Beating the Single-Shopper Penalty

Single and/or living in a small space? Bet you're good and sick of the Song of the Palletizers — that self-satisfied croon from folks who belong to warehouse clubs. Look how little I paid for this pallet of canned goods/toilet paper/sweat socks! My pantry looks like a general store! I'm going to start coaching Little League just to use up all these juice boxes!

Or maybe a bunch of your friends are smart shoppers skilled at stocking up on loss leaders and free-after-rebate toiletries. I bought a year's worth of tuna for two bucks! I haven't paid for lotion since 2008! If diapers are that cheap, maybe I should reverse my tubal ligation!

Meanwhile, back in Studio Apartment Land, you're wishing you had the chance to get rice by the acre or a year's worth of toothpaste for free. But you figure that if you were meant to have a box of Cheerios as tall as a toddler, God would have given you a place with a garage.

Not necessarily.

I live in a one-bedroom apartment with limited storage space. But I buy rice and pinto beans in 10-pound sacks. If pork chops are on sale I'll purchase 15 pounds at a clip. At one point I had about two years' worth of toilet paper stashed, paying as little as 9 cents per four-pack thanks to coupons.

Singles shouldn't have to pay more at the store. But you wouldn't know that to look at the shelves, where you'll see itty-bitty versions of conventional foodstuffs: 2-pound bags of flour, 1-pound boxes of sugar, 4-ounce cans of peaches.

Those little cartons of milk work out to 30 cents more per quart. “Valu-Pack” meats, aka “a quarter of a cow under shrink-wrap,” are considerably cheaper per pound than the solo steaks. Loose spuds are 99 cents a pound vs. the 99-cents-a-bag loss leaders.

Don't eschew hot drugstore deals or your shot at Pallet Paradise just because you haven't got a pantry. While storage and spoilage are two major challenges, a little creativity can take care of that.

Not everyone's set up to use all the tactics I'm about to suggest. But doing just a few of them could save you a bundle.

Why the big buy?
While I'd never advocate buying things that would go bad before you could use them up, I believe that bulk buying makes sense. It cuts down on trips to the store, which saves both time and gasoline — and the less you're in the market, the fewer chances you'll have for impulse buys. (Have you smelled that French bread, hot from the oven?)

Thus I wouldn't buy more than one head of romaine at a time, because as a single person I might not finish it fast enough. But when a sale/coupon/in-store rebate trifecta let me buy a dozen 42-ounce boxes of oatmeal for $4, I jumped on it. That was a year's worth of fast and easy breakfasts for me. (Or would have been, if I hadn't donated some to a food bank.)

Six boxes are still stored in the space between the ceiling and the tops of the kitchen cupboards. A 10-pound bag of pinto beans is up there, too; it cost 57 cents a pound at Sam's Club (although the price has since gone up to 68 cents).

If I lived in a hot climate I wouldn't keep food up there, since heated air rises and builds up against the ceiling. Over time this could affect the quality of the comestibles. Instead, I'd use that area for non-food items and put bulk buys in the newly freed-up cupboard space.

One or more of these tactics might also work for you:

  • Under-the-bed boxes. Put your bed up on risers to make more room.
  • Under the furniture. Once I got a couple of dozen packages of paper napkins free with coupons; about half went under the sofa.
  • Inside extra furniture. Fill an armoire, a file cabinet, a bookcase or a dresser with non-perishables, toiletries or household products. (I see furniture on Freecycle all the time.)
  • Set a chest or trunk at the foot of your bed, or use one as a coffee table. No one needs to know what's in there.
  • Got an entertainment center or bookcase in the corner? Put items in the space behind it.
  • Shoe organizers. Hang inside closet doors for storing toiletries, spices or other small items.
  • Linen closet, part 1. Put extra sheets and blankets between the mattress and box spring. Use the vacated shelf space for canned, dry or paper goods.
  • Linen closet, part 2. Place extra toiletries in a single layer on each shelf, then stack sheets or towels on top.
  • The dishwasher. If you don't use it, that is. Mine is full of homemade jam and extra canning jars.

Join the club?
I let that Sam's membership lapse after my daughter and son-in-law moved. You might also feel you wouldn't use a warehouse club often enough to justify the annual membership fee. Or maybe the packages are simply too big.

