For many years now I’ve been feeding my family on a very lean budget. I average just $375 a month to feed my family of six (including four boys age 23-12). To do this, I have focused on whole foods, menu planning, and batch cooking. However, this is one more cost-cutting measure, which has allowed me to cut down the price per pound of important kitchen staples more than any other: buying in bulk.
Though sometimes it’s hard to do a direct comparison, you can expect to save between 30 and 75 percent off of the prices you would pay at traditional grocery stores on similar items by buying in bulk. It depends on the sources that you are able to find in your area.
Even in you have a small family you can effectively buy in bulk. I just requires coordinating your money-saving efforts with other like-minded families.
I show you what I bought on my most recent shopping trip to an Amish Bulk and Salvage Food Store and tell you exactly what I paid in this video.
Topics We Will Cover in This Article
- The Pros and Cons of Buying in Bulk
- Where and How to Search for Bulk Deals
- Amish and Mennonite Stores
- Salvage Food Outlets
- Buying Clubs
- On-line Businesses
- Local Bulk Grocers
- SAMS or COSTCO
Let’s begin with a list of advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the bulk food buying game. Then, I’ll finish by giving examples of five different kinds of businesses which allow you to purchase items in bulk.
Pros of Buying in Bulk
There are a number of different reasons it may be a good idea to purchase large bags and boxes of food and stock up on the basics.
Less package waste.
Many bulk food items come in large mesh or paper bags and boxes. These materials are far more biodegradable than plastic. Thus, you are doing the environment a favor, trading in buying habits which overburden the landfills.
Less expensive per pound or ounce.
Buying in 5, 25, or 50 pound increments can often lower your overall costs by a pretty penny. Let me give you some examples from my own recent bulk shopping orders.
For months now I have been buying old fashioned oats in ten pound boxes from SAMS. The cost per pound came in at $.89. An on-line search found a fifty pound bag for $.45 a pound. That’s a 50% reduction in what I had been paying for at least a year!
I found similar savings on other breakfast staples like, cream of wheat with a 50 pound bag for just $21.50 and steel cut oats for $.50 a pound when I purchased 50 pounds.
Other items which I frequently purchase in bulk include: millet, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and rice.
Stocking up on the basics.
Many of items that are commonly found at bulk food outlets are pantry basics. As such, they tend to last a long time on the shelves when stored properly. It’s always a good idea to have enough food in your pantry to last for at least a month. When supply lines are challenged, you won’t need to worry about trying to head to the store only to find empty shelves.
Cons of Buying in Bulk
Paying Up Front
I try to keep back twenty-five percent of our monthly food budget to stock up when I find bargains. However, just one bulk-buying trip can actually cost several hundred dollars, depending on what you buy.
In the past two months, I have spent about $200 on items to finish filling our pantry bulk food bins. I planned ahead and think that I’ll be able to fit the purchases into our regular budget without digging into other budget categories to finish paying for all the items. If your grocery budget is tight, then deciding this ahead of time and designating a certain amount of your yearly grocery budget for bulk food is a wise idea.
Buying Too Much
If you get a great price per pound and then the items wind up sitting on your shelf forever, then you have just wasted your valuable food dollars. Before you buy, be sure that you have enough shelf space and have planned out an appropriate (and dry) place to keep your bulk items.
Keeping moisture away from bulk foods is critical to avoiding mold and mildew. For the most part, I have been successful at long-term storage. Only twice in two decades have I had to throw out bulk items. However, there are some simple and effective ways to help insure that you are successful in your quest to purchase food at super low prices per ounce.
Where and How to Find Bulk Food
There are five different ways that I have located places which specialize in bulk food. You should know, however, that often when you find a source that supplies something you like (and need) at a bargain price, it is prone to suddenly disappearing. That’s right. The river dries up. But, like most things in life, you just need to keep a cool head. Don’t panic. Pray about finding a replacement and then start digging. Sooner or later, you’ll, once again, find what you want at a price that you are willing to pay.
Amish or Mennonite Stores
Both the Amish and Mennonite communities specialize in providing opportunities for bulk buys. The advantage of these businesses is that the prices tend to be the absolute lowest that you’ll be able to find. Once you order, they tend to be very proactive in letting you know that your order has arrived. The help is generally also friendly and accommodating when it comes to customer service.
One drawback is that (unless they have a healthy number of regular customers) you don’t know how long the items you buy have been sitting on the shelf. This can create a problem with old or musty-smelling grains. Also, you generally need to call ahead and order what you want. So, you’ll need to have a list ready and wait for them to call you back with prices. Finally, you may need to wait a few days or up to a few weeks for your order to arrive, as trucks don’t come every week as they do for larger businesses.
Finding an Amish Bulk Store
To find one, start by Googling, “Amish Businesses” or “Amish Bulk Food near me”. You can Google, “Bulk Food Near Me”, but be sure to put “Bulk Food” in quotes. Otherwise, you’ll get a lot of hits based on the single word “Food” and you’ll spend a lot of precious time weeding out responses that do not represent what you are looking for.
If you have no luck, look for a conservative Mennonite Church in your area. Call them and they can probably head you in the right direction. Finding a homeschool group, may also give you great leads. I’ve homeschooled for twenty years and we tend to have large families and be deeply invested in saving money.
