Should You Start Buying in Bulk Due to Supply Chain Issues?

A woman grocery shopping with a mask on.

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Products are becoming harder to find. Should you start buying in bulk?

Key points

  • A number of key supply chains have been interrupted during the pandemic.
  • Buying in bulk may be a reasonable solution to that problem, but you'll need to do it strategically.

During the spring of 2020, it wasn't uncommon for me to walk into my local Costco and see there wasn't a shred of toilet paper or paper towels to be bought. Thankfully, the great paper product crunch came to an end at some point last year, and since then, procuring those staples has been relatively easy.

At least it was pretty easy until just the other week when I ran into Costco to restock on paper towels and couldn't find my go-to brand. I told myself it was no big deal and that I'd try again the following week. But sure enough, when I went back, the store was still out and had no idea when the next shipment would make it in.

Thankfully, that problem resolved itself quickly, and it involved me buying my paper towels elsewhere, albeit at a slightly higher price. But that paper towel shortage could really end up being just the tip of the iceberg if supply chain issues don't resolve themselves soon.

For months, consumers have been grappling with limited supplies of goods due to factory and railway shutdowns overseas that have delayed the shipment of common products. Domestically, there's a major trucking shortage at play, so even once goods are able to make it to the U.S. and off of their respective container ships, holdups still abound.

It's for this reason that consumers may want to consider buying essential items in bulk in the near term. If you load up on the things you need, you'll be less likely to have to go without them or pay a premium for them. To be clear, you don't need a warehouse club membership to purchase bulk items. You can often find large quantities of household staples at big box stores or even on Amazon.

While buying in bulk could make sense in the near term, you'll need to do so strategically. Here are a few key points to keep in mind if you're going to start loading up.

1. Pay attention to expiration dates

When you're buying things like paper towels, you don't have to worry about expiration dates. But if you're buying food items, that's something you must pay attention to. If you purchase something perishable and it expires before you get a chance to consume it, you'll end up having thrown your money away.

Don't just look at expiration dates for refrigerated products, though. Even shelf-stable items don't last forever, and you don't need any food you buy going stale on you before you're able to eat it.

2. Make sure you have enough storage

If you buy a bulk pack of paper towels and realize you're out of room in your hallway closet or pantry, you could always stick them in the corner of your dining room in a pinch. If you buy perishable items when you're out of fridge and freezer space, you'll land in a real pickle.

Don't let that happen. Before you go on a bulk grocery run, assess your available storage space. You may be able to free up fridge and freezer space by consolidating items into smaller packaging or reconfiguring your shelves. Either way, don't bring home bulk grocery items without being fully confident you have space to store them.

3. Make sure you can afford those larger purchases

If you normally buy one roll of paper towels every week, purchasing 20 at a time is apt to cost a lot more. And that's an outlay you may not be used to.

Before loading up on bulk items, check your bank account and make sure your paycheck can cover those purchases. While you might save some money by buying in bulk, you don't want to offset those savings by racking up a credit card balance you're forced to carry forward and accrue interest on.

The supply chain bottlenecks we're dealing with now should not last forever. But it may be a solid number of months until things get back to normal. Buying in bulk is an option worth considering, given the product shortages we've seen already. Just make sure to stick to these tips, so you don't waste money or drive yourself into debt.

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