But what if you shared with one or more relatives or friends? You can't get a card with the names of your sister-in-law, best friend and hairdresser along with yours. But you can bring a couple of guests (although you're the only one who can buy).

So split the annual fee one or more ways, and plan group shopping trips. Or just be a pal and pick up a 48-pack of TP for SIL or BFF next time you're in the store.

Remember that warehouse prices aren't always the best prices. Loss leaders and/or sale-plus-coupon deals might be cheaper. But for those who don't like/don't have time to play the grocery game, a warehouse club can be a money-saver.

5 a day for good health
If you live in or near a farm area, buy apples by the half-bushel or potatoes by the 50-pound sack. These store well if you keep them cool and avoid bruising. (One bad apple really will spoil the whole bunch, girl.)

Too much of a good thing? Ask a relative or friend to split the deal.

Warehouse clubs also have good produce prices, but the quantities can be daunting. Again: Split a purchase with a relative, friend or co-worker. You could also share a community-supported agriculture subscription. How much kale can one person eat, anyway?

Don't rule out supermarket produce sections, either, especially as regards loss leaders. I've paid as little as 5 cents a pound for potatoes. These are often for large bags; if you're not a big potato eater, split a bag with a relative or friend.

A five-pound bag of carrots works out to 30 cents a pound less over a one-pound bag. The price of a single large onion is almost as much as a bag of smaller ones.

I make exceptions for Walla Walla or Vidalia onions, because they're so sweet and so fleeting. When their seasons end, I go back to the cheaper weepers.

Bread and meat
Yep, those Valu-Packs are huge. They're also cheaper per pound. Break 'em open, rewrap the pieces in you-sized packages and freeze. I store mine in repurposed bags.

Ditto for loss-leader meats. If it's a kind you use a lot of, buy the largest package, not the smallest, to take advantage of the temporary price break.

Tip: Check the “manager's special” section for close-dated meats. A friend of mine calls this the “used meat” bin. No matter what you call it, use or freeze this flesh promptly.

You can fit a surprising amount in even a small freezer. Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle, a horizontal Jenga construction or a game of Tetris. I engineer a startling number of whole fryers, gleaned fruit and bags of vegetables into the freezer section of my apartment-sized fridge. (Hint: I'm taller than it is.)

But I wanted more storage. That's why I share my bedroom with a freezer.

A healthier, more varied diet
Before you can say it, allow me: Frigid! Cold in the bedroom! Ha. Ha. In fact, I refer to my 5.5-cubic-foot chest freezer as “Chester, the new man in my life” — a little chilly, but very reliable.

At $179.99 plus tax, Chester was one of the best purchases I ever made because he lets me store loads of whatever's on sale. Whole fryers at 79 cents a pound? I'll take six. Plain frozen vegetables, two pounds for a dollar? I'm so there.

In her book “The Tightwad Gazette II,” old-school frugalist Amy Dacyczyn championed the idea of single people buying freezers. It lets them store bulk grains, do batch cooking shop less often (what'd I tell you?), and eat “a healthier, more varied diet,” especially if someone offers garden surplus.

4 odd things to freeze:

  • Flour. Even non-bakers might want to thicken a sauce or stir up some pancakes. Buy it as a loss leader; the five-pound bag I'm using was only 88 cents. Bonus: Freezing means no little bugs will hatch out, i.e., “see no weevils.” (Sorry.)
  • Baking mix. Ditto.
  • Cornmeal. I like to freeze it in cornbread-sized portions.
  • Milk. Frequently on sale by the half-gallon or gallon, so split it into smaller quantities and put it on ice.

One year a nearby bakery outlet sent out a flyer with free-bread coupons. I rescued the ones my neighbors tossed in the lobby recycle bin and tucked a dozen free whole-grain loaves into Chester's cold embrace.

Just FYI: My electric bill has not gone up noticeably. But my grocery bill has gone down. Noticeably.

Don't waste it
As noted previously, spoilage is a real concern — and not just with salad greens. Buying a package of 10 chicken breasts and having half of them end up wizened with freezer burn is costing you money, not saving it.

Similarly, don't buy three pounds of cherry tomatoes at Costco if you can't eat them fast enough. Either share them or get yourself a dehydrator.

Sharing takes planning, whether that's organizing a group buying trip or shopping solo and delivering the goods to others. In either case, synchronizing their schedules to your own is a challenge.

