22 June 2010

These Are The Dramas of My Sad Little Life…

I have been thinking a lot about bulk buying…I know, you are super jealous right now!

Living here I have become pretty lazy about meal planning and grocery shopping. With the grocery store across the street, no joke, I found it just as time efficient/cost effective to buy on the order of 1-2 days worth and have done with it. Clearly, unless I wish to spend hours a day schlepping the kids around in the car, this is not going to be a good plan for life in the semi-rural-suburbs. With all this in mind I have been tentatively investigating the merits of various options for bulk-buying. I have never done this before since it was never really needed. We were a family of two (one really since it is not like DH was eating at home more than 3-4 times a month) then a family of three where one of us was never home, and the other ate formula as a matter of course. Once Cha Cha got old enough/DH was home enough for it to be worth considering serious planning and shopping, we were here and well, yeah, where is the motivation when the market is a few yards away?

I have been thinking about doing either BJs (no Costco in the area and I am really not going to go the whole Sam's Club (Walmart) route) or just getting an Amazon Prime membership. Both seem to have their merits. The Amazon option is a bit more expensive, but has the added value of everything being delivered to me so I figure if I save one tank of gas over a year by not driving up the highway to the store a couple times a month then it is pretty much even in terms of membership cost.

Basically what I am trying to figure out now is which option offers the best deal on the things I am likely to want to buy in this manner. I know formula and diapers are big cash savers at bulk stores, but we will only have a few weeks left of formula and the only way a bulk store could beat the price of Target Up and Up diapers would be by having a good generic of their own. I am sure they do, but I am pulling these items out of the equation since I am not gambling the membership price on the generic diapers being possibly as good. Adding in the fact that I make my own bread and pasta the list of stuff I am looking to stock up on cheaply is not that big. Really it is just household goods (laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, Swiffer Wet jet pads and refills etc.), cosmetics/toiletries (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, "lady stuff") and foods like snacks (bulk rates are the best prices for organics) and canned goods (beans, tomato puree). Meat and produce could be done at BJs, however, we eat very little meat and with much greater availability of local produce a bulk store would not be my first choice for produce shopping.

A brick and mortar store membership offers the advantages of being right there so I can have whatever I am shopping for right now and the advantage of being able to do meats, cheese, produce and frozen stuff. I know most take coupons too, so that could add up to even greater savings if I get into couponing. It has the disadvantage of being another place I have to drive to in any given pay cycle and I get the impression that the stock is not always consistent (Please correct me if I am wrong about that one). It is also unclear as to how readily available our organic snacks of choice are at such stores. We are huge Annie's fans so that is a major consideration. (Yeah, sure that and Pirate's Booty are still junk food, but at least it won't kill us quite as quickly!)

Amazon has the disadvantage of not always having consistent stock and having to wait for it to arrive. I am also a little concerned about the dates on stuff since I am unsure just how they offer it at these bulk rates, but Mir @ Want Not, and her readers, seem to indicate they have rarely had a problem. The advantage here is that for the same price per unit as the bulk stores it arrives at my house. The Prime Membership means free 2-day shipping on eligible items and I have yet to find anything I might buy that has failed to qualify. The prime membership also applies across all of Amazon so holiday/birthday shopping gets really easy and delivery of items like sippy cup replacements, electronic bits and so on could save me quite a few non-urgent errands.

With all this in mind, I do have to wonder if I even need to be looking at buying stuff this way. Just because I have the space to keep stuff doesn't necessarily mean it will be cheaper or easier to do so. I read mixed reviews about whether buying in bulk actually saves you anything without an elaborate system to remember what you have and plan accordingly. I would have to be diligent about keeping track of what grocery/household budget items were on the card vs. what I have actually paid out from checking. This may also necessitate a revamp of how I budget for groceries since I will be spending a lot a few times a year, but then, hopefully, spending less week to week. Maybe I am better off just getting organized with proper grocery store trips every week and seeing what happens. I may not be clever enough to juggle this in a manner that saves money, or if it does, I may not be able to "see" it. With couponing and sale shopping I can always move the "saved" money into savings and measure if it worth it, but this formula is a bit more complicated!

The point of this long and boring dissection of my neurotic bulk-buying obsession? I am looking for any input anyone can offer. Do any of you guys have either of these membership and how useful do you find them? What items do you most often buy this way and has it paid off either in cash or convenience? Is this a really stupid idea and I have just been sucked in by the allure of closets full of fruit leathers and laundry detergent? With two kids and DH basically MIA for three years, is it all worth it for ease/convenience if nothing else? Oy…I am just grateful this is my biggest concern right now. First world problems; how I love you guys.


Anonymous said...

Normally I just don't see the savings at places like Sam's Club. (All we have around here.) They won't take manufacturer coupons and they mostly carry brand name stuff. I can do so much better with store brands/generic.

However, they have a Member's Mark gentle formula: a huge can (40 oz?) for $18. It's double the amount of other store brands and only a few dollars more. Buying diapers in bulk saved, too. I think it turned out to be .15 cents per diaper--and I don't have to worry about diapers for a few weeks!

Kerry said...

My strategy has changed as the kids have moved in and out of phases (formula, Gerber toddler food, etc.). I use Peapod for groceries, and I buy the new generic brand of diapers at Diapers.com (which is really good...better than Pampers OR Huggies IMO).

For toilet paper, etc. I use Alice.com. I used to do Costco, but it's just so much easier to have it delivered than to try and go 18 miles to Costco, keep the kids calm, haul it all in, etc.

I think you'll find out what works for you via trial and error...and it may change over time.

Alexis said...

Thanks for this info, this is exactly the kind of data I need. I think either way the real "savings" is convenience of having to not go shopping or go shopping less often.

The generic diapers.com option could be good since shipping is basically free since that $9 mark is easy to meet...

All good stuff to consider...

Ginger said...

I personally have found that we don't eat enough/have enough storage space to make buying food in bulk worthwhile. Even things like rice and pasta and canned goods--it ends up being a wash in a per item cost, but the kicker is we always end up overbuying other non-necessities at the bulk stores because you just start to think "hey, we use that occasionally, so 9 million of them are a bargain." You know--go broke saving money. Ugh.
However, for things like cleaning supplies, garbage bags, baggies, etc.--buying in bulk has been a way to save money...sometimes. It really depends on the brands and what the store is carrying at a given time.
I'm not a huge fan of BJ's (I work with warehouse clubs and BJ's is kind of the ugly stepchild of the three chains, often with less selection, smaller stores, and not as good prices). I'd probably be more drawn to the Amazon deal.

Alexis said...

Thanks Ginger, I am thinking I may do that since the "free" shipping quickly pays for the membership given how often I use Amazon. I suppose I can then use it for groceries whenever the deals are good, but otherwise, I may just be bagging the whole bulk buying idea...I am not made of smart enough stuff!