Bulk food buying may lead to a more cluttered lifestyle

I enjoy taking advantage of my parent’s membership at their local bulk food store every now and again. Some of the items I see in these warehouses, however, make no sense to me for personal use.

Obviously, bulk warehouses like Costco and Sam’s Club cater to small business owners. You need to be careful not to let the prices entice you into purchasing a gallon of Frank’s Red Hot when you will never use all of that hot sauce by the expiration date. The giant condiment aisle should be bypassed unless you are the owner of a restaurant or on the planning committee for the next extended family reunion or school barbecue. There is no rhyme or reason for an individual to buy a tub of mayo. Your family can make due with the regular size condiments at your local grocery store. Don’t clutter your cupboards with drums of mustard, mayo, or whatever else you can purchase at the bulk food stores. Realize that you are getting a great deal per unit price, but the deal is not always worth it for the storage space you have to sacrifice.

Another thing to consider when buying food in bulk is the temptation that all of that food presents when it sits in your home. The more food you have, the more food you eat. If you have a huge supply of snacks cluttering up your cupboards, chances are your family will be more inclined to polish them off simply because they are there. If you are going to buy snacks and treats do so in moderation and don’t buy junk food in bulk. Cluttered arteries are worse than cluttered cupboards.

Bulk buying has its positives and negatives. You can definitely take advantage of prices by buying bulk, but don’t let the deals lead you to buy things that you otherwise would not purchase, cannot physically consume before the expiration date, or have to sacrifice unreasonable amounts of space to store.


This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

35 Comments for “Bulk food buying may lead to a more cluttered lifestyle”

  1. posted by beth on

    I had a membership to Sam’s Club for two years, and I used it maybe 3 times? You just don’t ever need that much ketchup. The only things I’ve found are useful in bulk are toilet paper, paper towels, and medicine. But you don’t save enough money at these places to make it worth while, and compound that with having to wait in line twice as long as a normal store.

    Not to mention I felt absolutely awful supporting a WalMart company. (We don’t have a nearby Costco, who actually pays their employees a living wage and gives them decent, affordable healthcare)

  2. posted by verily on

    It was useful for my giant family (7) when we were all young and in grade school. Bulk buying made school lunches and school supplies much much cheaper…as well as paper goods.

    However, as each one of us graduated, bulk buying made less and less sense. The savings aren’t that great (esp. with the rise of generic goods) and coupons are generally not made for those sizes. The big items (electronics and appliances) that they push as having huge discounts are no cheaper than any other electronics store.

    As a single person with a roommate, I just don’t see any sense in getting a membership now.

  3. posted by mary on

    I have three kids. Diapers and wipes (Kirkland brand – Costco) were worth the drive. As was cereal, cookies and the meat prices. Other than that I agree with you. I bought a bulk size lettuce once. Luckily I compost so it really didn’t get trashed, but honestly a waste for our family.

  4. posted by Jen C on

    I am single and find my Costco membership pays for itself in both money and convenience. I try to only buy those things I know I will use and I watch prices closely. Olive oil is MUCH cheaper at Costco – I save my membership fee in what I save on that alone. Most of my toiletries and paper products are significantly less expensive there. I use the coupons Costco itself provides and plan my shopping trips around the effective dates. I buy gas there when it is on my way. The key is buying only what I need, know is cheaper, and will use in a specific amount of time. I don’t buy “easy” food there – with the exception of pre-sliced apples (yes, it seems decadent but it has me eating more fruit that I would otherwise) and carrots – so I don’t have the eating just because it is there issue.

    My Costco has speedy check out – so I am lucky with that. And, it isn’t an out of the way drive, so I’m not using extra time and money to get there.

  5. posted by Maffalda on

    My laundry detergent was from there and I found it very uncluttered to have just the gigantic bottle in the back of the cupboard to refill a small bottle every once in a while, as opposed to buying a small bottle all the time. It really made my life simple.

  6. posted by Karen on

    One money saving tip – you can share a membership with anyone (not just a spouse). That person doesn’t even have to live nearby. You will each get a card and you can use it at any Costco (or Sams or BJ’s). Even though my Dad lives across the country, we share a Costco membership. I may not save enough to justify paying $50 per year, but I save enough to pay for half of that.

  7. posted by Paula on

    “There is no rhyme or reason for an individual to buy a tub of mayo.”
    I have a 16 year old son who goes through a regular jar of mayo in 2 days. I NEED tubs of mayo!

  8. posted by SuperChuck on

    I’ve found that the big membership warehouse stores are catering more and more to consumers. Instead of selling a giant bottle of ketchup, they’ll sell two consumer-sized bottles.

    Granted, you probably won’t go through 2 bottles of ketchup any time soon, but things like paper goods, cat litter, and detergent are available in consumer-size quantities.