Does that sound like too much trouble? You don't have to take every suggestion offered. Do what works for you.

Of course, you could make this a weekly or biweekly excursion: Hit the warehouse store/farmstand market, then catch up on the latest while you divide the spoils.

Do this at a different person's house each time, and take turns providing lunch. That is, if you're still hungry after all the free samples at Costco.

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J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago

Greetings from La Paz, Bolivia! I’m not taking the reins back from April yet (another day before that happens), but I did notice that comments were closed on this post for some reason. I’ve re-opened them. Sorry about that. Hope everyone’s doing well…

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Hola, jefe…But what’s with the alien font on the post? Doesn’t match the usual GRS typescript.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Hey JD, the article is also afflicted by a case of bad typography. Font is showing up as some ugly little serif, Times New Roman by the look of it (on OSX), probably some default in your stylesheets. Makes it hard to read (not Donna’s fault!).

Alright, have fun and don’t drink too many chuflays!

Claire
Claire
9 years ago

Yes, and the links are not working…they take me to the GRS “Guide to Money”, and it almost looks like something is hacked…. ? Clarification: the links don’t work when I click on them through Google Reader. On the web page, it seems to work fine.

April Dykman
9 years ago

Hi guys,

Thanks for your patience. I went to bed and this post was ready to go and scheduled to publish. This morning, everything was wiped out, weird font tags were in the post, and none of the links worked. I think I’ve got most of the issues resolved.

Suzanne
Suzanne
9 years ago

I don’t see the problems here. Anyway, great article. Finally something that interested me! It’s been awhile. I had thought I couldn’t buy in bulk (my 700 sq. ft. condo has very little storage) but I like your ideas of storing food outside of the kitchen and pantry. Actually, I could make some space on the top shelves of my closet and under my bed. I even have a storage-style coffee table that I currently use for a bedspread. I think I’ll use some leftover shoe boxes (I have clear plastic ones from the Container Store) put stuff in that… Read more »

brooklyn+money
brooklyn+money
9 years ago

Clever ideas for storage. I live in a 4th floor walk up and don’t own a car, so no bulk purchases for me. I like just being able to pop into the veggie stand/grocery to pick up what I’m going to cook that night (and carry it home in cloth bags). I make a list and stick to it, so there’s no risk I’m going to buy a big bulk purchase and it will go to waste.

SF_UK
SF_UK
9 years ago
Reply to  brooklyn+money

Yeah. I have a small house, but this wouldn’t work for me because there’s a limit to what you can tote on a bike. But you know what? I’d rather have a less cluttered home, and not feel like I have to keep eating porridge because it was on offer a year ago. For me, buying in bulk is a BOGOF on packs of 6 sausages – 1 pack for the fridge and 1 for the freezer.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  SF_UK

You know what? You get to do whatever you like. I’m just throwing the ideas out there.

Joanna
Joanna
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

This is probably where a smilie face would have been cool, to make it not come across as defensive.

Jared
Jared
9 years ago

I like the storage ideas. The Sam’s Club idea wouldn’t work the last time I checked. Sam’s gives you an i.d. card with photo. Unless you collected funds and did the shopping for multiple people, the fees are just too expensive to manage.

CLB
CLB
9 years ago
Reply to  Jared

Last time I went, if one person has a membership, they can bring in a ‘guest’ to shop. If you have a good friend, maybe only one has a card but both pitch in for the cost. Some companies may also have family or discount plans where after one person signs up, subsequent memberships are cheaper.

Just a thought.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Jared

It used to cost me $35 a year. Has it gone up considerably? If three or four people chipped in, it wouldn’t cost much.
The card is for you, but you can bring in a couple of guests. As long as you’re the one doing the buying, they’re OK with it.
Again: That might not work for everyone, either. Don’t do it if it’s a hassle.

Paige
Paige
9 years ago

Thanks for the post! This was exactly what I needed to read right now. I’ve been starting to feel sorry for myself in my new (less than) 200sf space, thinking that I can only eat the same foods day in and day out. Looking around, I now I have lots of space under my bed as well as in my bedroom closet!

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  Paige

Paige please don’t be down about living small! It is liberating. I brag to all my friends that I only have to plug the vaccuum in 1 place and I cover the whole floor! It is true your cleaning time will go way down but organization and creativity are key!

