Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Are warehouse clubs worth it?

I used to shop at warehouse clubs (Costco, Sam's Club, and BJ's) quite a bit.  Back when my husband and I were first married, we used to go to Costco, where my in-laws had a membership.  We'd meet them, have a hot dog for dinner, and then shop.  Later, my in-laws got a business account for their home business at Sam's Club and gave me a card.  And a BJ's club opened in my area, and I bought a membership.  I thought I was getting great bargains by buying in bulk.

 But then Walmart and Target opened supercenters in my area, and I checked them out.  Their house brands were about the same price, if not cheaper, than the name brands at the warehouse clubs.  So I stopped shopping there, and started shopping at the supercenters.

Since I've been looking for deals and clipping coupons, I find I'm buying most of my groceries at the grocery store and not at the supercenters.  And while passing by one of the clubs, I decided to stop in, check prices, and see if it would be worth it to join again.

I found a few things that were worth it, but most were definitely *not*, in my opinion.

Not worth it for me:

Cold cereal - ouch!  I got sticker shock looking at their prices.  They averaged $6-$7 for two boxes' worth of cereal.  I am used to paying at most $1.50 for a single box, and I stock up when I find cereal for $1 per box.

Pasta - the prices weren't much less than the store brands at regular price.  Perhaps the warehouse clubs' pasta are higher quality, but since I usually serve pasta under sauce or chili, I don't think I'd notice the difference.  And with coupons and sales, you can often get pasta for 20¢ a box or less.

Fresh fruit and vegetables - these seemed like the same prices that I see at the grocery store.  By cherry-picking the sales, you can get much better prices for produce.  Plus, the packages often had way too much for my family of 5.  It's not a bargain if it goes bad before you use it.

Bread - the store brand at the grocery store is cheaper, even without a sale.

Eggs -  about the same as the cheapest regular-priced eggs I normally find, and more expensive than the sale price.

Cheese - I've gotten so used to the great Kraft coupons, so the prices for cheese there seemed astronomical.

Paper goods and personal care items - No way.  These types of things can be gotten for free or almost free at CVS and Walgreens by using sales, coupons, and store rewards programs.  I'd never spend that much money again on this category.

Might be worth it:

Milk - At $2.35 per gallon, this is 43¢ cheaper than the cheapest regular-priced milk I've found in my area, and a full 84¢ cheaper than Publix.

Yeast - This store carried 2 1-lb. packages of yeast for the same cost as the jar of Fleischmann's yeast at Walmart.  If I were to buy this, I'd first research how long yeast keeps, but it seems like even if some of it ended up going bad, it would be worth it.

Flour - White flour cost a little less per pound than sale-priced flour that I've found.  Unfortunately this particular store did not carry whole wheat flour.

Goodnites - Since we go through a lot of these, I thought that we might save some money buying them in larger packs.  And we would...if my daughter wore the smaller size.  Unfortunately, this store did not carry the larger size that my daughter uses.

Kosher chicken - This store carried frozen bone-in chicken breasts for about $3.00 per pound, much less than the kosher butcher I frequent.  The cost for bone-in thighs and legs was also less. There were also frozen turkeys at $2.49 per pound, which is about the same price.  Unfortunately they did not carry boneless and skinless chicken breasts, chicken nuggets, or any kind of beef.

So are warehouse clubs worth it?  If your only other choice is to buy name brands at the grocery store without coupons, then yes.  But otherwise, for most items, I think you are better off with other strategies.  Some stores may let you purchase items and pay an extra 10% in lieu of a membership.  I may do this to stock up on yeast and chicken, where even an extra 10% would be a good bargain.  But I'd use other strategies to get the best prices on most every other kind of food.

What do you think - are warehouse clubs worth the membership price?  Leave a comment below!

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Tiffany F May 4, 2010 at 4:50 PM  

We belong to BJ's here (all the others are way too far a drive) and I still think it's worth the membership. I agree with you though...buyer beware, not all things are a bargain. Some things that I think ARE worth it though...like you said yeast (I bake challah (almost) every week, the packages can be easily put in ziplock and stored in the freezer for a very long time, EVOO, Balsamic vinegar, butter and cream (if it's not on sale at the grocery store), ditto for string cheese, and ricotta, diapers and paper products are OK if you can combine their coupon with manufacturer's (BJ's will) and it depends on what the club brings in to promote a product, sometimes you find some real gems. That's just a few of my thoughts...but you always have to be aware of what things cost per unit/item, to really know if it's a deal.

Mom2fur May 4, 2010 at 5:49 PM  

I'm glad for the head's up. I was also a warehouse clubber years ago, and thought about joining again. You've convinced me to just stick with my coupons and sales at my regular stores. At least I don't have to pay for memberships there!

