bulk-food buying: stealth benefits

This morning I spent a bit of time in the bulk food department at our local Winco.  Most of the time bulk prices are better than prepackaged, and I love being able to buy exactly the quantity I want, especially of expensive spices that I don’t use quickly.

Here’s another good thing about the bulk department:  I come home with a whole heap of plastic bags.   Once home, we empty the contents of the bags into quart jars in the pantry.  If the bags are still intact at that point, we stash them in a box in our plastic wrap drawer to use again.  On a morning like today, where we came home with a dozen plastic bags, that’s enough plastic bags for a week or more, which means fewer ziplocks and less plastic wrap to buy, and more money in my wallet at the end of the month.

A small thing, maybe, but it’s just one more reason I like bulk.


What about you? Do you have any little stealth ways to save money?


  1. Too funny! I use those bags to line my little kitchen trash can.

    • Good idea! We use regular grocery bags to line our bathroom trash.

      • We do that too. I never buy the small bags. Once, a friend was over and thought she’d take matters into her own hands. What were all these bags I was saving? So, she threw them out. I had to wait till shopping day to line my small trash cans again!

      • we used those plastic grocery bags this week to put over socks and ski pants and under boots to help keep the snow off my kids’ feet. We aren’t used to having 16 inches of snow on the ground here in Oklahoma and my kids boots only come just above the ankle. Grocery bags tied up around the knees worked like a dream. Who knew those bags would be so versatile!

        • thriftymomma says:

          We made a plastic bag discovery this winter. We have to pay for our plastic bags here but we figured out that if you’re careful how you open the toilet paper package you can use that bag to line your garbage can. Don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier 🙂

  2. Planning out our meals is what saves me big, as long as I know I have ingredients to make at least 5 dinners and breakfast, lunch and snack basics I am less likely to need to stop somewhere to pick up anything. The store we shop at for the majority of our food does not provide bags we have to bring our own reuseables so I get bags from my mother in law and friends. Our adult son with special needs will always be in diapers (cannot do cloth for him) and the bags are much needed over here! I also use them for the garbage cans in our bathrooms. We buy all our little ones clothes at a store here in NC called Value Village, it is a thrift store and usually once a month everything is half off, I get adorable clothes for 50 cents or a dollar, plus friends always think of us first when they have hand me downs which helps so much. Lastly my husband gives all 4 boys haircuts, it saves us a fortune and they look really handsome! I forgot, I got the ingredients to make The Duggar Family homemade laundry detergent this weekend, I am hoping it works out and that I do not turn the laundry room into a wall of suds!

  3. I’m one of ‘those’ that washes ziplocks. We mostly use them for crackers, frozen waffles, etc, to they last forever. I usually buy them 1x/year or less at Costco. And 3 meals out of 1 chicken helps, too!

    • I’m one of ‘those’ as well. 🙂 Sometimes I get lazy with the little snack size baggies, but all the others are definitely washed and reused. The crumbs from those crackers or the stems of the grapes surely didn’t harm the bag!

      • I am also one of those.
        I also wash the milk bags (here in Atlantic Canada 4L of milk are in 3 small bags in a bigger bag) and uses those to freeze meat. Then they are recycle if used to freeze raw chicken.

        My mom uses empty chips bag to dispose of the cat’s litter.

      • I bought the reusable velco bags for sandwiches, snacks, etc. This way when I pack my lunch its not only stylish but reusable as well. I bought mine online from LunchSkins.

    • Kaycee Fisher says:

      I recently read somewhere that it is recommended that ziplock bags not be washed and/or reused as they tend to fester bacteria.

      • I mostly re-use bags that have had dry things in them, like beans, rice, rolls, etc. And I never re-use bags that have had meat in them. But I think in most cases it is possible to wash a bag well enough that it can be safely re-used, especially if you turn it inside out to dry.

      • I wonder if the ziploc company sponsored that research? 🙂 I don’t know, I grew up watching mom wash them out, I’ve done it myself for years, and we are rarely ill. Perhaps it depends on how thoroughly they are washed. I turn them completely inside out to make sure all the nooks and crevices get washed, leave them inside out until they are completely dry, then turn them right side out again for storage. I don’t see how that is any different than reusing the plastic storage containers (Rubbermaid, Sterlite, Tupperware).

        If it held something with a really strong scent, and I can still smell the food even after it is washed, I’ll throw it away. That’s more so the smell doesn’t seep into any other item, though, not a fear of bacteria.

  4. I buy any red/white or red/silver polka-dot or striped gift wrap I can find marked down after Christmas. Then I can use it for Christmas, birthdays (boys or girls of any age), Valentine’s Day, etc! No need to have special wrapping paper for every holiday! Instead of buying bows and ribbon, I draw fun pictures on gifts with Sharpies–more personal, stacks and transports better than those with bows, and is personalized. Reusing gift bags, I usually draw a fancy name/picture on them with paint pens to give them a fresh look. I’ve also used your idea to use a folded-over gift bag to mail soft presents like baby clothes.

  5. The bulk department in our grocery stores have been eliminated, but I do buy large bags of bread and whole wheat flour and freeze it in smaller bags, and bake almost all of our bread. That saves a lot of money.