Google tiny house for inspiration and as someone else mentioned keep the sailboat analogy in mind. You automatically save money because you think both can I afford the pricetag and also can I afford the storage? Have fun!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Paige

If you put your bed up on risers (or concrete blocks), you’ll have even more room.
Pretend you’re living in a ship’s cabin and get creative about where you put stuff.
Wow, 200 square feet…spring cleaning must take all of 10 minutes. 🙂

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

Great tips. I’d add one suggestion that I’ve learned from people who cruise full time on sailboats: create a spreadsheet or map telling you where everything is hidden. It’s easy for out-of-sight to become out-of-mind.

Another great reason to store stuff under your bed? It doesn’t leave room for dust rhinos (yep, in my house they’re rhinos, not bunnies). 🙂

Marsha
Marsha
9 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

A map is a great idea. I went on a CVS buying binge three years ago and I’m still pulling out toiletries from nooks and crevices where I forgot I put them. Fortunately, it’s stuff that doesn’t go bad quickly.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

I keep a freezer inventory, too, lest I later find ossified chickens and chops.

Sara
Sara
9 years ago

Another way to free up some space is by consolidating the packaging. I keep my freezer pretty full, and I can fit more in it if I remove the outer boxes. Of course, that’s where the instructions are usually written, so I either write the information on the inner package with a permanent marker or cut out the instructions and rubber-band them to the inner bag. I have had trial memberships to some warehouse clubs, and I have never been particularly impressed with their prices. I can almost always beat the unit price by combining a sale with a coupon… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Sara

I don’t buy from warehouse clubs, either, because I can usually beat the price with sales + coupons. But as noted in the piece, not everyone wants or has time to be a coupon hound. For them, it makes sense to buy the 48-TP pallet because it’s a decent price and prevents them from buying it at the 7-Eleven at 11:30 some night.

Jaime+B
Jaime+B
9 years ago

My aunt and uncle live in a large, 3 level, 4 bedroom house and she still stores things under the beds and couches. Their family loves spaghetti and pizza, so she practically buys canned tomatoes by the pallet when they go on sale.

Krantcents
Krantcents
9 years ago

Bulk buying has limitations for single people, but big box or warehouse are not the only places to use. Target’s prices are just as low as the warehouse stores and you do not h=need to buy in bulk. They also have a 5% rebate debit/credit card.

Diane
Diane
9 years ago
Reply to  Krantcents

I respectfully beg to differ with you. My Target’s prices are much higher than Costco and Costco has a vastly superior return policy! Sure, Target sells things that Costco doesn’t, but on an apples-to-apples basis, Target is way over the top.
Costco’s employees are significantly better compensated than Target’s as well.
Target has moved to increase their grocery offerings in recent years, but their foods tend to be lowest common denominator. Lots of white bread, white sugar and HFCC. Costco has really expanded their organic offerings and is always adding new, healthy items to their food selection.

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

I might be more responsive to these storage ideas once I get past my memories of last night’s season opener of “Hoarders!”

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Hey! Nobody’s hoardin’! I *need* 40 cans of tuna!

Darlene
Darlene
9 years ago

You can split memberships at Sam’s Club. I had a friend and I split a membership last year. Cost was $40, we each paid $20. Separate membership photo id cards, so no worries on who wanted to go shopping….

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Darlene

I guess that’s what we did when I had my Sam’s membership, since my daughter and I each had a photo ID card and purchasing privileges.
Don’t forget that Sam’s and Costco put out the cheapest lunch ever: kosher hot dog and a soft drink for $1.50. And since I know the maitre d’, I always get a good table. 😉
Bonus: You don’t have to be a member to eat there.

Penny
Penny
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I do miss the cheap lunch I used to get when I had a Costco membership, but Ikea also has super cheap hot dogs. Bonus: the tax is included in the price so you don’t have to deal with anything smaller than quarters, and they take credit cards, which Costco doesn’t. (I think you could use a card at the register and pay for your lunch in advance, but I never did that.)

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Penny

Honestly? I’d feel a little silly charging a buck fifty.

