money management

Wholesale clubs: big bargains, or big scam?

199:365 SugarOne of my friends is moving into her first house, and her parents gave her their membership card to BJ’s to stock up. BJ’s is a wholesale club where you pay a certain amount for a yearly membership ($50 for their basic membership) in exchange for being able to shop at their store, which advertises huge discounts on everything from toiletries to computers to groceries.

My friend figured this would be a great way to stock up on the essentials for less, since most of what BJ’s offers comes in enormous econo-packs of items (which is what brings the cost down).

Having never been to a store like this before, I tagged along to help my friend shop…and also secretly to scope out the deals. And I have to say, I’m kind of torn. Here’s what I noticed:

Pro: Some items are a really good deal. My friend got some things (like soup, shampoo, and certain over-the-counter meds) at half the price you can normally get them at grocery stores and discount stores like Target. This was even before coupons.

Con: The size of the packaging makes it hard to tell if you are getting a good deal. I have a rough idea what the cost is for most of the items (both food and household) The Hubby and I buy on a regular basis. But I don’t know exactly how big these items are, and most of the items at BJ’s are Alice-in-Wonderland giant-sized.

So when I see a 150+ load bottle of our normal laundry detergent, I couldn’t calculate on the spot if that was a better deal than the large “value” bottle we normally buy, because I don’t remember exactly how many loads that gives us. If we ever considered joining a store like this, we’d need to take some serious notes on the unit sizes of the items we currently buy to compare.

Pro: Combining store coupons and manufacturer’s coupons can net you big savings. We picked up this week’s coupon pamphlet from customer service before we started shopping, and it turns out some of the items my friend already needed had great store coupons…plus she had a manufacturer’s coupon for them, which you can combine. When we did this, it was clear that we were definitely getting a good deal.

Con: It doesn’t make sense to buy perishables in bulk unless you have a big family. As tempting as the 10lb. (I exaggerate, but not by much) bottle of pasta sauce was, there was no way my single friend was ever going to use it before it went bad. We wound up skipping plenty of otherwise good food deals because you’d need to have a family of 5 to use them up in time.

Con: You need to have lots of space. My friend never considered visiting BJ’s when she lived in an apartment, because where was she going to put a year’s supply or napkins or several mega-sized bottles of cleaning products? Even now that she has a house with space for a stockpile, she still couldn’t buy a bunch of the frozen food deals (which would have made sense for her, even as a singleton, since they’d keep), because she doesn’t have freezer space for a collection of 12-pack of Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches, 6-pack of DiGiorno pizzas, and 12-pack veggie burgers.

Con: Lack of variety. I’m not very brand loyal, but it did kind of bug me how limited the options were for products. I prefer to use laundry detergent that’s all-natural, but all they had were the big names like Tide, Bounty, and Arm & Hammer…and even those only came in one or two of the dozen varieties they sell. I only eat Kashi cereal, which I don’t think is all that “out there” as more organic varieties of “healthy” cereal are, but mainly all I saw were the sugary kid-friendly cereals I haven’t eaten in years.

I have no problem buying whatever brand of TP is cheapest, but for some things, I don’t mind spending a little more for a better product, health or environment-wise. Which means that even if The Hubby and I did belong to a club like this, we’d still be visiting our usual grocery store and Target to fill in the gaps of items we couldn’t find at the warehouse store. Is all the back and forth worth the savings on items we would buy there?

I’d be really curious to hear what your experiences have been.

Do you belong to a wholesale club like BJ’s? Have you seen real savings from it? What items do you (or do you not) recommend getting there?





photo credit:  the.pinoyboy

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  • I don`t belong to any such clubs, basically because we`re only 2 people in our household, and we don`t have much space for storage. but I guess if I could buy flour in big bulks I would, as I LOVE to bake, and I do it all the time.

  • I belong to Sams and you hit the nail on the head. The two biggest things we purchase there are cleaning supplies- TP, Laundry Detergent, Dish Soap, paper towels, shampoo etc.

    The other thing we get there is electronics, normally you can find deals on TVs, DVD players etc that are much cheaper than other stores. The savings for this normally covers the cost of the membership for the year for us.

    • I did notice some pretty fantastic laptop deals there that The Hubby and I might check out if we ever join. We’re debating it. If we can get a good enough bargain by stocking up on some of our nonperishable staples, it will probably be worth the membership cost for us, too.

  • I know I’m late to this party, but my husband and I belong to Costco and LOVE it. We buy nonperishables like olive oil, chicken stock, soda, olives, and pepperoncinis as well as dish and laundry detergent. Probably our biggest savings, though, comes from meat & seafood which is almost always cheaper and better quality at Costco than at a grocery store. We cut the meat or fish down into individual servings and then freeze. We don’t have a ton of freezer space, but once we have a bunch of smaller bags instead of a giant package, it’s easier to make it fit. We are planning on buying a tv there tomorrow because it’s $50 less than the closest competitor.

    Plus you can get lunch for $1.50 🙂

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