We grow most of what we eat—around 95% in fact. However, there are items we must purchase from the store like oatmeal. Even if we were to grow our own oats, purchasing the equipment required to turn it into oatmeal would be impossibly expensive. Sometimes self-sufficiency can go too far and end up costing you a lot more for a product that really isn’t different from what you get in the store. However, now you need to decide whether to buy the item in a bulk goods store or to get it at your local supermarket.
About once every other month, we go to the bulk goods store in our area and stock up. Some items are incredibly less expensive than the same item at the local store. For example, it’s possible to buy 6 pounds of oatmeal for $3.80 at our bulk goods store. The same amount of product at our local store would cost around $11.10 for a $7.30 difference. If you have enough of these sorts of items to purchase and you can use enough of the product before it goes bad, then buying in bulk makes sense. Oatmeal will easily last several months when stored correctly, as will flour and many of the other items we buy at the bulk goods store.
It’s important to know just how many servings are in a bulk product. For example, a heart healthy serving of oatmeal starts with ¾ cup of dry oatmeal, which weighs in at 2.1 ounces. So, 6 pounds of oatmeal would supply about 46 heart healthy servings. Given that we eat oatmeal as breakfast cereal, use it in cookies, and rely on it as an alternative filler in dishes like meatloaf, 46 heart healthy servings is quite doable in 2 months. However, when you buy in bulk, think servings. If you waste part of the product, then you’re really not saving much (if anything). It’s tempting to think of the savings you get by buying in bulk, but those savings are only realized when you use all of the product.
Of course, the bulk goods store is further away than the local store. The actual difference in our case is 1.5 miles. It costs us about $0.14 per mile in gas to drive there in our car. When you add in maintenance and other costs, it adds up to around $0.32 per mile. So, it costs $0.48 to save the $7.30, which is still a good deal. However, when making a decision as to buying in bulk, you have to consider the cost of driving to the store. A lot of people forget to add this to the cost of buying in bulk and end up losing money instead of saving it. With the cost of driving to the bulk goods store in mind, the savings on that 6 pounds of oatmeal is now whittled down to $6.82.
Shopping at a bulk goods store also requires additional time and your time is worth something. Not only does it cost time to drive the extra distance, but bulk goods stores aren’t as customer friendly in most cases as local stores are. We have found that we spend about 15 minutes extra to use the bulk goods store. So, when you put that $6.82 savings into an hourly rate, we make $27.28 per hour by going to the bulk goods store. As far as we’re concerned, it’s definitely an acceptable rate of pay. However, you need to consider whether your savings actually warrant the cost in time. You could do something else in that time that could add up to a better hourly rate.
There is one more consideration when buying in bulk. You need to think about the source of the bulk goods and the freshness of the product when you get it. Some bulk goods are castoffs of local stores. In fact, they have have already passed their sell by date (or are close enough that you have to suspect the product will go bad before you use it). With this in mind, we won’t buy some items from a bulk goods store even if doing so would save us money. The problem is that the item is of inferior quality, too old when we purchase it, or a dubious purchase for other reasons. Always consider what you’re getting for your money before you buy it.
Bulk goods stores do fill an important niche in the purchasing picture for most people, but be sure to shop smart to get a real deal, rather than just a perceived savings. Let me know your thoughts about bulk goods stores at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.