Penny
Penny
9 years ago
Reply to  Penny

I can understand that, and it does feel silly, but I don’t carry cash. I can’t seem to hold onto cash. If I have it, I spend it. With credit cards, on the other hand, I always think before I swipe. I think it’s partly because if I’m using a card I have to stop and think about whether I’ll be able to pay it off at the end of the month and if the purchase will be worth the hit to my bank account. With cash, it’s in my hand so I know the money is there and it’s… Read more »

Amber
Amber
9 years ago

Donna, I think some photos of your space are in order here. I am having a hard time picturing how you make it work (ala Tim Gunn)and not look like stuff city. That said, I had no idea milk could be frozen and reused later. Thank you.

This opens up a whole new blog idea
Apartment Therapy/GRS Crossover!

*live and love my 400 sf*

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Amber

Follow the link to find out how to freeze it. The milk *does* look kind of gnarly when it’s frozen, and you’ll need to shake it before using, but it can be a real money-saver. I’ve gotten close-dated gallons of milk for 99 cents. Split among a bunch of smaller containers, it meets my needs quite nicely.
Nobody wants to see pictures of my place. It’s furnished in early Found By Dumpster On Trash Day and right now the living room is full of piles of items to be given away. But what the heck: It’s home.

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I freeze cider when it is in season the same way to keep throughout the year so I will try some milk soon.

I think what you said sums up why folks resist the idea of bulk buying — that no one would want to see photos of your home. I understand that your ideas are meant to hide things, but without the proof of it that is difficult to picture.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

I’m not some sort of feng-shui proponent, but I do like my house to “breathe” and be easy to clean. Stuffing things under my bed would create a collection of dust bunnies that might end up becoming a nest for mice (my cat is lazy and would let them live– also the dust bunnies would mostly be his hair). We’re a one-cat couple living and working in a one-bedroom apartment so I know all about limited space and stuffing things in (suitable) corners. And we do our shopping mostly at Costco, which is great value, but bulky. For me, decluttering… Read more »

Frances
Frances
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

In my house we call those dust kitties…

Angela
Angela
9 years ago

“If diapers are that cheap, maybe I should reverse my tubal ligation!” practically made me pee myself. Hilarious. (And great tips, too.)

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Angela

Well, you’ve got another week-plus until my next post. That’ll give you a chance to look for a sale on ADULT diapers.

Sara
Sara
9 years ago

I love this article, so much common sense and great practical advice. Thank you Donna. It is motivating me to shop with a wider timeframe and not just to think about what I need this week or this day. Plus I like the freezer idea in the bedroom, although for me it will be the closet off the kitchen.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Sara

I hope you find a Chester of your own and that you have many happy years together.

Laundry Lady
Laundry Lady
9 years ago

You don’t necessarily have to live nearby to share a Sam’s Club Membership. My mother-in-law has the cheapest business membership for her home-based cleaning business and we have the other authorized card. This is much cheaper than buying our own membership, even though we are states away, as long as there is a Sam’s Club, we’re fine. Plus in our area, Sam’s Club also sells gas for the cheapest prices in the area.

JL
JL
9 years ago

I like reading posts like this. I think someone should do a post on whether warehouse memberships are a good value or a waste. I can’t justify paying to shop somewhere with a household of two.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  JL

Again, it depends on your situation. I kept the Sam’s Club membership because my daughter (who lived in the same building) went through a lot of Kashi and milk and Sam’s was the cheapest place to buy it. She got other things there, too, but I rarely did.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  JL

I have live in a household of two and our Costco membership pays for itself with 2% rebates every year (we pay for the $100 “executive” membership rather than the basic $50, and the rebates pay it off). Yes, you can go crazy at first, and yes, every item you buy is $10 or more, so it adds up quickly, but if you plan ahead and avoid impulse purchases you’ll be fine. I never let my Costco purchases go to waste–everything gets used. I tested Sam’s Club for a year and they have better office supplies and shop tools, but… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Back in my newspapering days I wrote an article about a woman who ran an “expediting” service from her small Alaska town to the nearest big city, Anchorage. She’d give people rides to the airport or the doctor, drop off the computer disk that contained that month’s newspaper (and pick up the printed copies a few days later), make bank deposits, shop for building supplies for the handymen and do Costco runs for the whole town — several small restaurants and various residents. I’d love to know what HER rebate was at the end of the year, given the many,… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Oh, the thing maxes out at $500. Of course for that you’d have to spend $10K/year–probably doable if you have a large clan. It’s got some limitations (no % on gas, smokes, booze, etc.) but it pays off for me.

