A couple of years ago, I bought two cases of drinking straws. When they arrived, I had something like three thousand straws taking up space in the back of my utility closet. My wife raised an eyebrow and wondered aloud whether I might be anticipating a great and imminent straw shortage. I explained that they had been on sale at Amazon for about 9 cents per box, as compared to the usual 59 cents per box in local stores. “How could I walk away from such a bargain?” I asked. As I recall, my wife did not respond and her eyebrow remained raised for the better part of the day.
Time has demonstrated that there was a degree of wisdom in my purchase. Although I remain convinced that straws are fundamentally a waste of money and can only add to the wrinkles that form around one’s lips, I live in a household of straw users. Since I purchased the straws at Amazon, my family has used about sixty percent of the straws. Even if they never use another straw, I have saved much more purchasing heavily discounted straws as compared to the regular retail price. I gambled that my savings would justify the cost and I was accurate in my assessment.
I have often purchased silly quantities of an item when the sale has been too good to pass up. Usually, I have made good decisions. Sometimes, however, I have wasted money by stocking up on a product that I later learn has fallen out of vogue in my household. One time, for example, I purchased about fifty dollars worth of cheese blintzes, a product my wife had been eating for years, only to learn a month later that my wife had stopped eating them because they contained trans-fat. Ouch!
Even when a shopper thinks he knows when he has found a great buy, it is only a great buy if the shopper will actually be able to use whatever it is that he or she is buying. With that in mind, here are my rules for bulk purchases:
Know Your Household Needs: If purchasing a food item that the shopper won’t eat, the shopper really needs to know with some certainty that someone else in the household will eat it. About once each month, I will ask my wife whether she thinks that there is any risk that she will stop eating the items that I know that she always eats or whether our children’s tastes are evolving. If I think that there is a risk that a food item is going out of vogue, I do not stock up.
Know What Items Routinely Go On Sale: I know the sales patterns at my local Publix. I know that I can rely on certain items to go on sale every six to eight weeks. For non-perishable items, I will buy a lot even if I know that we will not use the items up before the next sale. For perishable items, I try to limit purchases to just enough to keep our household in stock until the next sale. Living in an area prone to experiencing hurricanes, I do not want to see my great deals wasted because of a power failure.
Know a Good Deal When You See One: Just because an item is on sale does not mean that it is on sale for a great price. The price may just be better than the regular retail price. Tropicana Orange Juice usually goes on sale at my local Publix at a price of 2 for six dollars, a savings of a little less than two dollars on two cartons. While the sale price is better than the regular price, it is not all that wonderful when compared to the regular price of Publix orange juice — a product just as good as Tropicana’s in my experience — which is regularly priced at three dollars per carton (or two for six dollars, the same price as Tropicana’s sales price). At the same time on one or two occasions, Publix has offered BOGO deals on Tropicana juice. That is a GREAT deal and one that justified my purchase of about twenty cartons of juice (enough for my household for about a month).
Know Your Math: Today I noticed that small boxes of General Mills cereal are on sale. It is a BOGO deal so it appeals immediately to the frugal shopper in all of us. It is not a great deal, however, because it is the smallest box of cereal that is subject to the deal. I could stock up and save a lot of money (and I do like reduced sugar Cinnamon Toast Crunch!) but I know that the larger box, which is a much better value per ounce, will eventually go on sale (again a BOGO) and that I will get a much better deal.
Know When Something Will NECESSARILY be Used: Some things we like to use. Other things we need to use. If you get a great deal on walnuts, you may or may not eat them all before they spoil. If you get a great deal on toilet paper, chances are good that you will eventually use it all as long as you live long enough.
How do you decide when it is time to stock up? What is more important to you, satisfying your need by purchasing a product that is on sale or adapting your needs to the products that are on sale? What is the best bulk deal that you have ever gotten?