Shopping at a wholesale club can be a great way to save money, but it’s not for everyone. There are disadvantages and advantages to consider before you decide to become a wholesale club member. You can end up with a whole bunch of stuff you don’t want, or walk out of there with a lot of great bargains. So, how do you know if it’s for you?
Disadvantages to a Wholesale Club
One disadvantage to a wholesale club, is impulse purchases. It’s very easy to go in for just a few things and walk out with an entire cart full!
Sometimes the clubs aren’t anywhere near where you live, so you have to consider if the trip there is worth it or not.
You can’t assume that just because an item is sold in bulk, it’s a good deal. You still need to look at the unit price, like I mention in my How To Compare Grocery Store Prices post, to see if it’s really a good deal. Even though some items may be cheaper in bulk, since they don’t accept manufacturer’s coupons, you have to calculate and see if it’s cheaper to buy there or at the store, combining store sales and coupons.
Buying in bulk, can make you eat too much. Just having the temptation of a giant bag of chips around, may make it hard to control your portions. Also, if you don’t want to waste food, you might feel like you have to eat it all before it expires, and end up overeating. I used to throw away a lot of our snack foods, but I’ve found a way to prevent that(by having a very organized pantry).
If you’re a single, couple, or small family, the bulk sizes may be too much for you. (However, if you have another friend or family member you can share with, that may make it worth it.) I know my parents often pass up something they see that they would like to buy, but don’t because they know with just the 2 of them, they won’t be able to eat it all.
There’s usually a membership fee and a limit on how many family members can have a card. Usually the membership pays for itself in the savings you receive, but not always. Also, the Costco near us only allows 2 cards/members per family, so when my older son needs to go get gas, I have to remember to give him my card.
They only carry a limited amount of brands, sizes, and varieties. So, if you prefer a certain brand, you should make sure they carry it before you shop there, especially if you’re not willing to switch. I’m willing to use different brands, but we’re a little picky over flavor varieties, so I can’t always find the flavor chips or other things that I want there.
Just when you find a favorite brand/product, they don’t carry it anymore! This has happened to us several times. We find something we really like and then the next time we’re there, they don’t have it anymore. It’s very frustrating!
Advantages to a Wholesale Club
One of the obvious advantages to a wholesale club, is it’s size. Since they are so big, you can find just about anything there. Since the inventory is so big, they can offer lower prices with less of a markup than a grocery store. Also, many clubs will let you have a one-day pass so you can check them out first and see if they have what you want/need and see if the price is right. This is a great way to compare the different wholesale clubs and see which one is best for you.
Some of the memberships offer cash back based on how much you spend. We get a check every year for about $70 when we get the bill to renew our memberships. That check is redeemable at the wholesale club, so we just use it to help pay the next time we go to the club.
The different clubs have different coupon policies. We go to Costco and they don’t accept any coupons other than their own. They mail us a coupon booklet once a month, and we always take advantage of it. We use the coupons to stock up on things we use all the time; like Kleenex. You can also find their coupons on their website. One time we had to do that when we didn’t receive ours in the mail.
They sell things other than grocery items, like electronics, tires, travel packages and cars. So, even if you aren’t going to buy groceries there, the savings you can get on those big ticket items, is worth it. Also, they have a pharmacy and the medicine prices are often much less than anywhere else.
You will pay less for lots of different categories of groceries. Dairy products are usually about 30% less than grocery stores. I know that 2 gallons of fat free milk is almost the same price as 1 gallon of fat free milk at the grocery store. You’ll pay less per pound for produce, sometimes over 50% less! If it’s too much, you can always freeze it or share with others. You can save 40 – 60% on baking ingredients. I always buy my chocolate chips there and I think Costco’s brand of chocolate chips tastes better than any other. Fresh and frozen meat is cheaper and higher grade. I’m able to find lower % fat ground beef there, than I can find in the store. I also buy my chicken breasts there, frozen individually – which I really like. Fish is a great price there too; I buy salmon and tilapia fillets. Baked goods and deli items are also much less. Before we went on our heart healthy diet, we used to buy our kids’ birthday cakes there; they are absolutely delicious! We buy our bread, bagels, muffins, lunch meat, and some cheese there. I freeze all of this in individual portions and then pull them out when needed. They carry a lot of items that qualify for The Heart Check Food Program. One of our favorite things to buy there is snacks! You can see some of what we buy in my graphic at the top of the post. We buy several different types of granola bars, fruit snacks, and other snacks. They are much cheaper than at the grocery store. We also buy a lot of household products: plastic wrap, aluminum foil, paper goods, toiletries, garbage bags, batteries, cups and other kitchen things, and electronics.
The best thing about wholesale clubs is the samples! It’s great to be able to try a product before you buy it. We’ve found lots of new favorites this way. I always look at the nutrition label to see if the product qualifies for our heart healthy diet. If it does, I will try it.
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So, obviously, since I shop at a wholesale club, specifically Costco, I think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. I love all the great deals I get by buying in bulk and I love all the delicious new foods we discover from their samples. It’s a nice family experience too because my husband and 2 of my kids usually go with me because they want to see what’s new. This is one shopping trip I actually look forward to!
I learned a lot about wholesale club shopping from The Coupon Mom.