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What to Buy at Wholesale Club Stores (and What to Avoid)

Wholesale Club Stores’ Buying Tips | Things to Buy Wholesale Club Stores | Products to Avoid Wholesale Club Stores | Wholesale Club Stores | Grocery Tips | Shopping Ideas | Where to Buy |

Way back in the days before I started this blog and learned all the secrets of cutting my grocery bill in half, I regularly shopped at warehouse club stores such as Sam’s Club, BJ’s, and Costco.  I always thought I was saving money. Oh sure, there were occasionally a few impulse buys (those samples are so yummy) but I was buying in bulk.  Wasn’t that a better bargain than just walking into a grocery store and purchasing items at the shelf price?

Not necessarily, as it turns out.

Once I began to do the math, I started to realize that warehouse stores aren’t always what they are cracked up to be, and on many items, the prices really aren’t that good, especially when compared to sale prices at the regular grocery store.

That said, warehouse stores do serve a purpose, and my husband and I still maintain a Sam’s Club membership for this reason. While not everything is a bargain, certain items are simply a better deal.

Of course there are a couple strategies that will save you before you even walk in the door. The first thing to know is: you don’t have to be a member to shop at the warehouse store!  Warehouse stores will offer a one-day membership for an additional 5-10% (which is still saving a bundle if you’re buying a big ticket item and if you really stick to your plan).

Another strategy is to use gift cards. Costco will allow you to use a gift card in lieu of a membership and you can walk right in the door and use the card towards your purchase! The next time a membership-holding friend goes to the store, ask her to pick you up a few $10 gift cards and use one each time you go. Easy! Check with your child’s school as well. Some schools offer gift card Scrip programs with cards to Sam’s and Costco.

The best days to warehouse shop are usually Tuesday and Wednesday or anytime during the morning or mid-afternoon on weekdays. You’ll avoid the crowds, the lines, and yes, the free samples—plus, you’ll save time!

There are a few items that warehouse stores are great for. Purchase these items at warehouse stores—these deals will likely beat even coupon prices:

Big Ticket Seasonal Items

Warehouse stores typically stock one or two top-selling items. This isn’t the place you’ll find every type of tent or every grill option. Instead, you’ll find one or two vetted options—the best options. Seasonal items such as sporting goods, camping equipment, Christmas trees and yard tools are often priced to move and to get customers in the door.

Wholesale Club Stores’ Buying Tips | Things to Buy Wholesale Club Stores | Products to Avoid Wholesale Club Stores | Wholesale Club Stores | Grocery Tips | Shopping Ideas | Where to Buy |

Some Electronic Items

Televisions, computers and tablets are often offered at great prices at warehouses. No, you won’t find the selection or expertise that you’d find at a specialty store like The Apple Store or Best Buy, but if you know what you want and you’re looking for a good deal you can take home right away, warehouse stores are competitive. Often they pair with a few manufacturers to offer rebates and other bonuses.

Some Jewelry

Sam’s Club, BJ’s and Costco might not the place to find the unique and beautiful setting for your dream engagement ring, but watches, tennis bracelets and classic pieces such as diamond pendants and earrings are offered at better deals than you would ever find at a jeweler. These items still have an IGI appraisal and rating and are also insurable.

Wholesale Club Stores’ Buying Tips | Things to Buy Wholesale Club Stores | Products to Avoid Wholesale Club Stores | Wholesale Club Stores | Grocery Tips | Shopping Ideas | Where to Buy |

Flowers

While the customized bouquets and delivery options won’t be what a florist would offer, you can get great, beautiful seasonal flowers at a warehouse store. Most bouquets are generous and they last a very long time. Typically they’re priced between $10-$20.

Wholesale Club Stores’ Buying Tips | Things to Buy Wholesale Club Stores | Products to Avoid Wholesale Club Stores | Wholesale Club Stores | Grocery Tips | Shopping Ideas | Where to Buy |

Beer, Wine and Liquor

If you need to stock up on a single spirit for say, a signature drink at your next party, consider purchasing the store brand. Unlike generic spirits and beers at the grocery store, warehouse brands are often highly rated and on par with others (especially for party drinks).

The wine selection at Costco is pretty renowned. They offer many basic table and popular wines at unbeatable prices. If there’s a wine you like to have on hand, consider stocking up on your next trip.

Party Foods

Trays of party foods are always a bit of a splurge, compared to DIYing it. However, if you need to stock up on items for your next get together, you can save on pizzas, pre-roasted chickens, deli trays and bakery items, especially compared to a caterer or even a grocery store deli.

