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Updated on Monday, September 13, 2021
Consumers who have shopped around for groceries and home goods may know that buying in bulk can mean big savings, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the best option.
Though MagnifyMoney researchers found that shoppers save an average of 25% across 20 common products when purchased in bulk, large supplies that take up too much space or go bad before they can be used might undermine the savings.
Researchers culled prices for a selection of items in bulk and standard packaging — from freezer bags and peanut butter to ketchup and energy drinks — to see the per-unit savings when buying in bulk. Of the products examined, just one had no per-unit difference.
- Bulk purchases typically mean savings. Across the 20 products MagnifyMoney analyzed, non-bulk shoppers can save 25% if they switch to bulk-buying.
- Batteries had the largest difference for bulk and non-bulk shoppers. An eight-count pack of Duracell AA batteries costs 93 cents a battery, while a 40-count pack costs 45 cents a battery — a savings of 52%.
- Toilet paper was the only product that offered no difference for bulk and non-bulk shoppers. Whether you buy 12 or 24 rolls of Seventh Generation toilet paper, you’re still paying the same price of $3.28 per 100 square feet (and that’s from different retailers).
- Bulk purchases can save money, but are they practical? A household may not get through 72 ounces of Parmesan cheese or 64 ounces of mayonnaise before the expiration date, which can negate the cost savings from buying in bulk.
Buying in bulk may mean valuable savings
Typically, someone might hear the advice to “buy less” if they’re looking for tips to save money. But MagnifyMoney researchers found that shoppers can save money by buying more — that is, if they buy certain products in bulk.
Across the 20 products analyzed, consumers can save an average of 25% by buying products in bulk versus their non-bulk counterparts. Shoppers buying foods like peanut butter and Parmesan cheese, as well as household items like trash bags and paper towels, may find savings opportunities when they buy in bulk.
|Bulk vs. non-bulk pricing|
% saved per unit
|Ziploc seal-top gallon freezer bags||Bulk||Costco|
|Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds||Bulk||Costco|
|Skippy creamy peanut butter||Bulk||Costco|
|Kellogg's Eggo homestyle waffles||Bulk||Costco|
|Cascade Complete dishwasher pods||Bulk||Costco|
47.3 oz. (90 count)
14.1 oz. (27 count)
|Duracell AA batteries||Bulk||Costco|
|Nescafe Taster's Choice house blend instant coffee||Bulk||Costco|
|Seventh Generation bath tissue||Bulk||Costco|
640 sq. ft. (24 rolls)
$3.28 (per 100 sq. ft.)
320 sq. ft. (12 rolls)
$3.28 (per 100 sq. ft.)
|Glad ForceFlex tall kitchen drawstring trash bags||Bulk||Walmart|
|Sensodyne whitening toothpaste||Bulk||Costco|
|365 spring water||Bulk||Amazon|
405.6 fl. oz. (24 pack)
50.7 fl. oz. (single bottle)
|365 organic extra virgin olive oil||Bulk||Amazon|
33.8 fl. oz.
16.9 fl. oz.
|Heinz tomato ketchup||Bulk||Costco|
|Hellmann's real mayonnaise||Bulk||Costco|
|Kraft grated Parmesan cheese||Bulk||Costco|
|Fischer's Honey raw and unfiltered||Bulk||Sam's Club|
|Bounty select-a-size paper towels||Bulk||Sam's Club|
|Great Value chopped walnuts||Bulk||Walmart|
|Great Value deluxe whole cashews||Bulk||Walmart|
|Red Bull sugar-free energy drinks||Bulk||Amazon|
288 fl. oz. (12 count)
33.6 fl. oz. (4 count)
Stock up to save on batteries
When it comes to bulk savings, shoppers can see the most benefit when they need to buy batteries. According to prices at Costco and Walmart, Duracell AA batteries cost 52% less per battery when bought in a 40-count pack versus an eight-count one.
The bulk pack of batteries may cost more upfront — $17.99, compared to $7.47 for the smaller pack — but the math shows that customers pay more than double per battery when purchasing the eight-pack. Shoppers who go with the smaller size may find themselves returning to the store sooner than they’d like and — in turn — paying more for batteries.
Batteries do have an expiration date, but a decade should be enough time to get through the bulk pack before they may start losing power — especially with the holidays right around the corner.
