20 Items You Should Avoid Buying in Bulk
Shopping at a warehouse club like Costco or Sam's Club can save you a ton, but it can also be an exercise in frustration. What's going to go bad before you can use it all? Which are the items that might be cheaper during your weekly grocery run? To help, we've compiled a list of 20 products that may not always be better to buy in bulk.
Feel free to buy a nice big pack for upcoming tailgate parties, but resist stocking up for that Super Bowl blowout just yet. Some beer will have an expiration date, but if not, here's a rule of thumb: Domestic U.S. beers typically have a shelf life of just four months, according to the consumer site BeerDates.com. Foreign brews may have a longer lifespan of up to a year.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating: Unless you're buying for a truly large family or special event, lots of fresh produce will be hard to use before it spoils. And as consumer advocate and radio host Clark Howard advises, in-season produce is probably cheaper at your local grocery -- and available in more manageable quantities, to boot.
That mega-size bottle of laundry detergent is probably a tempting buy, but hold off unless you really do a lot of laundry. Whether you prefer liquid or powder detergents, they typically only retain all of their cleaning power for six months to a year, according to Good Housekeeping. After that, they start to lose their effectiveness.
The news is even worse for dishwasher detergent: You'll only get about three months of peak effectiveness, says Good Housekeeping. If you prefer to wash your dishes by hand, you'll get a much longer detergent lifespan of up to 18 months from regular dish soap.
Notoriously pricey sunscreen can be a tempting bulk buy, but be careful to store it in a cool environment. That's because the ingredients that protect us from the sun's harmful rays can actually start to break down in the heat, which could leave you burnt even after slathering on the sunscreen.
Unless you go through a lot of bleach, buying that jumbo-size bottle probably isn't the best move. Real Simple says it's effective only up to six months. Clorox notes that the active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, naturally breaks down, especially in extreme temperatures. Even bleach that's always kept at room temperature should be replaced after a year, the company advises.
Diapers are a risky bulk buy because babies grow so fast. A sudden growth spurt could render that massive case of Size 1s useless, while an early potty trainee might suddenly say bye-bye to a fresh case of Size 4s. Diapers may also be available elsewhere for less. For example, a recent Cheapism price comparison showed Amazon had lower prices on Huggies than Costco, and that's without accounting for additional Amazon Family discounts.
While most vitamins and dietary supplements can last quite a while -- roughly two years, according to The New York Times -- the same isn't the case for probiotics. You'll only about a year before they should be pitched, and take note of storage instructions: Some will require refrigeration.
Canned veggies last a long time when they're sealed: Up to five years for anything that's not acidic, like tomatoes, according to Real Simple. But once opened and refrigerated, they'll expire within three to four days – which means multi-packs of small cans might be a good buy, but huge individual cans might not be. Like soda, canned vegetables are often cheaper at the supermarket.
Many skincare products have a short shelf life. The worst offenders, according to Allure: hydroquinone creams used for lightening age spots and freckles (2-3 months); peels and masks (3 months); acne treatments (4-6 months); and skin-perfecting retinoid creams (9-11 months). Also, be wary of anything sold in a jar: Dipping in repeatedly exposes the product to more air, light, and bacteria, experts tell The New York Times.
That massive bag of brown rice or quinoa may seem like a healthy, budget-friendly buy, but whole grains don't stay fresh as long as their processed counterparts. Intact whole grains will last up to six months in an air-tight container in the pantry, advises the Whole Grains Council. Whole grain flours and meals only keep up to a few months.
Expired spices will probably only hurt your palate, not your health, but it's still worth noting that most spices only retain their full flavor for a year or less, experts tell the Huffington Post. So if your normal-size bottle of cinnamon is still half-full after a year, buying a bigger jar could end up costing you money instead of saving it.
Price is the biggest consideration here. Cereal is one of the most popular items on supermarket shelves, which means you can snag great deals because sales are frequent, according to Clark Howard. Of course, you also need to consider freshness before buying in bulk -- no one likes stale Cheerios. And once opened, that massive box of cereal will start going stale in two or three months, according to Still Tasty.
If you're not picky about taste and just want your morning hit of caffeine, coffee might be a safe warehouse-store bet. But a large bag of ground coffee will start to lose flavor fast, with quality starting to deteriorate in only a couple of weeks, according to Still Tasty. If you must buy your coffee at a warehouse club, single-serve portions like K-Cups might be a better choice. If ground coffee is a must, transfer it to an airtight container.
Aside from the fact that you'll need a lot of storage space for the massive packs at toilet paper found at your local warehouse club, sometimes you won't save compared with the supermarket. Kiplinger found that Kroger was 25 percent cheaper per roll than Sam's Club on Charmin Ultra Soft. You can also use manufacturer's coupons for an even better deal at the grocery, unlike Sam's and Costco, which prohibit them.
Vegetable oil and olive oil are often assumed to have long shelf lives, but they're good for only three to five months after opening, according to the USDA. The enormous containers of oil sold at warehouse stores might be suitable for restaurant use, but a single household isn't likely to use enough to get their money's worth. Smaller quantities from the grocery store may cost more per ounce but won't lose freshness and quality before they can be used.
A multi-pack of small condiment bottles might work, but if you're tempted by a vat of mayonnaise, resist. According to Consumer Reports, you get a mere two weeks of freshness with pickles and olives; up to two months with mayo and salad dressing; four months with barbecue sauce; and six months with ketchup and cocktail sauce. And as the Krazy Coupon Lady points out, grocery sales and manufacturer's coupons often make condiments cheaper at the supermarket.