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I have heard that buying nuts/bolts/lag screws by the pound is cheaper than buying them individually. In my town, Tractor Supply sells them by the pound, whereas Lowes sells them individually.

Is this true? I know the answer is "It depends on how much each charges," but wondered if anyone actually tried buying a pound of something from each place and looked at the cost.

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    Often you can buy a box of 100 for a significant discount as well. – Ecnerwal Aug 25 '17 at 18:31
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You do not really need to buy a pound of the item to determine the cost per pound. From the weight of a single item, you can figure out home many there are to a pound. Then from the price per item and the price per weight, you can figure out which is a better buy. The nice thing is people have already weighed a lot of items. Here is a chart of bolt weights and another with nails and screw weights.

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Vastly, vastly cheaper. By the unit, you are paying for the cost of counting, packaging, attaching a barcode, tracking SKUs, etc. etc. etc. Packaging isn't free. In fact it's very expensive, unless you are buying in large enough quantity for packaging cost to be spread across many, many units. Rule of thumb: search for the cheapest bolt in the store, typically $1.09, that is the cost of packaging which is added to the cost of every package.

Buying at big-box, you are paying (through the nose) for their convenience of easy tracking and being able to hire minimum wage stockboys to do jobs that can be automated at an institutional level... instead of an actual, competent hardware store manager who knows how to run a bolt bin.

Dealing with big-box stores, you are also paying the gotcha tax. Big-box knows perfectly well folks don't know how to shop, and trust big-box blindly to be the lowest price in town. First, folks don't even know where alternative stores are. But if they did, they'd only price-compare certain items, and those items are very predictable: in electrical, that'll be 100' or 500' spools of /2 Romex. That is four products they need to lowball. The rest, they overcharge as much as they dare, I have seen them charge three times electrical-supply prices for the same part. Outrageous. There's a reason electricians shop at electrical supply houses. Big-box is for suckers.

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    same goes for plumbing supply. can be vastly cheaper than big box for, well basically everything plumbing. – aaron Aug 25 '17 at 20:02
  • Big box is a building supply store that happens to sell some hardware. Buying a few screws there is like going to Office Max to buy coffee filters. Hardware stores sell hardware. – Wayfaring Stranger Aug 25 '17 at 21:54
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After asking my question, I went to a local store and bought 20 5/16" lags and 20 washers, by the pound, for $1.75. Then I went to a different store and priced how much it would cost per item (non-packaged, just loose items to put in plastic baggy). The latter cost was $7.40. That's a little over 4 times as much.

So I've got my answer, small sample size as it is.

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