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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Frugality (Part XI): Buying in Bulk

I've talked about how we buy certain things in bulk and shown you how we store those purchases. Bulk quantities for you may be smaller than they are for our family of eight. If you can buy from bulk bins at a good price, it is a good way to get what you need for little cost. You do not have to buy gigantic boxes or bags of food if that is not what you wish to do.

However, things like beans, whole grains, rice, dried corn (for popping or milling), rolled oats, steel cut oats, sugar and salt are all good things to buy in large quantities. These are things that we can store long term without freezing, they last for a long time so long as you keep them dry and they are inexpensive. 25 pounds of beans makes 150 cups of cooked beans. Since we eat beans at least once or twice a week, this is an inexpensive way for us to feed the family tasty and nutritious food.

It costs me about $0.23 to make the same amount of refried beans as is found in a can, including the cost of the onion, bacon drippings, salt & pepper, when I start from dry beans. The cans go on sale for a dollar and are full of junk fats, way more salt than we would use and other junk that we don't need. It takes me 10 minutes to turn leftover beans in the bean broth into refried beans. So, we're not talking a huge time commitment either. Cooking beans from dry saves you money right from the start, as even the least expensive, store brand, semi-mushy canned beans we find generally run around $0.50 a can, which can be made from dry for the same quantity for about $0.16.

It does require some pre-planning and prep work. You can minimize that by cooking two or three times as much as you need and freezing the rest for later use. This allows you the convenience of canned beans with the frugality of dry beans. Because we buy our grains for milling and flours that we don't mill ourselves for our bread and other baking needs, even artisan type breads that would normally cost around $5.00 a loaf cost us about $0.25-0.40. Using the bread machine for sandwich breads and some dough preparation cuts down on the time we spend and keeping a large bowl of wet dough in the fridge to rise slowly cuts down on the work for artisan type breads quite a bit as well.

I have found that I have a hard time spending even a dollar for bread at the store, because I know how poor the quality is compared to homemade, that we use better ingredients at home and it still costs us less than a dollar for twice the amount of bread.

Even buying a 10 pound bag over a five pound bag will save you money for the most part. We are fortunate to have grocery stores which sell out of bulk bins at a fraction of a cost for the store brand of flours, grains, pastas, beans, cereals, salt, sugars and more. We use our own storage bins and save a bundle. You would be surprised at how well you can stack and store the containers if you give it a little thought.

When we were first married, we lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment, for instance, which was low on cabinets, drawers and counter space and had no pantry. We had a microwave stand that we kept just outside our kitchen with the microwave on it (shocking!). However, this created a space underneath that we used to stack cans and jars of food, creating a small, makeshift pantry. I know some people who use an extra closet or the space under their beds with those rubbermaid type storage bins in which to keep canned and boxed goods.

Remember, though, the smaller container of whatever you buy (with some rare exceptions, always take the time to check the unit price), will cost you to cover the packaging, convenience and labeling. If you can get it in a larger container or from a bulk bin, it will almost always save you money and trips to the store. The hidden savings in buying this way is fewer extra trips to the store and the gas cost attendant with it.

My next frugality post will address something other than food and household goods. I know, it is exciting. I'm going to talk about family entertainment for less. We have a very low budget for entertainment and still manage to entertain all eight of us. So far, nobody feels deprived or bored. I hope to help with ideas for your family as well.

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping
Waste Not, Want Not
The Celery Stalks at Midnight
Use What You Have
Combining Trips
Storing Bulk Purchases
Turn It Off
Grow Your Own

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Ranee, I'm curious: do you make whole wheat bread from scratch? I've yet to find a recipe for it that I really like, so I still buy it at the store. Also, if you do make whole wheat bread from scratch, do you find the savings are the same, and does it respond well to a slow-rise in the fridge?

thanks for the post!
Yes, we do. I make it in several ways, so I can type up a few variations for you. In the meantime, here are a couple posts with bread recipesThe savings are pretty close. We get the whole wheat for around $0.60 a pound, we use about a pound of wheat (along with the other ingredients) to make a two pound loaf of bread.

Freshly milled wheat is a lot lighter in texture and flavor, but it requires less liquid than the flour on the shelf, so recipes need to be adjusted for that. White wheat is especially light and good for people like us who are transitioning to using almost exclusively whole grains. We buy hard white wheat for bread flour and soft white wheat for pastry flour, mix the two 7/8 of a cup to 1 cup for all purpose.

It works extremely well in a slow rise in the refrigerator. As does rye, actually.

We still buy some unbleached AP flour and some white bread flour, but we are using it less and less. The standard is now whole wheat and we use white flour for very specific purposes or half and half with whole grains.
Thanks, Ranee! You've encouraged me to look up a couple of recipes; I've found a few (one in the More With Less cookbook) that seem to be a good mix of whole wheat, white flour and oatmeal. I'm looking forward to giving them a try!

If it works well though, I'm going to have to find somewhere to get better-priced whole wheat flour! My closest grocery store doesn't carry it in bulk, though I think the next-closest might. I'll have to check.
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