The Best Bulk Bargains

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Is buying in bulk always a better deal? For some things, the answer is yes. Our Financually Fit team conducted an informal price check of items at a New Jersey Sam's Club and elsewhere to see which products - coupons and special sales aside - are generally best bought at warehouse clubs. We zoned in on mostly non-perishable pantry items - no produce, shampoo, baked goods or electronics - just the everyday food items that wouldn't necessarily go to waste.

Before we get into our findings, here's some practical advice for when buying in bulk:

Consider Cost Per Unit. It's important to do the math. If you're getting a 5lb bag of popcorn for $10, calculate the cost per pound and check how that compares to the per unit cost elsewhere. Often stores indicate a product's CPU on shelves.

Consider Consumption. While the math is important, you also need to be realistic and consider your use or consumption. It's easy to get excited over a 100-count crate of strawberries or a tub of peanut butter, but sometime you end up with too much of a good thing. Be a really good judge of your actual use, especially with perishable items like fruits, veggies, yogurt and cheese. When in doubt, opt for frozen versions. And by the way -- investing in a second freezer is one of the best-kept secrets of frugal families. Stocking up on frozen items can literally save hundreds of dollars a year in food.

Don't Sway From Your List. Avoid buying foods at the warehouse club that you've never tried before. Of course, we all love to taste the free samples, but if you've never purchased an item before - even if you end up liking it - keep away from the 3-pound bag. Find that product in a smaller quantity at the grocery store or elsewhere and do a moderate test run at home. After all, you may like it, but your kids could care less.

Shop with a friend. If you do want to go for a perishable item in bulk, best to divvy up the purchase with a neighbor of friend. Shop with a bulk buddy, split the volume and share the savings.

Now, for our 7 bulk bargains picks:

Cereal

If you have a full crowd at breakfast, cereal is one item you can't afford not to buy in bulk. From Raisin Bran to Honey Nut Cheerios to Frosted Flakes you can save as much as 60%. At Sam's Club a big 62oz box of Frosted Flakes, for example, ran $6.74, or 11 cents per ounce. Meanwhile, at a neighboring grocery store, a tiny 14oz box went for $3.21 or 23 cents per ounce and a local drugstore carried the same product for 29-cents an ounce.

Milk

If you're buying all that cereal, you're likely going to need a lot of milk, and this food staple definitely earned a "FinFit Bulk-Buy" seal of approval. A gallon of whole milk cost a mere $2.99 at Sam's Club, versus $3.76 per gallon nationally.

Coffee

Sticking with breakfast, if you brew your own java at home, consider buying ground coffee in bulk. A 34oz can of Folgers, which makes 270 cups of coffee, went for less than $10 or 29 cents per ounce at Sam's Club. That was nearly 50% cheaper than what we found at an online supermarket and local drug store.

Wine

Another beverage that's consistently cheaper in bulk seems to be wine. Warehouse clubs are increasingly carrying some of the best labels from all over the world. A bottle of Cupcake Chardonnay (one of my faves) goes for roughly $8 at Sam's Club, versus $12 at Wine.com.

Frozen Apps

Also for your next gathering, consider stocking up on frozen appetizers. From egg roles to bagel bites to baby quiches, the unit price of various hors d'oevres is often cheaper at your local warehouse club. A 60-count box of franks in a blanket, for example, cost just under $11 or 18 cents each at Sam's Club.

EVOO

If you love to cook, you'll appreciate a deal on Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It was just 18 cents per ounce at Sam's Club, less than half the price found elsewhere. And because EVOO is such a handy and versatile ingredient, you'll be sure to get good use out of it.

Pet Food

Finally, for pet owners, consider buying pet food in bulk. A giant 50-lb bag of Pedigree dry dog food was roughly $23.00, or 47 cents per pound versus 55 cents per pound at Petsmart and $1.31 per pound at Petco.

Remember, prices vary regionally, so keep me posted on what deals you find. Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #finfit.