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.
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.
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.)
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?