Guest post from Victoria of Creative Home Keeper
Warehouse memberships can be a great way to really save money on your grocery budget. However they can also be a budget-buster if you’re not careful. Since joining Costco earlier this year, I have been able to buy a large portion of my groceries in bulk without breaking the bank.
If you are thinking about joining a members-only warehouse club, here are three tips to consider before you do:
1. Do your homework
Before you purchase a membership at a warehouse you need to do your homework first.
Take a tour
If your city has more than one warehouse to choose from, then you probably want to visit both. Where I live we have both a Sam’s Club and a Costco.
Before joining Costco, my husband and I toured both warehouses. Most warehouses will let you in on a visitor’s pass. You won’t be able to purchase anything without purchasing a membership, but being able to tour the store and take inventory on the type of products they sell will help you determine what warehouse to join, and if joining one is going to be cost effective for your family.
Know your prices
While touring, take a notebook, or your price book, to jot down the names and prices of the products you would buy. Note the price and how much you are getting.
For example, I can purchase a case of 8-14.5oz cans of organic diced tomatoes for about $7. That is about $0.88 per can. My price book tells me that this is the cheapest price for diced tomatoes. Not all prices at warehouse clubs are better deals then standard grocery stores so this is where knowing your prices, or having a price book, really comes in handy.
Also you need to factor in the yearly membership price into your cost breakdown. Does paying the membership (anywhere from $30-$100 per year) make sence for your family?
Some warehouses provide cashback bonuses; others provide services such as discounted prescriptions, eyeglasses, discounted gasoline, etc. Know the membership policies and compare to see which one will give you the best investment.
Pick the right warehouse
Once you have toured the warehouse and collected enough information to validate paying for a membership, then you need to pick the right warehouse to join if your city has more than one. Think about location. It’s not really going to save you any money if you have to drive a long way to get there.
Another factor to consider is how convenient it is going to be to get to the warehouse. My Costco is located just a few miles from my house near other stores that I shop. So I can easily do most of my grocery shopping in one trip.
2. Have a game plan
Walking into any warehouse can be very overwhelming. There is just so much to look at outside of groceries!
Know the layout
I suggest taking the time to know the layout of your warehouse. That way you know exactly what areas your items are located, and what areas to avoid. By knowing the layout, I can quickly get in and out of Costco without wasting time backtracking, which might lead to impulse purchases.
Make a list
Going into a warehouse without a list is an invitation to blow your budget. Make your list based on your meal plan and what stores have the best prices on those items (this is where a price book comes in handy).
Also just like any grocery shopping, it is best to not go into a warehouse hungry. Impulse purchases are much more costly at a warehouse than your standard grocery store.
3. Make sure you have storage space
One last thing to note before you even purchase a membership is to think about how you would store your food. Ask yourself: Do I enough freezer/refrigerator/pantry space? Coming home with a car full of bulk food will not save you any money if you don’t have any room to store it.
Victoria Osborn is a wife and stay at home mom to two little ones. She is passionate about encouraging women to live simply, intentional, and inspired at home. She writes about it every day at Creative Home Keeper.
We’ve loved having a Costco membership. We save for the annual fee every month and when it’s due it’s not hard to pay for it because we saved for it. For our family it has helped our grocery budget.
Plus it’s always a fun shopping experience. 🙂
My mom and I share a basic SAMs membership. Our membership pays for gas alone. SAMs is also where they have the cheapest prescriptions,tires,fruit,Prilosec etc. Since I do not use coupons and in our state there are no double coupons my money goes far.
We have a BJs member ship, so I can only speak for them, but to be honest I find I can get the same price at either Aldi or from Amazon’s subscribe and save program. They offer so many free passes throughout the year, I think when our membership lapses I won’t renew it and just go a few times a year to stock up on the handful of deeply discounted items.
Funnily enough, we save $4 a month on cheese by using Sam’s Club – that’s $48 which is more than the membership price. Some things can get pricey, especially since they don’t do no-name brands, but if you can find one item that within a year will cover the membership price then it’s worth having a membership in your arsenal.
