Updated on 08.26.14

Ten Surprising Things I Like to Buy in Bulk

Trent Hamm

I’ve always been a fan of warehouse stores. On many, many items, you can get a great deal there if you’re willing to buy a large quantity of items at once. For a person with a lot of storage space and a family (like me), storage isn’t a problem, nor is using it up.

People often ask me what kinds of items I buy there and I respond with the usual things: toilet paper, trash bags, bulk foods, and so on. These are the things that people always think of when they think of warehouse stores – the stuff you buy on a normal grocery store run, but in bulk.

However, I’ve come to find that many of the best deals at warehouse stores aren’t simple replacements for grocery shopping. Here are ten things I’ve come to purchase regularly from my local Sam’s Club instead of through other options.

Things I Buy in Bulk

Paper and office supplies

Printer paper? Check. Blank prints so I can print off photos for wall decorations and sending to family? Check. Printer cartridges? Check. Bulk Christmas cards? Check. Folders and paper clips? Check.


I’m pretty fanatic about replacing my toothbrush regularly. I usually replace them after two months, even though you’re supposedly able to keep them for three months – I just feel like the brushes are in poor shape and aren’t cleaning my teeth nearly as well around the two month mark. That means I need two replacement brushes between each dentist visit (where they give me a free brush). That’s four brushes a year just for me – and two for my wife – and we like to keep some extras on hand for guests. The solution? A big jumbo pack of twelve brushes or so, which saves us a lot and lasts about two years.

DVD-Rs and CD-Rs

I like to burn CDs full of pictures for family members – and I also sometimes assemble DVDs of family movies to share. This means I regularly need a big cylinder of blank CDs and/or DVDs – and the warehouse store is the cheap place to get them.

Gift cards

My local Sam’s Club sells a ton of gift cards for various restaurants, cell phone plans, online games and music stores, and so on. All of them are below face value, and many are significantly below face value. These are not only useful for gifting, but they can occasionally be useful for one’s personal use – if I’m planning on using the iTunes Music Store, for example, it’s worth picking up a gift card so I can get $25 worth of credit for less than $25.

Adult beverages

Our local Sam’s Club has an enormous selection of sub-$10 wines, many of which are quite tasty. You can also find the ingredients for pretty much any mixed drink you might want to make there, with prices substantially lower than the local liquor shop.

Light bulbs

Our home has roughly fifty light bulb sockets, which means we’re regularly replacing bulbs. The vast majority of the bulbs are 75 watt bulbs, so we simply buy the 75 watt bulbs in bulk and keep them in the cupboard. It feels rather silly to have twenty bulbs in the closet, but when you eventually use all of them and you calculate the per-bulb savings, it’s well worth it!


Recently, I was able to replace a pair of tires on my truck. The total bill for replacing both tires was actually cheaper than the total cost of replacing one tire at a comparable auto shop in town – for the same kind of tire. That’s a significant and surprising savings.


The local Sam’s Club has the cheapest gas prices in town, usually (not always, but usually) beating all competitors by a nickel a gallon or so. Every time I fill up my truck there, I save about a dollar – and over the course of a year, that alone can pay for a large portion of the club membership.

Underwear and socks

Not long ago, I finally replaced most of my socks – my wife’s constant complaints about holes in my socks convinced me to replace them. This meant I needed to buy a lot of socks – multiple packs at once. I purchased a huge bulk pack of socks at Sam’s after comparing prices and saved roughly twenty cents a pair. I get similar savings when I buy underwear there as well.

Video games

Sam’s Club has a poor video game selection, but when they do have a game, you can’t beat the prices. I always check Sam’s first before making a video game purchase – and on a recent purchase, I saved more than $10 over the cheapest price I could find online on a particular game.

It’s not just the expected stuff that makes warehouse shopping a value for me – it’s the unexpected things that really have made our membership worthwhile.

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  1. Laura In Atlanta says:

    Toothbrushes? Really?

    My dentist offers me one, and I ask for three and I get them. I don’t think I have ever bought a toothbrush. They have hundreds of them and don’t mind passing them out. Ask for more, and save yourself the money of buying them. What’s the worst that could happen, your dentist says no?

    Amen on socks and underwear though . . . whoo, can never have too many socks and underwear.

    Thanks, Trent!

  2. Carrie says:

    We get my husbands prescriptions filled at Sam’s Club. We save enough on that alone to cover the cost of the membership, and since we’re usually there every couple of weeks anyway it isn’t out of our way. Plus the pharmacist knows us on sight and has been great about answering questions. I never had that kind of service at a regular pharmacy.

  3. Kevin says:

    Light bulbs? Does Sam’s sell CFLs??

  4. Christine says:

    Amen Kevin…

    Trent what happened to the CFLs??? I know Sam’s has CFLs in multi packs too.

  5. Dash says:

    As far as DVDs and CDs are concerned I used to be of the same mindset that wholesale clubs are ‘the’ place to get them, until I discovered: http://www.supermediastore.com – if you don’t mind ordering online this I believe it ‘THE’ place to get them along with memory cards/ink cartridges – especially them – so much cheaper than trying to get in a store even a wholesale club.

  6. Angie says:

    DVD-R’s I imagine are cheaper on ebay or bestbuy specials (matched with 10% off coupon). That’s how I get them. I think I last paid $24.99/100 pack on DVD-R’s.

  7. Great post!

    I had a feeling you were going to take a beating on the light bulbs–LOL

    Great tip on the discounted gift cards– why pay more than you have to pay . . .

  8. Chef says:

    Trent – time to switch to an electric toothbrush. They have a great 2 person SonicCare starter kit at Costco, and I’m sure Sam’s Club has something comparable. I made the switch a month ago and can only imagine the wonders it has done for my brushing habits.

  9. Kansas Mom says:

    I go to Sam’s for my glasses and contacts. One six month supply of contacts gives enough savings to pay for the cost of membership and are a great deal even compared to Walmart. The selection of glasses is smaller, but I still found at least five pairs I liked the last time I bought glasses.

    We also always buy our On the Border salsa there. It’s the only salsa we like and we use it all the time.