See here:
http://www.costco.com/Service/FeaturePage.aspx?ProductNo=10045010

Miss Brooklyn
Miss Brooklyn
9 years ago

I live in 2 rooms of my 3-room walk up and take advantage of Amazon.com’s Super Saver Shipping to have someone bring me large amounts of non-perishables I use a lot of.

brooklyn+money
brooklyn+money
9 years ago
Reply to  Miss Brooklyn

That’s a cool idea. My colleague uses like drugstore.com to get her toiletries, etc. delivered.

Amy Saves
Amy Saves
9 years ago

what?! didn’t know that you could freeze milk. very cool.

Misty
Misty
9 years ago

Just be sure to investigate how sturdy the top of your cabinets are before storing heavy objects up there. I had that bright idea once, and ended up having to repair a broken cabinet! In most apartments I’ve lived in, the cabinets are made of extremely flimsy material, and are not designed for storage. (Poor design, yes, but apartment builders tend to cheap out whenever they can get away with it.) Unless the cabinet top is unusually sturdy, I save that space for things like paper towels, toilet tissue, etc. Anything that needs to be stored that is more bulky… Read more »

marie
marie
9 years ago

First: This page has been extremely slow to load today. Donna, you mention that we wouldn’t want to see a picture of your apartment. That is kind of why I refuse to go too far with buying in bulk ahead of time. I do buy some extra when it’s on sale; but I’m not going to buy more than can fit in my closet or cabinets, out of sight. I like having guests over and in a bachelor apartment, which is small enough as it is, toilet paper under the tv stand or bags of rice hanging out on top… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  marie

The stuff I buy is mostly out of sight, except for the oatmeal and beans. I don’t want to show pictures of my place because it’s kind of, well, a dump. For four years I didn’t care because I was going hammer and tongs at school and jobs. For the past two years I’ve been traveling for much of the time, i.e., not home long enough to get disgusted. That said, my ideas were to show ways to store things out of sight, e.g., BEHIND that bookcase that straddles a corner or UNDER a bed whose bedspread would presumably shield… Read more »

David
David
9 years ago

Bugs hatch out of your flour? gross, no wonder its only 88 cents.

There is no reason to freeze flour etc. If anything it may promote moisture (unless carefully packaged) and cause it to go bad when removed from the freezer.

Perhaps a large sealed container and some silica gel would be a better solution.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  David

The flour was 88 cents because it was a loss leader right before a holiday. Weevils can be found in even the most expensive flour. According to the Penn State Department of Entomology, “the initial infestation can originate at the processing plant, the warehouse, the delivery vehicle, or the retail store.”
Flour will last a year or so if kept in a cool, dry place, but it can be frozen to extend its usability. Since I don’t bake a lot (except at Christmas) but like to have flour around, I put mine in the freezer.

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

There is one thing that never gets mentioned in these articles about the joys of bulk buying — how much cash the bulk buyer has tied up in his or her bulk purchases. On the couple of times I watched a show called Extreme Couponing, I looked at garages filled with all this stuff and wondered, even with all the couponing, how much money was invested in carrying this inventory. Could this money be better used elsewhere? So, bulk buyers, please answer my question — how much cash do you have tied up in your stockpile of food and non-food… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

Beats me — but I don’t look at it as “cash tied up.” I look at it as “sunk cost,” in the best possible way: I haven’t had to buy much for the past few years because I’ve been eating my way through the cupboards. I stockpiled so much stuff — and NEVER paid retail — that I have the building blocks for many meals. I buy fresh vegetables and fruits, “used meats” and “used bread,” and a few other oddments as needed. Most of the stuff I need — rice, beans, canned and frozen vegetables, canned and dried fruit,… Read more »

Barb
Barb
9 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

Im at least a day late and a dollar short, but I’ll answer this one without having read all the way through. the answer to the amount of money I have tied up is twofold. first, certianly less than if I went weekly shopping and bought those items at non loss leader prices. And second, I dont actually count the dollar value. Ive never thrown a stockpile item out and it all gets used. If it were not, it would be a different issue

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago

You can buy or have someone with a Costco card buy a gift card online. You can earn points with your credit card. In addition, you don’t have to have a membership to use a gift card, or so I hear. =)

