As I drove to work this morning I was able to catch a few minutes of the Marketplace Morning Report on my local public radio station (after I had dropped off my daughter and was able to switch off The Lorax soundtrack she’s insisted on having on repeat the past few weeks,) and heard David Lazarus interviewed about whether shopping at wholesale clubs (ex: Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s) really saves you money.
I am a big fan of Costco and buying in bulk, but I have never really found that I save a lot of money by shopping there. There are certain items I know I can get much cheaper when compared to the prices at the regular grocery stores near me. A few of our favorite items we know we save big on are boxes of chicken stock, flat bread, hummus, artisan bread, bagels, and sparkling water. With other items the difference isn’t so big – I find that beef, chicken, and seafood isn’t generally that much cheaper, and is often more expensive than those items on special at the grocery store.
I was surprised to hear in the story that a recent study found the grocery savings are pretty big on average, “it’s about 30 percent less than your typical big supermarket.” Wow! I tried to find the details of the study but couldn’t put my fingers on it. I have to imagine that they calculated the savings based on buying the same brands available at the warehouse. For example if the warehouse store carries a certain name brand of paper towels the savings might be 30% over that same brand at the grocery store, but when shopping at the grocery store you could also choose to buy the generic paper towels which might be the same or even less than the warehouse price.
The same is true for electronics, toys, appliances, and other big ticket items. I find that Costco carries high end options in these categories, often at a big discount – but if you don’t want a top of the line computer or stand mixer you could find other choices much cheaper somewhere else. It really all comes down to whether you are in the market for the exact items carried at the warehouse club, or whether it’s your budget that is driving the decision.
And then of course there’s the impulse buy temptation at the warehouse clubs. If you’re craving chocolate at the grocery store you might toss a 75 cent candy bar in your cart and indulge on that one treat on the way home. At Costco you end up with 24 full size candy bars tempting you from the pantry for weeks! (Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything… ;))
Like I said, I am a big fan of bulk shopping, but more for the convenience than for the savings. I try to only buy things I know we will use before the expiration date, and I comparison shop to try to find the items that I can save on, or at least am not paying more for. I love having a huge stockpile of paper towels and tp and not having to get them every time I run to the grocery store for milk, eggs, and produce.
How about you? Are you a member of one of the warehouse clubs? Do you find you save money? What are your favorite items?
Listen to the full story from Marketplace or read the transcript here: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/are-wholesale-clubs-worth-membership-price