I was perusing a magazine stand the other evening while waiting for a prescription at our local pharmacy. I picked up a copy of the latest Smart Money magazine and realized I had inadvertently let my subscription run out. There were a couple articles I found interesting and I immediately walked away with the copy to pick up my prescription. While standing in line one of those subscription cards fell out and as I bent down to pick it up I realized I was about to violate my own frugal rules. The subscription offer was 12 issues for $12, or $1 per issue! I was about to pay nearly 3.5 times that amount for one issue off the magazine stand; even more if you include the sales tax.
Pay Now, or Pay More Later
This experience got me to thinking – how many other expenses are more costly because I buy things in single quantities, or once a day, week, or month? I have a friend who smokes cigarettes and buys a pack a day, every day, instead of buying a carton. According to him, he cannot afford to buy a whole carton at one time. I don't keep up with the cost of a pack of smokes because I don't smoke, but let's assume a pack costs $4 with the added taxes. A pack-a-day smoker would pay $40 to purchase a pack of cigarettes each day for ten days. A carton of cigarettes costs about $28, $12 less than a pack-a-day purchase. Carry that out to yearly costs and the carton-buyers will save $430 a year!
I'm not just picking on smokers, the same argument could be made for vending machine soft drink consumers, or anyone who buys single items when it is cheaper to purchase in larger quantities. I've noticed many times in grocery stores I will pick up individually wrapped items because they are more convenient for throwing in kid's lunches, or to take on the road for a snack. Following my own advice, I would do better to purchase a bag full of the product and then divide individual servings into Ziploc bags or a similar container.
But I Can't Afford to Buy in Bulk
According to that same smoking friend I mentioned, they cannot afford the upfront costs of a carton of cigarettes because they never have $28 to spend up front. For them, it is easier to spend $4 at a time, even if the costs are significantly higher in the long run. One important thing to remember is that buying in bulk is not always cheaper. Occasionally retailers will use some deceptive pricing tactics to trick consumers into spending more per unit on bulk packaging. This is yet another reason why it is a good idea to take a calculator on shopping trips to calculate the unit price before automatically grabbing the larger container.