The thing to know about bulk shopping is to only get those things you are use frequently. Most of the canned and frozen foods have a shelf life of about a year. And if you bulk shop, you really need to get used to finding that date. Our favorite list of canned items include: olives, diced tomatoes, corn, beans, refried beans, tomato sauce, the canned chicken, beef and tuna. I noticed that Costco doesn't break down their food prices so you can see how much per can, but that is NOT difficult to do. You take the total price for the bulk pack, divide it by the number of cans and that is your per can price. Why do you need to know that? So you can compare prices with what the similar item costs in your local grocery store. When the price drops below what Costco offers per can, you can stock up at your local grocery store instead. This is where a price book comes in handy... but that is for another blog post. Now the reason we get the "pure" item instead of let's say, canned chili or a pasta in sauce is so that we can make a variety of meals using the item rather than just the one type of meal. We also buy olive oil, spaghetti sauce, pasta, paper products, cleaning supplies and just recently had our printer ink refilled. Below is an example of the Costco product sign. 12 cans of green beans for $7.79 total. That would be .65 per can using the formula above.
In addition, we usually pick up some frozen chicken breast, thighs, drumsticks, ground beef, stew meat, etc. About two years ago, we decided to purchase a freezer so we could "stock up" when things went on sale, and for us, it's mostly meat in our freezer. Again, we like to have the ability to make several different meals from what we buy rather than the breaded chicken breast, meat in sauce or with pasta, etc.
Here are just a few examples of things we have gotten at a deep discount. Shortly after Christmas and Easter, we visited our local bulk store, Smart & Final, and found spiral sliced hams more than half off! We brought them home, cut the meat off the bone, packaged it into 1 lb. vacuum sealed packages and restocked our freezer for at least 6 months to a year of ham! You can do the same around Thanksgiving when you buy a turkey and get a turkey. Either keep it frozen for the next holiday, or go ahead and cook it up, take the pieces off the bones and make bags of cooked meat and turkey broth. Earlier this year, we also bought 50 lbs. of carrots and 50 lbs. of potatoes and canned them in our pressure canner. Because it is just my husband and I now, we used pint jars and have an entire years supply of both canned potatoes and carrots for under $20. Canning is NOT difficult. Most cities offer classes at the county extension offices and supplies can be picked up at thrift shops, garage sales and from friends who no longer want to do it. Jars can also be picked up for cheap or free off Craigslist. I would highly recommend learning this skill. It can save you BIG time!
We also buy rice and beans in the giant bags and store them in heavy duty food grade pails. Some of the beans get processed in pint jars in the pressure cooker so we can have them on hand for weeknight meals and the rest will get us through an entire year at a time. Again, these are the 25 to 50 lb. bags of rice and beans. And since we make our own bread and baked items, we will buy the flour, sugar, spices, bread flour, yeast, butter, chocolate chips and nuts in bulk. You can usually find really good prices on baking items around the Holidays if you don't want to get a membership to a "club" store like Costco and still want to buy bulk.
Now how do we budget for bulk shopping? The easiest way is to make it part of your monthly food budget that you set aside rather than spend. We do our big shopping maybe 3 to 4 times a year and it seldom goes over $300. So we put away $75 to $100 a month towards the big trips. Another good way to save up is to wait for a tax return or work bonus and use that money.
You can drop a lot of cash at a store like Costco so you really have to watch out and think before you buy and do some research. And for us, we never, EVER charge anything we buy there. It's too easy to buy with a credit card thinking you will pay the food off as you eat it. But most of the time, that never happens, and I'm speaking from past experience,
So BE CAREFUL.