By Regina Novickis • February 19, 2014
Ah, the allure of the warehouse club. I’d say the experience as an adult is close to that of a kid in a candy store…except with bigger items. Problem is, those items in larger quantities can cost you. So is it better to shop at warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club, Costco, or BJ’s Wholesale for everyday goods or your neighborhood grocery store? While warehouse clubs have numerous incentives like trial memberships, loyalty programs and great pricing per unit, grocery stores have adopted similar practices. Essentially, it all comes down to individual products.
Buying in large quantities at warehouse clubs does net big savings, but these clubs do not offer the lowest price on all everyday items. Let’s see which products are best to buy at warehouse clubs and which products are best to buy at grocery stores.
Best Things to Buy at Warehouse Clubs
Nonperishables like trash bags, paper towels, toilet paper, shampoo and laundry detergent are generally far cheaper at a warehouse club than at a grocery store. Knowing this, it’s easy to fill up your cart with years of nonperishables, so you better have storage space in the house. A cup of detergent is almost always cheaper at a warehouse club than a grocery store. When comparing price per load for the same detergent size, brand and concentrate, you will pay 16 cents less per load by purchasing at a warehouse club.
Cost: $0.21/load at warehouse vs. $0.37/load at grocery store
Total savings after 96 loads: $15.36
Frankly, purchasing batteries at grocery stores is a fast way to drain your wallet. Batteries are items that we tend to misplace or forget to purchase, so most grocery stores place batteries at checkout to entice you into making a split-second decision while you’re waiting in line. Markups for batteries tend to be astronomical at the grocery store, costing $1.19 per battery versus $0.32 per battery at a warehouse club. It’s a 70 percent difference.
Cost: $0.32/battery at warehouse vs. $1.19/battery at grocery store
Total savings after 40 batteries: $34.61
You can also smell spring approaching, so it might be time to prepare for outdoor barbecuing. Warehouse clubs charge 30 percent less per pound for charcoal than grocery stores. Charcoal is typically packaged with enough for two barbecue sessions, so if you’re serious about savings you could split the purchase with a friend.
Cost: $0.56/lb. at warehouse vs. $0.80/lb. grocery store
Total savings after 18 lb. bag: $4.41
Consumers pay roughly four times the amount for sunscreen at grocery stores than they do at warehouse clubs. However, sunscreen expires, so you’ll need to know you’re going to use it before it expires. You might want to consider splitting the sunscreen for different occasions—lazy Sundays on the porch, long drives in your car, kids’ sporting events, and beach outings—to ensure your savings are worth the bulk purchase.
Cost: $0.53/oz. at warehouse vs. $1.62 at grocery store
Total savings after 30 oz. bottle: $32.70
Our four-legged friends can be expensive, but the clear winner in the price war is the warehouse club. A 52 lb. bag of dog food will be $24.99 at a warehouse club, which is the same price as a 30 lb. bag at the grocery store. It’s best to stock up on pet food at the warehouse store to spend roughly 40 percent less than at the grocery store. And, unless you own a rhino, make sure your pet(s) can consume it all before it expires. You can also invest in a food storage container to make sure the food stays fresh.
$0.48/lb. at warehouse vs. $0.83/lb. at grocery store
Total savings after 52 lb. bag: $18.173
Best Things to Buy at the Grocery Store
Seasonal products such as produce are generally cheaper at the grocery store. Warehouse clubs only offer produce in 2-3 lb. quantities, so unless you plan on gorging yourself on three pounds of cherries, your warehouse purchase might go bad. Stick with the grocery store in the case of veggies and fruits.
Organic strawberries $1.99/lb. at grocery vs. $2.49/lb. at warehouse
Apples $1.29/lb. at grocery vs. $1.54/lb. at warehouse
Banana $0.89/lb. at grocery vs. $0.99/3 lb. at warehouse
Tomatoes $0.99/lb. at grocery vs. $1.65/lb. at warehouse
Per sheet, toilet paper ends up being roughly the same price at the grocery store and warehouse club; however, with a sale or coupon you can easily cut costs. Paper towels cost 50 percent less at the grocery store, without a sale and without needing an extra storage closet for the endless supply of paper towels.
Toilet paper price is the same per sheet at grocery and warehouse (excluding grocery store sales)
Paper towels $0.01/sheet at grocery store vs. $0.02/sheet at warehouse (total savings on pack of 8 rolls: $7.68)
The price for toothpaste at grocery stores cannot be beat. It’s wise to consider going outside your normal brand to reap the price benefits. Also, it’s best to purchase your yearly supply on grocery store deals like 10 tubes for $10. You’ll end up paying 60 percent less per tube than at the warehouse club.
Normal: $0.59/oz. at grocery store vs. $0.33/oz. at warehouse
Sale offer: $0.12/oz. at grocery store
Total savings after a year of toothpaste (avg. household goes through a 7.8 oz. tube every 2 months): $9.82
Nonperishable items like corn and diced tomatoes are cheaper at the grocery store. But more than that, warehouse clubs only offer 12 packs (or larger), which is too much to handle for most families’ storage space. Again, grocery stores frequently offer canned good sales where you can usually buy as much or as little as you want to get the sale price.
Canned corn and diced tomatoes both $0.06/oz. at grocery store vs. $0.07/oz. at warehouse
Grocery stores time the sales cycle for soda most closely to popular holidays and sports events, so stock up around these times. Expect to see offers like buy two 12-packs, get three 12-packs free during special event and holiday promotions. You’ll end up paying 17 cents per can at the grocery store in comparison to the normal low price at a warehouse club, 25 cents per can.
Normal: $0.28/can at grocery vs. $0.25 at warehouse
Holiday or sale offer: $0.17/can at grocery store
Savings after 36 pack of cans: $2.88
Warehouse Club Shopping Tips
1. Don’t join before shopping with a trial run. Most warehouse clubs offer trial memberships, so be sure to enroll in this before committing to an annual membership. While it doesn’t take many purchases to reap the savings benefits, you should make sure you will actually use your membership to avoid wasting $40 or more on fees.
2. If you regularly shop at a warehouse club, sign up for the club rewards program. Though it doubles the price of annual membership, you’ll receive 2 percent cash back on purchases annually. Many members receive checks of $250 or more at the end of their membership year just by stocking up on basic necessities.
3. Make a list and stick to it. Warehouse clubs have a knack for marketing specialty products. When purchasing food in bulk, be wary of trying new items unless you’ve had a sample. You could end up with a whole case of something you are sick of after a few servings.
Grocery Store Shopping Tips
1. Be wary of flashy displays. Grocery stores often use neon-colored posters to get your attention on a product. These signs don’t always equal a sale or even the best value, so look beyond the colors to see if a real sale is being offered.
2. Read the fine print. When you come across a deal like 5 items for $5 or buy-two-get-one-free, you can usually get away with paying the sale price without having to buy the suggested amount of items. Check with a manager to be sure.
3. Combine store sales with manufacturer’s coupons. Most grocery stores will allow you to stack a manufacturer’s and in-store coupons on top of sales, and some grocery stores even offer special days when they will redeem your coupon for double the value. Sift through grocery coupons on promocodes.com.
Regina Novickis Regina Novickis is a savings expert with a passion for helping people make easy money decisions without drastically altering their lifestyle.