What’s the best way to save money in the kitchen? Buy in bulk whenever possible! When I started buying groceries in bulk, I noticed two things right away.
- If you’re living in a small space, buying in bulk can add serious brain damage and further cramp your quarters unless you’re really organized about it. It can be a slippery slope from “buying in bulk” to “hoarder.”
- Two people will never finish a 10-pound drum of spinach before it goes bad, so even though the price-per-ounce is cheaper, it’s not a deal if you end up throwing half of it away.
After throwing away some spinach and tripping over extra rolls of paper towels, I learned the following lessons:
- Find good ways to store bulk stuff. If you can’t store it, it’s not a good deal any more. You might have to get creative and play some Organizational Tetris.
- Don’t buy perishables in bulk, unless you can effectively consume or store them.
Bulk Storage Tips
If you’re buying in bulk, chances are you’ll need some of what you bought right away, but not all of it. For example, I buy organic spices in bulk on Amazon.
A small jar of Frontier organic garlic powder costs about $1.85/ounce at the grocery store, but is only $1.16/ounce when you buy the 16-ounce bag on Amazon. It doesn’t sound like a big difference, but if you buy 16 ounces in individual jars you’ll spend over $11 more than you would buying bulk. Multiply that by all the different spices you buy over the rest of your life, and you’ll be looking at a lot of wasted money. Plus, you’ll be accumulating (or throwing away) tons of unnecessary spice jars, since you’re buying new ones every time.
So, bulk is better. But opening a loose bag of spice dust every time you’re trying to cook is a recipe for kitchen disaster. As an alternative, I suggest buying jars on their own and filling them from your own bulk spice stores. Keep the small spice jars in an easy-to-reach cabinet or rack in your kitchen, and store the bulk spices elsewhere. I keep mine in bins above the kitchen cabinets where they’re still easy to grab for refills, but not tumbling out of the cabinets every time I cook.
You can do this with more than spices, of course. Anything you buy in bulk can be split into “access now” and “store for later” portions to keep it out from underfoot. Path to hoarding averted!
Items to Buy In Bulk
I mentioned above to avoid buying perishables in bulk, no matter how attractive the “savings,” unless you are sure you can consume or store them. To solve my too-much-spinach problem, I started tossing handfuls of spinach into Ziploc bags as soon as I bought the box. The frozen spinach makes a great addition to smoothies and hot recipes. I wouldn’t recommend trying to use it later for a salad.
The same is true for lots of fruits and vegetables (hello, farmer’s market haul!) and meat. If space permits, look into getting a small chest freezer to store overflow. You can often find them cheap or free on Craigslist. If you’re spending a lot on a chest freezer, you’re probably burning all the money you saved buying in bulk and would have been better off sticking with the tiny excuse for a freezer that comes standard above most fridges.
Here are some great shelf-stable items to buy in bulk at Costco:
- Pasta & Rice: Cheap, tasty, lightweight and some can last several years before expiring.
- Sweeteners: So much cheaper to buy in bulk at Costco and lasts indefinitely, as long as you don’t store them in the shower.
- Nut Butters: Enough calories in a two-pack to survive the apocalypse. Yes!
- Soups & Sauces: One of my favorites here is the Better Than Bullion organic soup stock concentrate. It’s like a paste that can be added to water to make the exact amount of beef or chicken broth you need, so you don’t end up with a quarter cup of broth in a cardboard container lurking in your fridge for a week. If you like the lurking cartons, though, Costco sells those too.
- Oils: I do most of my cooking with coconut oil and also use it as a skin moisturizer. Coconut oil usually has an expiration date of 2 or 3 years, but I’ve read that it can keep nearly forever if stored properly.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Like coconut oil, ACV has a lot of great health benefits and can be used in recipes, in water, for cleaning, and even for rinsing your hair in the shower (I’ll let you look that one up on your own).
- Paper Products: Not necessarily easy to store, but if you’re buying them anyway, they’re cheaper at Costco.
- Toiletries: Like bulk spices, I take one toothbrush out of the pack and store the rest.
Just don’t forget the cardinal rule of Costco shopping: make sure your membership is actually saving you money.
Let me know if you have any good bulk buying hacks and post-bulk buying organization tips to share!