    Just this week we bought 25 pounds of bread flour. Once I started making all our own bread it just made sense to buy in bulk.

  10. Ian P. says:

    Re: Blank media and printer paper. Whenever I run out, I will check the local weekly ad for OfficeMax, Office Depot, Circuit City, or Staples and usually one of them has a store brand on sale for about half of what you normally pay. For example, this week OfficeMax has 100 DVD-Rs for $19. I normally shop at BJs club and their prices on blank media and paper are usually very high.

  11. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    @ Kansas Mom – I am going to start going to Sam’s for my contacts. That is a fantastic idea. I spend too much on my visits…what is the cost of doing it at Sams?

    We also buy the largest possible quantity of toilet paper that we can in bulk. It always looks ridiculous.

  12. bradc says:

    Kevin and Christine nailed it.
    Are you really still buying incandescents??

    CFL’s are cheap now and they last nearly forever. Plus the savings on electricity.

    The warm-up on some can be a little annoying but well worth the savings.

  13. George says:

    Light bulbs? Why are you “regularly replacing bulbs”? I switched our whole house over to CFLs about four years ago, and since then I’ve only had to change a single bulb…

  14. Saver Queen says:

    This is a cute post, I like it!

    I recently bought some well-sealed jumbo sized plastic containers so now I can buy things like flour and cat food in bulk. I load up on whatever is non-perishable when I find a really great price. One surprising thing you can buy a lot of when it’s on sale is butter. It freezes perfectly.

    The only thing is that I encourage people not to build up too big of a stockpile. Doing a bit of bulk shopping is a great idea, but going overboard can end up costing you in storage space and waste (we often use more when we have more).

    @Kansas Mom – contacts – great idea!!!

  15. Deborah Johnson says:

    Kansas Mom–thanks for the tip on contacts. I seem to spend a small fortune on these.

  16. Cyde Weys says:

    I just want to echo the other comments here; why are you buying light bulbs? If you want to save money, there’s absolutely no reason you’d be using incandescents over CFLs, and CFLs simply don’t need that much swapping out. I recently bought 3 CFLs from IKEA for $4. Not because I had to replace any of my current CFLs, mind you, but just to keep them on hand. I can’t really foresee needing more than one or two new CFLs per year, the darn things just last so long.

  17. DivaJean says:

    I am for the most part- a frugal zealot.

    Hoever, I use regular light bulbs- not CFL’s. I’m just too concerned about the mercury involved and my little ones.

    When they are a year or two older, I will switch.

    I get not using CFL bulbs when you have little ones about.

  18. leslie says:

    I thought for sure that Trent was the frugal blogger who said that he never buys a toothbrush.

    “It never wears out before your 6 month check up and the dentist will give you a new one for free. Keep your old ones around the house for tight-spaces cleaning”

    I buy paper towels, napkins and dishwasher/laundry detergent in bulk. Along with wheat pasta (i think 6 or 8 boxes for $5).

  19. @DivaJean: Unless you’re feeding broken CFLs to your kids for breakfast, you don’t have much to worry about regarding mercury. Check http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp for more details. (Basically, if you break one, you’ll need to clean it up with gloves.)

    I’ve dropped CFLs on the floor (carpet) and haven’t broken them, so they’re pretty durable.


  20. ann says:

    how do you buy tires in bulk? do you buy them at costco or do you order them somewhere? I always thought that you had to buy at least 2 at the same time.

  21. Frugal Dad says:

    Sams Club has the lowest price on gasoline in our area, too. I’ve also found their tires to be cheaper than most local sellers. Sometimes I forget these membership shopping clubs often have automotive, optical, and pharmacy sections. You can also often get group rates for insurance, legal advice and other small business services.

  22. Allen Rodenberg says:

    Like myself, I’m sure many of you struggle with the issues of frugality/ethics/environment. I’d recommend reading “The Wal-Mart Effect” by Charles Fishman. Even if you don’t shop there, it is a good read.

  23. Xenko says:

    “Hoever, I use regular light bulbs- not CFL’s. I’m just too concerned about the mercury involved and my little ones.”

    Your concerns, although somewhat valid, shouldn’t prevent you from using CFL’s. CFL’s contain very small amounts of mercury (2 – 3 mg per bulb), and this mercury can ONLY be released if the bulb breaks. I can’t even remember the last time I broke a light bulb, and since they can only really be broken when you are changing them, if you are concerned just don’t change them when the kids are around.

    I would be more concerned about feeding kids fish, such as tuna, as they are likely getting a higher mercury exposure from that than they ever would from broken CFLs.

    To the other people, I’m sure Trent is talking about stockpiling CFL light bulbs, and not incandescent light bulbs. CFLs have a lifetime of ~10,000 hours, which at an average usage of say 5 hours a day (6:00 pm – 11:00 pm), works out to about 5 years. With 50 sockets, Trent can be expected to replace about 10 CFL’s a year on average, which is why he “regularly replaces them” (about 1 per month).

  24. bradc says:

    Unless you fear that your child is going to smash your CFL’s and huff the mercury, you should worry more about the fish you’re eating. The vast majority of mercury poisoning in the US comes from eating too much (and the wrong kinds of) fish.
    And because CFL’s last so much longer than regular bulbs they actually put LESS mercury into the environment than incandescents.




  25. bradc says:

    “The vast majority of the bulbs are 75 watt bulbs, so we simply buy the 75 watt bulbs in bulk and keep them in the cupboard”

    refers to incandescents…

  26. Mister E says:

    Your dentist will probably give you a few toothbrushes at a time if you ask.

  27. I often get made fun of for how much I talk about Costco. Recently purchased two quality couches for $1,000 there.

    My fiancee and I use Costco to stock up on bread, which we put in the freezer, canned tomatoes,they have San Marzano’s, cheese, fish, frozen fruit, soap, TP, tooth brushes/paste, CFL’s, laundry detergent.

    Other random purchases have been glasses, contacts, wedding invitations, razors,

  28. Catherine says:

    My local CVS gives a 10% discount on wine if you purchase 6 bottles (can be mixed). The discount can be used on sale prices, so it often works out to be a great bargain.

