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Coupon Lady: Bulk stores or grocery stores? Depends on your needs

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This week I’d like to talk about shopping at bulk stores and buying store brands instead of shopping with coupons.

If you like to shop at bulk stores, such as Costco, deals can be had on meat, produce and dairy items.   FILE
FILE
If you like to shop at bulk stores, such as Costco, deals can be had on meat, produce and dairy items.

I know a lot of people feel couponing just takes too much time. People frequently tell me “Coupons only bring brand names closer to store brand prices or bulk store prices, and I don’t think it’s worth the time it takes to coupon. I’ll just buy the store brand or buy in bulk.”

My answer is that I can usually beat the bulk store price on most items, and I can also beat store brand prices when I’m stockpiling.

Area residents have the option to shop at two bulk food chains, Costco and Sam’s Club. For a while, I had given up shopping at bulk stores completely because the membership cost offset the savings I would get over the course of the year. However, last year I discovered a Groupon deal where I could get a one-year membership to Sam’s Club (a $45 value), a $20 gift certificate and $20 in food coupons for just $45. I decided to get the membership during the offer and have used the store four or five times this year.

In the past, I have had memberships to both stores, and I love certain items available in each store. One of my favorite buys at Sam’s Club is carpet shampoo for less than $6 a bottle. However, if I had to pay full price for a membership, I still think it is difficult to save enough money to offset the membership fees, especially if you don’t go there very often.

One of the reasons I prefer couponing at grocery stores to making bulk store purchases is that when you purchase items from bulk stores, they come in very large packages. When you use coupons to stockpile at a grocery store, you get several smaller boxes at once when the items go on sale.

The larger boxes from bulk stores don’t usually fit in my normal storage area in my pantry or kitchen cabinets, so I have to find alternative ways to store the items, such as glass or plastic containers. If you don’t have any containers on hand then you might need to purchase a set, which is another cost to consider.

At a grocery store, you get greater control of how much you buy. If you don’t use a lot of an item, then you don’t need as much to make it to the next sale. One of my favorite examples is how I purchase mustard. My family really doesn’t like mustard, so stockpiling one or two is enough to last us at least six months, sometimes longer. I don’t need to buy more. This keeps waste down and saves space, especially for families that have small kitchens. Couponing lets me better control the amount of any item that comes into my home.

A lot of people try to save money by buying store brands. Store brands have continued to gain in popularity as people look for ways to save money. Wal-mart’s Great Value line items can be 20 percent to 40 percent cheaper than their name-brand counterpart, which attracts value-conscious shoppers who do not coupon but still wish to save money.

Store brands have gained more acceptance over the past few years and most people now feel store brands are of equal quality to their brand-name counterparts, with a few exceptions. My dear husband still prefers one brand of peanut butter and I still prefer Ritz crackers, but both of us are happy to buy store-brand sour cream, cheddar cheese and canned or frozen vegetables.

I am not saying that buying at bulk stores or buying store brands are horrible ideas. In fact, if you have a large family or absolutely refuse to use coupons, then store brands or bulk stores might be right for you. You can find some good deals at bulk stores, especially on meat, produce and dairy products, bread yeast and spices. I consider store brands as a kind of measuring line for brand-name items that I stockpile. I will never pay more than store-brand prices for name-brand items.


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