How We Replaced (Almost) All of our Warehouse Club Purchases

Joining a warehouse club for savings makes sense for some families. You pay your membership fee and buy things for a discount. As long as your yearly sum of discounts exceeds your membership costs, your warehouse club membership means you’ve saved money.

Buying in bulk helps a lot of families save money, and it’s tempting even for Jon, Little Bit and me. We have a warehouse club membership too. Lately, though, we haven’t been using it very much, and I question whether we need to renew it next time.

For most of what we used to buy, we’ve found cheaper replacements that don’t require us to buy 4-5 times what we need. 

With smart shopping, maybe you can too.

My Warehouse Club Story

We joined Sam’s Club shortly before Little Bit was born because diapers. Two years later, we switched to BJs because it was more conveniently located and we found the shopping experience a little more pleasant. (Costco’s great, but highly inconvenient to us.)

For 5 and a half years, we went to a warehouse club every 4 to 6 weeks. We picked up kid staples like diapers and wipes, but also huge packs of canned tomatoes and toilet paper. Inevitably, fine cheese or beer ended up in our cart. We also bought big packages of tasty (and not so tasty) snacks, and picked up impulse buys like the occasional t shirt.

When we started tracking our expenses last year, I realized how often that monthly trip to the warehouse club was really costing us. We didn’t just buy a membership. We also spent an extra $100 a month. Our shopping trips never seemed to replace a grocery store trip, only to supplement (and increase) what we were buying.

I haven’t been in a warehouse club since December. All of those impulse buys and unnecessary purchases? We aren’t making them anymore. We’ve saved over $100 a month on our grocery bill just cutting out that one trip a month and replacing it with other shopping trips.

Baby Stuff-Amazon

As I mentioned before, we started our warehouse club memberships because we needed disposable diapers. We also bought our wipes and formula there. That worked great, until our warehouse club stopped carrying our preferred formula.

We started ordering formula online until we no longer needed it. We paid the same price, and were no longer at the mercy of whether the club carried what we needed.

Trips for diapers and pull ups and GoodNites lasted much longer. Now that I’m looking around and comparing prices, I wish I’d taken more advantage of our Amazon Prime membership with the Amazon Family program. That benefit means Amazon’s prices on diapers and wipes are cheaper than what I remember paying at Sam’s and BJs for all of those baby necessities.

Hmmm, take the kid to a warehouse club or have everything sent to my home in two days? (Plus video streaming!) If I had it to do over, I think we’d be buying almost all of our baby stuff online.

(Disclosure: We’re members of the Amazon Affiliate program. That said, I wouldn’t mention it if I didn’t think it was a good deal.)

Basic Grocery Items-Aldi

One of the main ways smaller families use warehouse clubs is to stock up on regular groceries. Even though you buy more than you need, the theory goes, the goods won’t go bad and you’ll use them eventually.

We regularly bought pantry supplies and paper goods on our warehouse club runs. Canned tomatoes, rice, and other staples were regular purchases, as were toilet paper and paper towels. Plus, we generally added things like boxes of individually packaged dried fruit, juice boxes, Pirate’s Booty, and granola bars to the cart once Little Bit was old enough to show preferences. It was fun to go through the aisles and pick up snacks, especially the ones we couldn’t pick up in our regular grocery store.

But it’s not like we weren’t buying similar stuff at the grocery store. We were replacing a few items, but we were buying more than we needed at any given time. We were also buying lots of extras.

You know who has a good selection of cheap pantry staples and fun snacks? Aldi. I can stock up on all of the pantry staples and paper goods at Aldi because name brand doesn’t matter. Prices are low and the quality is good. The quantities fit our family much better as well. Instead of buying 12 cans to get the discount, I can just buy what we need and I don’t have to find room to store all of those rolls of toilet paper.

The difference? Aldi’s selection is broad enough to replace my weekly grocery trip in a way that my warehouse club runs never did. I end up buying less of what I don’t need and more of what I do.

OTC Medicines-Walmart

Our family doesn’t use a lot of prescriptions, but we do keep a well supplied medicine cabinet of over the counter medicines. We used to regularly purchase our OTC medicines like acetaminophen, cold medicines and antacids during our shopping trips. They were substantially cheaper than picking up the same things at the grocery store or drug store.

However, we’ve found cheaper generics at Walmart for most of the things we were buying. Jon is particularly impressed with their generic version of Tagamet. Walmart also has a good selection of personal care items like shampoo and sunscreen at good prices.

