The pros and cons of buying in bulk

Bulk buying can mean several things. It could mean that you buy unpackaged food from bulk bins in somewhere like a zero waste shop. Another definition of bulk means that you buy lots of normal sized packets or tubs of a product at once. The third is where you buy large sacks or containers of a product and that is the type I’m focussing on here.

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We buy some key staples in bulk. For example porridge oats*, rice*, popping corn*, bicarbonate of soda*cinnamon*, Italian seasoning*, sunflower seeds*, soy sauce*, shampoo* and conditioner bars*. I bought bulk salt years ago (that we are still working our way through) on a house swapping holiday to France and we pick practically a years supply of onions once a year at local pick your own farm.

What are the pros of buying in bulk?

We buy in bulk because there are lots of benefits

  1. You save time doing your shopping each week. Having some basics in stock mean that you don’t have to worry about running out of those products for a while.
  2. Less packaging overall. I usually buy oats in a 25kg sack. It means that we only have one paper bag to recycle after eating 25kg of oats instead of countless little boxes and plastic bags.
  3. It is sensible to have 3 months salary in the bank in case of loss of income through redundancy or illness and so in. For the same reasons it is a good idea to have a bit of back up food in your home. Having that food at home buys you time. It also gives you peace of mind over having enough to eat for a while.
  4. On the same note as point 3, being made redundant isn’t the only reason why it might sensible to have a bit of back up food in your home. For example, when the virus hit, for a while there were scary scenes of empty shelves in the supermarkets and it became difficult to get hold of certain types of food.
  5. You can save money by buying in bulk. It is really important to shop around though and not assume as sometimes bulk buying doesn’t work out cheaper.

What are the cons of buying in bulk?

  1. You have to be careful when you buy bulk food because the price can fluctuate. A good price now on a bulk product, may not be so reasonable if prices fall and you are still using up the product you bought when prices were higher.
  2. You have to find somewhere to store the food, which is difficult if you don’t have much space
  3. The quantity of food may be too large for you to be able to use up before it’s best before date. Either that puts you off buying or potentially food could go off.
  4. You have to have the money to pay upfront for the bulk food.
  5. Bulk buying has a bad reputation after the empty supermarket shelf days at the beginning of lockdown. Are you a selfish stockpiler if you buy in bulk?

Solutions to the problems of buying in bulk

  1. To avoid getting caught out by bulk buying a product when it is expensive you can do two things. Firstly think seasonally. As I said earlier we usually buy onions once a year . They are at their cheapest then because they are in season. Secondly get to know what a good price is for a product over time. If you have access to old receipts for shopping either on or offline, you can do some price comparisons. If the product will last a couple of months, this may not be a major issue. But if you are planning for it to last much more than that you might want to check first!
  2. Make some space to store your bulk food by doing some decluttering where possible. You don’t have to store the food in your kitchen.
  3. Avoid food waste, by taking into account these 5 ways to avoid food waste when you buy in bulk. For example, only buy food that you know you can use and that will last a long time.
  4. Save up the money to buy in bulk (or use the money from the items you decluttered if you were able to sell them). You can also split purchases with friends and family.
  5. Are you a selfish stockpiler? It depends on how you do it. If you clear a supermarket shelf and don’t leave any for anyone else, then you are being selfish. However if you regularly buy in bulk from a place that you are meant to make bulk purchases, that isn’t selfish. Those places only sell in bulk and you aren’t depriving anyone else by shopping that way. You aren’t taking more than your fair share either. You are just buying what you need in one go, rather than in smaller amounts over time.

Is it a good idea to buy in bulk?

On the positive side: You could save money, reduce packaging, make your life a little easier and have peace of mind about having a bit of extra food in the house.

On the negative side: You need to think carefully about whether bulk is a good price or not. It could result in food waste. You would have to find somewhere to put it and it involves laying out cash up front.

So I think the answer is both yes and no! It all depends on the types of foods you eat, the storage space you have available, the effort you want to go to and whether or not for you, the positives outweigh the negatives.

What are your thoughts about buying in bulk? Do the pros outweigh the cons for you, or is it the other way around?

buying in bulk