    I invested some money in a Foodsaver vacuum sealer. In the long run, I think that this has saved me lots and lots of money. We don’t eat a lot of chicken or beef, but because we keep kosher and kosher food is hard to find where I live I have to buy a lot of it at one time. The foodsaver has saved us so much in wasted food, or wasted gas driving 100 miles round trip to get kosher meat, and it has been great for my college student living at home. I can buy bulk boneless chicken breasts, freeze them individually, and my son can easily defrost one and cook it himself–great for the days he has evening classes and is not home when I make dinner. Yesterday, we ate a pot roast that I had in the bottom of my chest freezer for over a year. It was great–no freezer burn, no ice crystals.

  6. The regular grocery doesn’t have a lot of bulk stuff that I would use, but the health food store does a lot of bulk. The problem is that the bags are so incredibly thin, they aren’t overly useful for anything of substance. I do use them if I’m making seafood and have stinky bits going into the trash can; just put them in the bulk bag first and tie it off before putting it into the regular trash.

    The little bags for produce are slightly thicker. We use those for dirty cat litter if there’s not much to clean.

    I mostly use reusable grocery bags, but if I’ve forgotten them or get the plastic ones for some reason, then those bags are used for bathroom trash, cat litter, and picking up after the dogs when I take them for a walk. I volunteer in the church nursery once a month, and we put dirty diapers in them to help keep the place from stinking.

  7. Buy spices in the bulk section is the only way to go… unless you can score them for free with a coupon of course 🙂

  8. A small thing I know… but I was so proud of my homemade “candy bouquet” DH is getting Monday for V-day – made with red and silver Hershey kisses brought after Christmas (darn it I had to eat the green ones 😉 and a scrounged up pot best of all when I saw candy bouquets on the internet for $35.00 (!) (+ shipping) – my one regret is that I glued the candy onto wooden screwers and we won’t be able to reuse them for grilling ….

  9. I use the grocery bags in the bathroom and other small trash cans at home. I try to only do 1 big shopping trip a month. I still watch for sales on items that we use regularly. I live in a small town on the southern OR coast so shopping at Winco is not an option but we do have a resturant supplier that sales to the public. I also have to travel a lot for my job so I save money by taking my lunch and snacks with me. We are about to have to start paying to plastic and paper bags. So I’m starting to make my own shopping bags and leaving some in my car.

  10. We save the bulk bags to store our home made bread.

  11. I buy bulk foods quite often, especially grains like rice, bulgur, quinoa, and flours. However I periodically check the prices against the same items in packages because sometimes…not often, but sometimes, the prepackaged version is cheaper.

    I also save money by (gasp) not planning meals in advance! I check the sale ads, shop on double-ad days (where the ads from the current and previous week overlap)and I base meals around what is on sale. If it’s a really, really good sale I’ll stock up but otherwise I just plan around sales. It works for us because I am not a recipe-follower. I just throw things together from whatever I have on hand.

  12. This isn’t a thrifty tip, but a practical that my grandmother used, that goes along with storing things in quart jars. She did a lot of canning in quart jars, and then stored then on wooden shelves. Because we live in an earthquake zone, she put a rubber band around each jar so in case of a small quake, the jars would not jiggle into each other causing possible breakage. She also nailed a narrow strip of wood along the front of her shelves to keep the jars from jiggling off onto the floor and breaking.

  13. I buy ice cream in the jumbo plastic tubs (5qt) at our local grocery (Meijer). I reuse the empty tubs in a variety of ways, including storing the flour I purchase at Sam’s for $0.27/lb. This way I have a manageable container to work from.

    My daughter uses one to store part of the 25 pound bag of chinchilla food we get from a friend (who gets hers from a breeder). The majority of the food goes in a larger container, but she uses the 5 qt container to get their daily servings. This way she prevents the largest amount from being exposed to air every day and hopefully keeps it fresh longer.

    I have even been known to convert one of these tubs into a drum for my 4 year old. He uses one to store his army guys.

    We also used some of the empty containers to store big batches of cookies at Christmas before we sorted them out into tins to give to family and friends.

  14. Mary,
    Your canning jars all lined up with beans and grains look so beautiful! I am just wondering how you find this for practicality, though, with so many children. Does it work well for you or do you just deal with the inconvenience because the beauty is worth it? I am just thinking, for example, of your wonderful Boston Baked Beans recipe in your cookbook, which we make often. I double the recipe (we have seven kids) and am sure I would completely empty out an entire jar of navy beans if I stored them this way. Do you keep back-up supplies elsewhere or just shop often to replenish?
    Lots of Love,

    • I’ve actually been really happy with the jar system for both functionality and looks. However, the back row is actually antique 2-quart jars, so they are big enough to hold reasonable amounts of things like lentils, beans, barley, and popcorn. The smaller jars hold things I use in smaller quantities, like nuts, parmesan cheese, wheat germ, and cornmeal. I do also have a big bin (the size of a Lego bin) where I keep refills of some items, along with the last dibs and dabs of bulk items that didn’t happen to fit in my jars.

  15. Thank you for your interesting post. It is wonderful that you are concerned about our footprint on this planet!


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