Does Buying in Bulk Really Save You Money?

America has quite the fixation with sales promos. Supermarkets and department stores are rife with the opportunity to buy at a discount or in bulk, invoking a sense of urgency to purchase many items per transaction. Indeed, many customers do fall prey to the ubiquity of colored “sale” price tags, and they are beset with a fear of missing out on seemingly exclusive deals. As such, they may be driven to purchase large quantities of a singular product at “discounted” prices—without knowing that they’re losing money instead of saving it.

This is not to say, however, that buying in bulk should be avoided. It’s the preferred scenario for some, while it’s the only viable purchasing decision for others. But what separates a reasonable bulk-buy from a costly, unnecessary expenditure?  How will you know if you’re getting the better end of the deal, as opposed to getting bamboozled by the markdown?

In the interest of answering these questions, here’s a short breakdown of when buying in bulk is justified. Read the info below on situations that necessitate bulk-buying, price differences to note, and types of items that are reasonable to stock up on.

  1. Will a bulk purchase of a product be the cheaper option every time? YES, if there is a significant price markdown per unit.

    People tend to assume that any discount is worth paying great attention to. But when it comes to making the best out of a bulk purchase, it isn’t the flat sale price that matters—it’s the price difference per unit. Consider the markdown to be a good deal if you end up paying between 20% and 80% less on what you’d originally pay per unit.

    Sometimes, buying items wholesale is the ideal purchasing decision to make. In these cases, a lower cost per unit is already guaranteed. For example, when ordering promotional lanyards in bulk, you’ll be assured that the price per lanyard will go down the more lanyards are in demand. It is less expensive for a manufacturer to fulfill a large order than a smaller one. Keep this scenario in mind if ever you need to bulk-buy supplies or promotional merchandise.

  2. Is my bulk purchase at the supermarket worth it? YES, if the item is not perishable and doesn’t need to be used up immediately.

    If it’s sale season at the supermarket, the best bulk deals you can score are likely for non-edible items. Grocery items that are better to buy in bulk are soap, adult and baby diapers, detergent, and toilet paper. These are household items that are consumed on a daily basis, and usually cost a neat sum to replenish. Try seeking out opportunities to buy more of these items at a discounted price.

    On the other hand, think twice about which edible items to buy in bulk. The safer bets are non-perishable and dry foods, such as pasta, dried beans, canned goods, biscuits—in other words, anything that doesn’t need to be kept in the refrigerator for long periods. If you anticipate consuming them within a few months, it’s also okay to purchase frozen goods like vegetables and cuts of meat. But try to resist the urge to buy items like fresh fruit, which have an extremely short shelf life (and are probably on sale for that reason). Only scour that aisle if you’re confident that you’ll consume the items within the week.

  3. Was it a good decision to purchase X or Y in bulk? YES, if the items are easy to store.

    Storage is another factor that matters when you buy in bulk. Once you accumulate all your items, where are you going to store them before they’re used? Will it be a hassle to put them away?

    Some items demand more care with storage than others. For example, bulk-bought food items may demand refrigerator space, while office supplies only need to be put in a box and locked in a secure storage area. The less energy and space a bulk-bought item demands, the better it is on your budget.

In the end, whether or not bulk buying saves money depends on the logic behind the act of purchasing. Try to uphold that logic every time the temptation to impulse buy comes up. Buy at a reasonable pace, and for the purpose that you are trying to fulfill—not only for the temporary thrill of buying.