    I don’t know if all CVS’s do this (this one seems to specialize in wine), but this store does have cardboard caddies available advertising the discount and the CVS logo, which makes me think it’s not the only one.

  29. spaces says:

    I use Costco and have been especially impressed by their produce. They are easily the cheapest source in town for fresh organic fruits and vegetables, as well as frozen organic berries.

  30. Michelle says:

    Xenko (#17) –

    The FDA has said that Tuna is fine for kids and pregnant women. In fact, the only kinds of fish that kids and pregnant women need to avoid are, Swordfish, Tilefish, Shark and King Mackerel. Check out the FDA website. All other kinds of fish are safe, and are really good for kids! In fact, my pediatrician recommends feeding my kids Salmon because of the fish oil they contain.

  31. spaces says:

    Michelle (#21) — Link?

    The current information I can find from the FDA says no more than 12 ounces of most fish, no more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna.

  32. Zink says:

    @Michelle (#21)

    I’d put a little more stock in this site for mercury (and PCB) content in fish.


  33. Brooke says:

    Oh, goodness – 6 toothbrushes in a year? That’s a lot. There are recyclable options out there, although you might end up paying more. But the thought of all of those toothbrushes in a landfill – yikes.




  34. Blake says:

    Everyone buys contacts at Sam’s? By far the best place to buy contacts is at 1800contacts.com. They will match any price that you can find anywhere. No tax and free shipping. Just fax in your prescription to them. I’ve used lens.com and they are just as cheap as well, but their customer service isn’t as good. Contacts are always cheaper online than in the store.

    On tires, I’ve found that the best prices come from either Sam’s, Discount Tire or Tirerack.com. With tirerack, you have to get someone to install them, however.

    The thing that my wife and I use Sam’s club for is meat, bottled water (for our hurricane supply) and diapers. Those alone easily pay for our membership cost. Everything else is bonus savings.

    For the diapers, I’ve found that Sam’s, Amazon and diapers.com, to be roughly the same price, after tax and shipping costs, if any.

  35. gilora says:

    We buy tons of stuff at Costco at very favorable prices. It’s prices on diapers, wipes and formula can’t be beat. Now that we’re finally getting out of that stage, my husband buys his reading glasses there, plus they have great deals on laundry detergent, paper goods, seafood, canned tomatoes and produce.

  36. I think we can all agree that are all kinds of random items that you can get at the Sam’s and Costcos of the world.

    Does anyone really need 20 pounds worth of Polish Sausage or 5 gallons of re-fried beans? (Not even sure if those products are offered!)

    The point is the pay attention to how we’re spending our money and maximize every dollar we have.

    Good post!

  37. Anna says:

    Love this post. Love all the comments from our thrifty community. What a contrast to another board I hang out on, where someone mentioned stockpiling nonperishable items, and a commenter asked “What’s the difference between stockpiling and hoarding?” implying that stockpiling is a shabby practice. Not shabby at all, as we here know. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

    “A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence.”
    (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

  38. Danielle says:

    My husband and I signed up for a Costco membership last year. At the time, we lived in a moderately big city (300K+) with two stores.

    Now we live in a tiny town (25K) and don’t have one anywhere nearby. This cuts out savings on gas, milk, meat, and produce. We don’t drink alcohol, though my husband drinks enough milk that we calculated the savings in milk alone would have paid for our membership (had we stayed in said big city). Adding diapers to that calculation, I definitely don’t regret getting the membership.

    However, we’re now at a point where we are evaluating whether or not it is worth the cost of membership to renew for another year. We aren’t buying a car this year (that’s another one where clubs can save you big money if they offer what you already want), we aren’t buying large electronics, and we can only shop there when we’re making road trips because it’s a 90 minute drive to our nearest store so we usually just go when we visit family (which means a ton of baby stuff already in our small car).

    Sadly, I think we might let the membership lapse when it’s time. However, we plan to stock up on a few gift cards before then so that we can get a few things when we are in a town that has one.

  39. liv says:

    Hm…technically, you’re not buying your video games in bulk. You’re just buying them at a place that is cheaper…that happens to sell other bulk items.

    I love costco for things like Shampoo/conditioner. Kirkland signature bottles of shampoo/conditioner last me longer than a year for $20ish.

  40. Battra92 says:

    The problem with buying CD-Rs and DVD-Rs from a warehouse is that they are usually crap. I only buy Taiyo Yuden discs (or if I’m really desperate, Verbatims) and then I buy them in bulk from Rima.com

  41. Alex says:


    You mention that you go to Sam’s Club. I assume that you view Wal-Mart as a positive corporation or one that is not “evil” as some would describe. Do you have any suggestions as to how to purchase items in bulk without going to Sam’s Club or other warehouse stores like Costco or BJ’s?

  42. Sarah says:

    I’m glad to see people are really comparing prices for bulk warehouses vs. loss leaders of other chains. The careful use of Sam’s, etc can be a useful tool, but it can be easy to fall prey to ‘lifestyle creep’. (One of my friends calls Sam’s “the $100 store” because the unexpected finds, the ones you never planned to buy, can impulse-shop you out of your budget fast.) The large sizes also sometimes mean serious waste, particularly for produce that might be shipped a lot farther. For a household of 2 adults, who eat mostly whole foods simply prepared, it really didn’t make any sense to buy most of our groceries there…but we kept the membership for tires, gas, etc.

  43. Meredith says:

    I’m a regular reader, but usually don’t comment. We are also HUGE fans of Sam’s.
    Some of their produce prices are great – the organic fresh baby spinach tub is priced less than non-organic spinach at the grocery store. We use this for salads, since spinach has more nutrients. I’ve also found that their carrot prices are unbeatable.
    We also love to peruse the clearance section for great finds.
    And Sam’s is the place where my family eats out once a week. We all do the $1.50 hotdog/drink combo. As you can see, we are HUGE Sam’s fans at our house.