Sabra Weimer says
One of my good friends and I have a Sam’s membership together since you get 2 cards. I pay for the membership one year and she pays the next. This way we only end up paying for half each year. We are both stay at home mom’s so this really helps with our budget. I divide up the cost of the membership and set it aside which amounts to less than $2 a month.
I love my Sams for one reason – it saves me time. I hate going to the grocery store and by shopping and buying in bulk, I don’t have to go to the grocery store at all. For items we need in between bulk trips, I send my husband to the store! I would rather buy six months worth of toilet paper at once than to have to buy it every month. My husband built me shelves on both sides of the garage for storage of food. I shop when the freezer gets low and stock up on all my meats and veggies.
Love Costco! We grocery shop about 6 times a year because we’re extremely rural. When I’m in town, I hate spending too much time shopping. But getting a couple months worth of groceries can be a lot of work. After seven years of doing this, I’ve learned to hit Costco with the list and what I can’t get there I stop at the grocery store for. Much simpler when you aren’t near stores to shop the ads. Our Costco has great produce and a good selection of healthier foods (non-dairy milk, nuts, gluten free, organic, etc…). And the return policy is great. We buy things to try when we’re in town and if we don’t like them, return them before leaving town. I occasionally hit Sam’s but much prefer Coscto. Some items are exceptional deals and others are not. It really depends what they offer and what you use.
The Prudent Homemaker says
I have both Sam’s and Costco near to me, and I drive a little further to go to Sam’s Club, because what I buy is cheaper there–as is my membership, at $35 a year (business membership is $35 instead of $40, plus it includes earlier shopping hours). I have compared many times, item by item, to see if what I buy is cheaper at one store or the other. Each stores carries some things that the other doesn’t. Which store is best for you depends on what you buy.
Does it save me money? Oh yes! I just wrote a post on this that went up today. It’s part two in my Eat for 40 Cents a Day series, which you can find here:
In that post I also wrote about how a single person can benefit from buying in bulk as well.
I have a list of what we buy at Sam’s Club here: http://theprudenthomemaker.com/index.php/frugal-living/shopping-wisely/sams-club
I have a list of items that I regularly buy at Costco and check it before I go there. I stop there a couple of times a month, sometimes only to buy gasoline.
Jessica @ Mothering with Creativity says
I love Costco, and we save a great deal on bulk purchases such as vanilla, flours, sugars, etc. as well as our lettuce!
I would have to disagree about knowing the layout, because I simply don’t know if that’s possible. Has Costco EVER left their layout the same for more than a month or two at a time? Seriously. It bugs me a lot and make me waste a lot of time walking back and forth across the store with 3 kids! It wouldn’t be so bad if the employees were aware of where things were, but last time they moved the chocolate chips, it took me hunting down FOUR employees before finding them by the FRUIT! Ridiculous if you ask me!
But otherwise, yes, I think we save a lot at Costco, too!
Since I make our bread, I buy all of our flour and sugar in bulk at Sam’s Club. It is the only store that I can find 10 lb or larger flour or sugar in our town. Sam’s Club is worth it to me to purchase all of my baking supplies.
Great tips! We have fallen for the Sam’s Club membership a couple of times. Most times for us bulk prices are no match for regular store pricing, especially when coupons are used. Sam’s doesn’t accept coupons. (On a side note, I’ve even noticed at regular stores, for some reason, some items like coffee creamer, in the larger quantity is more expensive per ounce than the smaller identical brand. Odd. Anyway…) While there may be a few items that seem to be a better deal than the Walmart next door, in the long run, we have yet to get a return on our member fees.
I have heard some great things about Costco though, and am really impressed with the work ethic set by management to pay employees fair wages and avoid exorbitant salaries at the top. Unfortunately, our Costco is too far away to make it worth the membership.
As a current Sam’s member and a former Costco member, it’s my opinion that Costco is wayyy better. The store is more organized, the employees more friendly and knowledgeable, and the prices more reasonable. Oh how I wish we had Costco in the south!
Don’t forget the “free” days, where places like Sam’s Club lets anyone shop to try out the club without the membership. You can always stock up then 🙂 Also friends/family with memberships might be happy to pick an item up for you or let you tag along as their guest if you are unsure paying for a membership would be worth it. Personally, we finally got a Costco membership after months of tagging along with family as a guest. I don’t know what our savings are, but to me it’s well worth it because I love so many of their products, especially the organic ones!
