A Beginner's Guide to Bulk Food Bargains and Storage
Emergency preparedness is not the only good reason to begin buying food in bulk. First, you can save oodles of money. Secondly, you can have stores of various foods for good times and bad. Third, it can save you money and time by keeping you from running to the store quite so often. Finally, it can enable you to be generous without being pinched.
The Key to a Getting a Good Deal. Knowing what food prices at retail/wholesale levels are is a good place to start in your quest to reduce a food budget and make room for some food stores. If you buy something in bulk and it costs you more than the local grocery store when they have a sale, that hasn’t gained you anything! This has been the recent case for me on a few gluten-free items I used to buy in bulk. Now a store I visit has prices that beat the bulk prices, which makes me very happy.
Monthly I frequent a salvage/overstock food store about an hour away from my home. I have stocked up on various items from this place, but I always go with knowledge of regular costs of things because sometimes it would just be better to get something dated more currently, with a longer lifespan, at regular price, than to buy something cheaply and have it go bad before I can use it.
Bulk Food Wholesalers I do most of my bulk buying through a local Mennonite store who order bulk supplies from a company called Dutch Valley. You can get many, many different types of food and some paper, plastic supplies through them as well. There are other companies like Dutch Valley through whom you can order supplies and have them delivered locally. Check online for stores in your region. I seem to recall one called Northeast for New England area. And believe it or not, you can purchase bulk grains online and have them delivered to your door.
Food Co-Ops Many metropolitan areas have co-ops where you can work a few hours a week in exchange for discounted prices on bulk foods. These are a great idea and I wish we had one here!
You can also create an informal co-op of your own, where friends with like needs, but not needing them all in 25 or 50-pound quantities, get together and split bags of food and costs. This is a great option for smaller families where using a 50-pound bag of rolled oats before they get rancid isn’t practical.
Bulk Food Storage Basics Storing your bulk foods is a matter of preference. We stocked up on 5-gallon buckets from our local Dunkin’ Donuts years ago and still use them all. I pour from my 50-pound bags into the buckets and then label the outside of the bucket as to contents. They stack easily and store well in our cool basement. You can store things anywhere the temperatures remain steadily cooler. We also have an extra bedroom that the sun never hits, so stored foods stay cooler in there. When wanting to store up bulk flours, be advised that buying the whole grain is a wiser idea for storage longevity. Then, you just grind your own grain with either a hand grinder like these, or an electric grinder like the one I use. Once you grind the grain, oxidation and loss of nutrients starts to happen, so it is really best not to grind much more than you need.
Being gluten-free, I buy buckwheat and millet as my staple grains, grind about two gallon bagsful of each and store the ground flour in the freezer to reduce oxidative loss.
Plan to Save. So let’s say you have observed that your local grocery store has sales on a particular item every 3 months. Well then, you should try to have enough money on hand to be able to get a 3-month supply of that item! This is where having forethought comes into play. If you always live on the edge with no buffer, you will not be able to save your family money. And the way I see it, you can either save money– or be forced to go out and make more money. Saving sounds like an easier plan to me! Forethought….that’s a whole other post! Just know what your needs are and plan ahead!
How to Start. Start small to do without some things so that you can build the buffer you need to reinvest in buying bulk. Eventually you will minimize your output weekly and be enjoying regularly rotating stores of food in your own home.
Become a Student of Bargains. Check out every option in your locale: warehouse stores, local groceries, salvage stores, bulk supply, etc. It takes time to compile lists of what you regularly use and to compare prices, but when you do, make a master list and let it serve you! Many times a local grocer’s sale will beat out a bulk or warehouse price. Check it out.
How to Save Even More: When you are aware of sale patterns and locations of the best deals on things, another way to save money is to “bulk up” on your errands as well. When I go to the location where our salvage store is, I don’t "just" go there. I visit other cost-saving outlets in the same area as well. Killing 3 birds with one stone is so satisfying!
The Most Fulfilling Reason to Bulk Up. And a last word on the benefits of bulking up: generosity! It is wonderful being able to respond to someone’s need for a meal – for new mothers or sickly friends- easily without it feeling like a burden…all because you can pull from things you have stored up in bulk. If you’re really clever, you’ll even bulk up when you cook: doubling or tripling meal preparations so you have extra in the freezer for those days when you’re too tired to cook or have an unexpected guest or when you need to serve someone in need. Ah, so many ways to make life easier!