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Buying groceries in bulk: What to know

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    If grocery shopping is part of your routine and budget, you may have wondered if buying food in bulk would save you time and money. Purchasing items in larger quantities can have its advantages if done with the right items. Before hitting the store, you may want to read some tips for how to buy in bulk.

    Benefits of buying food in bulk

    Is it better to buy food in bulk? That depends on certain factors, such as the size of your household, how often you cook and how much food storage space you have. If you live alone in a studio apartment, it may not make sense for you to stock up on bulk amounts of food — especially if they may expire before you can get to them. 

    However, if you decide buying in bulk is practical for your lifestyle, there may be some benefits to it.

    • Lower costs. Buying shelf stable items that you use regularly in bulk may help you save money on those products. Oftentimes, as quantities of an item go up, the price per unit comes down which may help save money in the long run. You may pay more upfront, but overtime you could see savings as the cost per serving goes down. Additionally, if you're able to make fewer grocery tips, you can also potentially save money on gas. 
    • Less waste. Bulk foods often don't have packaging for customers, so it may be up to you to bring in a reusable container to fill with rice, flour, nuts or whatever foods you're purchasing. This reduces the amounts of single-use plastics and other waste associated with packaged foods. 
    • Flexibility. If you have a larger family, are planning for a big meal or share pantry staples with your roommates, having a scalable way to grocery shop can be very convenient. 
    • Time saver. When you're already balancing work, hobbies, your family and a social life, going to the grocery store can feel like a time suck. Buying in bulk can reduce how often you have to grocery shop, giving you some of that precious free time back.

    How to buy in bulk

    If you're planning to buy food in bulk for the first time, there are some things you'll want to do to prepare before you go. 

    • Set a budget. As always, grocery shopping should start with a budget. If you're headed into a bulk food store for the first time, it can be easy to excitedly add things to your cart without paying attention to cost. Be sure to work out a budget that makes sense for you before you leave. 
    • Make a list. Consider the items you use on a regular basis and take stock of your pantry. This will help you resist adding a 25-pound bag of flour to your cart even though you hate to bake. 
    • Check for coupons. Check the website, app or newsletter for whichever grocery store you're headed to and see if there are any coupons available. But remember, just because something is on sale doesn't mean you have to buy it! 
    • Pack containers. You will likely need to bring your own containers when you buy groceries in bulk. It will be helpful to figure out how much of each item you'd like to purchase, and then pick a container to fit it. These containers can be anything from mason jars to food storage containers to larger bins. Whatever you choose, you'll likely want to ensure it has an airtight top to help keep things fresh.

    What groceries to buy in bulk

    Some foods are better to buy in bulk than others. For instance, if you were to buy fresh tomatoes in bulk, they'd likely go bad before you used them all. Shelf-stable pantry staples tend to make the most sense to buy in large quantities.

    Baking and nuts

    • Sugar (good for about two or more years)
    • Flour (good for about a year)
    • Chocolate chips (good for about one year)
    • Dried fruits (good for about one year)
    • Cashews, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, etc. (good for about three to six months, can vary nut to nut)
    • Nut butters (good for about two to three months)


    • Rice (good for about one year)
    • Lentils (good for about one year)
    • Quinoa (good for about two to three years)
    • Oats (good for about one to two years)
    • Pasta (good for up to about two years)
    • Cereal (good for up to about six months)

    Canned foods

    • Vegetables (good for about two to three years)
    • Fruit, including tomatoes (good for about 18 months)
    • Broth (good for about one year)

    Frozen items

    • Ground meats (good for about four months)
    • Fresh cuts of meat (good for about one year)
    • Lunch meat (good for about two months)
    • Bacon/sausage (good for about two months)
    • Fish and shellfish (varies depending on type)

    Condiments and oils

    • Ground spices (good for about one to three years)
    • Oils (good for about one year)
    • Vinegars (good indefinitely)
    • Honey (good indefinitely)
    • Ketchup (good for about one year)
    • Mustard (good for about two years)
    • Hot sauce (good for about two to three years)

    What's more

    Depending on your lifestyle, buying food in bulk can be a great way to save money and reduce both waste and trips to the grocery store. Getting started may seem intimidating, but you'll fall into a new routine before you know it.

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