Hidden expenses in bulk grocery shopping

Bulk grocery shopping is meant to save money, but consumers in search of savings can wind up spending more if they're not careful.

Paul Sakuma/AP Photo/File
Consumers wait for the opening of Costco in Mountain View, Calif., March 3.

There are a lot of supporters of bulk buying. We are told that it is an easy way to save money. I have been known to buy a gallon of vanilla here and there. However, when evaluating the savings of buying groceries in bulk, it is important to equate for the bulk buying psychology when you calculate the savings.

Is Bulk Cheaper? The Traditional Calculation

1 package of popcorn = .50 cents

25 package of popcorn = $7.50 or .30 cents per bag

Mathematical conclusion – buying popcorn in bulk is 40% cheaper than buying popcorn individually.

Is Bulk Cheaper? Including Psychological Factors in Your Calculations

When Buying In Bulk, You May Purchase More Than You Need

I sarcastically said that I’d buy a gallon of vanilla. However, time and time again people who shop bulk buy massive quantities just because it is cheaper. In this case, I am the chief of sinners. Here’s a sample conversation:

Me: “Hey, love, I just got this huge jar of pickles for $5.00.”

Wife: “You do know you’re the only person in the family that likes pickles, right?”

Me: “But, it was only $5.00”

Wife: “If you bought a jar for $2.50, it would have lasted you just as long. These things will spoil before you eat half of them.”

Me: “Well … what if we invite a big group of people over and … well … one of them has a pickle addiction and they have to eat a pickle every 20 minutes to survive? Yeah. Won’t we be glad that we have pickles then?”

Wife: “ You’re so _____________ (this blank line varies too much to know exactly what wife will say).”

By the way, the names Me and Wife are intentionally anonymous so as to protect the innocent.

When Buying In Bulk, You Are Likely To Consume More Than Usual

So, what do you think is going to happen if you have 100 pickles in the house?

Pickles and eggs for breakfast, pickle sandwich for lunch, and pickle fried steak for dinner.

When you buy food in bulk, you consume more. Instead of having one pickle once a week, you will have 4 pickles every week. As a result, you literally eat away the savings.

I think this is especially true of drinks and snack foods.

As a side note, one thing you can do when you find a great deal is to buy extra items as inventory to sell ebay.

When Buying In Bulk, You May Be Comparing Apples To Oranges

A person who typically buys an off name brand might pay .35 cents for a can of soup. The person who buys the name brand might pay .55 cents. However, if you buy the name brand bulk you only pay .40 cents.

A person who has no problems with the no name brand might actually start buying the name brand product just because they are saving .15 cents per can. However, when compared to the no name brand, they are actually paying .05 cents more per can.

As a result, a related disadvantage is that you might buy a more expensive option just because it is cheaper than a single purchase of the name brand.

Is Bulk Cheaper? The Conclusion

In many cases, I would say that buying food in bulk is cheaper. Just remember you ultimate goal is to save while shopping.

However, you should be aware of your spending impulses to be sure your price savings are not being reduced by buying more, consuming more, or changing your spending habits.

Don’t just use a straight mathematical calculation. Be sure to calculate some extra costs associated with the above three factors.

Photo by functoruser.

Do you buy groceries in bulk? Have you noticed any of these three psychological factors? Which do you think adds the highest extra cost when it comes to buying food in bulk?

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