Wholesale Club Stores’ Buying Tips | Things to Buy Wholesale Club Stores | Products to Avoid Wholesale Club Stores | Wholesale Club Stores | Grocery Tips | Shopping Ideas | Where to Buy

Kids Coats, Snow Gear and Seasonal Clothing

Gymboree it is not, but warehouse stores have basic coats, snow pants, and other gear (as well as swimsuits and Halloween costumes) that will outfit a quickly growing youngster for a season. Kids outgrow items so fast, and younger children don’t care about the brand or design. For functional, decent quality clothing basics, warehouse shopping can offer some real steals.

Baking Goods

I’ve found that flour and vanilla are two items that are amazing deals at warehouse stores. Even with coupons, you just can’t beat the prices. $6.00 for a very large bottle of vanilla and $6.00 for a 50-POUND BAG of flour! If you go through a lot of baking staples, sugars, olive oil, or a particular spice, check the warehouse store price against your Rock Bottom Price List. You may find that a bulk purchase will save you money ounce for ounce.

Cheese Crumbles

While soft cheese (like brie or mozzarella) can be hard to use up before it goes bad, crumbled cheese like feta, blue cheese (my favorite) and parmesan are a great deal at warehouse stores. Typically they come in a large container. A handful on salad, pizza, soups and other dishes, just adds that flavor boost and fancy finishing touch.

Wholesale Club Stores’ Buying Tips | Things to Buy Wholesale Club Stores | Products to Avoid Wholesale Club Stores | Wholesale Club Stores | Grocery Tips | Shopping Ideas | Where to Buy

Pet Food, Litter and Supplies

Warehouse stores offer flea and tick preventatives at a discounted price, as well as doggie clean-up bags, dog food and kitty litter. If your pet is not on a specialty diet, a 50-pound bag of food for $16 cannot be beat. Pet items can be very pricey, but comparing prices at a warehouse can beat many specialty pet stores, and even prices at Walmart, Target and the grocery store.

Shrimp, Fish & Other Shellfish

While these items do go on sale, the fish selection at warehouse stores is often quite good and high quality. A large salmon filet for under $20 can be portioned out into several meals and frozen. I find the quality beats the pre-frozen portions that are found on sale at the grocery store.

Wholesale Club Stores’ Buying Tips | Things to Buy Wholesale Club Stores | Products to Avoid Wholesale Club Stores | Wholesale Club Stores | Grocery Tips | Shopping Ideas | Where to Buy |

Some Produce

A word on produce—there are deals to be found here. Avocados, for example, can often be found at 6 for $3. Lemons, pineapple and other fruits can also be a great deal. Keep in mind that not all of the produce is cheaper—and it can be a really bad idea to purchase highly perishable fruits and veggies (berries, spinach, lettuce) in such large quantities. I don’t make a special trip for produce, but I always check the prices to see if there’s a great deal on something while I’m there.

Dairy Milk, Almond Milk, Cream and Butter

Heavy cream is hard to find on sale, so if I have a big baking project coming up, I stock up. Butter is also available a good price and can be frozen, if needed. Almond milk and soy milk can be found in quantities of two or three, but if your family goes through a lot of non-dairy milk, they’re much cheaper at warehouse stores. Regular milk is usually a dollar cheaper and if I’m already going to the warehouse store, I pick some up!

What You Probably Won’t Save On:

There are some items that just aren’t such a “deal” especially if you’re a coupon shopper. There are, of course, exceptions, but as a rule of thumb, never buy anything larger than your family can use before the expiration date.

You probably won’t save on these products, especially if you have a coupon or shop sales elsewhere:

  1. Cereals
  2. Coffee
  3. Soda, juice and sports drinks
  4. Bathroom sundries like razors, toothpaste, shampoo
  5. Canned goods
  6. Cereal bars
  7. Ready-to-bake items (like Pillsbury)
  8. Cleaning supplies like dishwasher detergent, laundry soap, dish soap
  9. Cereal bars, granola bars and pre-portioned snacks
  10. “Junk food” chips, cookies, crackers

With a few smart strategies, warehouse shopping can be great deal, so long as you know up front which items you’ll save on and what to skip.  To determine whether a membership is right for your family, assess whether the items listed are ones you buy frequently.  Depending on your needs, you may find that it is well worth the cost, or not so much.  (Check Groupon for discounted membership deals!)  One great alternative to check out is saving on household goods through Amazon Subscribe and Save.  Check out this detailed post for more info and a price comparison!

*   *   *

Do you shop at warehouse club stores such as Costco, Sam’s Club or BJs?  Why or why not?

