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9 Things to Buy in Bulk With Long Shelf Lives

One way to beat inflation is to lock in prices before they go up 


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Food and toilet paper aren’t the only things you can buy in bulk. There are several everyday items you can stock up on to save, some of which may surprise you. It's particularly helpful in the current environment. While the pace of inflation is declining, prices are still up 3 percent since last June, according to the latest Consumer Price Index. Buying in bulk during inflationary times allows you to lock in prices before they go up further.

Just like when buying food in large quantities, keep these three questions in mind. What’s the shelf life? Will you use it? And, do you have the space to store it?

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“The key is to make sure you have space,” says Julie Ramhold, a senior staff writer and consumer analyst at DealNews. “Buying in bulk, in general, can make a lot of sense but cluttering up your home doesn’t.” 

Before you stock up, think about how often you consume everyday items. Some items have shelf lives and will lose efficacy if they languish in storage too long. If you end up tossing it, you won’t save any money. “You have to be mindful that wholesale clubs can be a money trap,” says Trae Bodge, operator of smart shopping website TrueTrae.com. “Before buying, think it through.”

Unsure of what makes sense and what will end up being a waste? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We put together a list of nine items worth bulking up on in inflationary times. 

1. Trash bags

Shelf life: No expiration date 

It can take decades, perhaps even hundreds of years, for plastic bags to decompose, which means you don’t have to worry about a shelf life with trash bags. If you have the space, it’s worth the splurge, says Ramhold. “Some families wait for certain brands to go on sale at the local grocery store and stock up; others just go to Costco and pick up trash bags. Maybe a year later they have to do it again,” she says.  

2. Ziplock plastic bags

Shelf life: No expiration date 

Ziplock bags come in handy around the house, and just like trash bags, there is no shelf life, so stocking up makes sense if you use a lot of them. “There’s a big movement toward having reusable sandwich and snack bags but that can be a pricey investment,” says Ramhold. “For larger families, buying ziplock bags at bulk places can save money.” ​

3. Tinfoil, plastic wrap and parchment paper 

Shelf life: No expiration date 

​Just like toilet paper, paper towels and garbage bags, stocking up on tinfoil, plastic wrap and parchment paper are on the OK list if you have the storage space. These items don’t have an expiration date but can be bulky if you purchase a lot of them.

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4. Toothpaste

Shelf life: two years 

Toothpaste can be an ideal buy-in-bulk product since it’s something we use daily. But you don’t want to buy too much of it since it has a shelf life of about two years. After that, some of the ingredients found in the tube lose their effectiveness. If your family has a favorite brand, stock up when it goes on sale or hit the warehouse store to make a bulk purchase if you don’t care.  

5. Shampoo and conditioner 

Shelf life: 12 to 24 months 

Shampoo isn’t required to include a shelf life, but many manufacturers list a “period after opening” date on the back of the bottle. Look for an open can symbol with a number and the letter M beneath it. That will tell you the recommended time of use after the bottle has been opened. For example, Garnier shampoo has a shelf life of 12 months. Meanwhile, TRESemmé does not include one on its packaging. 

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6. Underwear, socks and undershirts 

Shelf life: No expiration date 

The biggest risk when stocking up on socks, underwear and undershirts is that your taste changes. After all, there is no expiration date on these items, but what’s in fashion can shift. “There are a lot of good basics at warehouse clubs,” says Ramhold. But buyer beware: If the items you buy in bulk are uncomfortable or too trendy, you may not want to wear them after one or two years. “Things like tank tops, undershirts and basics that you need to wear under something are good bulk purchases,” says Ramhold. “If you are very conscious of how clothes fit and the appearance, you may not want to shop for those things in bulk.” 

7. Bar soap 

Shelf life: 24 to 36 months 

​You won’t find an expiration date on a bar of soap’s packaging, but most tend to have a shelf life of two to three years. Natural bar soaps typically have a shorter shelf life because there aren’t any artificial preservatives.  That doesn’t mean they won’t get you clean after that, but it may lose some or all of the scent. “Soap will last forever,” says Bodge. “Bodywash maybe a year. I’d be careful beyond that.” ​

8. Cleaning supplies

Shelf life: 6 months to 2 years 

​Cleaning products tend to lose efficacy the longer they sit in storage, but how quickly depends on the product. For instance, bleach — once opened — lasts only six months, while most multisurface cleaners can last as long as two years. Liquid laundry detergent will remain effective six to nine months after opening, while hand sanitizer can last two to three years.

“If it's something that’s going to take you a year and a half to go through, it’s not something you should buy wholesale,” says Bodge.

9. Batteries 

Shelf life: 10 to 20 years 

Bulking up on batteries can not only save you money but also can come in handy in a pinch. Nobody wants to be left in the dark during a blackout because the flashlight batteries are dead. The good news is this product has a really long shelf life — 10 years for regular batteries and up to 20 for lithium ones. There are two exceptions: 9 volt batteries last up to five years while rechargeable ones have a shorter 12-month life span.

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