  44. sara says:

    I second Sarah’s thoughts, and do use my costco membership very specifically. Buying contacts and dairy products make the membership worthwhile since they are significantly cheaper there. I’ve found though, that many other bulk products (even toilet paper and paper towels) can’t compete with what I pay for them with coupons+store deals at Safeway. Good post, good idea to buy smart and really know the best place to buy the things you need.

  45. Bill M says:

    I usually buy most of my dry food (rice, sugar, coffee, etc) at BJ’s, groceries I usually pick up at the supermarket as they go bad very easily.

    I try to shop online for various things also like blank CDs/DVD, usually they have a better deal.

  46. chris says:

    Just a note on mercury in CFLs. Over the life of a CFL, the energy it saves versus an incandescent wil reduce the discharge of about 10 times as much mercury into the atmosphere from the power plant (based on a USAwide average of energy-production types. Coal-fired plants produce a lot of mercury, oil less, natural gas less still and nuclear & renewable essentially none). The amount released, if the bulb breaks, is not dangerous under the worst-case scenario, unless you break bulbs several times a day. To be even safer, when you replace a bulb, wrap it in a plastic bag first, which will contain any spill.


  47. Rick says:

    Here’s a question,

    Buying in bulk is a good thing due to the sheer amount of savings you can attain. BUT, it can be argued that buying from the big warehouse places, especially Sam’s Club AKA Walmart is directly effecting the United States economy by increasing the trade deficit with China. I’m not able to find the link right now, but Walmart is something like 30% by itself.

    On top of this, the money you spend at a large company like that goes out of state, possibly out of country. Study after study shows that every dollar spent locally comes ends up being between $5-15 in value (depending on which study you read) in the local economy. Whereas every dollar spent at a large out of state company equals only $.60 in local value.

    So, where does one draw the line? Should you spend a bit more to shop locally and support your neighbors and friends? Thereby increasing the local prosperity of your home town? Or should you try to eek out every last cent and let others fend for themselves? Or do you strike a balance and attempt to be frugal where you can, but make up for it by increasing local spending in other ways?

  48. Anne says:

    The thing that sealed the deal for my Mom at Costco was the price of organic staple items.

    If you don’t have a problem with ultra-high pasteurized products, the organic prices at Costco are far, far better than TJ’s, Whole Foods, or any of our local stores. Items: milk, butter, eggs, peanut butter, (some) crackers, (some) produce. Plus my new favorite, organic corn chips.

  49. Jason says:


    Great article. Costco & Sam’s Club types are great, especially with a decent sized family.

    I recently discovered toothbrushes at the dollar store for – you guessed it – a dollar!

    You might be able to find a few other goodies in there from time to time, like light bulbs, etc. as well.

    Also don’t forget gasoline discounts. Typically the bulk retail warehouses have cheaper gasoline too.

  50. pro Costco says:

    Please please please if at all possible do not patronize Sam’s Club. They are owned by Wal Mart and are horrible to their employees. You can get the same great deals at Costco and they are great to their employees. Or at least better than Wal Mart which is probably the most atrocious employer in the world.

  51. Johanna says:

    Maybe you should change the title from “buy in bulk” to “buy from a bulk warehouse.” I mean, you’re not really buying things like video games and gasoline in bulk, are you? You’re buying the same amount as you usually would, just from a warehouse store.

  52. Craig says:

    I usually go for all the kitchen and bathroom supplies like paper towels and toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

  53. Annie_1 says:

    I have had several early life failures with expensive CFC lights. And now they are accumulating in the house because there is no straightforward way to dispose of them. (Hmmm, maybe at the stores that sell them . . . ?)

  54. Grant says:

    I’d like to comment on the “75 watt bulbs” also. The return on investment for CFL bulbs is less than one year. It’s a no-brainer. In my previous house I had about 25 CFLs running for a couple of years and only one burned out (and it was replaced free because it was under warranty). I have about 60 CFLs in my new house and none have burned out in the year since I replaced all of the bulbs.

    You can buy good CFLs from Home Depot for about $1 each (this may have been subsidized by the local power company in my area) in 4-packs. I think it’s their own brand, “n:vision.” The ones in the green packages have very similar color to incandescent bulbs and they don’t need to warm up (at least the mini spiral ones don’t).

    Most of the arguments against CFLs are rubbish. Yes, they have a small amount of mercury in them and that is why you should recycle them after they burn out (check your local county’s recycling program for where/when to recycle them). Once LED bulbs become cheaper they are going to be the preferred option (less power and no mercury), but until then CFLs are the way to go.

  55. Linda says:

    Hi Trent,

    Great post, but I am also confused about the light bulb vs CFL statement as well.

    If you really have 50 75W light bulbs in your home would you consider sharing your monthly electric costs (or better yet, your kilowatt hours) on a monthly basis? If you have A/C please do not include the summer months.

    Since I switched to the CFLs in all lamps and overhead lighting (a dozen all told) and got the smart strip for the PC and the TV, my monthly electric dropped $20 per mo. No kidding!

    Seventy-five watts is BRIGHT so either you can’t stand the dimness (it’s noticeable) of the 13W cheapies or I misunderstood.

  56. AnnJo says:

    I’ve shopped Costco for years and for some items the prices were truly outstanding, others not so much.

    Fresh meat and poultry are sometimes cheaper at the grocery store when they go on sale. Bulk deli items (lunch meats) are well-priced if you can use them up or freeze them.

    For canned goods, bulk produce (carrots, potatoes, onions, spinach, lettuce, etc.), coffee beans, and lots of other stuff, I’ve saved a lot at Costco, but lately they’ve been switching a lot of products to organics, with prices 50% to 200% higher. (Canned diced tomatoes: $1 a can instead of 56 cents; Kirkland tortilla chips, 17 cents an ounce versus 7 cents; etc.) To me, the scientific data so far doesn’t support claims that organics are either safer or significantly more nutritious, and so I’m not willing to pay that high a premium for something unproven. (I’m not trying to start an argument about organics here; it’s like religion – you either believe or you don’t. I don’t but you’re welcome to.)