Lori Yoder May 4, 2010 at 6:10 PM  

I agree. This is just what I've found. There are a few things that might be worth it, but not a ton since I've started couponing. I've found since I have to pay for the membership, it's not worth my hard earned money!

Corrin May 4, 2010 at 9:05 PM  

We are big fans of Costco, but we have a standard grocery list and don't deviate much from it. Milk, eggs, water, produce(I find the quality is much better at Costco and I eat fruit like crazy, so it never goes bad).

Kendra @ Domestic Princess in Training May 4, 2010 at 11:02 PM  

Good to know! We usually shop Sams for our paper goods and bulk meat everything else we get at our local grocery store.

I'm still a little lost on the whole CVS thing. I know a lot of people get a ton of great things through them.

Kendra “Domestic Princess in Training “

the thrifty ba May 4, 2010 at 11:14 PM  

i only use our membership to buy gas, which is 10 cents cheaper than the reg station. and if i use my costco amex, i get cash back.

Ann @ makethebestofthings May 5, 2010 at 1:30 PM  

I agree, our warehouse membership was not saving us any money. I am a price nazi and i know when something is a bargain and I wasn't getting enough to justify the dues. I don't miss shopping there.

Jen May 5, 2010 at 1:59 PM  

I am a Costco member and always buy my gas there. Like you said, some things are worth it and some are not. Bananas are always a good price and I like a specific whole grain bread that they have a lot cheaper than the grocery store. I have bought furniture there for a GREAT deal and they have the BEST refund policy out there. It's worth it just for that alone.

Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog May 5, 2010 at 1:59 PM  

I'd say that they're worth it sometimes... it depends on the level of quality you're going for. Costco seems to sell higher quality products for around the same price as the grocery store's brand. Most of the time, I'm fine with the grocery store brand, but I'll get things like frozen protein and beds for my dog at Costco.

The Prudent Homemaker May 5, 2010 at 6:34 PM  

It all depends on what you buy and if you live in an area that doubles coupons. Where I live,m there are no double coupons, so on many things, Sam's Club is the cheapest for me. Here's what I think is a good buy at Sam's Club:http://theprudenthomemaker.com/SamsClub.aspx

Saving A Bundle May 6, 2010 at 9:12 AM  

I wrote an article about Costco and why it saves me lots of money:


Melissa May 6, 2010 at 11:25 AM  

Once I started couponing like crazy, I let my Sams and Costco memberships lapse. Even though I might save more on one or two things, we always end up spending more, too!! There was an interesting article on one of the magazines I got this month (Family Circle maybe?) about Costco and how you don't always save more by buying in bulk. Thanks for linking up to my Thrifty Thursday post, by the way!

Toni May 6, 2010 at 12:51 PM  

Warehouse places are all too far away for me. Plus, like you, with coupon shopping - I get PLENTY of stock ups. Also, we are only a family of three - I guess it may be more beneficial if you have a larger family? Stopping by from Thrifty Thursday at Coupon Teacher.

Anonymous,  May 7, 2010 at 6:56 PM  

I found that a costco membership wasn't worth it for me. The few things they have in bulk that were cheaper (like yeast) I could get at Smart and Final for about the same without the membership fee. The only thing cheaper then is really milk, but we don't buy enough milk to make a $50 fee worth it.

Melissa May 11, 2010 at 5:58 PM  

I hate coupons. And I love Kirkland toilet paper. That will keep me going to Costco for a long, long time.

REally I don't buy much food there. We look for gifts and other neat items. We get household cleaning supplies mostly.

'Becca June 13, 2011 at 1:55 PM  

It's always crucial to compare prices! Here in Pittsburgh, some things are cheaper at Costco and others aren't. We also have a store called GFS that sells big packages (instead of a lot of little packages shrink-wrapped together--all that packaging drives me nuts!) and does NOT require membership. I wrote an article comparing Costco and GFS.

judy gardner December 14, 2011 at 12:17 AM  

when my dad was still working he had a business membership at sam's club, and i LOVED going there n my lunch hour with his secretary on our lunch hour. we went especially the weeks before Christmas when they are giving out lots of food samples! i do not think i ever really got a bargain, i was just amazed at the things you could buy in bulk, and some of their frozen deserts and snack items were really good!

Unknown September 16, 2012 at 11:48 PM  

It might be worth it if you have a single,large purchase to make...but as a single man living alone...nah.

Sally December 1, 2012 at 11:50 PM  

They are not worth it for me.I am single and do not need to buy in bulk like you have to do at a warehouse store.

jopb August 18, 2013 at 3:41 PM  

I am very glad that you wrote this post. I was wondering if I should bother with a warehouse and you have convinced me usually not- since I have the other stores much closer and use sales and coupons all the time.

jopb January 25, 2014 at 6:15 PM  

I did my own research and found that I could get most things as cheap or cheaper at the supermarket and using coupons

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