Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Two: Buy in Bulk

Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Two: Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk saves me a lot of money. On most items, it saves me more than I can save on an item with coupons–plus I end up with a whole lot more of it. It’s one of the fastest and least expensive ways to build your pantry.

There are lots of ways to buy items in bulk, but the simplest way is the way I go on most items:

Buy your food in 20, 25, and 50 pound bags.

If you have a large family, your family will eat through that food quickly. If you have a small family, your bulk purchases will just last you longer. If you’re single, a single bulk purchase of an item can last you a year or two, or you can split bulk items with another single person so that you can get the lower price.

I had a roommate in college who used to buy a 25 pound bag of flour every few weeks. During that time, she would go through the entire thing, making her own bread, cinnamon rolls, cookies, etc. She had enough to feed herself and deliver to friends, and it didn’t cost her much at all. Prices have changed since then, so chances are, she only spent $5 to make herself and her friends several weeks worth of bread and treats. Today, I can buy a 25 pound bag of all-purpose flour for $7.78, or bread flour for $7.94.

What items are easy to purchase in 20, 25 pound and/or 50 pound bags?

All-Purpose Flour
Bread Flour
Long-grain rice
Basmati Rice
Jasmine Rice
Brown Rice
Pinto Beans
Black Beans
Navy/Cannellini Beans
Rolled Oats (aka Old-Fashioned Oats)
Quick Oats (aka Instant Oats)
Sugar
Popcorn
White Winter Wheat
Red Winter Wheat

And the list goes on, but the ones I mention here are some of the easiest for most people in the United States to find locally.

(I know that I have readers all over the world, and buying bulk isn’t always an easy thing to do in other places, so if you live outside the U.S., I would love it if you would leave bulk sources in other countries in the comments.)

If you are struggling to put food on the table, buying a 25 pound bag of rice and a 25 pound bag of beans will provide several meals for your family right away, give you a start on building your pantry, and be very little out of pocket. The next time you are able to go to the store, you could buy a 25 pound bag of flour and start making your own bread (or start with the flour, or just the rice, depending on how much you can spend). Make that bulk item your main grocery purchase for that time period, and build your meals from that. You will start to build up your pantry for very little in this way, and still have food to eat.

Can on the left is a #10 can of tomato sauce; the can on the right is a #303 can; a “standard size” can. As of today, the price for the can of tomato sauce in the #10 can is $2.72.

There are other kinds of bulk supplies as well, that come in smaller amounts. Many come in #10 cans (#10 refers to a size).

Here are some that I buy:

brown sugar (4 pound bag)
105 ounce can of tomato sauce
yeast (2 pounds)
chocolate chips (3 pound and 5 pound bags)
salt (4 pound box)
dried onions (#10 can)
dried celery (#10 can)
pearled barley (#10 can)
oil (gallon or 3 liter bottle)
vinegar (liter or gallon)
cheese (5 pound blocks or 5 pounds shredded)
carrots (5 pound, 10 pound, and 25 pound bags)
spices (in all sorts of sizes)
oil (1 gallon or 3 liter)
vinegar (1 gallon or 1 liter, depending on type)

There is another way to buy in bulk as well, but the packages are smaller. When you see a great sale on something at the lowest possible price, stock up.

pasta (.50 to $1 box)
butter ($2 a pound or under; I buy this in a 4 pound package)
Fruits and vegetables (price depends on the the item and seasonality)

Where you can buy in bulk?

You can buy in bulk at your local grocery store. Really.

Most stores carry 20 or 25 pound bags of flour, rice, pinto beans, and sugar. It’s on the bottom shelf, right in the same section as the regular item that you normally buy in a smaller package.

Most grocery stores in the U.S. carry vinegar in a gallon size, and carrots in at least a 5 pound bag, with many carrying them in a 25 pound bag (labeled “for juicing”, usually).