    I’m going to Sam’s Club this weekend, for the first time ever, and may switch if they are still offering conventionally grown products at lower prices. I’m curious if anyone regularly shops at both and can offer commparisons?

    How do they compare on the basics, produce, dairy, bulk grains, canned goods, paper products, etc.? We mostly cook from scratch, so don’t buy much pre-prepared stuff and have the impulse shopping mostly under control.

  57. Elisabeth says:

    Just in case others don’t know – even if you aren’t a member at Sam’s Club, in some states you can still buy “adult beverages” there. This link has more info about which states: http://archive.slickdeals.net/showthread.php?t=287527&pp=15

    Also, Walgreens and CVS frequently have rebate offers on the good toothbrushes. If you get a Walgreens giftcard instead of a check back, you even get 10% extra, so it’s like they’re paying you to buy stuff. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had to pay for a toothbrush, or soap or shampoo.

  58. KC says:

    I get produce at Sam’s. I can buy a giant tub of organic salad for $4. I’ll never eat it all before it goes bad, but one bag at the grocery store is $4 and only lasts for about 3 salads. I’ll easily get 10 salads out of that tub before it goes bad. Berries are usually pretty cheap, too, even if I end up throwing some out.

    I also buy non-perishables – paper towels, toilet paper, kleenex, CFLs, those high quality garage paper towels, anything I use that I can lift I’ll buy. I just hate buying that stuff that I’ll buy it in quantity just to not think about it for a few months.

    Soap is another bargain. I only use Lever 2000 or Dove because of some allergies I’ve had in the past. I can get them for 45 cents a bar, whereas the lowest I can get them on sale at other stores is about $1.25/bar. Feminine items are a good buy as well as vitamins.

    I don’t find the toothpaste to be a good bargain. Aim or Colgate can be bought for cheaper at most any other place and they are better than whitening toothpastes that hurt sensitive teeth.

  59. Peggy Martin says:


    I’ve figured out that you live close to Ames/DesMoines. It’s fun to know that when you talk about the local Sams, etc. they must be the same ones I go to.

    I didn’t think about checking out the gift cards or making a point of getting gas when I am near Sams, but I am on to the lower cost wines that are avialable. Definetly the grocery stores are not the least expensive place to get paper, laundry supplies, pet food, etc.

    We (a group of ISU Extension staff) have had students comparing the same items at various grocery stores and big retailers the last few months. We have developed a new web site called SpendSmart, EatSmart, publications and some interactive activities. We would love to have you review it and welcome feedback. http://www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/


  60. I have to chime in with the previous commenter who mentioned how unethical Sam’s Club and Walmart are. I was a little disappointed that although the title of this posting addresses the idea of thinking outside the box when it comes to items one could buy in bulk, the article itself is a paean to one particular company — a company that should not be supported unless and until they make some big changes.

    I love shopping at Costco because not only can I save a lot of money, I can feel good about it — their business practices are good, and they treat their employees really well.

  61. Johanna says:

    Also, something strikes me as not quite right about using words like “frugal” and “thrifty” to describe going to a big warehouse store to buy the same stuff as you always bought, but at cheaper prices. I can’t quite put my finger on it, though.

  62. Cyd says:

    My list is pretty much the same but I’m switching my membership to Costco. The Sam’s Clubs in Houston have cut waaaaaaaay back to a bare bones warehouse w/out any of the frills they used to have. It’s definitely a very major change from what it used to be. Costco is still the same as ever, a bit pricer that Sam’s, but they carry more of the stuff I need.

  63. David says:

    tirerack.com lets you pick the exact tire you want, not what the local store needs to unload that day. They also show country of origin for each tire — surprise, the only US-made tire I found were the Yokohamas I ended up buying — and lets you reject Chinese or whatever tires (it’s your life, you wanna risk it to save $5?).

    Once you order, you specify a local shop for shipment. I had them sent to a Goodyear store nearby. Totally painless, worth the 3-4 day wait, and the Yokohama Avid tires are xlnt all-season tires, even on a rear-wheel drive car in the horrible winter we’re having here in NE Mass.

    Sams Club blows all around, and Costco only had very expensive Michelin tires in the size I needed.

  64. Lou says:

    Don’t you have a Costco near you? they have a better selection AND they treat their employees MUCH better.

  65. Julie says:

    I second Lou’s comment. I won’t shop at either Walmart or Sams. I don’t care how cheap their stuff is.

  66. Hi, Johanna —

    I think I know what you mean, but: it’s true that frugal living generally means making lifestyle choices — cooking from scratch rather than ordering out is the most obvious examples — but it also can mean trade-offs. The trade-off in buying in bulk is that you’re willing to pay more up front for less per unit, and you’re also willing and able to make room in your home for a whole lot of stuff. That’s a frugal lifestyle choice, too.

    Trent buying toothbrushes in bulk also means he’s making the lifestyle choice of committing to a brand, rather than just going out and picking up whatever looks cutest whenever he needs something new. And that sounds way too much as if I’m saying he’s marrying his toothbrushes rather than just dating around, so I think I’ll stop now before this gets too weird.

  67. DB Cooper says:

    Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed a correlation between when Trent went “full time” with his writing career and when he stopped responding to comments left here?

  68. tdh says:

    How do you manage to shop at the warehouse stores? I used to belong to one, but 5 items would generally cost me about $100….which would kill my budget for the rest of the week.

  69. Lis says:

    Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed a correlation between when Trent went “full time” with his writing career and when he stopped responding to comments left here?

    DB Cooper @ 6:14 pm January 29th, 2009 (comment #46)

    Yes! He used to respond periodically, and now he almost never responds at all. :( It’s sad.

  70. Why stock up on CFL’s? They seem to drop in cost constantly. When they first came out, they were pretty expensive, and now they are pretty reasonable, but they seem to be going even lower.

  71. Broke Bettie says:

    1) I’m with you on the toothbrush thing.


    2) I had no idea that Sam’s sold iTunes cards in bulk?? So how much is a $25 card for example?

  72. Michelle says:

    Spaces (#22) – http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/admehg3.html

    It says Albacore Tuna has a slightly higher mercury content than chunk light tuna, so when choosing, it’s better to choose the chunk light kind.