  9. posted by Lulu on

    Its not just for condiments.

    There are 2 catergories of bulk buying which makes sense: luxury items and frequent use staples.

    I bought a huge containers of Extra virgin olive oil, vitamins, organic mixed greens(not a bad thing to eat once everyday), detergent, dishsoap, kitchen garbage bags, toothpaste and toilet paper all staples.

    And its fantastic for Cheddar cheese and wine(luxury items) I stock maybe 2-3 extra bottles. And-unless your a vegan-if I have to extoll the virtues of cheddar cheese and all its lovely variations, I feel sad for you.

    I shop less often and pickup other perishables (and condiments) at more local merchants.

    But I must admit that 2 lb bag of Goji berries Im still finding ways to eat.

  10. posted by Kristin on

    We don’t buy bags of nuts and dried fruit, which my son loves. Diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes, cleaning wipes, dog food, dog bones, cat food, cat litter, tires (yes, tires .. GREAT deals there), an occasional piece of furniture, orchids (fabulous prices), croissants, baked beans, some produce (their red bell peppers are the cheapest around). We shop at BJ’s though, and I like it much better than Sam’s, where we used to have a membership. Also, you can get a membership with BJ’s where you get a certain percentage of your money back. We purchased a flat screen TV and our play yard from them, along with monthly groceries, and we received enough back to pay for groceries for one extra month.

    I think that being smart and knowing what you will and won’t use is right on the money, pardon the pun. We tend not to buy snack/junk foods there for the very reason you stated .. if it’s in the house, we’ll eat it.

  11. posted by Kristin on

    Make that we ‘do’ buy bags of nuts and fruit.

  12. posted by Jim on

    Then there’s my roommate in law school, who bought, like, a gross of condoms. Unfortunately for him, there’s no more to that story.

  13. posted by justelise on

    Though it has the possibility of causing clutter, shopping for larger quantity of staple items once in a while is much greener than going back and forth to another store multiple times. Less gas consumed, and bigger products come with less packaging which means less waste.

  14. posted by mango on


  15. posted by Andamom on

    I agree that people should purchase only what they are going to eat. However, I think that sometimes there are great values to be had at places like Costco. We’ve bought our mattress, clothes for the baby, diaper wipes, shampoo, and things like juice and berries there. It is amazing that I can purchase a huge tub of blueberries or cherries at Costco for nearly the same price I pay for a small container at the regular grocery store… And our bed/mattress was only a few hundred dollars — and that’s reason enough in terms of savings for a membership.

  16. posted by Illiya on

    For a family of 2 (just me and hubby), we have have a membership to Costco. We typically buy the same thing — paper products, cat litter, cans of soup/tomato/beans, cereals, chicken(6 packets of chicken breast, 2 breast a packet — easy to cook and defrost!). For us who both work, it’s convenient taht we don’t have to run out to get these essentials. So, yes to Costco with moderation 🙂

  17. posted by Kelsey on

    Our Costco purchases are limited to: toilet paper, paper towels, chicken breasts and ground beef (much cheaper!), vitamins, frozen salmon filets, shampoo, and apples. We freeze the chicken and beef we’re not going to consume right away. My husband and I can eat all the apples before they go bad! For certain items buying in bulk is great, you just have to be smart about it.

  18. posted by Mrs. Micah on

    Unless you’re like a guy I worked for with 12 kids! They needed barns of food. Mostly boys.

  19. posted by J. Lynne on

    I made great use of my membership when I had roommates or regularly shopped with other single friends. We would buy in bulk, split the bill and split the loot. Since I moved up North where I don’t know many people, I let my membership lapse.

  20. posted by Twitchy on

    As J. Lynne already said – buy in bulk to split it later. Sharing a purchase amongst a small group lessens the financial impact without ending up with 50kg bags of salt hiding under ones sofa. Another advantage is that one needs to repack goods, which gives you the advantage that you can neatly stack and stow your stuff.

  21. posted by helix on

    “Bulk food” can actually mean two different things. The Sam’s club stuff is one of them.

    The other meaning of “bulk food” refers buying food that is unpackaged (you have to bring your own container, or use a Polyethylene bag). Whole foods has a section devoted to this but the idea came from hippy co-op grocery stores.

    The latter sense of “bulk food” actually makes a lot of sense to people that are frugal and against clutter– you only buy what you need and you avoid all the unnecessary packaging.

  22. posted by Ruckus on

    Ditto on Helix’s comment. I am in the process of trying to declutter, simplify, go green, etc. to a greater degree than I already have. Buying bulk from open bulk bins from health food stores is not only good for the environment and makes economic sense, but it is good for you too since most of the food will be whole grains, dried beans, etc.

