10 Things You Shouldn’t Buy in Bulk

By Erin Huffstetler, the balance

Just because you can buy something in bulk doesn’t mean you should. Here are several things that aren’t worth lugging home from the warehouse store.

1. Sandwich Spreads and Condiments

Kids Making Sandwiches

Super-sized jars of mayo, peanut butter and other condiments make perfect sense in commercial kitchens, but they don’t make much sense in the home kitchen. Why? Aside from the fact that you probably won’t be able to finish them off before the use-by date, you have to consider the potential for contamination.

Every time someone sticks a spoon, knife (or finger) into the container to scoop some out is a chance to introduce bacteria and other contaminants. Think about all the gross things you could be eating by the time you finally get around to finishing off that bottle, and we’re betting those normal-size bottles suddenly seem like the better deal.

2. Flour

Kneading Dough

Unless you do a ton of baking, those big 25- or 50-lb. bags of flour just aren’t a good buy — even if they are cheaper. Since the oils in whole wheat flour go rancid quickly, it’ll only keep in the pantry for one to three months, according to the Whole Grains Council.

All-purpose flour has a longer shelf life, somewhere around 4-6 months past the best-buy date, but it’s still not a good idea to store it in the pantry for that long. That’s because flour is prone to weevil infestations, Keep it in your pantry and you’re just asking for trouble.

Your best bet is to buy flour in five-pound bags, so you can store it in the freezer. This will protect it from bugs and from going rancid, so you can use it at whatever pace suits you.

3. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and Seeds

Keeping your pantry stocked with nuts and seeds is a great thing, since they’re so nutritious, but be careful not to go overboard. They’re prone to going rancid, just like flour. A good rule of thumb is to only buy what you’re able to eat within three to nine months of the best-buy date printed on the container or bag. Some nuts last longer than others. Refer to Eat By Date for the recommended storage times of specific nuts.

Like to stock up on nuts when they’re in season or on sale? Throw them in the freezer, and you won’t have to worry about them going bad.

4. Spices, Herbs and Seasonings


Spices, herbs and seasonings won’t go bad, like flour and nuts, but they do lose their potency over time. With this in mind, it’s best to buy your spices in small containers, so you can use them up and replace them regularly.

McCormick says that ground spices are best when used within two to three years, but a lot of professional chefs recommend replacing your spices every six months. The call is yours.

If you really want to buy your spices in bulk, go with whole spices. Their oils will be locked in until you grind them, so they won’t suffer the same flavor loss in storage that ground spices do.

And no matter how convenient it seems, don’t store your spices by the stove. The heat, humidity and light will kill their flavor even faster.They belong in the pantry or a cupboard.

5. Cooking Oils

Cooking Oil

Unless you do a lot of frying, it probably doesn’t make sense to buy your cooking oils in bulk. NutritionFacts.org did a study, and found that many cooking oils begin to go rancid and oxidize long before the printed best-buy dates on the bottle. So, buying big could be a waste of money and might even put your health at risk. Compare prices, and you’ll probably find that those big bottles don’t even offer much — if any — savings over the small bottles.

6. Other Whole Grain Foods

Whole Grains

Brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, popcorn and any foods made with whole grains — things like pasta, crackers and chips — have a much shorter shelf life than their processed counterparts, That’s a good thing, if you’re trying to eat healthy, but it does mean you have to be careful not to overbuy, Brown rice, for example, will only keep in the pantry for four to six months. That’s a far cry from the 4-5 year shelf life of white rice.

And just as flour is susceptible to weevils, so too are all of these other whole grain foods. If you don’t want a big pantry infestation on your hands, you need to be rotating through your stock regularly, and you just can’t do that when you’re buying huge amounts.

To avoid food waste and problems with weevils, buy smaller packages of rice, oatmeal and other whole grains, and store them in your freezer. There’s no need to thaw them before you use them.

For snack foods, just try to buy amounts that are reasonable for your family.

7. Coffee

Woman Drinking Coffee

Brewing your own coffee is definitely cheaper than buying it at a coffee shop, and while you might be tempted to save even more by purchasing a giant bag of grounds or beans, don’t do it. Fresh coffee is the key to good coffee. Buy a small bag, so you can store it in the freezer between brews. Then, have fun trying different flavors each time you run out. That’s better than drinking the same coffee day after day anyway.

8. Skincare Products

Woman Applying Skin Cream

Foods aren’t the only thing you shouldn’t buy in bulk. You should also be leery of buying large containers of skincare products. Why? Because every time you dip your finger into the container to scoop some out is a opportunity to introduce bacteria that you’ll then be applying to your skin. It’s an infection just waiting to happen. Save yourself a trip to the doctor and lost time from work by sticking to containers that you can use up within a year. And consider applying products with a clean brush or sponge, so you don’t have to use your fingers at all. Better still: buy products with a built in pump, so you can squeeze out what you need, without ever taking off the lid.

Want to save money on your favorite skincare products? Then look for stock-up prices on the regular-size packages.

9. Paper Products

Toilet Paper

Bigger doesn’t always mean cheaper, and that’s generally the case when it comes to paper products. Compare the unit price of warehouse packages of toilet paper and paper towels to the grocery store prices for the same products, and you’ll usually find that the grocery store wins. And that’s before you factor in sales and coupons (which you can’t use at warehouse stores).

If you want to stock up, just buy a bunch of the smaller packages. They’ll be easier to store, anyway.

10. Cleaning Products

Cleaning Products

Buying giant bottles of your favorite cleaners may seem like a smart idea, and it is, if you own a maid service, but for normal folks (who have a hard enough time keeping one house clean), it just doesn’t make sense. That’s because many of your go-to cleaners probably have a much shorter shelf life than you realize.

According to the Goodhousekeeping Research Institute, laundry detergent is only good for six months to a year after it’s been open. Liquid hand soap is only good for 12-18 months; and dishwasher detergent is only good for three months.

Another interesting finding from their research was that anti-bacterial products have a shorter shelf life. In fact, for some products, like multi-surface cleaner, it was found to cut their shelf life in half.

This research makes a pretty compelling case for switching to white vinegar as your main cleaning solution. It has a near-infinite shelf life, and costs a lot less than store-bought cleaners (even when you buy them in bulk. Purchase a gallon, and it’ll be a long time before you need to purchase another one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top