This article first appeared at U.S. News and World Report Money.
Buying items in bulk can be a great way to save a little money. If you’re able to reduce the cost per unit of a purchase, then you’re opening the door to reducing your household expenses over the long haul.
The trick? Sometimes bulk buys don’t quite work out. You end up buying something in bulk, only to discover that it didn’t really save you money after all.
There are three big sources of bulk buying failure.
First, perishable items tend to be bad bulk buys. If an item can grow stale or rot within a relatively short period of time, you shouldn’t buy it in bulk without a plan for accommodating those problems. You can get away with buying things in bulk if you freeze them, for example, but you still need to plan ahead for their use to avoid freezer burn.
Second, variable use items tend to be bad bulk buys. If having more of an item causes you to use that item more than before, then that item is a bad bulk purchase. Cookies are a great example of this. If I have dozens of cookies in the cupboard, I’m more likely to eat a cookie that I don’t really need. If I have tons of cell phone minutes, I tend to spend more time on the phone with relatively unimportant calls.
Third, items you don’t have room to store are bad bulk buys. We store our bulk buys in the garage where we have plenty of space. Some families don’t have that option. If you live in a small apartment, some bulk buys don’t make much sense.
Using those three factors, here are fifteen items that stand out as good bulk purchases.
Toothpaste stores easily and is naturally used if you have good oral hygiene. Since tubes have a reasonable upper limit on size, you’re not going to use extra because you have a giant tube, either.
Dry rice is easy to prepare for countless meals and lasts almost forever when dry. Once you get in a routine of cooking the rice, you’ll find yourself using it with lots of meals.
Trash bags are very efficiently packaged, meaning a bulk buy often doesn’t take up too much more space than a normal package. Always having a trash bag doesn’t mean you’re going to generate more trash, but it does mean you won’t run out at an inopportune moment.
Dishwashing detergent is used in carefully-measured increments in most dishwashers, so having a ton of dishwashing detergent won’t cause you to overuse it.
Dry pasta can be stored for years and works with countless dishes and variants.
Laundry detergent makes for a great bulk buy if you carefully measure the amount you use in every load. You can also make your own bulk batch of laundry detergent for a very low cost per load.
Toilet paper, when bought in bulk, just means buying a bunch of rolls at once. We tend to fill up the space under our sinks with extra toilet paper in the package so that we always have a roll when we need it.
Soap never gets old, so pick up a lot of it if you can get it cheap in bulk. Liquid soaps can sometimes get overused in a large bottle, so I keep small bottles around and fill them so I don’t overuse.
Dry beans are like dry rice – they have countless uses and are easy to prepare once you’re used to the routine. Dump some beans in a pan full of water before you go to bed. Boil them in the morning while you’re getting ready, then put them in the refrigerator before you leave.
Diapers are a great bulk buy, particularly if your child has recently moved up in diaper size. Cloth diapering can be even cheaper, but it’s not for everyone.
Gift cards are often sold at a discount if you buy them in bulk. If you regularly slip gift cards inside of birthday cards for people, this makes a ton of sense. Just pick up several and put them in the drawer where you keep greeting cards.
Shampoo follows the same logic as liquid soap. It can be a great bargain, but you should refill small bottles and keep the big one in the cupboard to avoid overuse.
Office supplies are always useful. Pens run out of ink and notepads run out of paper. We try to keep at least two of each near each phone.
Light bulbs never get old. You’re also going to eventually replace them, so if you find a sale on bulbs, particularly in large quantities, stock up.
Oatmeal never gets old and always makes for a healthy breakfast – and a tasty one, too, if you jazz it up with some fruit or a bit of honey or cinnamon.
Bulk buying can save you quite a bit of money, but only if you buy things logically. Choose bulk items that make sense and you’ll find yourself saving more than cents.