How to Buy in Bulk for a Small Kitchen
Buying in bulk can seem intimidating when it feels like you have no space. But you too can take advantage of buying things at a larger scale, even with a small kitchen.
A Bit About My Kitchen
Like you, I enjoy saving a bit of money and bulk buying when I can. I live in a 1 bedroom apartment with my husband and two dogs. All things considered, my kitchen is larger than what I would expect in a one-bedroom, but I wouldn’t call it large. I’ve had larger kitchens in college dorms. But it’s mine and right now all the appliances work, so I couldn’t ask for more. I might have big kitchen dreams, but I’m making my real kitchen work.
Two Ways I Bulk Buy
The first way is the standard large quantity method. Either just buy the larger bags, boxes, and packs. Or taking advantage of a nice sale, where I can buy six jars of my favorite tomato sauce.
The second way is to buy from the bulk sections at the local supermarket. You know where you scoop, bag, and weigh it yourself. Near me, my favorite store to do this at is Sprouts. It lets me buy 5 pounds of flour around the same per pound price as the 10-pound bags. This method also has the perk of only buying what I need and can store, while keeping my costs down.
Prioritize the Things You Can’t Run Out of
I always like having extra of important items. The saying “One is none. Two is one.” certainly applies to what I look to buy in bulk and goes well beyond toilet paper. These items absolutely deserve the extra shelf space. This list includes oatmeal, so I don’t start my day hangry, and dish soap, because it’s nightmare-inducing to imagine my kitchen without it.
My Favorites to Buy in Bulk
Small Things I use All the Time
I use vanilla extract every week. I can buy a 2 oz bottle for around $6 at my local grocery store or I can buy the 16 Fl oz bottles, which will save me at least $16 over the lifetime of that bottle. And vanilla extract keeps. This method doesn’t make sense if you won’t use it, but if you like to bake just go for it.
Yeast is another one. I like to buy a pound of yeast and store it in my fridge. Not only do I stop worrying about how many of those tiny packets I have left, but I frequently see savings over 50%. Even if I don’t use all the yeast before it dies, I still save money. During the pandemic, yeast prices fluctuated a lot, but the shortages appear to be over for now. I also don’t like worrying about running out of yeast for the bread machine.
Spices are another item I like to buy big. I only do this for the spices I use often, like garlic powder and chili powder. I’m on the fence about cinnamon, because it feels like I go through a lot on my morning oatmeal, but I know a half teaspoon a day isn’t that much.
Tea can also be fun to buy in bulk. It always feels like Christmas when a pound of tea arrives for me in the mail. I always try a few samples just for fun but stocking up on my favorites is essential because I drink tea all day every day.
I love Sprouts the grocery store and one of my favorite sections is the bulk section. I can scoop out as much as I need for flour, sugar, oatmeal, etc. at prices comparable to the huge bags that aren’t going to fit in my kitchen.
Other shelf-stable favorites are things like chicken stock and tomato sauce. These items stay good for a very long time, but I use them regularly and worry about running out of them. So, I prefer to buy packs of several small jars or cartons instead of the huge jars because they keep better that way.
I could probably find the space for one of those 25-pound bags of starch if I was willing to commit to one type: potatoes, rice, or flour. I’ve had terrible luck with bags of potatoes. Perhaps my apartment is just too humid, but they always start sprouting within a week. Rice and flour go in storage containers, and I’ve never had an issue. There are plenty of containers that will hold such bags. The only ones large enough that I’ve tried are cleaned-out dog food containers, but it worked so well for flour I would recommend it.
These are always in constant demand in my kitchen. Because I cook every day, I always need to clean my kitchen (if only a little bit). I don’t want to even think about what I would do if I ran out of kitchen cleaning essentials.
I’ve carved out some oh-so-precious closet space for a huge thing of paper towels, which are essential for everything from microwaving leftovers to cleaning my counters. I always have at least one extra can of sprayway under my sink, which I use on a lot more than glass. It works surprisingly well on mystery countertop stickies.
Then there’s just soap. I love soap. I keep huge things of dish soap and hand soap under the sink and refill more manageable-sized containers for everyday use. I also keep large quantities of both dishwasher pods and rinse aid down there, because I run the dishwasher at least once a day.
Other Bulk Buys
These are just odds and ends that we use a lot of, like chocolate chips. Between cookies and waffles, we use chocolate chips about once a week. Somehow, I still stay in my calorie budget despite my proximity to a giant bag of chocolate.
We sometimes buy cheese in bulk. Hard cheese, like parmesan, can keep a long time in a ziplock in the fridge. Softer cheeses like mozzarella, we only buy if it’s been subdivided in the packaging. But we can afford the buffalo mozzarella that way.
Occasionally we also buy snack foods, but generally, we get the kind that’s already individually portioned, like chips. Microwave popcorn keeps pretty well too.
How to Store
For everyday dry good storage, I use 4 quart Cambro containers with these little oxo scoops to weigh out flour and sugar. They are simple and do the job well. I use these for flour, sugar, and oatmeal, but you can use them for a lot of different ingredients, like rice and beans.
For my smaller storage needs, I have these Rubbermaid containers for rice, more flour varieties, and yeast. The one for yeast has been doing an excellent job keeping it fresh in my fridge.
If you are worried about spills, like me, shelf paper can feel like a necessity. I also have a label maker, which I use on most of my containers. Occasionally, I’ll write directly on something with a sharpie, but the labels always look nicer and bring me joy. Regardless, remember to label your containers. White powders look eerily similar to other white powders and even tan powders if your kitchen lights are as yellow as mine.
Things I Bought in Bulk and Probably Didn’t Need To
The first thing that comes to mind is sponges. I have enough to last for years and now they take up valuable real estate under my sink.
Heavy-Duty Aluminum Foil
The next is a bulk pack of heavy-duty aluminum foil. I use this for almost everything that goes into my oven. But apparently, I don’t use as much as I think I do. I only go through a roll every 6 months or so.
Optimistic Snack Foods
But the number one thing I need to stop buying in bulk is optimistic snack foods. I am known to occasionally have these crazy ideas, like “We are going to be responsible and prep individual bags for the week.” and “There’s no way we would ever rapidly eat through the whole Costco sized thing in two days.” You can probably guess what happened from there.
This madness also occasionally reaches out for health food that I don’t really like. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I eat for pleasure and if it isn’t tasty, it’s probably not worth eating to me. So, I learned the hard way to stop buying healthy stuff I won’t eat. Buying extra isn’t going to persuade future me to like it more.
Part of this is that my eyes are bigger than my stomach (and calorie budget). I say we can go through five pounds of potatoes in two weeks, no problem. But I have yet to successfully store potatoes that long. Also, the two of us don’t go through that many potatoes.
You can still buy in bulk if even if your kitchen is the size of a postage stamp. I have for many years in for several different apartments and you can too. What do you like to buy in bulk for your kitchen?