Hidden sticker shock when buying bulk

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By Erika Weisensee

You walk into Costco with a list of household staples: Detergent, toilet paper canned soup, hamburger, spaghetti sauce, granola bars, coffee.  Before you know it, the cart is heaping with indulgences, from DVDs to discounted designer clothing to containers of snack food that could feed a football team. The final bill is double what you intended to spend. You get to your car and wonder, “What just happened in there?”

Cost comparisons prove that shoppers can save money at warehouse club stores. Yet, all too often we end up buying more than we need, and let’s face it, things we don’t need at all. Aware of this danger, I now enter the store with a game plan, going only to the location of my needed items and avoiding all other areas of the store, especially my weak spots, books and kids’ clothing.

For restaurants and large families, buying in bulk definitely makes sense. But, most of us don’t need to buy gallon-sized jars of condiments.  So, when is it smart to buy in bulk? Shopping experts suggest making a list of items you use often, then doing a cost comparison between the warehouse store and regular grocery stores.

I recently did my own little cost analysis and found that my favorite brand of yogurt was actually less expensive at the grocery store. Other items we regularly consume, like oatmeal and Vitamin Water and baking ingredients, are significantly cheaper at Costco. Sometimes, you can save a few pennies per unit at the Warehouse but have to buy the item in such a large quantity that you totally blow your budget. Bulk shopping can be tricky because is forces us to decide whether we need to buy less to save money right now or buy more now to save money in the long run. Confused?

Here are some additional tips for smart shopping at the warehouse stores:

1) Always make a list.

2) Think about what you really need to stock up on and what you don’t.

3) When comparing prices, look at the “unit” price of an item. That’s how you know if you are really saving money.

4) Look at expiration dates and avoid buying items that you may not use in time.

5) Beware of all those yummy free samples that tempt you into buying more.

### Erika Weisensee is a writing mom and a native Oregonian. She lives in Milwaukie and teaches journalism at the University of Portland.