y2Kers - can you believe it has been that long!) Buying a small surplus of staples so you didn't run out, or having a decent pantry wasn't outrageous, but having 96 rolls of toilet paper in a home, or the tub of mayo as large as a house plant was.

I'm sure exactly when the shift happened, and I think that it may have pre-dated the economic recession, but now, buying in bulk is all the rage. (I will also admit that it could be as simple as me not being aware of the phenomena earlier.) We think that buying the larger bottle of something is automatically saving us money. More is more. People will stroll Costco on Saturday afternoons with their family, making a meal out of the samples.

And going right along with that were the articles and tips for shopping in bulk. A lot of these tips are really just transferred over from the grocery store, or coupon shopping. If you wouldn't buy it without the coupon/in a smaller amount, don't buy it with the coupon/in bulk. Don't buy more than you can use before it spoils. Think about the space you have, and don't buy what won't fit.

Recently, I came across this article about what not to buy in bulk.

Did you know that brown rice has a shorter shelf life than does white? I didn't. (The article doesn't provide a timeline.)
And the note about not buying candy in bulk because then you are just more likely to eat more. Yeah - done that. Extra calories taken in and extra money spent. Not good.
Things like nuts, condiments, and vitamins should be purchased in reasonable quantities, as they will spoil. Of course, if you are going to a pot-luck, or donating to a soup kitchen, then super-sized condiments may actually be used up quickly.

The article also cautions against buying paper towels, toilet paper and diapers in bulk. For diapers, it is because you never know when the baby will grow, rendering the diapers too small. I think that the "buy what you can use in a reasonable time" rule of thumb is helpful here. Of course, if Junior has an unexpected growth spurt, donating or gifting to someone else who has a little one is a way of keeping the extra diapers from taking over your home. Still doesn't recompense you for spending on diapers you couldn't use. (If you decide to clothe diaper, I imagine this is a moot point. Do cloth diapers have 'sizes?')

The article's main qualm with buying PT and TP in bulk is storage. While it is wise not to let these paper products over-run your life, I think that this isn't the best reason to include PT and TP on a grand list of what not to buy in bulk. There are ways to find extra storage. Above the fridge, under the bed, that shelf in the closet no one can reach easily. That being said, I'm not advocating renting a storage unit so you can save 10 cents a roll on TP, or that you buy more than will fit in your house. Of course, if you have hoarding tendencies, you probably should avoid the bulk warehouses.

Really, I just wanted to share this article, and throw my 2 cents in about paper products. I do know the alluring siren's call of the warehouse store. Sometimes, my eyes glaze slightly at the sight, but I just have to remember that we have a budget, both of money and space, and that just because it is bulk, doesn't mean I am actually getting more for my money, saving money, or that I should buy it.

How do you feel about warehouse stores?

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