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How to Buy in Bulk When You Live in a Small Space


Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

Buying in bulk can be an empowering experience. The combination of the cost-savings, plus the satisfaction of not needing to buy that again for a while, can leave you feeling like you’ve managed to really cheat the system. Until you get home and realize that, uh, you don’t have room for this many cans of soup—and actually, you don’t even really like canned soup.

Living in a home with limited storage makes bulk-buying a challenge. But with a little strategy, you can take advantage of the lower prices without having to step over cases of water to get into the kitchen.

Bulk up on items you go through quickly

Sure, a three-pack of toilet cleaner isn’t very big and it probably is a good deal. But how long does it take you to go through three bottles of the stuff, even if you’re pretty diligent about a clean bowl? It may seem counterintuitive to instead opt to save that space to make room for your much larger cube of toilet paper, but you’re going to go through that stuff a whole lot faster.

Reserving storage for items you use up quickly is an economically better use of the space (you get more cost savings over time because you’re making purchases more frequently), but it’s also just more convenient. No one wants to be going to back and forth to the store for four-packs of TP while your year’s supply of Lysol mocks you.

Your bulk purchase priorities may vary by season; in the winter, boxes of tissues may rise to the top of this list. Or it may vary based on who you live with; if you have kids, I have found bulk boxes of snacks, juice boxes and macaroni and cheese to be a good use of precious pantry space.

Buy concentrated versions

You can’t make a concentrated version of your toilet paper cube. Those only seem to get more massive as time goes by. So if you want to bulk up on less-used items but have given up two-thirds of your storage space to paper products, shop for liquid concentrates.

Some all-purpose cleaners, like this one, can be diluted with water in a separate spray bottle so that you’ve actually got a whole lot more cleaning potential than it seems. You can also find concentrated laundry detergent that comes in smaller bottles but lasts as long as the big guys.

Split it with a friend

If you live in an apartment or condo and your friend down the hall is also lamenting missing out on the bulk-purchase savings due to space constraints, consider splitting up the goods.

You can get some pretty good savings on bulk paper towels, cereal and other non-perishable foods; but if you don’t have room for 12 super rolls of Bounty, maybe your neighbor will take six off your hands in exchange for a slew of crushed tomato cans.

Don’t impulse buy

The most dangerous part about buying in bulk, particularly in a store like Costco or Sam’s Club, is that there’s a one good deal after another and they’re all screaming for your attention. Impulse buying the candy bar in the checkout line is one thing; impulse buying five tubes of toothpaste will lead to months (years?) of regret.

If you’re tight on storage space, you need to be extra strategic. Make your list before you go to the store and then turn on the blinders. You don’t see that giant container of mixed nuts, that 35-pack of Diet Coke or that 25-pound bag of flour. If it’s not on your list, it doesn’t exist to you. (Go ahead and grab that sausage sample, though—you’re still human—and then keep on walking.)

If you start to feel the temptation taking over, write the item down on your list; when you get home, check whether you’ve got a place for it. If you do, you can get it next time.


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