We saved huge on our Sam’s membership by buying it through the Living Social promotion a few months ago. I don’t remember the specific details, but we got the actual membership at a discount, plus a few coupons for completely free items and a $20 gift card.
Another benefit of being a Sam’s/Costco member (I can’t vouch for BJ’s): their gas prices are usually the lowest in the area.
I will add one more consideration – huge for me – what’s the return policy? Costco’s generous return policy – they take anything back I believe that’s not expired – some things have a shorter time – electronics and others – even without a receipt.
This is insurance for me on two levels
1. The items are so big that trying something new is a risk. Knowing I can return it lets me see if it works for our family at the price they offer – just returned peanut butter no one approved even though it was open – we ate 1 ounce of the 80 I bought – I felt fine returning it.
2. It’s an insurance for the times when I give in to impulse! I recently returned several items unopened a week after I’d bought them, not that they weren’t reasonable, but I didn’t need them – the gum we already have a full pack of? Back. The cleaning tools I do need but forgot I’d bought elsewhere this winter? Back. etc
makes it even more worthwhile for me there
Cheri A says
We were previous members at Sam’s Club and switched over the Costco a little over a year ago after the pink slime debacle. We got back our membership fee, plus about $90 more to put towards a splurge item.
We shop there every two weeks, sometimes every week at times. I really like the quality of the meats and dairy. We usually always buy a couple big bags of chips. I’ve got teenagers! We buy fresh fruit there if it is from the US and something that we will all eat. I also get their pack of celery hearts and carrots if my friend will split it with me. Although I’d love to get their romaine, we can’t go through it fast enough. I also buy our paper products there (TP and paper towels) and laundry detergent.
We are BJ’s members- we have Costco, Sam’s and BJ’s in my town, but we like BJ’s the best because you can stack manufacturer’s and store coupons. I only go once a month, and I try to have at least one coupon per item! I know that we could probably get toilet paper less expensively by doing the drug store game, but with a 10 month old, there is something to be said for knowing that we are not going to run out of toilet paper!!
Every few years I check out Sams Club to see what they have for prices. I just don’t see the savings. Everything to me seems to be average prices, and then the membership fee on top of it. I just don’t understand paying a fee to shop in a store.
I agree that there are many, many things at Sam’s that aren’t priced lower than grocery stores, but here are a few things we buy there that more than pay for our membership with the cost savings: baby formula, granola bars, vanilla extract, yeast, milk, ground turkey, frozen sweet potato fries, bricks of cheese, shredded cheese, bananas, bell peppers, yogurt, chocolate chips, and strawberries. I’m sure there are a few more products we buy, but just purchasing those pays for the discounted membership we bought through Living Social.
I bought a Sam’s Club membership through Living Social too so the cost was only $5 after the coupons they offered. I like the 25 LB bread flour for a little over $8. That’s the best deal I’ve ever seen. Their brand of Zyrtec is just as good for a fraction of the price. I also have purchased flea drops similar to Frontline for half price. I get the honey, 5 LBs for a bit over $14. Fresh produce is nice and well priced. The artisian lettuce is a great deal. I got a swimsuit for $20. Finally the Members Mark kitchen trash bags are my favorite thing 150 count for $10. Oh a friend has a membership and says the tuna steaks are way cheaper than chain stores and they purchased a hot tub for several thousand less when they compared prices.
I forgot, tires are cheaper with a Sam’s membership too.
Your tire package is only good if you continue to pay for your membership every year so we have come to the conclusion that tires are NOT cheaper at Sam’s.
Thanks for the tips about garbage bags and Zyrtec! Those are two things that I usually don’t buy until they’re needed and we can’t wait, so I don’t really shop around. Now I know where I’ll get them.
I more than pay my annual membership buying my probiotics, aspirin and iron tablets.
