12 Household Items You Should Always Buy in Bulk (and Those You Shouldn’t)

Who else is becoming best buds with an enemy known as “sticker shock”? At this point, it seems we can’t escape heart palpitations when we see continually rising prices at our favorite retailers. So we turn to stores, such as Costco, hoping to score a better deal.

In a fit of defiance, many of us think we can beat the system and outsmart retailers by buying in bulk. And most times, surrendering a large chunk of cash up front for commonly used household items makes complete sense. Things, such as dog food, toiletries, and even alcohol are worthwhile purchases for those looking to save money.

Although hoarding certain common goods puts money back in your pockets, other purchases are just wasteful. Let’s go through the 12 household items you should always buy in bulk — and a few you should avoid at all costs.

1. Alcohol

two drinks with ice

Buying alcohol in bulk saves money. | iStock.com

Although you probably won’t need much persuading, buying alcohol in large quantities will save you money. Purchasing one-off domestic six-packs are around $7, but if you buy a case of 24 cans, it’s around $14 at Wal-Mart. In addition, liquor stores sell tiny airplane bottles at a high markup, but a liter of vodka will last through multiple parties and be cheaper than buying smaller containers as needed.

Next: A popular gift for all occasions.

2. Gift cards


There are bulk discounts for gift cards. | iStock.com

No one likes to give gift cards, but everyone loves to receive them when they’re redeemable at places you frequent. When you buy more than one card at a kiosk or warehouse supercenter, you’ll often get a discounted price. For example, you can acquire a 10-pack of movie tickets at Costco for $89.99. This is a great way to always have birthday cards and small gifts ready at a moment’s notice.

Next: Your dog will thank you for buying more of this next item.

3. Dog food and treats

Bulldog with carrot in mouth

Consider buying dog food and treats in bulk. | iStock.com/damedeeso

Claes Bell tells Bankrate he will save thousands of dollars over his dog’s lifetime by choosing cheaper dog food. Name-brand kibble and expensive bags don’t always carry the best nutrients. Regardless of the brand, dog food and treats don’t have quick expiration dates. In fact, dry foods can last up to a year. And for those of us who envision a house full of dogs, those giant bags of food will be money well spent.

Next: Let’s shed some light on the situation.

4. Lightbulbs

Twist Smart Lightbulb

Lightbulbs never expire. | Twist

Unless you favor living in the dark, you’ll need to replace burnt-out lightbulbs eventually. And we all know how lights tend to fade during the most inconvenient times. Stock up on various types, and store them for years. Look for them on sale in your local stores, or buy them in bulk at Costco. If you score a few energy-saving bulbs, then you can double down on both cost and efficiency, saving hundreds, over the years.

5. Toilet paper

baby pulling toilet paper

Paper products are a valuable bulk buy. | iStock.com/markcarper

Toilet paper meets all the criteria for bulk-buying. It doesn’t go bad, we use it all the time, and you’ll continue to need it for years to come. In fact, some say you save 50% on certain paper toiletries when buying in bulk. The same goes for paper towels. And you don’t always need a Costco membership to cash in on these savings. Many supermarkets and drugstores print coupons for these items.

6. Trash bags

trashcan with money

Trash bags are easy to store and last forever. | iStock.com

Trash bags, like toilet paper, are essential in the home. But often, one of the drawbacks of purchasing mass quantities of household items is you need a place to store them. Trash bags are packaged efficiently, so finding a corner of shelf space to house them won’t be a problem. Even more, deeply discounted items are likely to be sold everywhere, so just head to the supermarket to score a good deal.

Next: Sports families should consider buying this next item in bulk.

7. Bottled water and beverages

Row of water bottles

It’s not eco-friendly, but it is wallet-friendly. | iStock.com/tezzstock

You won’t necessarily win any environmental awards by buying bottled water in bulk, but you’ll win brownie points from your wallet. Even buying individual 16.9-ounce bottles at the gas station will add up quickly. It pays to buy big packages of water and other drinks at warehouse stores — especially when it’s your turn to be snack provider at the kids’ soccer game. Just know a forklift is not included to transfer them.

8. Soap


Bars of soap last longer than bottles. | iStock.com

Soap doesn’t go bad for three years, so buy it in bulk. After all, there’s no harm in being too clean or too fresh, right? But stick with the bars of soap, as liquid bottles tend to get overused with aggressive soap squeezers.