Wholesale Club Stores’ Buying Tips | Things to Buy Wholesale Club Stores | Products to Avoid Wholesale Club Stores | Wholesale Club Stores | Grocery Tips | Shopping Ideas | Where to Buy | Coupons | Money Saving Tips

30 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    February 27 at 10:08AM

    I have memberships at all three. I am letting my membership at Sam’s Club lapse because they are the most expensive and have the least selection. I make all my food from scratch because of a family soy allergy. BJ’s has a ton of soy free foods and seem to be catering to the allergy shoppers. I can get most things for my family there because when something is organic, most of the time it is soy free. Organic soybean are too expensive to add to products, which make it better for my family. Bjs and Costco have a huge line of organics, Sam’s Club has very little. Here in the Northeast, Costco and BJs have a better quality of meat and are less expensive. I don’t by meat unless it is from BJ’s or Wegmens. The quality at other places isn’t worth it. You are correct about dairy at the Costco, Sams and Bj’s too expensive. Make a trip to Aldis for your dairy. Two different times a manager at Sams had challenged me to upgrade my membership. I told him I would shop and at the end if anything in my cart qualified for their special coupons I would upgrade. I had a cart full of food and not one thing had a coupon. He told me I didn’t buy enough processed food. LOL. Love your posts.

  2. Cathi Ogden
    February 27 at 10:20AM

    I have a Sam’s Club Plus membership. I save a lot of money on my prescriptions and I have 10 of them. I also save on dog food and flea treatment as well as the peanut butter crackers my husband enjoys. Their hamburger meat is almost $1 less per pound but I have also saved on other meats when their price was marked down. Just saving on my medications is worth the price of the membership but saving on other things we get is a plus. I’ve had a Costco membership in the past but did not save like I do now. And Costco did not have as many items that we normally use than I can get at Sam’s Club.

    • Jen C
      February 27 at 10:43AM

      A family member if mine is a pharmacist at SAMs and you don’t have to have a membership to get your prescription filled there! I would double check, in case different states have different rules, but definitely check it
      Out! Granted, if you’re already there for meds, it would be convenient to shop for other things as well, in which case you would want a membership!

      • meri
        March 4 at 10:11AM

        You don’t have to have a membership to purchase your prescriptions or dog medications or liquor or beer at Costco’s either and get free samples also. They are Very friendly stores to visit, try it ou!t

    • Anonymous
      March 4 at 09:14PM

      If you are just using Sams for prescriptions you don’t have to have a membership, at least in Florida.

  3. Jena
    February 27 at 10:49AM

    I know the savings may not always be there for everythIng, but I really like the organic/natural selection at Costco. So, some organic options (in canned items or frozen veggies, for instance) are cheaper than I can TYPICALLY find at regular grocery stores-plus many of our local stores don’t carry organics at all. However with two very little ones, I don’t have the time to shop around too much, and the convenience of not having to restock weekly is worth it!

  4. February 27 at 03:33PM

    Thanks for another informative and VERY HELPFUL post! You are much appreciated!

  5. February 27 at 03:36PM

    We buy most of our meat at Costco. And the rotisserie chickens are fantastic and cheaper than any other store. Great for a quick meal (just add sides) or to use for other recipes when you don’t have time to bake one yourself. We also get dog food, cleaning supplies/detergents (when they run a “coupon”) and of course, wine.

  6. Anonymous
    February 27 at 04:20PM

    Any pharmacy must be open to everyone. Just tell them that you are there to get prescriptions.

  7. Emily
    February 27 at 10:19PM

    I think the price of tissue and especially toilet paper make it worth shopping at our Costco. My main focus in food purchasing is whole foods and avoiding preservatives so I also purchase our tortillas and bread there. Great price. I usually purchase organic eggs as well as organic milk and cheese. Sometimes I just run to aldi for the almondmk or milk or cheese since I only do a Costco run about 1-2 times a month.

  8. Julia
    February 28 at 10:30AM

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m a huge fan of Costco! We’re a dink couple with my spouse traveling up to three weeks per month. Shopping in bulk for items keeps our trip to the grocery store and the Costco at roughly 1 time per month each. The majority of our purchases are for shelf stable coconut milk, salmon, organic chicken breasts, avocados, gas (many times the best price in the east of our county) bananas, cat liter, Dave’s Killer Bread and other organic items. We have the upgraded executive membership with has always paid for itself and then some.

  9. Karen
    February 28 at 02:26PM

    My husband’s hearing aides are from Costco. The people are very professional and he has his follow up appointments there as well. The price and quality couldn’t be beat. Plus, I think with our executive card we’ll get part of that money back. We regularly buy feta, butter, rotisserie chicken, avocados, toilet paper, breathe right strips, ibuprofen, and adult low dose aspririn at Costco. You can probably buy toilet paper cheaper, but we like the quality and the number of rolls of the Kirkland brand.