  23. posted by Jasi on

    I share a membership with my grandmother. We only buy household items like TP and Dish Soap. Also we hit up Costco for parties and holidays. Otherwise, I only keep enough food in my fridge for up to 3 days of meals. Anything more seems like clutter. A small emergency pantry is kept in the laundry room for just in case. How much food do we all really need?

  24. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    It is interesting that you mentioned mayonnaise.
    Did you know that once opened a jar of mayonnaise only lasts about 6 weeks? (http://www.foodsafetyline.org/.....afety.html)

    Yup, so if you don’t have that gallon jug of mayo finished in 6 weeks it is probably growing some bad bacteria and you’d better toss it.

    Not only is bulk buying cluttering our houses but cluttering our landfills!

  25. posted by STL Mom on

    I cancelled my Sam’s Club membership when I realized that I never stuck to my list – on every trip I picked up a DVD or an item from the housewares or office supply aisles “because it was such a good deal”. My savings were cancelled out my my extra shopping.
    What I really miss are the giant bags of Craisins – my kids can go through a little bag from the grocery store in a few days. What I don’t miss are those double-sized cereal boxes that take up too much room in the cupboard.

  26. posted by Serene and Not Herd on

    Buying food in bulk from stores may have problems, but my wife and I quickly found the ordering food in bulk really saves us a lot in shipping.

    She has a severe allergy to gluten (the protein in wheat, barley and rye) which is in a great deal more products than just bread.

    In a small town, ordering specialty foods manufactured with exacting standards to be completely gluten-free is a necessity. But the constant online shopping was hurting in the shipping costs. So we bought a cubic freezer, and started ordering in bulk. Sometimes even direct from manufacturers. And we froze all but one package at a time.

    The freezer is the bulk-food-buyers friend. Last time we went to Costco, we bought 10 packs of Hormel’s Microwave bacon, 5 for the in-laws. It’s great stuff!

  27. posted by riona on

    I agree 100% that warehouse stores lead to clutter. However, I think buying in bulk is smart – IF you can do it online. It’s the impulse buys that will kill ya. I buy staples online at Amazon Grocery, and because I have Prime, shipping is free.

  28. posted by Eric S. on

    Bulk shopping club memberships make COMPLETE sense when you have a baby. We have a 6 month old, and found that it only took two trips just for diapers and formula to break even on the cost of the membership (we usually make one trip a month). The key is to use them for what they do well – non-perishable items, things you use at a frighteningly rapid rate (see the above formula and diapers), and things that have a readily-usable discount (gas, tires).

  29. posted by Brian on

    Our BJ’s membership paid for itself when we bought four giant cans of Isomil. The discount on bulk diapers is just a bonus above that. If you get pregnant, get a membership.

    We’ve had good luck buying bulk toiletries, soaps, detergents, coffee, cereal, and lunch foods (Lean cuisine, Kashi), paper goods (tp, paper towels, garbage bags, lunch bags). Meat is almost always a deal, and of great quality (1″ thick chops are my favorite.)

    We’ve also wasted our share of luncheon meat, and frozen some things far far too long…. And electronics never a deal.

  30. posted by Melissa on

    Eric and Brian, I second your comments – the savings on formula for twins recouped our membership cost in three weeks. Even if you get good coupons from Similac, you have to wait for a sale at a retailer in order to beat the warehouse price.

  31. posted by Robin on

    Oh no! You’re talking about *me! I bought that gallon of Frank’s Red Hot–and have been living with its hardly-used self ever since!

  32. posted by Jessie on

    I’m single and I buy some things in bulk from Aldi, which is some distance from my home. If I only need bread or milk I run to the much closer small indie grocery, which is much more expensive. I don’t need a warehouse membership. But I have a single friend who built a shelf about two feet from his bathroom ceiling, all around the room, and loaded it with bulk toilet paper. My first thought was, what about the opportunity cost? How could that $50-75 have been used to his benefit if it were not sitting on his bathroom shelf for six months? Besides, it looked silly.

  33. posted by Richard Friese on

    We have used Sams Club for years. We have saved on bulk detergent, paper towels, canned goods, and meat. We buy volume, break down the packages and freeze. Since we are disabled we have a freezer full of food that gets us through many snowstorms. Winter is tough getting around in the snow in a wheel chairs.

  34. posted by kathny on

    This is a ridiculous post. Overshopping in any store could lead to clutter. Duh! And, how dare you say that no one needs a tub of mayo? You have no idea what people eat, how many people they have to feed, or apparently anything about people with families. I shop in these places regularly and I buy tubs of mayo and double packs of ketchup because that’s what the people I feed use. Buying in bulk means I don’t have to buy it as often and it saves money. This whole post just sounds ignorant, entitled and judgmental, but you got it published, so good for you.

  35. posted by Greg McCausey on

    So I shouldn’t buy the 2 gallon can of chocolate pudding?

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