While I don’t always love the Walmart experience, making the trip there is at least as convenient as going to the warehouse club. Plus, I’m a lot less likely to buy random things (at least as long as I don’t take Little Bit along) than I was at our warehouse club or at Target.

Gourmet Items-Trader Joe’s

One thing that was blowing up our warehouse club expenses was little indulgences. For instance, our family loves cheese, but good cheese costs, particularly at the grocery store. You can find pretty good deals on cheese at warehouse clubs. We used to buy a lot of fine cheeses at BJs, particularly big blocks of havarti and gruyere and marinated mozzarella balls.

Most of these little indulgences we’ve just done without. While we’ve stuck to regular grocery store cheddar, sometimes you just want a little good cheese. I’ve found that the deals I can get on good cheese at Trader Joe’s match or exceed the ones I was getting at BJs. That’s true for most of the gourmet items I was picking up as well: raw sugar, nuts, good beer, wine. On those rare occasions I still feel the need to indulge our taste for fine foods, I know I can still get it at Trader Joe’s.

(and since I find Trader Joe’s also tempts me into extra spending, I’m more likely to go every 4 months than every month.)

How We Replaced (Almost) All of our Warehouse Club Purchases

What We Haven’t Replaced

There are some items we were buying at the warehouse club that we haven’t replaced.

For one thing, we weren’t using any of the extra services the warehouse clubs provided. Warehouse clubs offer travel services, pharmacies, and eyeglass shops that can all make your membership worthwhile.

We also weren’t buying a lot of basic perishables, because we didn’t need bulk purchases of meat (we perpetually lack freezer room), dairy, or produce. Larger families may find those items more attractive.

We did buy tires, and warehouse clubs tend to have good prices on tires. Like most people, though, we don’t need new ones very often.

There are a few things we are still buying from BJ’s, though. We still use their gas station about once a month. While it’s not in our neighborhood, the warehouse club is located around enough other amenities that we are nearby about that often. Using their gas station saves us about 10 cents a gallon over our normal convenient gas station, so we can call that savings about $24 a year.

Jon also discovered that getting our LP gas for our grill and gas logs at BJs saves about $10 per tank. We probably need 4 new tanks a year, so that saves us $40.

Considering our membership fee costs $50, we still save $14 a year even if that’s all we buy. However, we were buying so much extra when we were shopping for things in the club that I think the replacements have worked better for us. 

Can You Replace Your Warehouse Club Membership?

Only you can judge whether a warehouse membership works for you.

For some families, it’s a no-brainer. Bulk buying can make a lot of sense if you have a larger family, and others can pay for their membership with the savings on other items like electronics or medicines.

For us, it’s a toss up. If we use it only for car gas and LP gas, we come out slightly ahead. When we use it for grocery shopping, we end up buying extra stuff that we don’t need and I think the savings get eaten by the extras.

Using it less seems to be saving us more, once we found the best ways to replace our purchases. 

Do you have a warehouse club membership? Have you had to calculate how much it saves or costs you each year? What do you think the best bargains at warehouse clubs are?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich and, Disease Called Debt*

Fun Money Mom

35 thoughts on “How We Replaced (Almost) All of our Warehouse Club Purchases

  1. With 7 people, Costco is awsome. But I totally agree about impulse purchases! We hardly enter other stores where house or clothing items are sold, but there is always temptation at Costco. We have gotten better about not buying. But there are always a few things that catch my eye.

    • I had this weakness for tshirts. I don’t know why I could walk away at Target but not at BJs! I guess because the offerings vary more, it’s harder for me to stick to a list there.

  2. We got rid of our membership a year or two ago. I think we about broke even or maybe made out ahead a little on our first and only year of the membership. The warehouse sold gas at a little discount which is where we made up most of our money. But otherwise I felt a lot of the bulk grocery purchases we made were for brand name products which brought their price down more in line with what we could have otherwise bought store-brand products at the grocery store. Plus, we found ourselves wasting more food that we couldn’t consume in bulk quick enough. All-in-all, we thought it was an ok deal but ultimately decided to pull the plug for the convenient grocery store across the street rather than drive 10 minutes to the warehouse.
    The Green Swan recently posted…Cold Brew Coffee to the Rescue: My Coffee RevelationMy Profile

    • Yes! That’s why we’ve been able to shift to Aldi and Walmart (or even the grocery store). We’ve bought way more generic items since we stopped going. And we wasted a fair amount as well because we were buying in such bulk.

