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5 Things You SHOULDN’T Be Buying In Bulk

By Heather Levin

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with Costco.

On an intellectual level, I know I’m saving money when I go there to buy bulk foods. And they do have products I like. But on an emotional level? My trips to the giant wholesale store rank on the same level as root canals and mall shopping on Christmas Eve.

In other words, I go as rarely as I can. Come on, I know some of you are in the same boat as me!

The habit I’ve gotten into is when I go, I buy a bunch of stuff so I don’t have to go back for a long, long time. And at first this seemed like a good strategy until I realized that I was actually wasting money this way. I was buying the wrong products in bulk, and they were going bad before I could use them up.

Many people don’t realize how fast some products go bad causing you to lose a lot of money in the process. Unless you’re feeding a family of 20 or you own a restaurant, there are some things you just shouldn’t buy in bulk.

Let’s take a look at what they are:

1. Brown Rice

Raise your hand if you think brown rice lasts forever. Don’t worry, if you’d asked me a few months ago, I would have had mine up in the air too.

Most people think brown rice will keep until the apocalypse comes. It’s rice, after all. Doesn’t that mean it’s non-perishable?

Well, no. Brown rice actually has a much shorter shelf life than white rice because it contains more oil (it’s also much better for you than white rice); it only lasts 6 months. And even then, you should keep it in the refrigerator.

If you have a choice, buy brown rice in smaller bags at the grocery store and go for the white rice when you need to buy in bulk since this will last significantly longer. Quick Tip: Buying Basmati white rice in bulk at Costco is an awesome way to get some real bang for your buck.

2. Nuts

As a vegetarian, I eat a lot of nuts. And since nuts are expensive, I was stocking up at Costco. But I wasn’t eating them fast enough. After a few months, they started tasting bitter and were just, off. The squirrels in my yard got gourmet fare this summer because I just couldn’t eat the nuts anymore!

Nuts have the same problem as brown rice, but worse. Because they’re heavy in oils they go rancid quickly, within 1 or 2 months (depending on your heat and humidity). Nuts also need to be stored in the fridge or freezer.

The good news is that nuts in the shell (like roasted peanuts and pistachios) have a longer shelf life, so those are pretty safe to buy in bulk.

3. Bleach

I know, this one’s a shocker right?

Bleach starts to lose its effectiveness after 6 months. So unless you have some serious bleaching needs, it pays to buy smaller jugs.

4. Spices

My spice cabinet is packed full with jumbo containers of black pepper, cinnamon, sea salt…I could go on.

Want to know how long ago I bought them? Trust me, it was a while ago.

Spices lose their “spice” after 6 months to a year. It’s important to look at your cooking habits to see what you’re realistically going to use up.

For instance, the cinnamon was a bad idea because I don’t use it that much. But I use red pepper flakes every day; I’ve gone through my jumbo red pepper within that 6 month time frame. So for me, red pepper flakes are a good bargain to buy in bulk while cinnamon is not.

A good rule of thumb is to look at your spice cabinet closely. Which spices do you have up front for easy access? Chances are that these are the spices you’re using most often, which means you can probably safely buy them in bulk for extra savings. You probably shouldn’t be buying in bulk the spice in the back though.

For the spices that you shouldn’t buy in bulk, one awesome solution is to grow a home garden.

5. Olive Oil

Olive oil is another one of those products that you would think would have an incredible shelf life.

The truth? It doesn’t.

Olive oil lasts around 6 months. If you keep it away from light and heat, it will last a bit longer, but it’s still just not going to be as good.

A good tip? Always buy olive oil in the darkest colored container you can. The reason is because the more light that hits the oil, the faster it’s going to break down. So dark colored green jars are the best.

Conclusion

While a trip to bulk stores like Costco can save you a ton of money and time in the long run, that doesn’t mean you should buy anything and everything when you go there. There are some products where it makes total sense to buy them in bulk, while there are others where you are just wasting your money on products that will become sub-par before you get a chance to consume them.

What has and hasn’t worked for you to buy in bulk? Any products you think should be added to this list?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • http://beyonditall.net Carla

    I’m not vegetarian, but I still eat a lot of nuts. I can go though a Costco bag in less than two months, but I still prefer to buy it in smaller batches at the co-op where it is fresher. The quality just isnt there at Costco for certain things.

