Warehouse clubs can save you money, especially if you have a big family or enough room to store all your bulk purchases. Which club is best for you depends on several factors.
Location matters. BJ’s, for one example, is big on the East Coast, while Sam’s Club and Costco have a presence throughout the country. In some cases, you only have one to choose from; in other cases, all three are nearby.
The items you purchase will also dictate your savings. Things with long shelf lives, such as toilet paper and pasta, may be good bulk purchases for anyone. Things with shorter shelf lives, including fruit and meat, can end up being a waste of cash if you don’t use them in time. Then there are the membership fees. If you don’t frequent the store enough, it may not be worth it. That’s why shopping experts say to consider how you consume things before deciding what you should buy in bulk.
If you are among the lucky ones to have all three warehouse clubs in your area, you can save by choosing the right store. To illustrate how much, we went shopping. Armed with a list of 30 grocery items, we visited BJ’s, Costco and Sam’s Club locations around Long Island, New York. The totals are based on nonsale unit prices and do not include coupons, loyalty discounts or taxes. We opted to look at unit prices, which give you the price per a specific unit of measure, to give a fair comparison. Some items are sold in a variety of container sizes at the various warehouse stores making it hard to compare on price alone. Here are our results.
The winner: Sam’s Club
With nearly 600 locations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Sam’s Club was by far the cheapest of the three warehouse stores, which has a lot to do with its parent company, Walmart. “The reason Sam’s Club is the least expensive of the three is because of Walmart’s buying power,” says Howard Dvorkin, chairman of Debt.com. “That said, they don’t have the premium brands Costco typically has.”