Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Items to Buy in Bulk

A while ago, a friend asked me which baking/cooking/food items I tend to buy in bulk.  I realized that I buy quite a few in bulk.  Over the last year, I have really begun to cook a lot from scratch.  At first, I found that this was REALLY expensive in some cases.  Vanilla?  Yikes!  That stuff is always crazy expensive!  And, it is used in A LOT of things!  You could plow through a bottle of that in no time if you cook/bake everything from scratch!  I have found that some things really are just worth buying in bulk.  You can buy bulk items at stores like Costco, Sam's Club, and Winco, as well as local co-ops.  Here are some of those items, as well as tips to affording bulk items:

  1. Vanilla Extract- Costco has a crazy cheap price for vanilla.  It's usually somewhere in the range of $6 for a 16 oz (1 lb) bottle!  It's a significant savings over most grocery store prices (including generic).
  2. Yeast- If you enjoy making your own bread by hand or with a bread machine, you know that you're always needing yeast.  A 32 oz (2 lb) bag at Costco is just $3.99.  This is cheaper than both grocery prices and Amazon prices.  NOTE: Since it comes in a big package instead of small packets, you will just need to know that recipes calling for one .25 oz. packet of yeast =  approx. 2 1/2 tsp.
  3. Fours- Flour at the store will typically run around $.50 per pound for all-purpose.  Whole wheat will cost a little more.  Costco sells both 25 & 50 lb bags of flour for around $.30/lb.  Winco also sells flours out of their bulk bins for around the same cost (if you need less at a time; also more flour options), but they also sell some big bags, too.  Costco carries all-purpose and bread flour, too.
  4. Spices- Winco has awesome bulk bins for spices.  While they do not carry everything, they do have a significant assortment.  You can save a TON of money by simply purchasing your spices in bulk.  See my post HERE for a price comparison.  Saving $40 per 1 lb. of ground ginger?  Yes, please.
  5. Heavy Whipping Cream, Milk, Butter-  All three of these items are cheaper at a store like Costco than at your local grocery store.  While sometimes stores will have sales on milk or butter, Bulk stores like Costco typically have year-round lower prices.  
  6. Large Canned Items- You know those REALLY big cans of veggies or tomatoes that Costco sells?  They are really cheap!  If you won't use it all right away, as most people won't, simply portion off 2 cup Ziploc baggies, lay flat, and freeze.  Don't forget to label them with the contents & the date!  
  7. Oats-We go through a TON of oats in our house.  Several of us eat it daily for breakfast, plus we make all our own granola bars.  Oats (even Organic) are really cheap at Winco (between $.65-.93 depending on organic or not).  It's almost always cheaper than at the store (I say almost as sometimes, with coupons, better deals can be found).
  8. SOMETIMES Sugars- Although I often buy my sugar in bulk at either Costco (in a 25 or 50 lb bag) or at Winco in the bins, there are times when local stores will run sales for a cheaper price per pound, and there are also coupons for C&H sugars that pop up in the Sunday papers.  I try to shoot for $.50/lb or less on sugar.  Costco also sells big bags of brown sugar, but it is often rock hard.  And, although you can simply add a piece of bread to your brown sugar container to make it soft again, I'm not sure I want to do that process with a whopping 25 lbs. worth of sugar. 
While some of the above "bulk" items can be bought out of a bulk bin where you can choose how much you want/need, the Costco type bulk items are actually in a pre-packed, "bulk" size package.  It can be difficult to buy a 50 lb bag of flour at once.  Here are my tips:

  1. Pick one bulk item to start buying.  Choose one that you use the most.  Set aside a little bit of money from your weekly budget for this item.
  2. After a week or two, try to budget in a second bulk item.  Rotating bulk purchases will do 2 things.  1) You will not run out of everything at once, and this will 2) allow for your budget to only be taken up by 1 or 2 bulk items at a time, so you can reserve the main portion of your budget for your other grocery foods.
  3. Avoid buying items in bulk that you will not be able to use before its "use by" date.  If your flour goes rancid before you can use it, then you really have not saved any money afterall.  Yeast can (and should) be kept in the fridge or freezer to maintain freshness.  Flour can go rancid in hot & humid climates.
  4. If you are worried about coming up with enough money all at once for a big bulk purchase, or if you think that you won't be able to use it all fast enough, see if a friend will split it with you.
  5. Don't "make more" because you "have more".  This, too, will defeat the purpose of buying in bulk.  If you normally bake one loaf of bread per week, don't start making 3 because you see all of that flour sitting there.  Stick to your normal routines when it comes to baking.
If you think of any other items that are cost-effective to buy in bulk, leave a note in the comments section!

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