Frugal Food-Should You Buy in Bulk?

Bulk buying is a question that nearly everyone seems to have an opinion on. There are a lot of frugalistas that swear by it, but there are many others that believe that the quantities required create more waste than they do savings. So who is right? When it comes to non-food items, bulk buying is clearly the better choice. Toilet paper is something we all need every day, it doesn’t go bad, and one roll is pretty much like the other. So buy as much as you can store, and at the best possible price.

Bulk Produce- Think Carefully Before you Invest

But this post is about food, and that is where things get way more complicated. Getting to the bottom of this question is going to take a lot of self-observation, and some work. No matter what the size of your household or your eating habits, there are some things that are clearly a bargain in bulk. Canned and jarred items and things with a long shelf life, such as the pantry staples (sugars, flours, grains, beans, etc.) should be bought in the largest unit that you will use before they go bad. In most cases they are in the same category as the non-food items. Get as much as you can store easily. Buying in bulk for these items saves money not only on the unit price of the items themselves, but also on the weekly fuel expense for your car. And you will never have to run back to the store to get that important ingredient that you should have had in your pantry.
Where the non-bulk crowd has a point is with true perishables. This is where the self-observation comes in. What you must do is watch carefully what you eat on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Make note of how long these items stay good. Learn exactly how they should be stored. For instance, meat is only good for about three days if left uncooked in the refrigerator, but that shelf-life can be extended three to six months with the help of a freezer. This makes the sale on chicken at your local market a lot more user friendly even if you live alone.
There will likely be a core set of perishables that you use so little of that you can’t by them in bulk without waste. Or they must be used to quickly and can’t be frozen. For those items, buy just what you will use from the bulk bins. In most stores you can still get a good unit price, and there will be no waste.
In the dairy department your homework will really pay off. For instance, if you have been buying milk twice a week in a small size, you can save quite a bit by knowing what you can use in a two week period, about the shelf-life of fresh milk. In my two-person household, we used to buy one quart at a time for $1.39. But, if we go up to the half gallon it costs only 40 cents for the second quart, and it lasts exactly two weeks. Watch carefully and you will never lose expensive cheese to mold again.
One of the most frustrating ingredients in that category is fresh herbs. There is no way to get a good deal on fresh herbs at a market, because unless you are cooking for fifty you will waste half at least. And they are expensive. The one thing that works is to grow them yourself. A kitchen garden can be as simple as a little container on your window sill. Snip just what you need and you will never run out.
This post just scratches the surface on the never-ending battle to eat without breaking the bank.



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