  73. Parker says:

    I’ve been a subscriber of this blog for a long while… this was the post that made me finally admit I have no interest in what you’re saying.

    What I’ve thought all along was simple advice in frugality and living simply is really an homage to overconsumption. The belief that saving 20 cents per pair of socks is a worthwhile endeavor (compared to buying 20% fewer pairs from a merchant you can support morally or finding a different way to supply your socks) is a perfect example of where we as consumers are going wrong. Your examples are a perfect example of the common consumer devaluing their time and life to play into the cheaper-is-better mentality that feeds industry at the cost of individualism, all the while paying more in externalities to support the business’s ability to attain these low prices.

    I sincerely hope you examine what you’re professing day in and day out and make a personal decision about what you’re encouraging in society rather than what will grow your readership.

  74. KC says:

    From what I saw the other day the gift cards at Sam’s are less than a $1 cheaper than face value. I was just looking at the Virgin Mobile ones and maybe a few others. Perhaps others have a more significant amount off?

  75. credo says:

    can you imagine a house full of dvdr and cdr’s? smells like plastic! and by the time you’ve stored and catalog every single disc, you’d forget what’s where. my thing for this is buy many external harddrives. a lacie 500gb from amazon just cost around $100 to $120, i do think that is cheaper than buying many discs. and when you connect them to a pc, you can see every folder and neatly organized.

  76. bea says:

    I always buy razor’s at the costco. It seems cheaper to me than the regular grocery stores or target. Am I wrong?

  77. bakednudel says:

    I haven’t noticed any worthwhile difference in the cost of gift cards in bulk at Costco. They don’t have a big selection, either, at least at ours. I only remember Starbucks. It was only about $1 cheaper than buying them anywhere else and if you get one at Starbucks they usually throw in a cute wrapper.

    Is anyone else a single person with a Costco membership? I know it’s not frugal but I keep mine for sentimental reasons (my Dad who has passed away bought my membership for the first couple of years) and I now live very close to a Costco.

    I don’t find that paper towels and toilet paper are cheaper than if you wait for deals at the supermarket. Gas is sometimes cheaper, sometimes not.

    I think the main thing would be to start a shopping book to compare prices over a year or so.

  78. steve says:

    All of my bulbs are CFLs in the house except for some incandescent chandeliers that, for various reasons, have not been changed over.

    That being said, the release of mercury into the immediate home environment (the floor or carpet where the bulb lands) is significant and persists, releasing significant vapor mercury when disturbed (by walking or, especially, vacuuming) for months and months (per 2008 EPA research–I don’t know why it took like 10 years for anyone to research this though).

    It makes sense to both know about mitigation methods and, if you have kids or rambunctious pets in the house, to simply avoid the issue by either (a) securing table lamps to tables to prevent them being knocked over and breaking the CFL bulbs
    or (b) only using CFLS in overhead fixtures

    and (c) realize that a prime time for a spill is when you are changing the bulb and can drop it. Cover the floor under the bulb changing area with a large blanket ,towel, or a large plastic sheet under the bulb changing area to both pad the floor, preventing bulb breakage, and to contain the shards and mercury if breakage occurs. Do not use your sloppy/careless/distracted (changing the bulb while yelling at the kids or while your husband/wife yells a question at you from the garage) bulb changing habits for the CFL. You should be focused only on what you are doing and thinking about how to contain a spill if it happens.

    If you are not going to use a tarp or floor covering, at least be aware that you need to pay attention. I recommend using the floor covering, as that pretty much guarantees that you’re thinking about it and paying attention in the first place.

    Some overall guidelines: On bulb breakage, the room should be evacuated and ventilated to the outside for 15 minutes to exchange air and prevent immediate exposure to occupants. Then the cleanup procedure occurs. Broken CFLS and any material they are spilled on should be handled with rubber globes and places in sealable GLASS, not plastic, containers (mason jars work) and marked for hazard/mercury content. The floor area (if it was notand is a rug)ideally should be cut out and removed. (What you responsibly do with a mercury contaminated rug is an issue, but you shouldn’t leave it in the house because every time you walk on it or vacuum over it it will release significant amounts of airborne mercury for months and months).

    If it spills on a wooden floor that wasn’t covered in plastic tarp, I forget what you are supposed to do. The mercury can get in the cracks of the floor and persist there. EPA website will have more info.

    I think it is prudent for all CFL users to educate themselves about this. While overall mercury emissions into the environment from a CFL over its lifetime are much smaller than those from an incandescent, *localized* mercury exposure from a CFL spill is significant, particularly for kids.

    Soon there will be products on the market to spread over a spill area to neutralize (bind to) the mercury in a spill area and make it harmless and nonbioavailable, and capable of being cleaned up using standard cleaning techniques.(they have already been created in labs), and once those products appear every household should have them on hand. However, they are currently not available, so it makes sense to be aware and take precautions.

  79. littlepitcher says:

    Why are you buying iTunes cards for gifts? Lala.com will allow you to open a gift account, fill a “wallet” with a preset sum, and purchase DRM-free music for 89 cents a song or computer-only DRM tracks for a dime.

    Any time that a newscast states that a non-perishable item will soon be scarce, I will purchase that item in bulk. Thus, I am eating $1.25 large cans of salmon while the current store price is well over $2.

    I find wonderful bulk sales on almost-expired items at the flea market. Avon deodorant for $1/each, antihistamines the same price, scratch-and-dent goodies, and, of course, toothbrushes.

    Costs more gas to go to Sam’s than the discounts are worth.

  80. rstlne says:

    I buy paper by the 10-ream case but I only have one spare toner cartridge on hand at a time. The reason for the latter is the printer may break so I don’t want to have too many toner cartridges that I won’t be able to use.

  81. Zink says:

    Trent – why is the comment I left yesterday at 11:08 AM still “awaiting moderation?” Am I doing something wrong? Because 30+ other people have been able to post their comments in the 25 hours since then and mine is stuck in limbo. What’s going on?

