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Which Has the Cheapest Groceries: BJ’s, Costco or Sam’s Club?

A look at where shoppers can save the most when buying in bulk


spinner image storefront signage for three warehouse clubs b js sams club and costco
BJ’s: Kristoffer Tripplaar / Alamy Stock Photo, Sam’s: Jonathan Weiss / Alamy Stock Photo, Costco: Helen Sessions / Alamy Stock Photo

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.  

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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. 

spinner image total prices for the same shopping trip at b jays costco and sams club sams club comes out to the cheapest total at sixty eight dollars and ninety four cents next is bee jays at eighty one dollars and thirty three cents and finally costco at eighty one dollars and sixty cents
Getty/AARP

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.” 

Sam’s Club, which opened its first store in Midwest City, Oklahoma, in 1983, has a heavy concentration in Texas. Beyond grocery savings, the retailer makes it easy to save on membership fees, which are $50 for a basic membership and $110 for a plus membership. The latter gets you free shipping on most online items, free curbside pickup, 20 percent off a complete pair of prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses and 2 percent back on qualifying purchases. 

spinner image Kristen McGrath, RetailMeNot
Kristin McGrath, RetailMeNot

“Sam’s Club is especially generous for membership offers for new members and often gives discounted membership the first year,” says Kristin McGrath, shopping expert with RetailMeNot. Currently, you can get $35 off your basic membership at Sam’s Club or $55 off the plus membership.  Another way to save on the membership at all of the warehouse retailers, says Trae Bodge, a shopping expert at TrueTrae.com, is to check online at deal sites to see if there are any money-off coupons.  

"In addition to bulk product discounts, you can usually get discounts on travel packages, discounted tires, cheap glasses frames and more. And warehouse clubs sometimes have discounts with other companies. Costco members, for example, get 51 percent off at Shutterfly."

-Kristin McGrath, RetailMeNot

Beyond getting a discount on the membership, McGrath says a great way to save is to take advantage of all the other benefits your membership gives you. 

Second place: Costco ​

Costco, the largest of the warehouse stores, has 862 locations, 592 of which are in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Costco also has a two-tier membership program. The basic membership costs $60, and the executive will set you back $120. With the premium membership, you get an annual 2 percent reward up to $1,000 on qualified Costco, Costco.com and Costco Travel purchases and deeper discounts on Costco services such as check printing and roadside assistance for vehicles covered through the warehouse club’s auto insurance program. 

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Although the savings at BJ’s and Costco are very similar, Costco was slightly cheaper. The closeness in prices could be because the two try not to jack up prices too much, instead focusing on making money through the membership fees, Dvorkin says. It’s the reason the warehouse clubs are strict about who can use the card and tend to regulate shoppers to ensure someone isn’t piggybacking off another member.

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spinner image Howard Dvorkin, Debt.com
Howard Dvorkin, Debt.com

Dvorkin said shoppers who care about name brands will do better at Costco. To ensure you get the best savings, look at the cost per pound or unit cost. He says to go with a generic brand if possible. “Costco has Kirkland, which is typically as good quality as the name brands and typically manufactured by the name brands,” Dvorkin says. 

"If you see something that’s expensive go on your phone and make sure you are getting a good price. There’s nothing wrong with checking prices to make sure you are getting a good value."

 -Howard Dvorkin, Debt.com

Third place: BJ’s 

​​With more than 210 clubs in 16 states from Maine to Florida, BJ’s is the smallest of the three and the most expensive, albeit by only $1.25 in our shopping comparison. Its membership costs $55 and $110. With the pricier option, you get 2 percent back in rewards on most BJ’s purchases, 5 cents off per gallon at BJ’s gas stations and two to three times back in rewards during special events. 

spinner image Trae Bodge, TruTae.com
Trae Bodge, TrueTrae.com

When shopping at BJ’s or any warehouse store, Bodge says, think about how you consume things before stocking up. It’s also important to know the different shelf lives of products to make sure they won’t go to waste. Take liquid cleaning products for instance. You may think they will last forever, but they lose efficacy after a year. The same goes for spices and sunblock. 

"If you are feeding enough people, stocking up on perishables is great,” Bodge says. “If it’s just for two or three people, stick to the shelf-stable items to play it safe."

-Trae Bodge, TrueTrae.com

"If you are feeding enough people, stocking up on perishables is great,” Bodge says. “If it’s just for two or three people, stick to the shelf-stable items to play it safe."

-Trae Bodge, TrueTrae.com

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