How Buying in Bulk Can Save You Money

by JoHarrington

It's said that money begets money, because the rich can afford to buy goods in bulk quantities. That's a huge tip right there.

I've just had to smile, while opening my cloak-room door. The shelves in there are beginning to resemble a warehouse.

There are more Pot Noodles, tea-bags and kitchen towels than it seems any average family could use. But, of course, we can, if you factor in enough time. This isn't the weekly shop, this is looking forward across several weeks.

Those shelves will be empty again eventually. We will have consumed or used no more than usual, but we will have done so for a fraction of the cost. We looked for special offers, and we bought in bulk.

British Dream: An Endless Supply of Tea-Bags

At least it feels pretty endless. It's not, but the bag is large enough for us to pretend!

In truth, the tea-bags were a joke. It would have happened anyway, once the seed had been planted. That the conversation took place around my birthday meant that the industrial sized bag of tea arrived in a box, wrapped around with gift paper.

I was a little startled. This couple didn't generally buy presents for me, and the box was huge. I knew their sense of humor. There were nerves, as I slid my fingernail under the sellotape.

Then I saw what was inside and laughed until it hurt! It was all around the club by the next day. People were taking bets on how long it would take me to drink my way through 1100 Ty-phoo tea-bags. Most guesses were pointedly low.



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It's fair to say that I enjoy a nice cup of tea. But I'm British and such things are to be expected. That's practically part of our national DNA. We eat, we breathe, we drink and take shelter, and we drink tea.

Nevertheless, it's a measure of how much I get down my neck, that even fellow Britons are moved to comment. (Yes, I do have a cuppa beside my keyboard, even as I type these words.)

I don't know how the conversation began. I wasn't there. The general gist appears to have been one couple opining that they'd love to have me move into their home. I wouldn't be a bit of trouble. "Ha!" Came the response from those with experience of living with me. "You'd never be able to keep her in tea-bags!"

Hence the gift-wrapped box, which appeared the next day.  A practical answer to the charge, proving that yes! They could cater for my tea consumption!  Everyone laughed, and I put the kettle on.

Three months later, we're still not halfway through that industrial sized sack of tea-bags. I keep peering inside it, trying to work out if the fairies are adding to the haul. But no, they are going down, slowly.

Saving Money for your the Household Budget with Bulk Buys

There's a much bigger initial outlay - those bulk bags cost more than their little counterparts - but the figures add up over time.

There was an obvious saving to our household grocery bill with that huge bag of tea-bags. Not least because it was a gift!

But even so, the mathematics work out nicely.  Each cup of tea in our household currently costs around a penny.  That's the £13.99 price of 1100 tea-bags for caterers, divided between the promised 1100 cups of tea.  

Ordinarily, we might have paid £3.89 for 160 tea-bags, which works out at just over 2p per cuppa. More often, I'd have opted for a 99p pack of 40 tea-bags. That seems like the cheapest, because the hit on my purse isn't so great. But it's actually the worst of all. Each cup of tea there adds 2.5p to my household grocery bill.

Such things aren't onerous in isolation. However, those pennies add up.

By the time I've drunk my way through 1100 cuppas, provided by 99p bags of 40, I'll have spent £27.23 overall.  Suddenly that seemingly more expensive mega sack of tea-bags has saved me £11.24.

That's nearly the cost of buying a replacement, for when I eventually run out! Seeing as I would have bought those tea-bags anyway, just one bulk buy has a knock on effect of savings.

It renders the next 3 - 6 months of tea drinking practically free of charge in my home, as it was paid for with what we recovered from the previous months.

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The Downside of Bulk Shopping

First you have to find the money to buy all this stuff, then you have to find somewhere to store it!

Buying in bulk certainly pays off in the long-term, but many of us don't have budgets for the long-term. We're too busy coping with the here and now. 

Spending £13.99 on tea-bags might save me over £11 over the coming weeks, but it's left me £13 down this week. When you're working to a tight budget, such things might mean the difference between eating this week or going on an impromptu diet.

These are the hidden budget traps about which economics commentators darkly hint, when they point out that the poor actually have a higher cost of living. The cruel reality being that, the lower your income, the less likely you are to be able to afford the cheaper household goods.

Wealthier wallets buy in bulk and get the better overall deal. They are also more likely to be the sort of house-holders with the storage room to facilitate bulk buying.

It's all well and good buying 96 toilet rolls or vats of detergent, but where are you going to put them? These are going to last for months, so they can't be left in the middle of the living room floor!

