As I said yesterday when sharing all of the reader suggestions on how to incorporate bulk buying into my shopping, I have struggled with this concept in the past. One of my struggles, how to find the money to take advantage of bulk-buying deals, was what prompted the original post that I received all the great suggestions from. My other struggle is a little more nebulous and harder to exactly define, and something I am still considering: keeping bulk buying from leading to lifestyle inflation.
Lifestyle inflation, to me, is when you have more money and increase your spending to match that. It is why even with a raise, sometimes, you just don’t feel like you’re making any more progress or getting any closer to being ahead. I used to do this a lot, especially on a month to month type basis. I’d have a month where I made more money contracting than I expected, and I’d go to Target and buy a bunch of stuff I had been waiting to buy until I had some money, and also a bunch of little extra things in the process. Or we’d have a little extra money in our bank account, and I would let us go out to eat a few times because we were doing so “well”. That extra money we had never got converted into anything that was making a positive difference in our financial health – it just got frittered away.
How does bulk buying lead to lifestyle inflation for me? It is kind of the same concept. The vast majority of my bulk buying is in the realm of groceries. When I buy something in bulk, it should reduce the amount of money I need to spend in the future because I am no longer buying that item as part of my normal grocery shopping. Somehow though, that never happens for me. It never seems like my grocery bill goes down. Even though I don’t do it consciously, it seems that I must be using the money saved with bulk buying to buy other things I might not have normally bought and my budget is never reduced, so I never actually see the savings tangibly. So, in effect, bulk buying seems to cost me more over the long run than buying in small amounts would have – I get more stuff for less money, but I also buy other stuff I can’t generally afford, leading to more money spent overall.
I am taking big steps to rectify this phenomenon though. First, all the tracking of my groceries I have been doing. I haven’t gotten to the point where I am dissecting my list here, but I do keep track of anything I buy that isn’t on my list and own up to it in my weekly grocery post, and I am not adding new things to the list before I go to the store that I wouldn’t generally have bought before. So the temptation to add more and more frivolous items to my cart is greatly reduced.
The other big step I am taking (that is still a work in progress) is figuring out what a reasonable grocery budget for me is. Once I know what is actually reasonable and that I can generally stick to, I can start building in bulk buying and then track if I am reducing my future budget by at least what I am saving by buying ahead. This process seems rather endless and frustrating to me right now, but I do know I am making progress (even if it doesn’t always feel like it!). If I have an unreasonable number as my budget, then I will never hit it, and I don’t want to blame buying in bulk for that when it isn’t the issue.
Once I can combine a reasonable grocery budget with a good consistent tracking system, I feel like I have the tools necessary to battle the lifestyle inflation I seem to slip into every time I free up money I would have used for groceries, and I can start saving even more money to apply directly to debt. At least – that is the hope. The real tangible and true goal of all this is to turn that bulk buying savings into snowflakes for debt elimination.