How To Maximize Bulk Buying Benefits and Avoid Waste: 9 Tips

Learn how to maximize bulk buying benefits with these nine tips to help ensure your bulk food purchases (and savings) don’t go to waste.

by Andrea Norris-McKnight

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You likely buy many groceries in bulk if you have a warehouse club membership. Or perhaps you like to stock up at the grocery store when often-used food items are on sale. Buying in bulk can save you a bundle unless you lose those bargain goodies to food spoilage. Who hasn’t lost track of a giant tub of sour cream hiding in the back of the refrigerator or a bulk package of tortillas in the back of the pantry only to be tossed because they’ve grown a layer of mold?

If you often take advantage of bulk savings, the following tips can help ensure you maximize the benefits of bulk purchases and don’t let them go to waste.

1. Understand Date-Labeling

When buying in bulk, make sure you grasp the different types of dates on food products. Companies don’t make it so easy, do they? “Sell by,” “use by,” “best before” — these labels and dates each have distinct meanings, and according to the USDA, none of them pertain to food safety. The USDA provides the following date-labeling examples:

  • Best if Used By/Before: Indicates “when a product will be of best flavor or quality.”
  • Sell-By: This date is for store use and indicates “how long to display the product for sale for inventory management.”
  • Use-By: Provides the last recommended date for using the product “while at peak quality.”
  • Freeze-By: Indicates the date by which you should freeze a product “to maintain peak quality.”

2. Check Expiration Dates Before Buying

Familiarizing yourself with date-labeling terms can help you make informed decisions about whether a bulk food purchase will lose its “peak quality” before you can eat it, but only if you remember to check dates before buying.

This is especially true of refrigerated products and breads. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting home only to realize that giant package of cream cheese you bought will reach its “use-by” date in 48 hours.

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3. Keep an Inventory of Your Food Items

Maintaining a detailed inventory of what’s in your fridge, pantry and freezer, including expiration dates, can help you avoid food waste and simplify meal planning. This list can guide your cooking decisions and shopping needs, helping you to use what you have before buying more. An inventory also reduces the chances of overbuying or forgetting about hidden items until it’s too late.

4. Use a First-In, First-Out Organization System

You’ve probably heard of a FIFO storage system. This first-in, first-out storage method is easy to implement and quite effective for organizing and tracking bulk purchases. Place newer items behind older ones and label each with visible expiration dates. This way, you grab the oldest products first and save yourself the pain of digging through your pantry to read the dates on eight cans of tomatoes.

5. Meal Plan Around the Bulk Items You Have on Hand

As often as possible, plan your meals around the bulk items you’ve already purchased rather than recipes that require you to buy several ingredients. This proactive approach ensures you actually utilize what you have and reduces the number of ingredients you need to buy that might not be on sale for the week.

Also, stick to your meal plan as closely as you can. A meal plan will only help you avoid food waste if you eat the planned meals. If you must skip cooking a planned meal, put it on the following week’s plan.

6. Store Foods Properly

Proper storage significantly extends the life of bulk purchases. Learn the ideal conditions for storing different types of food, such as keeping grains in airtight containers in a cool, dry place or properly freezing meat and dairy products to extend their usability beyond their fresh-use dates.

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7. Know Your Storage Space Limitations

Be realistic about your available storage space and avoid buying more than you can properly store. Overcrowding in the fridge and freezer can lead to improper air circulation and temperature fluctuations that spoil food faster. And no one wants to try to find things in a tightly packed pantry or cupboard.

8. Note Items That Frequently Go To Waste and Stop Buying Them in Bulk

Occasionally, a bulk produce or dairy purchase might go bad. But if you throw away two heads of that Romaine lettuce six-pack each time you buy it, you might want to see if buying less, even if it costs more per head, will save you more.

Keep track of what items you consistently waste and reconsider buying those in bulk. Despite a higher per-unit cost, purchasing some products in smaller quantities will be more cost-effective.

9. Learn How to Preserve Some of the Foods You Buy in Bulk

Learning basic food preservation techniques can vastly extend the life of your bulk purchases. Canning, freezing and dehydrating are effective methods for keeping everything from fruits and vegetables to meats and seafood. Proper preservation can provide you with off-season goodies and reduce food waste.

Don’t Let Bulk Food Purchases Go To Waste

Making the most of your bulk purchases involves more than enjoying the lower prices; it requires a few strategies to ensure nothing goes to waste. You can maximize the benefits of bulk buying by understanding and managing label dates, maintaining an organized inventory and using proper storage and preservation techniques.

Remember, the key to successful bulk buying is not just in the purchase but in the wise management of resources afterward.

Reviewed May 2024

About the Author

Andrea Norris-McKnight took over as the editor of The Dollar Stretcher and After 50 Finances after working under the site founder and previous editor for almost 15 years. She has also written for,, and The Sacramento Bee.

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