Bulk Food Buying in 2020: Big Bargain or Going Bust?

Bulk Food Buying in 2020: Big Bargain or Going Bust?

If we’re buying food and household items in bulk, are we getting a big bargain?

It’s no secret that we Americans are living in the “bigger is better” age.

That applies to everything from cars to cheeseburgers to shampoo.

And bulk food warehouses are feeding into our desire for all things big.

New business models are popping up every day based on discounted bulk merchandise.

And some of them are entirely online so the products come straight to your door.

You don’t even have to lug all your bulk goods around town.

That’s great, right?

Well, in some cases, yes, it really is. There are certain items, like say toilet paper, that you just want to comfortably know there is always more where that came from.

But, in other cases, are we defeating the whole purpose of buying bulk in the first place…to save money?

Why Do We Love Bulk Goods?

Americans are in love with big things.

I love big things.

You love big things.

Let’s just come to terms with that and start there.

Maybe it comes from an ancestral need to survive, or a competitive nature, or maybe it’s just because we have more wealth combined with more space than a lot of other societies.

But whatever the reason, we like big cars, big homes, big vacations, big meals, and big pantries stocked with lots and lots of stuff.

I’m no psychologist, but I would venture to say that we like buying certain things in large sizes because it gives us a sense of comfort.

I, for one, am determined never to run out of certain things in my home and I get some sense of comfort knowing I don’t need to run to the store to buy extra just because I have a guest coming to stay for a while or I couldn’t make it to the store for some reason or another.

These items are stocked in advance of running out and I buy enough of them to hold us over for a while.

This tendency was a real blessing when everyone was out purchasing more toilet paper than they could possibly use in a month’s time because they were worried they may be quarantined at home for a couple weeks if they got Coronavirus.

I’m not even going to go into whether that much TP was really necessary, or even whether the fear of running out of essentials during quarantine was a rational fear.

Let’s face it, most fears are completely irrational.

But what I was really, extremely grateful for, is that I usually buy extra.

Extra TP, disinfecting wipes and even some food categories.

I never had to go to the store during the quarantine rush and I had plenty of TP, disinfecting wipes and even hand sanitizer to get my family through until store shelves were stocked again.

And that was quite a long time in my area. Some of the stores didn’t have toilet paper regularly in stock for a couple months!

The logical reason we buy bulk products is a more than just liking big things.

We may have some emotional security tied to knowing we have extra toilet paper when this roll is gone, but logically, most of us still wouldn’t buy bulk just for the sake of having a larger quantity around “just in case”.

I know I wouldn’t.

Pandemics and natural disasters aside, we buy bulk because bulk items are supposed to save us money.

Who doesn’t love to save money? I sure do!

Why buy one small bottle of laundry detergent, when you can get 50% more for the same price? Now we’re talking.

The manufacturers save on packaging, the distributors get bigger ticket items to sell in smaller square footage, and the consumer gets more product for the same price or better. It’s a win-win-win, right?



Buying Bulk to Save Money

It does make sense to buy in bulk if you can either save money, save time, or both without costing you something else more valuable.

Some examples of products that might save you time and/or money are paper products like tissues, toilet paper, and paper towels, cleaning products like wipes, shower cleaners, and toilet cleaning supplies (as long as you actually need more cleaning products and you’re not just accumulating them), and personal products like shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, and feminine products.

These items are used regularly and don’t spoil so you’ll have plenty of time to use them, and you’re not likely to use more of them just because there is a lot of them in the house.

I’ve never heard of a kid saying, “Oh boy, Mom. You sure did buy a lot of hand soap! Do you think I can use three pumps this time?”

As moms, we’re lucky if our kids know what hand soap is and where it’s located (right on the sink, of course, but never underestimate the power of children to go completely blind when looking for hand soap right in front of them while easily spotting a candy wrapper across the room!)

You’re simply not going to use extra toilet paper, shampoo or cleaning wipes just because you bought them in bulk.

So, if you can get your toilet paper for 50% less per roll by buying in bulk, you win.

You’re paying less for each use and saving some time shopping for all those extra rolls on future trips as well, especially if you’re having toilet paper delivered to your house in bulk!

I say this all with one caveat, you need to have space to store it as well.

There’s no need to buy bulk TP if you have to add on to your house or move to get enough space to store it.

Work with the space you have.

I discuss the topic of space limitations more below (so keep reading 😉).

Buying in Bulk to Save Time

This is another great reason to buy in bulk: to save time!

There are online retailers now offering bulk services directly to your door. I have use this option sometimes, and I have to say, I don’t miss lugging giant bags or 30 cans of dog food and 24 rolls of toilet paper around town.

I don’t have a dog anymore, but when I did it was really great to be able to order large quantities of dog food at reduced rates and have it right at my doorstep when I came home from work!