Some Super-Walmarts have bulk items in both the regular section and they have another bulk section, which also carries items such as huge jars of pickles (for around $4), #10 cans of fruit salad, #10 cans of other items, and bulk sauces and vinegars.

Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJ’s are bulk sellers in the U.S. While they don’t have everything I listed above, they carry a lot of those items at fantastic prices. I find that the flour in bulk at my Sam’s Club is fresher than at my grocery store, and it lasts longer. The turnover for bulk goods is higher there, and the flour comes in a thicker package as well. You can read my Sam’s Club list here.

Winco carries lots of the bulk dry goods that I mentioned. Some items they have in bins, and some are in bags. Most items that come in bins also have a bag size and the price listed on the tags; you just have to ask an employee to get the bags from the back for you. They have some items  that are harder to find in other places, such as lentils, long-grain rice, and mung beans. The great thing about the bins is that you can also buy a small quantity at the bulk price if you want; there are other stores that have bulk bins as well.

Amish and Mennonite stores are great sources for bulk items, especially if you live east of the Mississippi River.

Then there are a whole slew of places that sell items in bulk online. Some places send out trucks, some you order with others through a co-op (and they send a truck), some ship UPS, etc. Some places are just for herbs, some for other smaller bulk items, and some sell tons of items, including organic options and lots of freeze-dried options.

Traditional size spice containers on the left; bulk sizes on the right

For these, I have a list here, but it is far from inclusive. There are a lot of options out there.

The container on the left is 1.6 ounces. For almost the same price as that container at Walmart of poppy seeds, mustard seeds, and cream of tartar, I can buy a pound (the bag) of the same spice from San Francisco Herb Company. As of today, 1 pound of mustard seed is $2.40, 1 pound of poppy seeds is $3.90, and 1 pound of cream of tartar is $5.85.

When it comes to buying in bulk, it works like any other item–you have to know your prices. Shop around and compare prices, including shipping if you are ordering online. Just because it is bulk doesn’t mean it is automatically less expensive. Some bulk places are less expensive than others, and prices change all the time. Some bulk suppliers also have sales, which will bring your costs lower.

How do you store all this stuff to keep it from going bad?

Canning jar, extra-large pickle jar, spaghetti sauce jar (I make my own but you may have jars or  can ask friends for old jars), regular size pickle jar, extra-large pickle jar, and a 6 gallon bucket with a gamma lid [purchased separately]. The gamma lid screws off. You can purchase buckets with food in them or empty, in a variety of sizes [I use a 3 gallon size for flours and sugar], from online bulk sellers, as well as retail locations where bulk is sold. Prices will vary greatly depending on the retailer.)

Food-grade buckets, #10 cans, and jars are easy options. Remember that giant jar of pickles that I mentioned you can get at Walmart? Wash it out with bleach a few times, and also with soap, and the pickle smell will dissipate, leaving a great place to store beans. Bulk spices can be stored in large glass jars. (Ball has rereleased their half-gallon jars and they are also making gallon jars again! I saw them at Walmart).

Many items can be bought in bulk in the buckets from different bulk companies, and then you can refill them with bags of items after you have emptied them. You can also purchase buckets online through bulk suppliers, at Winco, and from your local grocery store bakery (ask the bakery department for their old buckets. You will probably have to wash them; they usually come filled with icing. They may even give them to you for free!)

A bucket lid opener is important for opening buckets that are closed. For items that you are getting into on a regular basis, I highly recommend having gamma lids, which are screw-off lids that can go on your buckets. These can be expensive, so like the other items, shop around for the best price.

I store several bulk items inside in my kitchen, but I also built a large insulated pantry in my garage (a great blessing when you cannot buy food for a year).

What are your favorite sources for bulk items? If you know of a local (to you) store, please list the store name (with city and state) or city, region/province/canton, and country, if outside the U.S, in the comments.

This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. tdc2283

    I love all of the tips for finding gluten free flours. I’ve used almond flour, which I love, but it is really expensive. I’ve tried Bob’s and didn’t really like it.P.S. Love your website and blog!

