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Best Foods to Buy in Bulk

Go big or go home. It’s true for job interviews, sports games and reality TV competitions — and often, trips to the grocery store.

Checking the unit price on the shelf tag, which expresses the cost divided by quantity, is a key way to find the best deal. Usually, the bigger the package, the lower that price and the less you’re paying per ounce, sheet or other measurement. That’s often why warehouse clubs are so popular, but there’s no need to pay up for a membership to cut your grocery bill.

Consider going big on these seven foods:

Pasta

Dried pasta can keep for two to three years, provided it’s kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. “As long as the pasta is stored in a cool and dark place it should be fine for many months,” says Lina Zussino, co-founder of Grocery Alerts Canada. A 12-ounce of Bionaturae whole-wheat fusilli sells for $4.69 at ShopRite; Amazon.com sells a pack of six one-pound bags for $18.17. (Total savings: $19.35.) One caveat: whole-wheat pasta often has a shorter expiration date, she warns.

Rice

Rice is a survivalist’s staple: some agriculture departments put its shelf life at as much as 30 years. At the very least, it’s good for two years. So don’t shy away from getting a big bag. At Frugal Foodie’s local Associated Market, 20 pounds of store-brand brand long-grain rice will set you back $10.49, or $0.52 per pound. A two-pound bag, meanwhile, is $0.75 cents per pound. (Total savings: $4.60.) Opt for brown rice to go cheap and healthy.

Produce

Pick-your-own farms and farmers markets both offer price drops for buying in bulk. Take advantage when fruits and vegetables are in peak season (and so, at their cheapest) and freeze them in quart and gallon-sized sealable bags, says Jean Fritz of organic herb purveyor Kitty Vista. Fresh, in-season blueberries can be as cheap as $1.50. Out of season, your choices are $5 fresh or $3 frozen bags. (Total savings: $1.50 per pint.) Among those that freeze well: snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, green beans, peaches, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.

Pet food

Owners of large-breed dogs go for the biggest bags they can, but those who have smaller dogs and cats could benefit from considering a bigger-than-usual bag of dry food. A four-pound bag of Science Diet adult cat food is $3.12 per pound; an 8-pound bag drops the per-pound price down to $2.50. (Total savings: $7.52.) Store the rest of the opened bag in an airtight container. Canned cat and dog food often has a discount of 5 percent to 10 percent, too, if you buy it by the case instead of individual cans.

Nuts

Kept in the fridge, shelled nuts will stay fresh for up to a year. In the freezer, they’ll last twice that. “We store our almonds, walnuts, and brazil nuts in our freezer to preserve the flavor and oils,” explains Zussino. A pound of roasted almonds sells for $12 at Kmart, while five goes for $36.49 at Bulkfoods.com. (Total savings: $23.51.) But don’t go big if you don’t have freezer or fridge space: unrefrigerated, shelled nuts don’t typically last longer than three months once you open their container.

Soft grains

Another survivalist favorite, soft grains like rolled oats, barley and quinoa can have a shelf life of eight to 30 years, if stored in airtight containers. But there’s no need to go to such extremes — all are often found in the bulk food bins at grocery stores. San Diego resident Amy Ogden routinely heads to Whole Foods (yes, Whole Foods) to find bargains. “Things that can be pricy in small packages — steel cut oatmeal, nuts, seeds, quinoa, and so on — can be a fraction of the price in bulk,” she says. “The other benefit is that you can buy exactly the amount you need which is less wasteful.” Barley, for example, runs $1.69 per pound at the bulk bins, versus as much as $6 per pound for prepackaged brands at stores like Safeway or Kroger.

Alcohol

Some cream-based liquors have a short shelf life, but most spirits last an indefinite time if stored upright in a cool, dark location. (Try our recipes to clear out lingering bottle remnants.) That means there’s no harm in buying the biggest size, even if you’re not planning a party any time soon. A 750 ml bottle of Bacardi Big Apple runs $13.99 at BevMo, while a 1.75-liter bottle is $23.99. That’s more than twice the amount for just $10 more. (Total savings: $8.65.)

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodiehttp://www.twitter.com/mintfoodie.