  10. Heather
    February 28 at 04:32PM

    I have just about gotten my warehouse buying down to a science… I buy certain things that I know we eat more of/faster, fruit snacks (BJ’s store brand are less expensive than most AND contain no artificial dyes, which I avoid for my son’s ADHD), string cheese, yogurt tubes and juice pouches. I agree with your produce view… although I can get organic romaine hearts cheaper there than anywhere else. 🙂 Our membership runs out today and we are waiting to renew until we know if we are moving across country… to be honest, it’s making me a little anxious to think about running out of our BJ’s staples! The other thing we really like is the “snack bar” area… the prices at our BJ’s recently went up, but we can still get our family of 5 a quick and easy lunch for less than $15. And from what I understand and have seen, you don’t have to be a member to buy at the food court.

  11. February 28 at 05:40PM

    We have a Costco membership because they are the closest to us, and don’t like to shop at too many stores, we have two grocery stores we frequent as well, and only go to Target or Walmart if needed. I know for us the biggest savings is on ink as Costco refills this for almost half the price of new ink at Staples. This is something you don’t find deals on too much so I love it. We also love getting eggs at Costco too, and sometimes will find a few other deals as well.

  12. February 28 at 09:24PM

    We purchased a Sam’s Card after having our baby boy. Lots of people told us that was the bast place to buy diapers and wipes. Turns out I can actually get them cheaper at other stores, but I love to get baking supplies and most of our dairy products there. Their prices really do beat the rock bottom prices at the grocery stores. I also like to get gas there. It is usually 5-10 cents cheaper. And their photo department has great prices on prints.

  13. March 1 at 04:25PM

    We have a Costco membership, and we’re still working on getting a good system down. So far, I’ve found that we do best with dog food, ground beef (consistently cheaper than the one grocery store I have nearby), sometimes chicken breasts–sometimes I can get better sales at the grocery, but they’re much more fond of jacking up the price to $7 a pound and then selling the packages BOGO–and shredded cheese. We’ll probably make a couple of trips soon, as we’re planning for our first baby and I’d like to get stocked up on some basics like toilet paper/toiletries and freezer meals before he arrives!

  14. March 2 at 08:51PM

    Hey, excellent list!
    I actually prefer to buy things like razors and detergent in wholesale stores as well. Bigger quantaties last me a while but I need to do some math whether it actually makes sense.

    • Anonymous
      June 15 at 12:56PM

      I found the type of razor refill I buy to be much less expensive at Sam’s.

  15. March 4 at 06:05PM

    I have a slight love affair with Sam’s Club. We save around $100 on the Blendtec we purchased and this past weekend we scored on 4 packs of whole tomatoes (28 oz), they were $2 per pack. I was temped to buy the whole pallet but we did pick up 6 of them. 🙂

  16. We shop at Costco on a regular basis and I love it! I also fill up the gas tank there at a better price. It looks like we purchase a lot of things on your list that probably aren’t the best buys. I have to say we do most of our shopping at Costco and fill in the gaps at WinCo or Fred Meyer. Costco Rocks:0)

  17. k
    March 7 at 03:40PM

    I bought diet Pepsi (36) for 8.99….very cheap!

  18. Anonymous
    May 26 at 06:27PM

    For those of you, like me, who can’t use cream before it goes bad… I’ve learned you can freeze it. Just put it in half cup containers or whatever size you usually use and defrost it in the refrigerator. Stir well before using. I don’t know that it would whip up but it sure works well in recipes.

  19. Anonymous
    May 26 at 06:33PM

    When Costco has items on sale you can do quite well in almost any category. I’ve compared their sale prices on things like dishwasher tablets and their sale price always beats the markets or discount stores. I’ve found the same is true with protein bars and all kinds of other things.

    I check prices quite carefully and follow Costco’s sales on things like batteries, laundry detergent, fabric softener and you name it. You also have to remember you’re getting cash back as a bonus.

    The one thing I never buy there is meat. I find the manager’s specials at Sam’s Club to be amazing prices but you have to get there early in the morning. Sometimes the meat looks great and other times I pass.

  20. Norma walker
    November 7 at 08:01AM

    I save enough at Sams on the store brand of Incontinent pant even with sales and coupon and sinus medicine to pay for my membership any other savings is a bonus.

  21. November 20 at 06:16PM

    I have a BJ’s membership and just found out that you can use a Manufacture coupon and a BJ’s coupon for certain things, so I am super excited to try doing that my next shopping trip. I buy my gas at BJs only (cheaper than anywhere else).

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