Next: See how large quantities of dry rice and beans can make dinnertime easier.

9. Dry rice and beans


Rice and beans are great dinnertime staples. | iStock.com

Dry rice and beans are both items that can be used in a variety of dishes, and they’re perfect for dumping and forgetting about dinner in a crockpot. But before your inner health nut screams for brown rice by the cartful, know white rice actually holds its shelf life longer than brown rice. Brown rice is a whole grain, while white is milled. Therefore, its life is only about six months, whereas white rice will keep indefinitely.

10. Gum

Father pushing daughter in shopping cart

Rather than impulsively buying gum, purchase it in bulk. | iStock.com/XiXinXing

Although not something many think of buying in bulk, stockpiling gum can be advantageous for chronically aggressive chewers. Think about how many impulse buys you make in the checkout line by tossing gum packs in your cart. They often cost over a dollar, but a 10-pack of Extra gum costs $6.88 at Sam’s Club.

11. Meat


Buying meat in bulk is cost-effective. | iStock.com

You can save almost $1 per pound on meat by buying in bulk at warehouse stores or stocking up on family packs at the grocery store, according to Don’t Waste the Crumbs. If you store it properly and break down packages individually, it’s a nice way to enjoy more expensive cuts of meats you couldn’t afford otherwise. Now that meal prep is a “thing,” this method is great for large, busy families and single people who count portions.

Next: Speaking of storing things, you’ll want to stock up on these next items every chance you get.

12. Storage items

fish in foil pouch

Mass quantities of storage items will help preserve that meat you just bought. | iStock.com

If you tend to throw away your storage containers rather than wash them, investing in bulk amounts will be valuable in the long run. For those who like to buy meat in bulk and divide it into portions will also go through freezer bags like a baby goes through diapers. Even kitchen items, such as foil and plastic wrap, can be good bulk buys for people who favor leftovers.

Next: Those were the items that are cost-effective to buy in bulk. Now, here are five items you should avoid in large quantities.

1. Spices


Large quantities of spices aren’t worth the expense. | iStock.com

Remember that one time you got on a massive curry kick and bought 16 different spice mixtures? Bad idea. Dried spices will only keep their potency for about one to three years if stored properly. Storing containers above the stove for convenience also fosters extreme heat and moisture, which is a no-no for a spice’s shelf life. Plus, only restaurants go through vast tubs of spices regularly, not modern families who eat 18.2 meals out of the home each month.

2. Sunscreen and other skin-care products

Woman wearing hat applying sunscreen

Did you know sunscreen expires? | iStock.com/LiudmylaSupynska

Unless you live at the beach, it doesn’t make financial sense to go “extreme couponer” on sunscreen. Yes, it has a shelf life of roughly three years, but once exposed to high heat, it loses effectiveness. (The irony of sunscreen being vulnerable to environments of high heat — such as beaches and pools — is not lost on us.)

Other skin-care products, such as body lotion, will lose value, too. According to Good Housekeeping, the more you open and touch those big jars of face cream, the more bacteria that get into the formula and onto your pores.

3. Canned vegetables

Mother and daughter shopping for groceries

Canned vegetables can be a waste of money. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

It’s not that these canned items go bad quickly. It’s that you might not be getting the best deal on those 48-ounce cans of tomatoes. Unless you’re feeding your large, extended Italian family on a nightly basis, the large cans are too big for individual families. Savings expert Regina Novickis tells Today.com, “Supermarkets will usually beat out warehouse store prices on canned vegetables.” Buying two smaller cans will save you more money and cut back on waste, especially when they’re on sale and you combine them with a coupon.

4. Junk food

individual snack packs

Junk food will just tempt you. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Often, unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy products — about $550 a year cheaper. But for a moment, let’s forgo the money and think about health-related benefits. If junk food is in the house, you will eat it — and it won’t even last long enough to go to waste. So why torture yourself with jugs of cheese puffs and 3-pound boxes of chocolates? Instead, avoid the snack aisles, and head for the produce section.

5. Eggs

Eggs sit in an egg carton

Anything more than a dozen eggs will be hard to consume by its expiration date. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Are you regularly feeding 25 of your closest friends quiche? If not, finishing a 36-pack of eggs from the store will be tough. You’d need to eat one to two eggs per day to use them by their standard three- to five-week shelf life. Eggs from the supermarket will suit you fine.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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