  3. We have both Costco and BJs memberships. We are able to save on memberships cost via some work benefit. We often buy clothes at Costco. High quality and low cost. Great with three growing teenagers, who also eat a lot. Their return policy is amazing. They will take just about anything back. Not to mention their food court. $2 is not to bad for lunch.

    If you couldn’t tell we are fans of Costco. We try to always shop with a list and avoid getting sucked into impulse buys. We’d eat the samples, but rarely buy the items.
    Brian @ Debt Discipline recently posted…Favorite ThingsMy Profile

    • If Costco was more convenient (it’s a good half hour away even without the usual heavy traffic) we might be more tempted. I know plenty of people who are huge Costco fans. We got a gift card from there when our daughter was born and were impressed with the quality, but didn’t think we would be adding enough to justify buying a second club membership.

      And of course, having 3 teenagers and their friends around is a lot different than feeding 1 picky six year old and 2 middle aged adults who probably ought to eat less. Different household dynamics definitely change the equation.

  4. We’ve never had a club membership. I absolutely go to Aldi for just about 98 percent of what we need. Now that our Aldi carries diapers and wipes, I’ve started picking those up from there too. I’m hesitant to use generics on little babies, but now that my boy is a screaming toddler I can experiment more. I hope they work out because they are definitely cheaper
    Latoya @ Life and a Budget recently posted…Reader Question: How Do I Break an Eating Out HabitMy Profile

    • I am constantly amazed by what I can get at Aldi, and how good it all is. I am kicking myself because it took me so long to give it a try.

  5. About 2 years ago, a BJ’s and Costco both moved in near us, and we’ve visited both (Costco with my mother-in-law and BJ’s with a day pass). We don’t have the storage space or family size to warrant a membership, but more to the point, we didn’t find things to replace our regular grocery shopping, just add-ons we don’t need. I think the important takeaway is that warehouse clubs are not a money-saving answer for everyone, and there’s lots to consider when determining how much money (if any) you’re actually saving.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Scary Medicare Costs In 2017 Will Affect MillionsMy Profile

    • I think that the calculation differs for everyone. For us, going in and shopping costs us extra money due to the extras too, but using the gas station and switching out LP gas saves us a little bit.

  6. Great tips! I am a huge ALDI fan and shop there all the time. I save so much money – and they have great products and decent selection.

    • When I first went into Aldi and really looked around I thought “This is Trader Joe’s with less money spent on cool labels and more basic stuff.” I realized that unlike TJ’s, which never seems to actually replace a grocery store trip, I can get what I need for the week at Aldi. I am a new and enthusiastic convert!

  7. We tried Sam’s a few years ago since it’s the only one close enough. But we gave it up when we weren’t getting the value or using it often enough. I think I might like BJ’s but I’ll wait until we live near family to go in as a group…I also find the OTC drugs at Walmart unbelievably extremely reasonable. And I can buy quantities small enough to not worry about expiration dates.
    Mrs Groovy recently posted…One Year of Blogging: Our Reflections and ThanksMy Profile

    • What I do like about BJs is that they tend to do a better job of locating them in a convenient place than Sams, and it’s never as crowded. Assuming we still have a membership when you guys move this way, I’ll be happy to take you in so you can give it a try.

      Walmart’s OTC generics are a really good bargain. Jon’s favorites tend to cost half what we were paying elsewhere.

  8. You guys are awesome! Costco works well for us because it’s much closer than the grocery store and we’re happy making big batches and eating leftovers. Even with just two of us, it’s a good value for the quality of the products, especially produce. I also love that there’s only one or two choices in each category, which really helps with decision fatigue after a long day at work.
    By the time we save on produce and gas and get our refund at the end of the year, the membership way more than pays for itself, and it saves us from driving 5 miles farther to the grocery store each week.
    Julie@ChooseBetterLife recently posted…The Low-Tech Secret To Joint Decision-MakingMy Profile

    • Convenience is a huge factor. For us, Costco is at minimum half an hour away through usually heavy traffic, and takes us by 20 or so grocery stores. If a warehouse club was close by and grocery stores weren’t, we probably would have used it more and maybe the extras we were buying would have lost more of their appeal.

      Decision fatigue is another reason I love Aldi. Since almost everything is a house brand, you’re deciding whether or not to buy something more than which one.

  9. I have often considered giving up our Costco membership, but there are a few things I really like about it and am not ready to take the leap. Like you, I did the math and figured we are still saving, even with the membership fee. I don’t tend to buy anything that’s not on my list (I really, really dislike shopping – in and out, that’s it). I do think it’s good to do the calculations at least once a year to see if it’s worth it. That said, Aldi has great deals on most everything and I’ve found the quality to be great on most items.
    Amanda @ centsiblyrich recently posted…Weekend Money Tip: How to De-Clutter and Make Some Cold, Hard CashMy Profile

    • I congratulate you on your ability to stay on your list. I dislike some forms of shopping, but the grocery run has always been my favorite chore.