  2. newmom2008

    My family goes through a lot of wheat flour(for chapati s) and brown rice as well as short grain rice (for idilli and dosa) so I usually buy the 20 lbs bag for them both. We also have a small kitchen and some times lack the containers to fill though I have used 16 quart all purpose containers from Walmart for storage. I land up boxing the grains in tight clear storage containers after having issues with mice getting to them.I do want to encourage you that if you do have Indian/ Asian ethnic stores near you these are great places to get grains and flours of all sorts…also organic is also quite accessible here as well if that is your preference…no need for club memberships here…also I know people worry about the communication barrier entering ethnic stores but it is my experience here in NJ that most speak english and if I cannot get help from them I ask the other customers around…

  3. newmom2008

    Btw Brandi did mention that we could mention where we could find bulk items and here in east Windsor,NJ we have a large Indian store named patidar cash & carry which has everything that my family consumes in bulk as well as a small sample of the common fresh veggies and fruits we Indians have in our diets

  4. Jacqui Gonzales

    We have 2 lower cupboards, with two shelves each. They hold my pots, pans, tupperware, baking pans, canning pot and mixing bowls. Every other cupboard is up and with one exception, at or above my head (and I’m 5’9″!) While I don’t mind pulling down a single jar of pasta sauce and it falls, I worry a lot about the larger cans. I like the idea of splitting it into lots of smaller containers, since our cupboards are deep.

  5. Becky

    When you keep honey for a long time, it crystalizes. All you have to do is warm it up, and it will be back to normal. So, if someone gives you some that is old or, if you buy a lot and it turns to crystals, don’t get rid of it. When I was a girl, my mom would place the gallon jar of crystalized honey in a pot of water on a burner and let it slowly melt. She may have had a little rack in the bottom so the jar didn’t sit directly on the bottom of the pan.When I was older, she would just melt it in the microwave, which is what I usually do. (We didn’t have one until I was in high school–can you imagine?–I’m showing my age!)

  6. Vanessa M.

    Thank you for the tips! I never would have thought of buying honey at a pharmacy. I’ll have to do some price comparisons, but that does sound like a good deal. I’ll also look into buying it directly from a farmer.

  7. Marivene

    You can also melt honey by setting the bottle in the sun. I re-package mine from the quart canning jars in which I purchase it at the farmer’s market, into empty maple syrup jars. The syrup jars fit perfectly on the kitchen windowsill, wide side towards the sun.

  8. Nichole

    I love zaycon foods too! I have ordered chicken breasts and hamburger and both are top quality at great prices. I highly recommend it to others. I wish I lived in a region that they offered fruit but I must be too far away from the distribution center.

  9. Derika Tyree

    A great place to purchase bulk Beans, Rice and Popcorn in http://www.trinidadbenham.com. They sell all varieties of beans and rice, as well as specialty items and white and yellow popcorn. THey can ship to all of the United States.

  10. FillingMyQuiver

    We buy our blanched almond flour in 25lb boxes from http://www.honeyvillegrain.com/They often run sales or promotions for 20% off. I try and buy then so that the flour ends up being about $4.35/lb. Still expensive compared to regular AP flour, but cheaper than the small bags and better quality than Bob’s almond flour.

  11. Susie

    I have been searching for two years (I’m in northwest Indiana) for dried beans at a good price. I use a TON of pinto and black beans, but have yet to find them for less than .99/pound, which is the bulk price at Meijer. Not even the ethnic stores have them cheaper than this!I have a Costco membership, but Costco doesn’t sell dried beans in bulk. Do you know of ANYWHERE online that has a better price than .99 a pound?