Salvage Or Outlet Stores
Salvage stores purchase end-lots of merchandise. This can be older varieties of popular brands. Sometimes the label has been updated. So, the company sells items with the older logo or print at a discount. Salvage food is sometimes close to or past the “sell by” date. It is generally considered safe to eat, but may not be as crisp as in-date stock. Finally, salvage items can be dented or marred boxes or cans, making them unlikely to be accepted or sold in traditional grocery stores.
When shopping salvage, watch carefully to see that cans with dents have not allowed air to seep in, promoting mold. Watch for physical mold on bread or other soft goods. Be aware that items with oil can tend to smell rancid or spoiled when they are past their sell-by date.
However, when carefully purchased, buying salvage goods can save you between 75 and 90% off the regular shelf price of name brand merchandise.
Finding a Salvage Food Store
To find one, Google, “Salvage Food Companies near me” to see if there are any salvage specific businesses in your area.
Local Buying Clubs
Large food distributors often sponsor local buying clubs, allowing several families on one locale to band together, pooling their orders to obtain free or low-price shipping and trucking fees.
Members log into the company website and place items in their shopping cart. Individual members do not place the order themselves, however.
On a specific date and time, one person from the group (as the designated coordinator) will place just one, large order. This person also serves as the laison between the company and the group. Most often this is a volunteer rather than a paid position.
Food pick-ups are at one centralized location once a month. The group meets as a team at the correct time, unloading the truck, distributing the orders to each family, and collecting the money for each order.
We have been in several food co-ops throughout the past two decades and I served as the coordinator for one such group for two years. A well-run co-op is a tremendous blessing and can help your family stretch your food dollars.
Finding Food Co-ops
Here are two very popular (and large) distributors who offer co-op club buying opportunities. They may have lists of local co-ops who are accepting new members or aid you in starting your own co-op.
- United Foods, one of the largest natural food distributors in the US, has served local co-ops for decades. unfi.com
- Azure Standard, previously a regionally based business, has vastly expanded in recent years and now delivers to nearly all the United States and in some areas of Canada. azurestandard.com
- At Frontier Coop, you can purchase teas and spices as well as healthy-living products from numerous large, well-known companies. As a co-op, you can purchase a wholesale prices. wholesale.frontiercoop.com
You don’t always need to be a member of a formal co-op to benefit from great prices or offers of free shipping. You do, however, need to meet a pretty steep minimum order and unless the business is very large, the free or reduced-price delivery area can be limited.
Recently, I partnered with several other like-minded families to place an order from Country Life Natural Foods. The minimum order was $400 to receive absolutely free trucking. The only fee added was food tax. That was it! The prices were extremely competitive, too. The only downside is that they only deliver to our area once every two or three months. So, if you forget an item, it will be a while before you can get it.
Local Bulk Grocers
Bulk grocery stores buy large bags of shelf-stable items. Then, they divide up the inventory into smaller bags, label them, and sell them for a profit. If you have grocers in your locale who offer a bulk food section, you might consider asking them if they would be willing to sell you the entire bag and what the cost would be. Many will be willing to put in a special order for you and charge a reasonable mark-up so that they still make a profit on the transaction.
I have successfully done this with with a number of businesses in my area, including a small ethnic market, a health food store, and a regional grocery store. The prices have been reasonable and service has been fantastic. This strategy works better for smaller, locally-owned businesses, rather than larger regional or national chains.
SAMS or COSTCO
I almost hesitate to mention warehouse stores. When it comes to saving money, honestly, they do have lower prices on some items. However, you have to take the yearly membership fee into consideration. You also need to put on blinders in certain parts of the store. Convenience foods are a huge part of their store and marketing. There is no way that those items are either healthy or cheap.
However, warehouse stores do win in certain categories. For instance, baking supplies in large 25 or 50 pound bags are quite reasonable. Likewise, beans or grains like oats are less than traditional stores. They aren’t generally as cheap as Amish or buying clubs, but you can expect to at least achieve some savings when shopping there.
The other way that these stores shine is that they will steeply discount some items at the end of a season. For instance, you can grab large containers of tea for practically nothing in early spring, after the traditional cold-weather tea-drinking season has come to an end. Likewise the price of holiday merchandise, clothing, napkins, etc. takes a dive a few days or weeks after the occasion has passed.
Breaking the SAMS Pricing Code
Knowing the pricing code is important. At SAMS, whenever a price ends in a “0” or a “1”, that indicates that it is discounted. Those with a “1” are discontinued and will continue to drop in price until they are all sold. When you see a “0”, the price will not drop as far, but you can be assured that you are paying less than their original sticker price. I do what I call, “sharking the aisles” every time I visit SAMS. This means, we quickly cruise through each aisle, looking only for prices ending in a “0” or a “1”. It honestly doesn’t take very long and we have found some unbelievable bargains by adopting this habit.
COSTCO has a very similar pricing system, with their own set of numbers, which indicate a markdown deal. In the case of COSTCO, price tags ending in a $.97 are discounted. An asterisk in the corner of the tag means that it will not be restocked.