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4 Things to Buy at Big-Box Stores (and What to Avoid)

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Shopping for food and toiletries is so much easier — and cheaper — when you have a plan and a little bit of insider information on how pricing works at stores. If you’re looking for deals, consider making your first stop a big-box store, where many of the things you use every day are under the same roof.

“Big-box stores are convenient, and you can get some great deals on items when you buy in bulk, especially when you are buying for a family,” said Noor Marzook, head of PR and Communications at Flipp, a free savings app that aggregates coupons and discounts for shoppers. But just because an item is available at your favorite big-box store doesn’t automatically make it a good deal. Here, Marzook shares her strategies on what to buy at a big box for good value and what to avoid.

The Best Big-Box Store Buys

As long as someone in your household isn’t allergic, nuts are a great big-box buy. “Nuts have a long shelf life and are a great snack to tote around,” Marzook said. Buying nuts in bulk can save you money, and they last a long time, Marzook said, so you don’t have to worry about using them up right away. They’re also great to have on hand for baking or to make your own trail mixes and nut milks.

You also can’t go wrong with cereal. “The big-box cereal boxes feature two bags in each box, and you can save more than 50 percent by buying in bulk,” Marzook said. If you don’t have space for these jumbo boxes in your pantry, you can always pour the cereal into an airtight container.

Don’t discount the deli meat or seafood counters, either. “People often forget about these sections at the big-box stores,” Marzook said. Research prices per unit or ounces for things like chicken, steak, and deli meats so you know what’s competitive. “Knowing the price per unit on products will allow you to compare whether a large or small size of an item is the better buy,” Marzook said. Many cuts of meat can also be frozen for later use, which makes them a good deal in the long run, even if you’re not cooking them right away.

“Think about the items you go through rapidly at home, and stock up,” Marzook said. That’s why toiletries are another safe bet. You — and the rest of your household — are probably using things like soap, body wash, mouthwash, and more daily, so you run through them quickly. Be mindful, however, of how much room things take up when you stockpile. You may find that it’s easier to keep a backstock, say, of toothpaste and Polident (which kills 99.99 percent of odor-causing bacteria1 and helps remove stains and plaque on dentures2 than bulky double rolls of toilet paper.

Toiletries can be top dollar in drug, specialty, and grocery stores, so bulk buys can pay off big time.

Items to Avoid at Big-Box Stores

So what shouldn’t you buy? Well, that varies a little from person to person, so it’s hard to give absolute recommendations. But Marzook recommends steering clear of bulk big-box deals on perishables as well as foods that have a shelf life of less than six months. “If there’s a great deal but you know you won’t be able to get around to using that product, don’t buy it,” Marzook said. “No matter how much you think you’re saving, you’ll end up spending more in the end.” So unless you have a fairly big family, best to skip milk, eggs, and fresh vegetables and fruits at the big boxes.

Now that you know what to buy at a big-box store to actually save money, you can go and get your shop on confidently — and cheaply!

1 When soaking only, in laboratory tests
2 When used as directed

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