  82. Chris Clark says:

    Last time I got an iTunes gift card at Sam’s it was $24.88 for a $25 card.

    As for tires… Sam’s also offers free tire rotation if you buy your tires there and, the one tire I had that got a hole in it.. they measured the tread depth and pro-rated my new tire (I have no idea how it worked) and I got it for only $11.

    I have had a Sam’s and Costco membership for a year. Costco so far, has more organic items overall and mails outt coupons every moth for things like laundry detergent, toothbrushes, etc. However, it is further away and always packed, so for now, we will stick with Sam’s. We buy things like flour and yeast (we bake our own bread), meat and produce. We stay away from the snack packs and frozen convenience foods.

  83. Jim says:

    CFLs are horrible. I’ll gladly pay the extra on my electric bill so I can actually see in my home. I have two in my living room in the table lamps and they really don’t throw much light.

  84. BonzoGal says:

    @Rick,comment #31: Good question, and I agree as far as Walmart and many other “big box” stores. However, CostCo is pretty clean for me, ethically. They pay some of the higher wages to employees, give great benefits and profit-sharing, and have extremely low turnover in employees because of that. Jim Hightower wrote a long article comparing CostCo to Walmart as far as hiring and employee support, and CostCo came out smelling like roses.

    The CostCo at which I shop is in a nearby town that is seriously economically depressed (and has been for decades). CostCo hired all locals to work there, and so far it’s been good for the town. I know that isn’t the case everywhere, but here it’s been good. (The same town turned down a proposed Walmart, though- good for them! Walmart has lots of dodgy history with employees.)

  85. roach says:

    @Battra92 in comment #27,

    You are absolutely right about crap dvds at the warehouse store. I also only pick up TY, ritek, or verbatim (only certain disc IDs). Check out newegg and meritline for deals on those as well!

  86. Kris says:

    I have stopped buying tires at Costco because I have not been satisfied with the quality – even though they are name brand (Michelin, Goodyear, etc.). I suspect that Costco and the other big box stores (Sams, WalMart etc.) are putting so much pressure to make their price points that the manufacturers are cheapening the products they make for the big boys.

    I’ve had similar problems with VCRs from Costco, so much that I will no longer buy Consumer Electronics there either.

  87. Sharon says:

    You can buy mercury spill kits.

    Considering that mercury is most hazardous in small children’s developing nervous systems, I would pass on CFCs in my home.

  88. Lisa says:

    Yes, Trent’s blog is not for everybody. I would never dream of shopping at a warehouse store. Trent, IIRC, buys vacuum bags off of Amazon. Whatever saves him a penny. Following some of Trent’s money ideas has afforded me the ability to vote with my dollar. I will spend extra to shop more local, more ethical, and better for the environment.

  89. Chuck says:

    Fris- As an employee at Michelin, I can say that the tires we make for Costco and Sams are the same physical ingredients and quality as the name brand, even though the tread pattern may be slighty different (trademark and customization for the customers). I can’t speak about Goodyear and the others. If Michelin puts our name on it, we want the buyer to be happy. Maybe your cars need alignment ?

  90. Kate says:

    Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed a correlation between when Trent went “full time” with his writing career and when he stopped responding to comments left here?

    DB Cooper @ 6:14 pm January 29th, 2009 (comment #46)
    I have noticed, too. That is one thing that I miss a lot.

  91. Lou says:

    Next time you need paperclips, go to your bank and ask them for some. My bank will give me an envelope full of paperclips and are happy to get rid of them. They, of course, are used and will be a mixed bag of colors and sizes. I haven’t purchased paperclips in years!

  92. Jennifer says:

    Savings on baby formula will pay for our Costco membership several times over this year. When I add in the nickel or dime savings on fuel the $40 is well worth it!

  93. NYC reader says:

    Before everyone gets intoxicated on the “Walmart is evil” groupthink, I suggest you Google ‘Costco eminent domain’ (without the quotes). You’ll soon find out that Costco has a long history of using/abusing eminent domain (government condemning and taking over private property) so they can build their stores without regard for the people who own/live on/work on the private property.

    While you’re at it, Google ‘Costco cemetery Yonkers’ (without the quotes) to read about the history of a New York Costco that erected a store on land that once held a Jewish cemetery. The developer agreed to disinter the bodies and rebury them, but did not do so. The remains of at least 137 children are now somewhere under the Costco parking lot. The NY State attorney general sued, and they paid $100,000 to settle the case.

    Both Costco and Walmart are businesses, not charities. Neither has clean hands in the ethics department.

    There are plenty of businesses that treat employees and suppliers the same or worse than Walmart. I don’t see anyone boycotting Cracker Barrel (LGBT discrimination), Foot Locker (age discrimination), or Denny’s (race discrimination).

    That said, I must add a disclaimer that I shop at both Walmart/Sam’s and Costco. The money I save shopping at these two stores allows me to direct more of my money to charities and causes I believe in. That’s my tradeoff for frugality. Your sense of personal ethics may differ from mine, and you may find it objectionable to shop at one or both of these stores. That’s perfectly ok. Just don’t go on blathering about how wonderful Costco is and how evil Walmart is without a reality check.

  94. Jihan says:

    Is Sam’s club really inexpensive to buy things? I am just curious because it’s been mentioned a few times in the post. I don’t think there’s one nearby where I live, but it would be nice to have one.

  95. Jim says:

    Well, apparently you aren’t allowed to make comments not liking CFLs since my original comment apparently was never approved. I think I’ll continue reading blogs that value differing opinions instead of requiring that readers toe the company line.

  96. Mike says:

    I’m having a hard time digesting Trent’s advice and opinions. I’m sorry but anybody who tries to prove how to save money by finding a different location to buy VIDEO GAMES is not mature enough to handle their own personal finances, let alone try to tell other people what makes smart financial sense.

    Reading through his blogs I’ve seen numerous posts where he bashes his parents for their financial practices (the same practices that clothed, fed, sheltered and educated him). He even whines in one post for not getting an allowance.

    Seriously, This kid is a long way off from truly understanding the world around him, and he’s got a long road ahead of him before he garners my respect.

