## Calculating Your Actual Bulk Goods Store Savings

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.

## Benefits of Shopping Locally

Self-sufficiency comes in many forms and exists at many levels. Many of my posts describe personal self-sufficiency. However, self-sufficiency also exists at the community level and that’s the level addressed in this post. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is a day when many people kick off their holiday shopping. An alternative theory states that Black Friday is also the day when businesses begin earning a profit; although, this probably isn’t a fact.

There is a tendency to view local stores as expensive. People who use cost as their sole motivation for choosing a particular store use this reason as the only one for shopping anywhere else. It’s true, if you check pricing alone, your local store might not be competitive with the big box store at the mall. However, there is more to consider than the actual price you pay for a product.

• Cost of gasoline: When you check the price at the big box store, you also need to factor in the cost of the gasoline to go there. When the price of the local item varies by just a few cents, you might actually save money by shopping locally when you factor the cost of gas (currently between \$3.00 and \$4.00 a gallon) into the picture. Let’s put it this way, if your car gets 30 miles to the gallon and the store is 15 miles away, you need to add the cost of a gallon of gas to your calculation. (It would also be helpful to add the cost of wear and tear to your car.)
• Your time: As I’ve spent more time working through self-sufficiency issues, I’ve come to realize that my time (all of it) has value. If I have wasted time driving somewhere, when I could have easily cut wood or grown something, then I’ve lost money for my time. Like most people, I have little time to waste. When you shop locally, you save time, which means that you save money.
• Toll on your health: Driving, especially during the holidays, is a stressful activity. If you’re spending your time fighting with a lot of other potential customers for a product that may not even fulfill your needs, you’re spending your health. You only have so much health to spend—use it wisely. Viewed from another perspective—the stress you endure for a lower cost product today could very well translate into higher medical costs tomorrow.
• Eventual cost of local jobs: You may not really care about your neighbor’s job, but you should. Jobs are important for everyone. When you shop in the local community, you support your neighbors and help them lead happy lives. Happy neighbors translate into a better community and lower stress for everyone. Everything from taxes to the availability of services revolves around the ability of people to earn a living.

Of course, these are all anti-repercussion reasons for shopping locally. Yes, they’re good reasons for shopping locally, but you really don’t get much of an immediate nature out of them personally. Shopping locally also has some significant benefits for the self-sufficient person that you should consider.

• Individualized assistance: A local store owner, one who is part of your community, has every reason to learn the kinds of goods that you value most. The local retailers that work with me often order goods because the retailer knows that I’ll purchase that particular product and no other product. Big box stores service entire areas, states, or even the country as a whole. My wishes don’t matter—only those of the mob are taken into consideration.
• Higher quality goods: I don’t like buying something and then having it fall apart a short time later. Because I shop locally, I can usually request (and get) quality products that have a long last time so that I don’t have to buy them again next year. The big box store is only interested in price and will offer the products that meet that sole criterion no matter how poorly made the product might be.
• Better service: When I go into a local store, the owner knows my name, asks about my wife, and wants to know how my harvest was this year. I might get a discount because of past purchases I’ve made. In many cases, I want to visit that store because I don’t have to work too hard to find what I need; the owner knows I need that product and will provide it without my asking. When something does go wrong, I don’t have to threaten a lawsuit to get a proper response. In short, I get better service.

The bottom line for local shopping is that when you don’t use the local store, you end up losing it. One term that has seen a lot of use recently is food desert, a place in an urban setting where people can’t obtain fresh food. One of the reasons that food deserts exist is because people didn’t patronize the local stores; the stores simply went out of business from non-use. To keep your community healthy, reduce your personal costs, and get a better deal shop locally this Black Friday. Let me know your thoughts on local shopping at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.