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How to Plan for Bulk Buying Savings on a Budget

It's not easy, but it is possible. Once you're in a position to purchase an item in bulk, then all future ones will be more affordable.

Image: Household budget.Forward planning is the key to reducing your household grocery bills with bulk buying. It can be done, even if you can't afford the mega purchase right now.

The first step is research. Look at your shopping receipts and work out which items to target. What will you always buy, because it's either a necessity or a family favorite? What purchases rack up the costs?

Then remove the perishable goods from that list. They can't sit in a cupboard or garage for weeks on end. Look for things with a long shelf-life, which you consume in reasonably high quantities, and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future.

The next step is to research your items. Are there bulk versions of them available for purchase? If so, divide the portions by the price-tag. Do they actually represent real savings, when compared to buying the smaller quantities?

Order your items by the potential savings to be made. Cross off those which offer no benefit to bulk buying. The remainder will serve as your wish-list and a blueprint for the forward planning.

The third step is to estimate how much storage room will be needed for your favored bulk bought item. If you have the room already for it, then great!  If not, can you rearrange things to get it in?

You could be downright cunning about this. Use the opportunity to have a clear out. You could have a yard sale or hit eBay with all that you're about to throw out. The best scenario of all would be if your decluttering raised the necessary funds, which will pay for the industrial sized household goods taking their place!

But if that didn't happen, then you're onto the fourth and final step. This is to put aside anything that you can afford, week by week, with a view to eventually buying your bulk item.

There's really no rush here. Your family are always going to consume those goods, so it's largely academic whether you've bought the big version this week or six months down the line.

That's forward planning. That's the goal. Your dollar a week put away now will grow. It represents mega savings in the future, once you can access the bulk buying market.

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The Cycle of Savings with Bulk Buying Household Goods

Each time you buy in bulk, your overall grocery bill reduces over time. Reinvest the savings into more mega-packs and the household expenses will tumble.

Taking delivery of your first bulk bought goods will be a great moment. You can rest assured that your house has this favorite thing in stock for the next few weeks or months. Always a welcome thought!

But popularity with your family is only the first hurdle completed.

It's important that you don't immediately leap on the money saved from your weekly grocery bill. Otherwise, it won't keep on working for you. More savings beckon, if you invest it wisely. 

Every week, put aside the cash that you would have spent on whatever has just been substituted for a bigger size. Keep doing that, until you've got enough squirreled away to replace the bulk bought goods, when it eventually does run out.

Now whatever is left is spare cash in the household budget. Rejoice!  At the very least, you've just doubled the savings. As you repeat that cycle, the reduction to your grocery bill - compared to what it would have been - will become very significant over time.

However, now that you're used to planning ahead to buy bulk, this might be a good time to aim for the next thing on your list. And the next. And the next. Until you're shopping like a wealthy person, and your pantry is always well stocked!

Guides to Living on a Tight Budget

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Updated: 02/14/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 12/02/2013

Unless it's about bulk-buying the ways and means of playing Tetris, of course.

Guest on 12/02/2013

Yes, we know it is, us geeks, but not on an article about bulk buying!

JoHarrington on 12/02/2013

Tetris is sense! :D

Guest on 12/02/2013

I will spit my wine out over the keyboard at this rate. Stop this, right now ;-) Sense, please!

JoHarrington on 12/02/2013

In that case, you need to sit him down and get him to hone his Tetris skills. There's no excuse for letting those slip!

Guest on 12/02/2013

His fault. They weren't stacked safely but wedged in, Tetris style. No sympathy from me, I might add.

JoHarrington on 12/02/2013

Perhaps you ought to bulk buy some First Aid supplies and put them in the same cupboard. It would save time. :D

Guest on 12/02/2013

Jo, that sounds like the cupboard above the sink in our kitchen, where all the storage tubs and tupperwares are. Last week my husband was bashed on the head by four as they tumbled out when he went to fetch the ketchup from the front of the same cupboard...

JoHarrington on 12/02/2013

2uesday - I'm with you on the more tea-bags is good school of thought. The shed idea would be good, if there was any room in ours. We take our lives in our hands just opening the door!

JoHarrington on 12/02/2013

WordChazer - We also tend to get the washing detergent in bulk, as that's another perennial that's never going out of fashion. I hadn't thought of getting the rest of the stuff you mentioned though. We do have a huge amount of cooking foil and pot noodles. Random, I know.

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