UltimateSmartMoney
UltimateSmartMoney
9 years ago

You’re right in that freezers are your friend. We also freeze bread, left over pasta, meat, home made soup, plus many other things. We ended up buying a freezer to store them. It does save us a lot of money as we also try to buy food in bulk.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

You can engineer leftovers by scooping out a portion of whatever you’re serving into a freezer dish. People tend to eat what’s put before them, so grab a slice of that meat loaf or a square of the lasagna and put it on ice. Next week you can pull it out for a solo dinner or throw it in a brown-bag lunch. I love my freezer — and forgot to mention that it makes a pretty good valet chair for the next day’s garments. This is particularly refreshing in the summer, when I get to put on pre-chilled clothes. In… Read more »

Mistery
Mistery
9 years ago

I too believe in saving here and there, but if the overage is causing clutter, I tend to leave it at the store. I guess one would have to do the math to see how many square feet of space is being taken up by the extra to see if it’s really a good deal. I also find that those who save in one area splurge on others, like cigarettes, wine, beer or some other vice. It’s all about balance at the end of the day, and if it works for you then so be it.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Mistery

Again: I’m not advocating clutter. There are ways to keep these things out of sight.
I *like* the fact that by saving in one place you can afford to buy treats/vices. And I say that as someone who doesn’t smoke or drink.
Save where you can so you can spend where you want, that’s my motto. Even if where you want is to throw the savings into your EF or against your student loan.

noelle
noelle
9 years ago

With regard to buying in bulk and freezing, does anyone have any experience using those air tight bag systems you can buy? Do they actually improve longevity in the freezer? Or does the cost of the unit and bags negate any savings on less spoilage? Failing that, what is the best way to repackage and freeze food?

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  noelle

I’ve never owned one. But it stands to reason that the more airtight the package, the fresher the food will remain.
That said, I’ve never owned one and my food stores just fine. This may have more to do with my proletarian palate than with my ability to suck all the air out with a straw before closing the bag.
(Don’t try that with frozen corn or peas unless you have a spotter. A spotter who knows the Heimlich Maneuver.)

Threadbndr
Threadbndr
9 years ago
Reply to  noelle

I got a vac sealer several years ago as a Christmas gift. I find that it does help with the food quality as it reduces freezer burn quite a bit. I use it for freezing garden and gleaned produce as well as ‘subdividing’ large packs of meat, cheese, etc. They advertise the use for ‘everyday’ storage as well, but to me, it’s not worth the set up time and hassle for short term uses. I get my meat by the side, so a freezer is an absolute necessity. For storing the smaller (square cube type) chest freezers – I had… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Threadbndr

The plywood-on-top thing works in another way, too. Fill a couple of five-gallon buckets with nonperishables, put a disk on top and drape the whole thing with a cloth.
Instant side table! (Or entry table.) No one needs to know that underneath it is your collection of canned beans.

Threadbndr
Threadbndr
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I like that idea! My only cautionary thought is – when you have a freezer (ie one that is not quick access) and/or storage that is ‘under wraps’, knowing what you have and when it needs to be used by is critical to not wasting food. I have always had a ‘freezer’ inventory – just a list with something like Ground Beef: 12 – 1 lb packs (10/15) Used ||| 5 – three patty packs (9/1) Used 2 – three patty packs (10/15) Used | 1 – two cup cooked servings with onion (10/26) Used That last item would be… Read more »

Penny
Penny
9 years ago

That’s a great article, and I’m enjoying reading everyone else’s tips here in the comments section. It’s nice to see this advice from the perspective of someone who lives it, rather than the primary grocery shopper for a family a six predicting what they imagine they might do if they were shopping for one or two. If only I were a) done unpacking from the last mover and b) not about to move to another state in seven months. I’m definitely not paying for extra space on the moving truck in order to save a few cents on groceries. I’ll… Read more »

TinaPete
TinaPete
9 years ago

Thanks Donna, this post is making me think!

Cooking is one of my favorite simple pleasures: reading recipes, shopping the farmers’ markets, chopping vegies, stirring, simmering, and eating.

It’s more like a hobby than just a daily maintenance activity and I am willing to purchase seasonal and organic ingredients.

But, I’m going to think about ways to incorporate bulk buying into this process and adapt it to my single-living, small-space way of life.

Cheers!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  TinaPete

What time is dinner? Should I bring wine?

