Food for thought: Does buying in bulk save?

Alicia Inns weighs pros and cons, compares prices

Buying in bulk: When is it a better deal?

BEND, Ore. -  From pounds of dog food to towers of toilet paper, and maybe a dollhouse for the kid's play room. You can really find everything at Costco, including some loyal members.

"We don't like to spend a lot of time in the grocery store, so we come to Costco and stock up and we have plenty of storage so it's great," shopper Dick Grossman said.

And it seems the bulk buying trend is growing.

"Our membership services are growing about 6-7 percent, and I think people are realizing there is a significant value in buying bulk," said Bend Costco Manager Dan Weber.

Kayla Hood considers herself one of those people. As a mother of three boys, a store like Costco makes all the difference in their grocery budget.

"We only go shopping once a month, so it saves us money on gas too," Hood said. "And my mom comes with us too to get her groceries, we do it all in one trip."

I wanted find out if shoppers like Kayla are really saving money by buying big. So I hit the stores with a specific list of items, and here's what I found.

Whether you're a Frosted Flakes or Cheerios fan, cereal is one of the best buys at the warehouse store. It's up to 60 percent cheaper, but it comes with two bags, so you have to decide if you need that much cereal. Either way, make sure you really pay attention to price and size.

An interesting thing I found at the grocery store -- the family size box of Honey Bunches of Oats is 20 cents cheaper than the regular size box. So sometimes you're paying more for less.

Milk at Costco comes in a pack of two gallon-sized jugs for $5.29. A single gallon at Fred Meyer is $2.69. You're saving 5 cents per gallon by shopping in bulk.

You can save more than a dollar by buying two loaves of Dave's Killer Bread at Costco, compared to one loaf at Safeway. But sometimes the grocery stores have coupons or two for $5 deals that can save you more money.

Coffee has a good shelf life, and I found that buying the 48 ounce tub of Folgers at Costco can save you as much as 50 percent.

As for meat, even though it may look like you're getting more at Costco, the price per pound for beef tri-tip roast is $5.99 at Fred Meyer. That's the exact same price as it was at Costco.

Another close call, and this one might surprise you -- toilet paper. Thirty rolls of Charmin is cheaper at the local grocery store. The pack I found was on sale and saved me 15 cents per roll at Fred Meyer.

For all those moms and dads -- diapers. You save 6 cents on each diaper by buying in bulk. That may not sound like a lot, but for every 100 diapers, that means you save $6.

Fresh produce proved to be all-around cheaper to buy at the grocery store, but again, that depends on how big of a family you're budgeting for.

Sure, it sounds good to buy up a bunch of food for later. But if it all goes bad, what have you saved?

According to Dana Jones with, one good rule of thumb is to only buy what you'll be able to use for about the next three months.

"If you end up buying things that are perishable and you end up not eating them, what was once a great deal ends up being a big waste of money and food or drink," Jones said.

Another tip: Make sure you have the proper storage and freezer space. It makes no sense to stock up if you can't make room.

And maybe the most important thing I learned: Be smart and always check the unit price, if you want to compare for yourself.

"I think because different packaging has different ounces and you can't figure out if this is a good deal or not, and you can't calculate it out, so having that price per unit is really a valuable thing," Jones said. "I think that's one of the things that draws people in."

"But I feel like Costco for the most part is a safe place to shop, if you don't have a lot of time to plan ahead and and you don't have a super super crazy tight budget," Jones added.

"I've heard of Costco being called the $100 store -- you can't get out without spending $100 or more," she said. "So I think it's really important that if you do shop there and buy in bulk, have a list, have a budget -- and stick to both."

The point is, one size doesn't always fit all. Find what works for you and your wallet.

One other thing experts say to take into account is the membership fee at warehouse stores like Costco. It cost $55 per year, so that's something to consider, if you are really looking at savings.

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