Don’t you hate it when you reach for trash bags, paper towels, or batteries, and you discover someone used the last one and didn’t bother to mention it? Sure, it’s annoying, but it can also put a dent in your wallet. Research has shown that consumers who make a midweek “fill in” trip to the store buy twice the number of items they had intended. Hit the supermarket aisles less often, and save almost $1,000 a year—as well as a lot of frustration. Here are four strategies for stocking up on nonperishables.
1. Compare costs.
Track prices of your must-have products at your local grocery store, then keep a best-price cheat sheet in your wallet. Next time you’re stocking up, you won’t have to wonder if you’re getting a good buy. Know the cost per unit (CPU) before you buy in bulk. (That’s the cost divided by quantity or unit of weight, like ounces.) That figure isn’t always posted on the store shelf, but there are apps and online calculators that will do the math for you. Calcnexus.com has the Grocery Price Calculator, a free online tool that you can also access from most Web-enabled cell phones; it factors in coupons too. For $2.99, BlackBerry users can access Price Comparer in the AppSuite. Android users can download the free Unit Price Compare at appstorehq.com.
2. “Hire” a virtual assistant.
Turn the shopping over to an online team. Alice.com, a discounter, sells direct from the manufacturer. (It’s named after the frugal housekeeper on The Brady Bunch.) Set up a free account and create a “shelf” of your favorite products. Manufacturer coupons are automatically applied, shipping is free, and you’ll receive alerts that you may be running low. After your first order, there’s a minimum purchase of six items. Select your favorite products, from more than 16,000, at Amazon.com’s Subscribe & Save. Get a 15 percent discount and free shipping, and choose when you want to restock—from one- to six-month intervals.
3. Shop warehouse stores.
Even factoring in the annual membership fees— $45 at BJ’s, $50 at Costco, and $40 at Sam’s Club—you can still save. Stay focused and buy only what you need and will use within a reasonable time period.
4. Don’t overstock.
Some products have a short shelf life. Bleach begins to lose its effectiveness after six months, say experts, but should perform well for at least nine months (unless it freezes or you store it someplace that is too hot). And don’t gamble with a jumbo case of diapers for your fast-growing newborn, says wisebread.com blogger Linsey Knerl. It’s also best to test smaller sizes of products before buying in bulk, she adds. “I bought a large bottle of a cleaning product, only to find out my child was allergic to it. And I wasted $50 on a vitamin supplement before I learned I was pregnant. I can’t use it while I’m expecting or nursing, and I’ll never use it all before it expires.”
The bottom line. To find the best bargain store, I created a hypothetical shopping cart. I priced four batteries, two sticks of deodorant, eight rolls of paper towels, 100 ounces of laundry detergent, and 12 rolls of toilet paper at 7-Eleven, alice.com, Amazon.com’s Subscribe & Save, BJ’s, CVS, Peapod ($60 minimum purchase and a $6.95 or $9.95 delivery fee), ShopRite, and Target. The results, from lowest total cost to highest:
Target $31.36 BJ’s $31.88 Amazon’s Subscribe & Save $32.88 Peapod $39.20 alice.com $43.45 ShopRite $43.83 CVS $55.91 7-Eleven $71.27
The difference between the least and most expensive stores: a whopping $39.91.
Additional reporting by Tara Conry