Bottled water offers the second-most savings per unit when purchased in bulk versus individually. Consumers may save 50% when purchasing a 24-pack of water bottles compared to a single bottle. Similar to batteries, bottled water might not spoil over a reasonable amount of time, but you might reconsider the bulk purchase if you don’t have a spot to store it properly away from high heat or natural elements.
Perhaps the best bulk deal for the money and versatility, Ziploc freezer bags purchased in bulk come at a 45% discount per bag compared to a standard box. Since the bags won’t go bad, a 152-count box may be worth the upfront investment of $17.49, compared to paying $4.32 for a box of 20 bags. Use the bags to store food, household items, toys or other small goods to get the most out of a bulk pack.
Bulk-buying toilet paper may be convenient, but it won’t necessarily save you money
Of the items examined, toilet paper stands out as the only product that costs the same per unit whether purchased in bulk or standard size. Whether purchasing a 12-pack or a 24-pack of Seventh Generation toilet paper, it costs $3.28 per 100 square feet of paper.
While shoppers might not save on the bulk purchase, fewer trips to the store to buy toilet paper could equate to savings on gas or the impulse purchases some shoppers make when they visit a store to purchase a single item.
Toilet paper, of course, won’t go bad unless it gets damaged somehow (though lots can happen in a bathroom!). So as long as there’s safe storage available, it could still be advantageous to go with the bulk option.
Aside from toilet paper, these bulk purchases can help you save at least a little, but they may not all be practical buys.
Saving money doesn’t buy you time
Some bulk purchases may lure consumers with potential savings, but shoppers should consider the practicality of some item sizes. Though many of the food items researchers analyzed have long shelf lives, the bulk packaging may make it difficult for consumers to use the product before it spoils.
Shoppers can save 40% on mayonnaise by buying in bulk, but 64 ounces might be a lot of mayo — even for a family. Though Hellman’s mayonnaise may last beyond its “best-by” date if stored properly, it will go bad eventually. So if you’re only using mayo sparingly, you might reconsider buying in bulk.
“What’s the point of buying in bulk — and ostensibly spending more money — when you don’t get around to using or finishing the items you buy?” MagnifyMoney senior content director Ismat Mangla asks. “Then you are simply spending more and wasting that money.”
Bulk savings may come at a cost
Consumers should also consider the cost to have access to some of these bulk prices. Several of the bulk products researchers analyzed come from Costco or Sam’s Club, which require shoppers to have paid memberships. Though annual memberships start at affordable prices for some — $45 a year at Sam’s Club and $60 a year at Costco — consumers should get a feel for whether they’ll use the membership enough to be worth it.
An additional $60 a year in a savings account probably won’t change your life, but that doesn’t mean consumers should throw it at a membership they won’t use instead.
“You really just have to think about your personal spending, do the math and figure out if it’s worth it,” Mangla says.
Bulk up your savings
Whether you’re examining your grocery shopping habits to find places to save or looking for other areas to curb spending, use these tips to help keep your savings account stocked.
- Incorporate savings into your budget. Take a look at how much money you have coming in each month compared to how much you need to spend on bills and necessities. Then, set a savings goal that allows you to meet those needs, save for the future and still have some flexible spending money. Mangla suggests committing to a steady, long-term strategy of saving a reasonable amount from every paycheck.
- Automate your savings. It may be even easier to save money if it doesn’t appear in your checking account first. Mangla recommends sending a portion of your paycheck to a separate savings account. “When people have easy access to their money, they’re more likely to spend it,” she says. “When it’s out of sight, it really is out of mind.”
- Get the most out of your savings account. Regardless of how often you can make deposits in your savings account, you’ll want to make sure your balance is growing passively. Finding a high-yield savings account with the right benefits for you is imperative to maximizing your savings.
MagnifyMoney researchers first compiled a list of 20 products to compare non-bulk and bulk costs:
- Freezer bags
- Peanut butter
- Frozen waffles
- Dishwasher pods
- Instant coffee
- Toilet paper
- Trash bags
- Bottled water
- Olive oil
- Parmesan cheese
- Paper towels
- Energy drinks
Analysts utilized the websites of Amazon, Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart to make even comparisons across the board. (If a website required a ZIP code to shop, analysts used 28203 in Charlotte, N.C. — where MagnifyMoney’s parent LendingTree has its headquarters.) All prices were pulled on Aug. 24, 2021.
Analysts compared the prices of the two products on a per-item or per-weight basis, calculating how much a non-bulk shopper would save by purchasing a product in bulk.