  97. Way of the Future says:

    The first thing I saw was the light bulb thing and no CFL’s…energy waste is a serious contributor to waste both monetary and environmentally.

    Does Trent ever respond to comments?

  98. cheap wow gold says:

    Great article! Do they sell wow prepaid cards too?

  99. creig says:

    sam’s club is my domain for all things in bulk.i get the usual paper supplies.socks.underwear and other assorted items that i may need from time to time. i have found though when making a purchase such as a refrigerator, computer,camera and many other things from camping equipment to furniture after looking everywhere for the cheapest price including if the item must be delivered that sam’s club beats out many other stores online and brick&mortar stores. when i am going to make a purchase over $100 i look at least 5-10 places and if i am going to spend $200-$2000 i look for days or weeks and sam’s comes out cheapest at least 75% of the time.

  100. chuck says:

    You all have decent points,but on the other hand
    just imagine all the other options you have lost. By American,build our republic back up
    support freeddom choice and common sense.

  101. Cheap WoW Gold says:

    Guess what I want to buy in bulk? It’s my wow gold! Just like what you said u saved more in bulks.

  102. donna m says:

    I’ve never thought about buying most of those things at sam’s club but I do buy a lot of my cat food and litter there. It is so much cheaper. Buying the gift cards there makes a lot of sence. I never really thought about getting them there before but I sure will now! Even if we buy them to use ourselves. We go out to eat every weekend!

  103. J. says:

    I would love to shop at Costco rather than Sam’s, but Sam’s is literally a block away, while Costco is on the other side of town. My husband and I have found that a small trip to Sam’s can be done on foot.

    As for what to buy where, I spent 5-10 hours making a price book for 8 stores in our area, and it saves a ton of money. Sam’s is cheaper for some things, but more expensive for some. For, example, dish detergent is cheaper there, but dishwasher detergent is cheaper at Target. Also, watching for sales and rebates is critical, as is coordinating trips so you don’t waste gas.

  104. Tabby says:

    I just want to say that I work for my local Walmart, and it’s not evil! I make a decent wage, get decent hours, and even earned a quarterly bonus this quarter.

  105. Matt says:

    Warehouses are basically useless these days.

    Saving the obvious TP and other bulk grocery idems (RICE!) – these stores have been made obsolete for most consumer items via the internet.

    CD/DVD-R – Basically free on the internet if you time it right with instant rebates on Newegg.

    Toothbrushes, C’mon – hit amazon and wait for a sale. Same goes for light bulbs, Restaurant.com gift cards, Socks, office supplies, etc. Using Amz prime, it’s essentially the same cost as a yearly membership at Costco when you factor in time and gas driving, sales tax, and convenience of free 2nd day shipping. I move frequently so there is added benefit behind having all the extra boxes laying around.

    The $.05 a gallon fuel difference is more than made up with a proper rewards card paid off every month. Some places such as Giant Eagle in the midwest offer .10/gal for every $50 you buy in groceries, that’s more like .13-14/gal with a rewards card, even more when linked to upromise.

    Video games? Can’t beat half.com, craigslist, or freecycle, or any of the other book-swap sites.

    The only things on the list that are still cheaper/more convenient are grocery bulk paper items and tires, which is debatable if you find a local shop that will match any advertised price.

    Moreover, what is the opportunity cost of tying up your hard-earned $$ into stocking inventories of shit you don’t need for months? Are the savings and time-value of money (inflation/deflation) factors really more than what you would earn in investment returns (tax-free, or deferred)? If you’re lazy, yes. If you’re savvy, no.

    Check out slickdeals.net

  106. Dave says:

    I’m with you Jim (#83), I have tried CFL’s in some of my fixtures. I have found that they work well for closets and some other rooms that you don’t really need to see in. Bad for around bathroom vanity when you want to know what you look like before you leave the house. in most applications there is just a displeasing yellow light.

    I do love Sam’s, if only for milk. We drank 281 gallons last year (my boys wanted to keep track). It was a savings of over $500 compared to grocery store prices. We buy other things in bulk and freeze them into smaller portions. For example spaghetti sauce which comes in #10 cans, can be put into ziplock bags and frozen flat, along with many other items.

    Good article, gets people thinking about their own spending habits.

  107. Patt Colucy says:

    To really know prices you need to keep a price book. I read about keeping one in “The Tightwad Gazette” by Amy Dacyczyn.I right down the cheapest price/unit I find, date and store where purchased. You can start one by writing down prices from your store or stores and maybe use ads. This way you will be able to decide if joining the wharehouse will save you money. Amy felt that stocking up on lost leaders, great sales by grocers that are sold at or below cost to get you to come into their store, is yur best bet. I have found this to be true for me as well because I only use a few name brand items, grow some of my own food and make most things from scratch. If yu do decide to join consider these two things. Share your membership with another person.This person could shop with you, you pay and you could settle up later. If the items you buy there are non perishable, stock up before your membership is up and then not join again for 6 months so that in 3 years you will only pay for 2 years membership.

  108. Sa Co says:

    LOL, my wife complains about the holes in my socks as well. = )

  109. Charity says:

    I am late to the party here but… I shop at Costco on a regular basis. Things we buy and save a lot of money on besides the usual (laundry detergent, dish detergent, toilet paper, etc.) is…

    Cheese! The price of the really good cheeses like gorgonzola, cambenbert, etc. is amazing quality and the prices can’t be beat. Even the Kirkland brand sharp cheddar is a great deal at $4.99.

    I just purchased the two big bottles (40 oz. each) of the Kirkland Hydrating Shampoo at $6.99 which works out to about $3.50 each bottle. This stuff is amazing! It is rebranded Matrix Biolage Hydrating Shampoo and Conditioner. The same exact ingredients and scent. I no longer will be buying expensive salon shampoo as long as they continue to offer this.

    We also save a lot of money on breads, juice, coffee, creamer, etc. I also buy kitty litter out there as it is only about 1/2 the cost of other kitty litters and it clumps really well.

    I LOVE Costco!!!

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