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Bulk buying can be a huge help in cutting your budget while still keeping all of the needed staples available. Using bulk-buying techniques, you can save 10-90%, depending on the item you are purchasing. Good candidates for bulk buying include staples, grains, baking needs, maple syrup, kitchen supplies, canned goods and more.
I purchase one-pound bags of the spices I use most often to keep the price as low as possible. We can easily go through a pound of onion powder or garlic granules, paprika, cinnamon, cumin and other spices that see a lot of use in our household before it goes bad. Other spices, we split with other group members. The cost savings is quite significant, to the point that I’d still save money even if I threw out half of the bag for many of these spices, but so far I haven’t had to throw anything out.
Bay leaf is close to a 90% savings, but you need to have multiple families to go in with you, since a one-pound bag is incredibly gigantic. I can purchase one pound of bay leaves for $12.90, which is 57 cups of bay leaves, or I can purchase a jar of bay leaves, which is .15 ounces, for $4.88. Even if you wind up throwing out half of your supply of bay leaves after a couple of years, you’re still well ahead financially. However, bay leaves, like most spices, gradually fade, so you would just need to increase the number of leaves you’re putting into the food to get the same flavor profile.
The drawback is that Frontier does have a minimum order of $250 to get free shipping. Since Frontier carries many items outside of spices and herbs, it is quite easy to meet that minimum if you form a group. I run our co-op group and we place an order every 3-4 months so we can hit the $250 minimum.
Bulk purchases of grains from the grower, or even directly from the health food store, can also save. I’ve found some cases, such as whole sorghum, where buying directly from the grower saves 75% or more of the cost of the grains, even when you factor in shipping. A sealed, 5-gallon bucket of sorghum might cost me $40 to have shipped to my house, but if I purchased the same amount of whole sorghum in one-pound bags, I would pay over $110 at the local store.
Even if you’re not willing to order things online and your only option is a local health food store, ask them if they would give you a 10% or more discount over the bulk bin prices if you purchased a 25-pound bag (or whatever size the item comes in). This tactic can still build up your pantry, all while cutting your food budget. For grains, we do one bulk order a year, saving us as much as 75% off the price of some of the items compared to our local health food store. I found that if I ran a big order for multiple families for grains, even when I pay shipping from Bob’s Red Mill to my door, we still come out significantly ahead. It only took me a little time to gather the orders and break the orders up when they arrived on my doorstep. This minimizes the shipping cost per pound, which maximizes the savings.
When I purchase a whole cow and divide it among a couple of families, I can get all of my beef for around $4.50 a pound, just a little over the local price of decent, organic ground beef that runs $4 a pound. However, my beef isn’t just organic, it’s also pastured. 🙂 I’m basically paying fifty cents extra a pound for the pastured ground beef, BUT I’m also getting steaks, ribs, roasts and other cuts for that same $4.50 a pound price. Since many organic (but not pastured) steaks can go for $15+ here, that’s a good deal.
No, steaks aren’t necessary, but when times are tight, having steak at a ground beef price can be a major morale booster that makes life more bearable when you don’t have any other luxuries. Being able to do a really great steak for Christmas dinner when my husband was unemployed and we were having a very small Christmas with a very tight budget was a major morale boost. It allowed me to relax and enjoy the day, instead of being worried about our financial situation.
Then I take it a step further and when fresh produce hits its rock bottom prices, I begin purchasing extra to dehydrate, can, freeze or otherwise store for the times it is not available fresh and in-season. We’ll talk about that more coming up in this series.
The down-side to bulk purchasing anything is that you do have to factor in the time and equipment needed for processing or storing the items. However, after running the math, I found that many things, such as a grain mill and dehydrator, would pay for themselves in a year or less under normal use when compared to having to continually purchase food at the store. In some cases, such as the canned tomato products, it would be even healthier due to the lack of additives in the home-made products.
Another up-side to this way of doing meals is that when something does happen, such as a big emergency that both eats up your emergency fund and chews down into your monthly budget, you can easily slash or even eliminate your grocery budget all-together and go to only consuming your pantry. In the last year, when our emergency fund was really being stretched and we were working hard to meet all of our bills on time, it was really nice to be able to drop my grocery bill to under $100 (which only covered raw milk and eggs) to keep from having to touch the emergency fund and meet all of our bills on time without worry. This method is one of the ways we have gone through unemployment for two of the last three years without ever having one late bill or house payment. It also allowed us to keep from spending our emergency fund- we just ate off of what we had instead of continuing to purchase groceries, then when money loosened up later, we replaced the items we had used.