    • Dietzmelanie30

      if you do buy in bulk nuts divide it up into snack size bags and freeze it flat with a date on it.. then take them out as you eat them.. just a tip.. i do that with walnuts all the time and they last forever.. hope this helps..

  • Becky

    I know exactly what you mean. Having access to a wholesale outlet can be very, very dangerous. I have a membership with one outlet and I made some really stupid mistakes to begin with. It can turn your head; all your favourite stuff is there and there’s loads of it and it’s cheaper. Or there’s that brand of cereal that I can’t find anywhere else, so I might as well buy it in bulk and shock horror, I’m throwing half of it out a while later.

    Sugar is normally a good one to buy in bulk, as it tends not to go off. (I never used to rotate it either when I had the joy of working in a supermarket!) But unless you’re doing a lot of baking, it’s probably best not to buy it in bulk.

    Me, I tend to buy toilet paper, kitchen roll and pet food in bulk. Toilet paper and kitchen roll I can stick up in the loft until I need it and pet food never lasts for very long, thanks to two cats and a dog that eat me out of house and home. I did see a suggestion for toothbrushes too. I think that’s a pretty good idea, as you’ll always need them, they’ll always wear out so will always need replacing and they won’t take up much space either.

  • Heather Levin

    @Carla- I know; I’m doing smaller batches as well for just regular snacking. I am going to be buying bulk nuts for my holiday baking, but I’ll definitely use them all up then!

    @Becky-Toothbrushes IS a good idea, thanks for that! If Costco carried the brand of dog food I buy then I’d definitely buy it there: I have three (including one Mastiff) and they eat me out of house and home as well!

  • Anne

    Huh, i didnt realize that brown rice and nuts expired that fast! I will have to remember that when I go to costco next time. Thanks for the advice!

  • Wolf

    Well, the intelligence of the consumer is challenged again, duh. I have developed a really short list for COSTCO items and that’s what I’m sticking with. As long as I don’t go buying there with my wife (who “shops”) it’s all good.

  • Wolf

    Batteries, printer cartriges, Seltzer water, pulled chicken and pork, kitchen towels, coffee, shrimp, Spenda packs, Softsoap, Vitamins, AND NUTS!

  • Heather Levin

    @Wolf- That’s a great list! I rarely venture into the other side of Costco…I forgot they even sold printer in. Thanks so much for sending that in!

  • Debra

    Its ok to buy dog food if you can use it quickly as mentioned earlier. It loses nutritional value over time, though so if you only have one small guy like I do, its best to buy the small sizes.

  • Leo

    I try to keep 6 months plus toilet paper, Paper towels, Laundry detergent,Bleach regular and colored fabric, plastic bags (freezer and trash type). Also AA and AAA batteries (good for 5-7 years). Some staples like sugar ,rice, dry food packages, Mac and cheese and canned goods etc. Anything that oil going up and dollar going down will affect in a major way. My assumption is looming supply disruptions will make having WAY better than trying to find.

  • Peter Ellis

    I can assure you that olive oil lasts more than 6mths. It is quite likely already more than six months old when you buy it.
    I make olive oil. However, it is important to prevent it from oxidising, just like wine. If you don’t use it regularly, decant it carefully into a smaller bottle. Don’t leave it in a big container that is only part full. Consider using something like the Vacuvins that wine merchants sell to reseal the bottle and pump the air out..

  • tim

    shelf life 6 months, edible for 20 years

  • missusshives

    I’m afraid you’re wrong on the storage life of nuts. According to Diamond Nuts,

    The shelf life of nuts depends on several factors: storage conditions, whether the package is opened or unopened, and whether they are shelled or unshelled. In general, the following applies:

    Shelled Nuts (stored in the Pantry in an Unopened package)- 24 months
    Opened package – 18 months
    Refrigerator (Unopened package) – 36 months
    Opened package – 24 months

    In-the-Shell Nuts (stored in the Pantry in an Unopened package) – 9 months
    Opened package – 7 months
    Refrigerator (Unopened package) – 24 months
    Opened package – 18 months

    Nuts can be stored in the pantry or refrigerator. When storing opened packages of nuts, be sure to use an airtight, odorless container, as nuts can absorb odors of other foods. Nuts stored in the refrigerator will stay fresher longer.

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