Here's How I've Mastered the Art of Buying Groceries in Bulk

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Buying in bulk can backfire if you're not careful. Here's how to do it right.

As a household of five (plus a dog), we're always looking for ways to save money on our largest expenses. And one of those expenses is groceries.

My family doesn't dine out very often, so I tend to cook a lot. And there are certain staples we tend to go through very quickly around here -- cereal, bread, canned beans, fruits, and vegetables, to name a few.

I've discovered that buying groceries in bulk helps me spend less on a major expense in my budget. That, in turn, makes it easier for me to pad my savings and ensure that I have enough money left over for other goals. Through years of trial and error, I can finally say I've mastered the art of bulk buying. Here are the rules I now follow.

1. Don't always assume bulk is the way to go

Bulk prices aren't always the most competitive prices. Sometimes you'll get a better deal on a single or smaller item if a supermarket has it on sale. Research prices before stocking up. Most supermarkets list their weekly deals online, and most warehouse clubs keep their prices consistent. So figuring out which is the better deal shouldn't be too difficult if you're willing to do the legwork.

2. Be selective

I used to buy seven or eight different types of cereal in bulk on a regular basis, and I'd end up tossing half of them when they were only 30% eaten. I've learned the hard way that cereal, once open, can actually go stale pretty quickly. So now I limit myself to two types -- my favorite and my kids' favorite (the husband's not a cereal guy). While that does mean less selection, it also means less waste. In fact, these days, there are only a dozen or so items I'll buy in bulk because I can be sure we'll go through them. If there's a question about a given item in my mind, I won't stock up -- I'll just buy one.

3. Take inventory before you go

Before I hit the store, I now make a point to see what items I already have a decent supply of. In fact, I've started keeping an online list of the items I have in my pantry and fridge so I can consult it before making a shopping list. That's helped me avoid stocking up on items that are hidden away but perfectly usable.

4. Make sure there's storage space

In addition to our regular fridge, we have a second fridge and chest freezer in our basement. As such, you'd think we'd always have plenty of room for food storage. Not so. I have a tendency to cook and bake in large batches and freeze leftovers. So our spare fridge and chest freezer are often surprisingly full. That's why I make a point to check for space before hitting the stores. The last thing I need is to buy a ton of my kids' favorite frozen items only to have no place to keep them.

If you're looking to cut back on food-related spending, follow these tips for bulk buying. But keep in mind that to snag some of the best deals, you may need to join a warehouse club. Supermarkets don't always have a large bulk selection, and their bulk prices aren't always that competitive compared to warehouse clubs. If you do enough bulk purchasing, the warehouse club membership fee you'll pay will make up for itself in no time, and from there, you'll potentially reap a world of savings.

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