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.
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.