How to Save Money: Buying in Bulk

“I want to make pork chops, but the pork chops at the local store are so expensive!  Where do you get yours?  What do you do?” – Karen in Georgia

My wife Julie was recently talking with Karen about meal planning, and Karen asked the questions above.  It spurred a great conversation about what we are doing to save money on our monthly grocery bill.  The simple answer is: we are experimenting with buying in bulk.

Before you get visions of rows and rows of shelves stocked with canned goods, rice and sugar (a la Doomsday Preppers or Extreme Couponing), we are not going that extreme.  We are trying to buy in bulk for certain commodities like meat.  If you have been in a grocery store recently, you probably have noticed the rising cost of meat.  Swine flu, bird flu, herd size, environmental factors and trends in the market have all influenced the supply and demand for meat.  As we learned in Economics 101, when the supply contracts, prices go up.  One way to combat these rising prices is buying in bulk.

Why Buy in Bulk?

We are experimenting with buying in bulk to hedge on our grocery bill each month and save money.  We are newbies, to be sure, and not experts on this subject.  Doing some research on the net, I read posts by others more qualified to talk on the subject.  Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar blog has a good article titled The Ultimate Guide to Buying in Bulk.  He has eight keys to buying in bulk in his post:

  1. Price per unit is king.
  2. Never bulk buy an item you haven’t tried before. 
  3. Never bulk buy perishable goods unless you’re going to go home and process all of it immediately.
  4. Stack coupons and sales when bulk buying.
  5. Ensure you have adequate storage space before you buy.
  6. Don’t pin yourself against the wall by running out of non-perishables.
  7. Don’t bulk buy everything at once unless you have an enormous bankroll.
  8. Split up bulk buys with friends and family.

Looking at this list, these keys are really common sense.  I can see how coupon fever could hit when you are in a store, and suddenly you bring home 15 cans of evaporated milk (that never get used).  The way to overcome those urges is planning before you go shopping!  Planning is a topic for a future post, however.

Save Money: Price per Unit Case Study

Pork Loin Package from Sams Club

This is the Nine Pound Pork Loin Package from Sam’s Club for under $16

For this article, we are going to look at pork tenderloin from Sam’s Club as seen in the photo above. We usually break this pork loin down into smaller packages consisting of pork chops and a pork roast, depending on how you cut the meat.  The cost for this pork tenderloin is around $1.78 per pound.

I tried to do a price comparison using websites of local grocery stores (i.e., Aldi, Cub Foods, Walmart), and the only website that allowed me to see price was Walmart.  I found the following costs:

Store Item Cost Cost per Pound
 Walmart  Sadler’s Smokehouse Sliced Hickory Pork Loin Glazed with Sauce, 32 oz  $12.98 $6.49
Walmart  Hormel Thin Cut Bone-in Smoked Pork Chops, 15 oz  $5.23 $5.58
Sam’s Club  Boneless Center Cut Pork Tenderloin  $15.66  $1.78

While this is not completely scientific, it does illustrate the point.  Buying a larger quantity might cost you more up front, but the cost per pound is lower overall.  In addition, you can get several meals out of that one item depending on your needs and how you break up the bulk product.

Breaking Bulk

When you buy in bulk, you need to spend some time to break the item down into smaller, meal-sized portions.  For the pork tenderloin case study, you will have to deal with the entire nine pounds if you just bring it home and plop it into the freezer.  Having nine pounds of frozen pork thawing out is not ideal (unless you are planning a big meal or planning to eat a lot of pork)!

I recently processed a nine pound pork tenderloin into three packages of chops and a four pound roast, and I made a quick video showing how packaged the meat using freezer paper, masking tape and a Sharpie to label the packages. As a special bonus, I included a quick recipe on how I usually grill pork chops.  Check it out!

Your Turn

We are just starting to experiment with buying in bulk to save money on our grocery bill.  We have wondered about buying even bigger quantities of meat including a half a cow or half a pig.  That might be an interesting case study, but we really to need to evaluate our storage space in the freezer.  Have you done this before?

What stories do you have about buying in bulk?  Do you have any suggestions or resources?  We are always looking to learn, do and grow from people all around us….including you!

Also, this is the second video I have uploaded to the Small Scale Life YouTube Channel.  I have more on the way, so please subscribe, share the videos and stay tuned for updates!