I’m a Costcoholic! I am there at least once a week. I’ve purchase jewelry, clothing etc… and all my cars through Costco. Every now and then, I do find something that is just way to much quantity, but a good deal. Those items, I just pass up and get them at the Dollar store or Target. Every year I get a rebate check that is over $100+. Which pays for our membership. I also coupon shop about four times a month at other stores and have saved over 10K in the past year. Which is now my, emergency fund account. I have friends who say Costco is too expensive as well. I guess, it depends on what you may think is more important, quality or quantity. =)
Something to consider is either “sharing” the membership, or “sharing” what you buy with someone else. I do this with my son’s, who don’t have a Costco near them. When they come into town to visit, we shop so they can stock-up on items. If they want to try something for the first time, we will “split” the item so we can all try it.
*You can share a membership, which cuts down the cost.
*You can purchase other items there. I bought my ODD’s bed and DS’s bed there. I bought my DH’s flat screen tv there. In the past (now we buy them online), we bought eye glasses there.
*You can use the pharmacy without being a member.
You can share a membership at Costco? How do you do that? My husband and I are contemplating getting a membership and this would make it much better!
Costco let’s you have 2 people on the acct. My husband and I each have a card. But if i had a friend or relative that wanted to share, i think that works too.
That’s not true…..you need to live at the same address.
Sabra Weimer says
I know at Sam’s it doesn’t matter about address. When my grandparents were alive, my parents had one card and my grandparents has the other card. We lived in one state and my grandparents lived in another state. My neighbor and I share a Sam’s membership with no problem.
Like Dawn said, each account gets two cards. My mom and my grandparents (under my grandma’s name) share an account. It works really well for them, since neither one wants to spend $55 a year for the 3-4 staples they buy at Costco, but they don’t mind the $27.50 each.
Love Costco! In our area, dairy prices are lower there than anywhere else including Aldi. I agree with knowing your prices and knowing the layout of the store. I go to Costco with a list and our grocery budget in mind and stick to it. I easily pay for our membership in about 3 months just with the savings on dairy products.
We more than make up the cost of membership with the savings we get using the Costco Pharmacy. Also, Costco has a nice selection of organic products that are fair in price. Like most any store, you need to shop at Costco with a plan and a willingness to say no yourself.
In California, and possibly in other states too, you do not need a membership to use the Costco pharmacy.
It is true, you do not need to have a Costco membership to use the pharmacy.
Our state has laws that allows us to buy at the Costco pharmacy without a membership. You might want to see if you state has that also.
I think another important thing to remember when warehouse shopping is – will you use it all? For example, I could buy lettuce at my Costco for a bit cheaper than the grocery stores, except that I’d have to buy more than one head at a time and we do not consume that much lettuce, and lettuce is not a produce that freezes well, so I’d likely end up wasting the second head. Or I can buy a single head for a dollar at our grocer and know that we’ll use it all up before it goes bad.
Because of the potential waste factor, we only buy non-perishables at Costco. Canned tomatoes, spices, pastas, rice… anything that has a long shelf life. And non-food items like diapers, paper towels, toilet paper, and baking soda (okay, sort of a food item) are also generally cheaper in bulk at Costco over anywhere else in our city.
Your points about checking the prices are really important though. A lot of times people just assume warehouse prices are cheaper, but they often aren’t, and you don’t always have a cheaper store-brand option to choose from either, especially on food products.
On the other hand, if you have the storage space, you could make the most of a one year membership and stock yourself up for a few years worth of home products and shelf-stable foods!
When my son was an infant, the Kirkland formula was the least expensive in our area, (unless we had those wonderful coupons from the manufacturers). I tagged a long with my sister for a few trips as a guest to pick up formula, until we knew my son would tolerate it well, and then got our own membership. Diapers still ended up being cheaper with coupons at the drugstore. We never really bought much else there, because our place is tiny and we lack the storage space for large amounts of anything. But for formula, it was a definite bargain and help!
Shannah Pace says
We have a Costco membership and could NOT eat as well as we do without it. We follow a Paleo diet and are able to get most of our staples there in bulk (coconut oil, nuts, organic REAL olive oil, organic frozen fruits and veggies, fresh and dried fruits and berries, bananas, avocados, etc). We actually do about 80% of our grocery shopping there. We also paid the extra for a gold membership and get enough back in points at the end of the year to completely pay for our membership and have about $30 leftover to spend. I haven’t done the math, but I’m sure we save a few hundred dollars buying 80% of our groceries in bulk at costco.
