Bulk Buying: Saving Money and The Planet | Blog to Taste

Monday, April 27, 2015

Bulk Buying: Saving Money and The Planet

For this week's Money Saving Monday, it's part two of Bulk Buying Basics where I am going to share a little interview I did in Bulk Buying's honor.
Katie (KT) is one badass mother. She was an engineer before she had an army of kids, and now she hangs with them full time. While being a female engineer is enough to brag about, parenting 3 little monsters children and keeping a household while maintaining relative sanity is enough for me to tip my hat to. On top of all that, Katie is super budget savvy. So I picked her brain for your (and my) benefit. 

Katie Recently took the mommy plunge and bought a mini-van. What else could she haul all them kiddos in? 


Name: Katie 
Family Size: 5
Grocery Budget: $400 a month (this includes household items) + $180 a month for beer + $2600 annually for bulk meat 

What a beautiful Family!

BTT: What is your bulk buying strategy?
KT: While I'm a stay-at-home-mom, I can't abandon my background as an engineer. I set a goal for myself to buy 90% of my groceries and household items in bulk. My strategy was very calculated and methodical. I first identify items that we have purchased repeatedly, starting with the most frequent items. For my family at the time, it was formula and milk. Then I research all the places I can buy the items, whether that is online, in stores, at farms, etc. I determine the price that I would be paying, per ounce, at each location. I then determine how much we consume per week, and the frequency we will need to buy the item depending on how long the item can keep. From this information I can determine the cheapest place to purchase the item, and whether or not it's worth it. For example, we are consuming 256 ounces (2 gallons) of milk a week. We can buy the milk from Costco at $0.019/ounce or from a farm at $0.015/ounce. Saving a little over $1 a week is not worth going out of my way to a farm once a week to purchase milk, in my opinion. Next, I have to determine if I have the storage space available to store the items, and, if not, what do I have to purchase/modify so I do. If I do need to purchase/modify storage, then I determine the rate of return from the money we will be saving and decide if we want to take the plunge.
BTT: What items do you buy in bulk, and why?
KT: Bulk buying can be done across the board for any goods or services. I, personally, buy the following:
Household Supplies: Laundry detergent ingredients (to mix at home), fabric softener, cleaners, diapers.
Foods: Produce, meat, beans, lentils, cereal, crackers, baking ingredients, pasta, rice.
The reason for buying in bulk for all of these items are really the same: to save money and reduce our packaging consumption. Bulk items are almost always cheaper than the packaged foods, regardless of coupons. I loath coupons, and I was so happy to price compare (mostly using an app called Favado) and see that the bulk items that I currently buy are cheaper nearly every time.

BTT: What items do you consciously avoid buying in bulk, and why?
KT: There is very little I don't buy in bulk. However, I don't buy items that I can easily make at home from scratch, and items that I feel are damaging to the environment which we abstain from using at all. I won't buy sandwich bread, yogurt, frozen pizzas, cinnamon rolls, ice cream, and soup stock. These are all easily made at home with little to no effort at all. Also, in our household we abstain from using paper towels, disposable diapers during the day (night-time is a different story), non-reusable k-cups, and harsh cleaning chemicals. We try to keep our consumption and damaging chemical usage to a minimum. As a family of 5 we only produce 1-2 bags of trash a week, which has been a huge environmental win for us.

BTT: What are your favorite bulk resources?
KT: For every-day items I use Winco. I would say I really enjoy shopping there, but let's be real: it can be a madhouse. On occasion I will also shop at Grocery Outlet, but you never really know what they will have which can be a huge waste of time.

For produce I use Bountiful Baskets. BB is almost a nation-wide CSA style bulk produce delivery company. You can "participate" every 2 weeks. This means that you can place an order, or not. There is no commitment. That is a huge deal to my family, as we need to be flexible as possible with our budget. However, since we've found out about BB, we have participated each time. Each basket is roughly 50% fruit and 50% vegetables that are in-season. I've done price comparisons several times, and I've always saved a considerable amount of money.