      If we could avoid the extras, then club shopping would probably be better on some things. Alas, I know myself and the one place I tend to give into temptation tends to be groceries. Since the warehouse clubs are bulk buying, giving into each temptation tends to run about $10 on average, where with grocery shopping and Aldi the average cost of temptation is probably $2.50.

    • Storage space and waste is such a concern when you buy in bulk. It’s been nice to buy smaller quantities that we actually use in a timely manner.

    • That’s a good reason not to keep one. It’s good to do the math and decide what you are and aren’t getting out of a membership.

  10. I’ve been thinking of whether to join a warehouse club or not. I do all of my grocery shopping at Aldi’s (I love their selection and smart ways of cost cutting!) and have found it to be fantastic. I don’t know if I’ll ever go to a warehouse store because as a single person, I don’t think I can ever eat that much food that comes with buying in bulk. I haven’t decided yet though so anything could happen, thanks for letting us know your story!

    • When I lived alone, I had a Sam’s membership to buy things for work, but was never tempted for myself because the amounts were WAY too much for one person. I think if you are single, the only way you’d get the membership to pay for itself with your personal use alone would be if you could combine at least 2 of the following of these other things were in play 1) you wanted to use the services (travel/pharmacy/eyewear) or 2) your car needed tires or 3) you threw lots of parties or 4) the gas station was convenient enough to buy most of your gas there.

      However, if you want to give it a try, BJ’s offers free trial memberships, and you can shop Costco with one of their gift cards even if you don’t have a membership. Or you probably know someone who has a membership who’ll be willing to take you.

  11. OK – now I have to plan a trip to Aldi. I have been meaning to go there, but it is just past the normal place I shop – so I don’t even remember it is there! We tried BJ’s a few different times but we have storage issues too. And it is about 15 miles from home, so it was definitely not some place we went by often. I hate going to Wal-Mart – but we do once or twice a month. The savings are usually substantial.
    Vicki@Make Smarter Decisions recently posted…Making Assumptions Can Cost You Thousands of Dollars When It Comes To CollegeMy Profile

    • You should go to Aldi, just remember to take a quarter for the carts and your own bags. Be prepared for a mini-warehouse atmosphere, and don’t let the plain labels fool you: Aldi’s stuff is way better than most store’s generic brands!

      I don’t like the Walmart experience much, either, but that’s giving me a perverse love of Walmart shopping. I can stick to my list way easier at Walmart because temptation to browse is so much lower. (unlike Target!) It’s the kale of shopping: good for me (or at least my budget) enough to suffer through, even if it’s not to my taste.

  12. I shop almost exclusively at Aldi, and I love it. I typically visit Walmart or Target once a month for cleaning supplies, diapers/wipes, and paper products. The fact of the matter is that our house is too small for stocking up (beyond a reasonable pantry stock in case of an emergency), so warehouse clubs are nowhere in my future.

    • Hannah, I’ve been picking up a lot of my paper products at Aldi instead of on my Walmart run. I guess I’ll need to take a look, it might not be the wisest decision.

  13. We’re lucky that our Costco is so close because we use them regularly for gas, bread, eggs, cheese, lunchmeat and seafood in bulk. We’ve gotten really good at using everything we buy and not because we’re overeating (for us, anyway!) but I still continue to price compare to make sure that we’re getting the best prices at Costco over the grocery store. We rely on Safeway and Trader Joe’s for the other groceries that make up breakfast and dinner.

    And I confess, I’m addicted to their hot dogs! 🙂
    Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life recently posted…On friendshipMy Profile

    • Yep, though hearing other ways people have made it work is helpful too. I’d hate to be missing something I could take advantage of that I don’t know about!
      Thanks for visiting, Jill.

  14. I enjoyed reading it. Nice suggestions on where to buy what. I love Costco and we buy most groceries and personal/household staff there.

    • Costco is dangerous. We had a gift card from there, and we ended up buying twice as much stuff as we did when we went to Sam’s or BJs (and again, mostly extras.) I’m kind of glad that it’s really inconvenient for us to go there and we opted out of joining. But I know folks with larger families need the warehouse clubs a lot more than we do, and if we were committed to organic foods Costco would be a better option for it.

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