Off topic, but this “paleo” diet fad makes me laugh. Today’s foods are highly cultivated. The corn we eat simply didn’t exist as “corn” 10,000 or even 2,000 years ago.
Nor could a “caveman” have found bananas, sweet potatoes, apples, coconuts, all growing at the same place. Doubtful that they pressed olives into oil.
I just read PaleoFantasy by Marlene Zuk.
Shannah Pace says
I’m so glad you find it amusing. And you’re right, the grains we eat today are not at all like the grains present before the onset of the agricultural revolution…which is why grains are not consumed in a Paleo diet.
Most important, a Paleo diet is not about conducting an elaborate reenactment by foraging for your own food and only eating what is available within walking distance. Anyone who says it is has either never actually read a definitive book on the PAleo diet, or they have and they are being intellectually dishonest just to be the contrarian and sell a book.
The Paleo Diet is about eating a diet that our genome was designed for….grass fed meats, free range eggs, fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. And more importantly, for many (myself included) it has been a prescription for DRAMATICALLY improved health, including reversing autoimmunity.
So before you laugh too much, I would urge you to read an actual reputable text on the Paleo Diet and not base your opinion on a single uninformed skeptic’s screed.
The author (Marlene Zuk) is a biological anthropologist. She compares the genome of current populations around the world with the genome of skeletons from thousands of years ago and with what food remnants were found in those skeletons.
Our genomes have changed since “caveman” days. Some populations have “evolved” the ability to digest lactose past weaning (different populations have come by this ability by different means/genes), for example. Another example is that blue eyes likely didn’t exist in “caveman” days.
Fruits as we know them today are vastly different than they were thousands of years ago. Native “apples” were fruits in central China that wouldn’t look, taste or smell like the apples bought at the store. Vegetables and roots are also much different. You simply cannot find the same foods that “cavemen” would have eaten.
And actually, grains were consumed by cavemen. Evidence has been found in their teeth! Most of their diet was the tubers they could dig up, grasses, roots, the rare wild berry or fruit, and the occasional kill of an animal or fish.
I have an autoimmune disorder as well (Hashimoto’s disease). It runs in my family. We’ve all tried different diets, remedies (dessicated thyroid, soy avoidance) and so forth. Only modern medicine in the form of a single pill each day controls my condition.
Victoria @ Creative Home Keeper says
Shannon that it also what we love about Costco too! They make it so much more affordable to buy natural and organic products at Costco.
Jo Lynn says
Perfect timing for this post. My husband and I were just talking about going to Costco more to save us some time and money (time by not having to shop so much). Thanks for the tips : ) Confirmation this is a good step for this season for us.
Victoria @ Creative Home Keeper says
So glad it was helpful for you Jo Lynn!
You can purchase with a guest pass at Sam’s but you will pay an upcharge. If you live in SC we have a state law against upcharges and so you can purchase for the same price as members on a guest pass. You can enter Sam’s and purchase on a guest pass every three months. If our membership was not paid by my husband’s employer I might consider this since I buy very little there.
I’m picky abt fresh fruit and can find nice fresh fruit generally cheaper at Costco than at the grocery store. Plus my kids are huge fruit eaters so it makes sense for us to buy it in mass qty! I also buy baby formula there (the off brand) a lot cheaper too, cheese, frozen foods and milk. It may not make sense for a small family, but we have 3, soon to be 4 boys! Jill
I overheard a Costco employee mention that they will take coupons for formula. Might be worth checking if that would make another brand more cost effective for you. And also double check with your Costco, as this might be store dependent.
We use the warehouse about every sox weeks, so to cut coats, usually do a big stock up when our membership is about to lapse, them wait a month or three to buy a new one.
“Does paying the membership (anywhere from $30-$100 per year) make since for your family?”
should be “Does paying the membership (anywhere from $30-$100 per year) make SENSE for your family?”
and “without wasting time backtracking, which might lead to impulse purchased.”
should be “without wasting time backtracking, which might lead to impulse purchaseS.”
Thanks so much for catching those two typos that I missed!
Just want to thank you for always having such great info to share. Not all of us have the time to spell check you, but sure do appreciate you 🙂
Thank you, those bothered me as well!