For chicken I go to Zaycon. They sell 20lb packages of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $1.99/lb. While this is not the lowest all the time, you don't have to worry about hitting 1-day sales or clipping coupons. The breasts come in boxes that you pick up at a local site (usually a church or a school), and you can go-to-town packaging, marinating, or cooking the chicken anyway you like.

For beef, it gets a little tricky. We us a guy named "Casey". We have found the best quality for the best price by asking around the family, co-workers, and friends. Of course, you can just Google ½ or ¼ cows for sale in your hometown, and you can find a lot of resources. However, you will pay extra for the companies that advertise. 

For alcohol we use a local distribution company called Main Brew. We are fans of beer, and we were not willing to cut our microbrews from the grocery budget. Instead, we invested a little money in a used kegerator, and we have almost only been drinking from full-sized kegs for 6 months now. We pay 40% less than we would normally pay for beer, and the savings paid for the kegerator after just 2 kegs.

BTT: What is your favorite thing about buying in bulk?
KT: My favorite part about buying in bulk is that my kids eat almost no packaged foods. Of course, I'm not going to deprive them of a childhood, so we do buy crackers, fruit bars, and other easy-to-travel food for when we are out and about.

My husband's favorite part about bulk buying is the fact that we have about 3 months of food on hand. That's balanced meals, not just rice or protein powders. We are not yet at the "prepper" level of food storage, but if we ever fall on hard times we know that we can feed our family well.

BTT: What are the caveats to bulk buying?
KT: Two subjects must be considered before buying in bulk: preparation and planning. Preparing your home for bulk buying is no easy task. Types and amounts of specific items to be bought in bulk, appropriate storage space, sealing containers for food (we learned this the hard way), and learning the correct way to handle and store specific items. Each of the items is no easy task complete. It took us a good 3 months before we had our home ready for most of our bulk-buying, and we wasted a good amount of food due to inappropriate storage.  

BTT: I've heard people say that when they buy meat in bulk, they eat more meat because they are trying to "get through the bulk", do you feel that way? 
KT: Nope. Our family likes to eat meat with each meal, so while we only have 2 adults, 2 young kids, and 1 toddler, we are still easily getting though a ½ cow and 120 lbs of chicken breasts in 6 months. 
It does not feel forced, I just prefer to eat that much protein (I'm not much of a bread or starch fan). If your family enjoys meatless dinners, you dislike beef, or you just don't consume at the steady rate that we do, just plan on purchasing a ¼ cow. I've even seen companies that will sell a 1/8 cow, or you can go in on one with a friend and split the cuts. The beauty with purchasing less, is that you won't starve if you run out of meat. You can always buy more, bulk or otherwise. 
BTT: Any other thoughts on bulk buying?
KT: I'm a huge promoter of buying in bulk, but it's not just to save money. I'm not saying we haven't saved an astronomical amount of money. Our grocery spending use to be around $1400 a month for our then family of 4, and now months when we aren't buying meat, we spend less than $600 and we have added another child. 

I think, though, that many people don't realize the amount of waste that is produced from packaged and name brand foods. You have the boxes, jars, and containers and sometimes internal packaging. Then you have ads, coupons, and flyers that are sent out in the mail, in stores, or that you have to print out from online. None of this adds quality or and other benefit to the foods or items that you are buying. It's all just so wasteful.

I could go on, and on about tips and short-cuts for preparing your home, but really none of that matters if you are unable to plan on consuming food and other items before they expire. This has been the most difficult struggle for me. I have 3 kids, 5 and under, doesn't give me a ton of time to sit down and create schedules and menus and can or freeze. Once we started buying produce in bulk, we really didn't have a choice of what we were receiving. This is a great way to not get in a rut with your menu, however, we have wasted food in the past because we didn't plan our menu according to what produce needed to be consumed first.

BTT: Any other money saving tips?
KT: Buy things that you wouldn't have thought of in bulk: Movie tickets, childcare punch cards, and memberships to museums. Use your local library for movie rentals (I really wish I had discovered this sooner). Get rid of cable and use Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Buy a programmable thermostat and turn down the heat in your house at night and when you are out of the house. (This list could just go on and on.)


A huge thank you to Katie for sharing all her bulk buying smartness. Blog To Taste has extended an invitation for her to guest post for us in the future, so be sure to check back with us later!

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