Tempted to buy a giant bag of rice from your favorite bulk-food store? Or maybe clear the shelves of a particular canned good just because it's on sale? Don't, says private chef and professional caterer Alessandra Innamorato, who owns Happy Belly catering in Los Angeles. Though most people have their favorite items already on hand, they are often tempted to stock up on more than what they can use.
Don't buy what you don't need: Do you really need that 30-pound bag of rice? No, you don't, she says. Stay away from buying in bulk "grains, flours, stuff that can potentially get infested with moths and bugs," unless you have a family of 10 or these are products that you use every single day. "These things are going to go bad. Moths and bugs are easily attracted to grains and to flours."
Buy from bulk bins: Scooping out the right amount of coffee or whole grains from bulk bins at your local grocery store is cheaper in the long run. "I recommend buying stuff in bulk bins, because you can buy just what you need. As a chef, I do that all the time." This method works especially great for spices, says Innamorato. You can buy exactly how much you need "so you're not buying a $6 jar" of something you only need a little bit of. She recommends purchasing empty spice jars from Ikea (four for $4).
When you buy big, do it right: If you spring for the big stuff, buy only what you use all the time. For nonfood goods, TheKitchn.com recommends stocking up — if you have the room — on always-needed kitchen supplies: You can never have enough Ziploc bags, sponges, soap, aluminum foil or plastic wrap. (Of the latter, "We buy the longest roll we can find," they say.)
Innamorato agrees: "The only thing I buy in bulk at Costco is stuff that isn't going to go bad and stuff that I use a lot, like olive oil," she says, or canned tomatoes. Stick with your regular items, like cooking oils that you use on a regular basis. The Kitchn.com also gives the thumbs up to stocking up on chicken or veggie stock or broth, as well as canned beans.
"You can buy canned goods in bulk, as long as you are buying canned goods that you use, not just because they were cheap," Innamorato says. Which bring us to her next tip.
Don't buy it just because it's on sale: "That show, Extreme Couponing? These people literally have rooms in their houses full of stuff that they will never use but that they bought because they're such amazing couponers that they got it for free," she says. "They are never going to use half the stuff they even got. Because that's what people do." She should know. "I remember when Costco first opened and my mom and I were like, 'Oh my God, we can get this 50-pound bag of rice for $3!" she says. "It just sat there and we wound up throwing it out when she moved."