I find that I write about food a lot, even though technically, this is a personal finance site. Why is this? Well, for one I like food. Wait. I love food. I can spend a whole Sunday afternoon making lasagna from scratch, perusing Smitten Kitchen while cutting vegetables up to munch during the week and baking home-made bread using Mark Bittman’s no-knead recipe.
And, it is one of the few things that we buy all the time. I can’t remember the last time I went to the mall. But I can certainly tell you I was at the grocery store Sunday and I’ll be there again sometime this week, shelling out those everyday dollars.
Because we spend regularly to fuel our bodies, it warrants some investigation to determine if we can make the process a bit more efficient. To get the obvious out of the way, anytime you eat at a restaurant you’re spending way more for nourishment than if you were to prepare a meal at home. I eat out; it’s one of my favorite things to do. But I strive to do it 2-3 times a month and that makes it a treat – not the norm – so it’s even more fun!
I think one of the best ways to save money on groceries is by using the bulk aisle. After my recent post on doing a food stamp challenge, some Mr. Everyday Dollar readers were curious about how to utilize a bulk aisle. I am happy to share with you what I do and how awesome it can be!
Well my friends, the bulk aisle isn’t just for your hippy uncle anymore. The natural foods store in my neighborhood – where your uncle would definitely shop – has a fantastic bulk aisle filled with container after container of products. But I’ve also found that most of the big supermarkets in town have them too.
What can you buy there? Of course it will depend on the store, but some of the things I regularly buy in the bulk aisle are:
- flour (locally milled too!)
- beans and lentils
- grains such as steel cut oats and quinoa
- sugar cane
- spices such as salt, black peppercorns and cinnamon
- arborio and brown rice
- peanut butter
- loose leaf tea
- extra virgin olive oil
- maple syrup
- white clover honey
- shampoo and liquid soap
Now that you have an idea of what you can find there, I’ll tell you why I like shopping in the bulk aisle.
1. Environmentally friendly
While I a lot of environmentally friendly products can cost consumers more money, the bulk aisle certainly isn’t one of them. So you can be green while saving green!
According to the EPA, packaging makes up more than 30% of all consumer waste. In fact I ran across a study by Portland State University that found if Americans switched from buying prepackaged coffee to coffee found in the bulk aisle, it would result in a drop of nearly 240 million pounds in foil packaging!
It’s statistics like that which made me decide to use empty Ball jars and other containers to replenish my pantry. And I’ve even been reusing the same shampoo bottle for a couple years now too.
2. Cost efficient
The same study found that packaged versions of products were 89% more expensive than their bulk counterpart. Or in other words, when buying bulk you realize a 53% savings – a great way to save everyday dollars.
However, a word of caution: a utopia the bulk aisle is not. Be sure to compare the price of a bulk item to its packaged counterpart. For instance, I did the legwork and figured out that bulk almonds are almost double the cost of packaged so I buy packaged. But one of my favorite things about grocery stores is they list the price per ounce on the shelf, so it’s an easy comparison to find the best bang for your buck.
Incidentally, I wish the liquor store did the same! I’m one of those guys whipping out my phone calculator to figure out whether the 12-, 18- or 30-pack of PBR is cheapest on a per-can basis.
For fun, I donned my deerstalker hat, grabbed my fishtail pipe and slipped on my cape and ventured on in to my neighborhood food cooperative to do some sleuthing. And what I found in the bulk aisle is that on average, you would save 30% buying bulk and up to 50% on teas and spices.
The following is a random sample of items and most of these were the same brand between the bulk and packaged counterpart.
|Product||Bulk Cost Per Ounce||Packaged Cost Per Ounce||% Cheaper in Bulk||% Cheaper in Packaged|
|Steel Cut Oats||$0.08||$0.19||67%|
|Organic Sugar Cane||$0.14||$0.15||7%|
|Organic Brown Rice||$0.14||$0.17||18%|
|Almond Raisin Granola||$0.27||$0.26||4%|
So there you have it. If you haven’t used the bulk aisle it’s definitely worth exploring and if you do you likely know it’s a great way to save everyday dollars!