If you've ever had to deal with the uncomfortable problem of requesting toilet paper through a cracked bathroom door, Procter & Gamble recently came up with a solution: The Charmin Forever Roll, priced at $8.99, which provides a one-month supply of toilet paper condensed into a single massive roll. You get 2,550 two-ply sheets for just under $9 — and you won't have to change the roll.
But compare that to a 24-pack of Charmin Ultra Strong Mega Rolls. At 286 two-ply sheets per roll, you're getting a total of 6,864 sheets for just under $24. That comes up to nearly a dollar per unit, or roll, and you're getting over twice as many sheets as with the Forever Roll.
While tire-size toilet paper may be a conversation starter, it isn't actually a great deal, money-wise. The same is true of certain other bulk purchases as well.
To figure out whether buying in bulk really gives you the best value, calculate the unit price, suggests Kristin McGrath, editor and shopping expert at Offers.com. That's because the unit price is one of the most important factors to consider to make sure you're getting the best deal.
"Take out your phone and calculate the unit price by dividing the total cost by whichever unit of measure you prefer, based on the volume printed on the product packaging," says McGrath.
Here are three other household or grocery items that may not be worth bulking up on.
A 100-ounce bottle of Tide laundry detergent costs $11.99 at Target and lasts for 64 loads. The average American family does 8-10 loads of laundry each week, according to the Spruce. At that rate, a 100-ounce bottle would only last about eight weeks.
Purchasing the same product in a 200-ounce bulk size costs $28 at Costco, or $16 more.
That extra 100 ounces in detergent can save you time: It gives you an extra 82 loads, which translates to about 10 more weeks before you have to make another trip to the store. But it won't necessarily save you money. In terms of unit price, you're looking at 11 cents per ounce for the 100-ounce bottle, while getting the bulk 200-ounce bottle actually raises the unit price slightly, by 3 cents, to 14 cents per ounce.
Sometimes savings come in midsize packages, rather than in jumbo ones.
Amazon sells a 2-pound box of Uncle Ben's Original Long Grain White Rice for $3.88, or 12 cents per ounce. The online retailer also sells a six pack of 5-pound bags of Uncle Ben's Original Long Grain White Rice for $59.99. That gives you a lot more grains for your dough, but the unit price is still the same: 12 cents per ounce.
You're not saving money with the bigger size, though you're not losing money, either. However, you will save with an in-between size. For Amazon's 2-pack of 10-pound bags of that same Uncle Ben's Original, you'll pay just $27.98, or 9 cents per ounce. And while it's just 3 cents per unit, if you use rice frequently, that savings could stack up.
That underlines why keeping your family's needs in mind when shopping in bulk is key, note McGrath: "If your family doesn't finish everything you bought, you've wasted money — and valuable fridge and freezer space, thanks to clutter from the extra-large bottles and packages."
A 1-pound bag of Blue Diamond whole natural almonds costs $7.98, or about 50 cents per ounce, on Amazon. The same brand offers a variety pack on Amazon that consists of three 1-pound bags for a total of $24.70. This might seem like a steal, but it will actually cost you a bit more, as the unit price for the variety pack comes out to 51 cents per ounce. The difference is only a penny, but you're still better off with the smaller size.
While bulk item prices usually remain consistent, smaller retailers and grocery stores have regular sales and promotions that can translate to a better deal if the unit price goes low enough. So, when you're shopping for deals, you might be better off with a bulk size one week, and a smaller size when it's on sale at your local grocer.
That being said, don't run yourself ragged shopping around: The best product for your budget is not only about money, but also your time. "While buying in bulk might not always save you money, it might save you some trips to the store, which is cost-efficient in the end," says McGrath.
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