We buy in bulk. A lot. And there have been times (more than I would like to admit) that I bought in bulk when it was not in my best interest. It did not save money because things went bad, or people started disliking the food from eating it so often. Or (and this is my favorite) it got stacked away in storage, forgotten about, and bought in bulk again.
After several years of a Costco membership, and now a BJ's membership, as well as stockpiling during sales I have finally figured out a system that works for us. It won't work for everyone, but based on the way I shop and cook and the limited storage we have (no basement and very little attic space in my house) the following things work for us:
1. Buy bulk in paper goods. I can always find places for paper goods because they stack fairly easily. Toilet paper gets stored in my garage (now playroom) on top shelves along with paper towels and kleenex. I take a few rolls (or boxes) down at a time and move them to a more convenient, smaller location, about twice a month. But for the most part they are out of the way and best of all, THEY DON'T GO BAD. Plastic cups store well and get shoved to the back of my pantry to be used when we have LARGE crowds (once or twice a year) and I don't want to do tons of dishes. I buy these things on sale or with coupons at BJ's and just store them.
2. Meat. I buy my meat in bulk at our local butcher. I can always get ground turkey (which we use instead of ground beef) for $1.59 a pound there (that is a great price for my location). I stock up when I am there to get hamburger patties which are $12.99 for 5 lbs. This isn't the best price I can get, but they are a favorite of Jon's and very good quality so it is a "splurge." The chicken there is never more than $1.69 a pound when I buy a 10 lb bag. Now I can wait and stock up at my grocery store for the same price. But I would rather go buy the 10 lb bag when it is convenient to me, come home and break it into bags that range from 3/4 lb to 2 lbs. Then I stack them in my extra freezer (best purchase EVER) and they are ready to go. I visit the butcher about every 2 months, stock up, and am set. I do buy meats on sale at the grocery store in smaller quantities (ribs, chicken thighs, whole chickens), but ground turkey and boneless chicken breasts are two of my staples that I always have on hand.
3. Crackers. We eat a lot of crackers. Goldfish, animal, graham, triscuit, saltines...you name it my kids love it. They just love carbs =) So we buy 1 box in bulk at our BJ's trip. When I open a bag I put it into a tupperware container so that it won't go bad. I can store at least one big box of crackers in my pantry and since most are divided into several bags they don't go bad.
4. Pasta sauce. Doesn't go bad.
5. Pasta, I never pay more than $1 a box, usually less.
6. Condiments. They stay for a long while as well and get quite expensive if I run out and buy them constantly. I will never buy a bulk jar of mayo, I jsut can't. Instead I buy three jars when Big Y sells them buy 1 get 2 free =)
7. Juice mix but only in the summer. It does get hard after awhile and we don't drink as much juice in the winter. In the summer I constantly drink lemonade and it is a LOT cheaper than soda.
8. Macaroni and cheese- I can get the organic brand that we love for less than $1 a box if I buy in bulk.
10. Cheese- this freezes very well!
11. Baking needs. I have some great storage containers and most have a long shelf life as well.
12. Diapers. We only use disposables at night and on trips but I still hate to make a trip to Target (20 min each way) just for diapers and they are much more expensive at the grocery store. Lately I have been piling coupons and buying Luvs at BJ's for a great price.
These items I always buy at BJ's or I stock up on sales at the grocery stores. I try to use coupons when I can but I am not that great with them. Instead I watch for the best prices and shop when I see them. But there are some items I just cannot stockpile.
1. Bananas, we just cannot eat 5 lbs before they go bad so unless I plan to bake banana bread we don't buy bulk.
2. Milk- unless I have storage space in my freezer it seems that whenever I buy extra we don't drink much milk for awhile.
3. Deli meat. I don't like it when it is frozen and we don't eat much a week so I only buy 1/4 lb at a time.
4. Fresh vegetables. with the exception of carrots I don't find that they store well and we don't eat them quick enough. I buy bags of frozen instead.
This week by using coupons and buying in bulk I was able to save $38 on my trip to BJ's. They have store coupons and also allow you to use manufacturers coupons. So when I bought my diapers I saved $7.50 on each case ($5 off from BJ's and $2.50 off from Luvs). I was also able to save $5 on my toilet paper ($4 off from BJ's and $1 off from the manufacturer). There were more but those were my two main reasons for the trip this weekend.
Buying in bulk is good when you need it and use it. But don't buy in bulk just becuase you can't beat the price. If you never use the product, or it goes bad before you finish it you didn't actually save any money in the end. I had to learn this myself and still have to remind Jon about this on some items =)