Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Buying in Bulk

The Wall
Originally uploaded by bcmom
This is one of those double edged swords for me. Buying in bulk can be a great thing as it can substantially cut down on packaging and often offers substantial discounts over buying smaller quantities. On the other hand, a lot of these bulk items are cleverly over-packaged in order to get us to buy more than what we really need.

I am giving up my warehouse club membership. That’s not the kind of bulk buying I want to do anymore. Everything seems over-packaged. For example, why do two bottles of margarita mix need a piece of plastic holding them together? Why not just post a sign saying, “margarita mix: $7 – buy one get one free”? Nobody would forget the second bottle just because they weren’t attached to each other.

And the potatoes…do they really need to be in a corrugated cardboard box? Actually, all the produce…why can’t they sell it by the pound? It seems like every vegetable and piece of fruit in there is in a bag or a box (or worse yet, a bag in a box!). I realized that this is “necessary” - otherwise, I might only buy how much I need!

Each time I make a purchase of this nature, I’m probably spending money on something that I don’t really need. Even if I need some of the product, I most likely don't need so much fo the product. By not doing this type of bulk shopping, I’m definitely reducing my impact by cutting down on the amount of packaging that I am responsible for, and eliminating the need to store more stuff in my home.

The bulk buying that I do want to continue doing is the kind where you bring a bag and use a scoop to take your kidney beans, dried cranberries, sugar, and sunflower seeds out of a bin. The only packaging involved here is the package that the items are in when they arrive at the store, and the package that you put the product in to transport it home. I am reusing my produce bags for this purpose now. I rinse them out and let them dry, and they’re good as new! Co-ops will often let you bring your own containers of other sorts as well. Reduced packaging is awesome, but the other benefit I don’t want to ignore is that I save money by only buying the amount that I need. I’m not paying for extra product that will sit in my cabinet for years before I finally chuck it, realizing I never had a chance of using so much before the expiration date.

Buying in bulk is exactly what a lot of stores out there are trying to get me to do every time they ask me to sign up for their rewards, loyalty, or points cards. I have them from electronics stores, office supply stores, card shops, book stores, coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, and drug stores. I’m throwing them all away.

The first reason is that they’re a pain in the neck – my key chain is for my keys and my wallet is for my money. I don’t need the clutter from all these key tags and cards.

Secondly, why do they need to give you a plastic key tag AND a card? Not necessary, and wasteful.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, is that the whole point of these things, from the perspective of the store, is to get me to buy more. They have store information about who I am, including my age and where I live, and what I buy. So they can come up with even more clever ways to sell me more stuff that I don’t need. I don’t need a store to make product recommendations – I need to make recommendations to myself concerning what I should and shouldn’t buy. I need to do more of my own thinking about my purchases.

I have to be honest though, and admit that I don’t want to pay the higher price either. Granted, not all places actually charge more if you don’t have a card. Some offer you a free greeting card after you buy fifteen. I’m not actually ever going to buy fifteen greeting cards anyway. I’ll never get the benefit, but the store will have a record of my spending habits. Some stores, however, actually make you pay more for an item if you don’t have a card than the guy behind you in line who does have a card. I don’t want to play this game. I am consciously deciding, therefore, not to shop at these places anymore. I am lucky to have at least three grocery stores nearby that don’t require you to pay more or get the card.

Oh the irony…I'll end up buying more from those stores who let me buy as little as I like, and those businesses without the loyalty programs have gained my loyalty.

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