  12. Shari

    We are blessed to live in an area with several bulk food options… (Middle TN) my favorite is bulknaturalfoods.com, but we also have the frugal families of middle tn co-op (on facebook) which gives us a drop point for both frontier and azure standard, as well as drops from a local area Amish Produce Auction, we are also surrounded by fruit orchards & berry farms where we can either go pick our own, or buy from local farmers who’ve done the picking for us. Last but not least, we converted our driveway into a raised bed garden, which is always my first stop when planning meals. It is a great position to be in. I love your blog, thanks for the inspiration.

  13. Jane Ulness

    Many of your prices are lower than we can get on the nw. Some of them are higher. We get low dairy, but almost never get meat of any kind for under a buck. Chicken is a bick sometimes, bit it is a treat o get two dollars a pound. Veggies are usually over a dollar. I can get carrots for .40 a pound. W have a small family, and half of us are vegetarian, we, too are living blow the federal poverty level. Our more well to do family members think I’m nuts for stocking. Even to the point of saying mean things. I have to stick by my convictions! lol

  14. My parents mocked us, but then later as we continued to struggle after many years they gifted us food one Christmas. They looked at the Thanksgiving flyers and bought things at stock-up prices. They even gifted us three pork roasts! It was an interesting turn of events for us.

  15. glenna davis

    In a comment above you said”look at my pantry pictures “But I can not find them.Could you Please provide me with a link.

  16. Glenna, the link at the top of the article has a link to my pantry page on my website (not the blog). The pictures were there but some time after this article was published, the slideshow plug-in on my website was no longer being supported. I am still searching for a new slideshow that I can upload to my website that will do what I need it to do. I don’t pay a website designer, so it’s just me, taking the time that I can to find and learn how to do things. You can see two pictures of my pantry in a January 2013 blog post on the subject if you search the blog archives on the right-hand-column.

  17. glenna davis

    Thanks ,Would love to see more.As we are planning on putting shelves in a extra bedroom.making a walk-in pantry.Maybe you could post some on your Facebook page.need all ideals I can get.Love your Blog.lots of good information.Beautiful family.

  18. Nancy B.

    Freezing dry goods for a couple of days will kill any insects, but I add a bay leaf to rice, flours, pasta, etc. stored in gallon glass pickle jars and I never have problems with weevils in my pantry.

  19. Amy Sutherland

    Thanks for this! It is amazing what you can save just by paying attention and planning ahead. These strategies can make a big difference, especially when money is a bit tight. I certainly plan on doing my shopping a bit differently. My brother started using the internet to buy accessories in bulk off of the same concept. Shop once for many meals — shop once for many birthdays/occasions . Thanks!~ Amy | http://www.huafu.org/wholesale-handbags-c-1/

  20. Rachael Eliker

    Wonderful post! One question though: how do you store bulk food that can perish once opened (for example, tomato sauce)? I imagine it would go in the fridge or freezer but we don’t have a large refrigerator/freezer and wouldn’t be able to go through tomato sauce terribly fast. Thoughts? Thanks. 🙂

  21. Rachael, if you are only going to use a little bit once it is opened, you can freeze the rest, or put it in the fridge to use later in the week. At this point, we eat an entire #10 can of sauce in one meal most times. It’s only a few quarts of sauce in the freezer if not. That entire can is under $3–much cheaper than buying small jars of spaghetti sauce, even after you add in spices.

  22. I just found your blog and am so excited with all of your thrifty ideas! I’ve tried clicking on the links in your post, but the send me to a dead end… can you help?

  23. My website is down right now for some reason; my server is checking it out; I’m in the queue but they don’t have my website back up and running yet (I have both a website and a blog). It went down this morning so we’re hoping they fix it soon!

  24. Marie

    Really, really late comment…:) … but my local food coop (a physical building in Cleveland) was fantastic. All of the herbs, spices, teas, flours, grains, legumes, etc. were in bulk bins and you took as much as wanted. That means I could buy 2 tbsps of an odd spice, or huge amount of a staple. Sadly, it closed several years ago after 30-40 years in business, but i would recommend to your readers to see if they have one local to them.

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