Even a bulk sized hand soap is very heavy and awkward to put in the cart, take out of the cart and put in the car, then carry into the house.

I would much rather have it show up at my door. Then I only have to move it once. And I have plenty of hand soap to fill the five soap containers sitting in my bathrooms throughout the house.

But saving time isn’t reserved for bulk items.

You can have just about anything delivered to your door these days. You just have to make sure you’re not making up for saved time with extra cost.

Bulk delivery services seem to be pretty good at maintaining the savings aspect of bulk purchasing while adding the benefit of delivery.

There may be a minimum purchase for free delivery, though, so evaluate whether the items you need right now are worth having delivered or whether they can wait until you need more products.

But don’t buy extra just to meet the minimum! That’s a fast track to filling up your living space with unnecessary items.

And no one wants to move the piles of TP off the sofa to sit down and relax.

And that leads me to talk about storing all that toilet paper, hand soap or shower cleaner.

Only you can decide whether you have enough square footage available for storing bulk items because they really do take up a lot more space.

And you’re paying for that valuable space, whether it’s rent or a mortgage, so decide if that’s the best use of your square footage for your money.


Do I Have Enough Space to Store Bulk Grocery and Household Items?

This is the first good reason NOT to buy bulk: if you just don’t have the space for it.

If you have toilet paper stacked in the corner of one child’s bedroom and paper towels in the other, no amount of saved money is going make you feel good about infringing on space needed for movement, learning and play.

There was a time, not long ago, when a TV show attempted to appeal to our money-saving sensibilities by showing us people who knew how to buy A LOT of stuff for very little money using coupons.

It was an interesting show at first. Use this coupon, combine it with that shoppers’ ad, walk out of the store with $300 of stuff for $1.99. Remember that show?

As the show went on, they started to show the stash inside these people’s homes after a good couponing run.

And there it was!

A giant pile of stuff, usually organized on shelves (in the lucky event the couponer was also a great organizer), well in excess of what that family would use in the next several years.

Who needs 50 tubes of toothpaste?

What can you even make for dinner with 100 cans of free peaches and 40 cans of black beans that cost you $2?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to give up my free space to storing extra stuff my family doesn’t need, no matter how good the deal was.

And the more things I get rid of, the more weightless I feel.

I like extra space.

I don’t fill every little space with décor and trinkets.

Free space and negative space help my brain process life in a more relaxed way.

I think it makes the things I do have that much more valuable.

I’m not minimalist by any means.

I just like to have an empty shelf in my linen closet, a little space between pantry items.

The spaces in between the things just make me feel good.

Do you feel that way too? Let me know if the comments section below.

If you prefer to fill your spaces, I would love to hear about that too.

I’m super curious about how the brain works, and how it works differently in different people.

Are you a space filler, or more of a space retainer?

Can I Afford to Buy in Bulk?

And one final thought on why not to buy bulk.

Maybe you simply cannot afford to.

It may seem counterintuitive because buying bulk is supposed to save you money, and if done properly it really will.

But you have to play the long game when buying in bulk. You’ll save money over the whole month if you do it right, but you’re not going to save on each trip.

There’s nothing like $15 worth of toilet paper and $30 worth of laundry detergent to cut into the weekly food budget.

If you’re living on a weekly budget that only allows enough money to buy the smaller sizes, it doesn’t do you any good to save money on dish soap on Sunday if you’re going to be out of food by Wednesday.

Sometimes, you simply have to buy the smaller size that may cost more per ounce, but will allow you to fight another day.


Buying bulk is potentially a great time- and money-saving shopping method.

I personally buy several household items in bulk because I do like to save money.

One of the reasons I developed our plastic refillable shampoo and conditioner bottles at Bottiful Home was because I needed a smaller, more beautiful and functional container to put in the shower than the bulky ugly ones you get at the store, be it grocery store or bulk warehouse.

But if those cost savings aren’t adding up, or the stuff is just taking up too much of your space, or it’s ruining your health, then re-evaluate your true needs.

How much are you actually using before it spoils?

How much space would you be willing to commit to pure storage of extra food and supplies?

Has your supply outgrown its original boundaries?

Is it starting to become another job to rotate canned goods and check your overflow stash in the basement and your overflow stash in the garage for potato chips before you open the bag you just bought?

Do you feel calm and relieved when you see how much food is in the pantry, or is it causing you stress to think about the three packages of doughnuts (sold all together at the bulk store) sitting on your counter waiting to be consumed while you’re trying to eat healthy?

While I’m certainly glad I have the opportunity to buy my shampoo and conditioner in bulk sizes and still get the product I really want to use, bulk purchasing is not the best answer for every item or for every household or every budget.


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