Jennifer
Jennifer
9 years ago

I used to do this but like others, realized I didn’t like cluttering up my home and wasting products. If you have a lot of something, you tend to use more of it (there have actually been studies that show this). In the end, stocking up doesn’t save that much money when there’s only one or two of you (how much are you going to spend on shampoo in a given year anyway?). During a very tight time back when I was stocking up, I remember opening a cupboard and thinking, “I would much rather have $100 than tubes of… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Wow, $100 worth of toothpaste? Either you buy a super-pricey kind or you’ve got 35 tubes of the stuff… 😉 Seriously: For me toiletries are a moot point because they involve little to no actual money. They’re free or nearly so due to coupons and in-store rebates. Thus it makes sense to “buy” three or four, because they do eventually get used and because the really good deals wax and wane. For example, I haven’t seen a truly free toothpaste deal for a couple of months and I haven’t seen free deodorant for at least a year. But it doesn’t… Read more »

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I’m sorry I have one more question because this really does interest me but I struggle with it too. Donna or anyone who buys ahead – How do you budget this expense? For example, if I buy 2 year’s worth of TP, does all of that cost go into this month, or do you carry over X amount amortized over each month of expected life? What if you know you bought a lot, but aren’t sure how long it will last you – do you estimate the expected life? I can’t justify putting it all in ‘October’ budget when I… Read more »

Sara
Sara
9 years ago
Reply to  Amber

I like to keep it simple and count the expenditure toward the current month. I figure it evens out, because I may be buying a year’s worth of toilet paper this month, but I’m buying no toothpaste or shampoo or oatmeal because I stocked up on those during previous months. I don’t stress too much about my monthly budget, though — I really focus on the yearly budget, and just use the monthly budget as a rough guideline to keep myself on track. I consider it ok to go over the monthly grocery budget by $50 as long as I… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Amber

I’m afraid I can’t be of much help on that one, because I don’t keep a budget on paper. Since I don’t have student loans or a mortgage or a car payment, I don’t have to keep to a specific budget. That’s not to say I buy whatever I want. I’m pretty careful with funds. I just don’t have to parse them out each week, or month. Fun fact: My dad, who’s a prepper, says that the rule is one roll of TP per person per week. Your mileage may vary. Mine certainly does, since I work at home vs.… Read more »

AP
AP
9 years ago
Reply to  Amber

Thanks for replies. This is really more of a theoretical question because I am trying to get onto a paper or excel budget. I have always just figured like Sara that it will all balance out in the end of the year. But I find that if I track things more exactly I’m better at NO. Obviously this approach (of carrying a balance forward) wouldn’t work if you were truly living month to month.

Jamie
Jamie
9 years ago

I read this article yesterday, and then last night ran to the store to pick up hamburger buns for dinner for me and my (live-in) boyfriend.

I laughed when I found that the fewest buns I could buy were in a pack of SIX. It’s so true– this is not a consumer world built for few!

Ah well, they are in the freezer; we’ll just have to have burgers again soon…

Tanya@TheInspiredBudget
9 years ago

For me, what works best is only buying a few things in bulk that I know I will use up and that can’t spoil – toilet paper, paper towels, dishwashing soap. Otherwise, I just try to buy as much of food, etc., as I know I will actually use and not waste or forget about.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

Agreed. As I noted in the piece, it’s not going to work for me, as a single person, to buy a ton of perishable produce — or anything else that’s perishable unless I have a plan for storing/sharing it.

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
9 years ago

I have this crazy rule (okay, it’s one of my MANY crazy rules) for my 500 sq. foot apt. I have to have most of my possessions on display. Obviously I hang up my clothes in the closet and store stuff in my dressers, but most of my stuff is on display. I’ve put up 36 shelves and have vertical storage (bookcases, buffet etc) to stretch every square foot of space. This means much of my bedroom and storage closet is bare. Therefore, lots of room for stockpiling. I don’t stockpile much food because that makes me over eat but… Read more »

Amber
Amber
9 years ago

Re: toiletries. I’ve discovered that the very large (1 liter) shampoo/conditioner bottles with a pump top are awesome for saving $ and space. The pump helps me control how much I use (not much), there is less storage needed for back-up bottles, and there is less packaging waste of multiple bottles. I have been working on the same conditioner bottle since 2008. (Its nearly time to get a new one).

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