Is Bulk Better?

Costco

I have always been leary of the Costco’s and Sam’s Clubs of the world. Something always seems off to me when you have to pay to get in the door and then pay to get the stuff. Same thing with cover charges at a bar. I am here so I am going to be buying stuff, why are you taking my money just to get in. This doesn’t mean that the concept is off, just the execution. I am a firm believer in buying in bulk, I just don’t think warehouse stores are necessarily the best places to stock up.

Buying in bulk is a great way to cut your costs on both the food you eat and the gas it takes to get to the grocery store. I think the last time I bought chicken at the store was over 3 weeks ago, I still have around 10 lbs in my freezer though. Now I understand that is a lot of chicken but we pretty much only eat white meat around here so we are going to use it. I did not buy any of that meat from a bulk food store though. It was all purchased “fresh” from my local grocery store. Not those giant bags of frozen brick chicken breasts, but actual “fresh” packages of chicken breasts.

Buying meat in bulk is almost always best done when the meat is on sale. The big box stores don’t ever put it on sale so you have to watch the local grocery store. I buy whole chickens at .79 lb and boneless, skinless chicken breasts at $1.79 per lb. I wait and watch for them to go on sale and when they do I stock up. So while the packages themselves are not bulk the amount of meat I pick up usually is. This is a great way to maximize your grocery budget without paying Costco type fees.

In the interest of full grocery disclosure, I am a paying member of Sam’s club because there are certain things you can find cheaper, and that work great bought in bulk. We usually stock up on dry goods like spaghetti, paper towels, toilet paper, and other easily stored products. When you can pick up a ton them at once you usually save money so it is worth it.

The key to buying anything in bulk is being able to compare it’s base unit price to what you typically see when shopping. The only way to do that is if you keep a detailed journal of what you spend on groceries. The easiest way to keep up with these price swings is to start  a price book. By using a price book you will be able to identify when a sale really is a good deal or when the chain/bulk store is just pulling your leg. More often than not you may find the sale price at the chain store beats what you can get paying the “discounted” rate at the bulk store.

Photo: (David)

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JoeTaxpayer February 22, 2010 at 10:59 am

There are items at Costco, which as you noted, are not as good as the supermarket sale prices, esp with a coupon (which Costco doesn’t take). On the other hand, I’ve found many items that are a real deal. Some food items such as the jumbo shrimp $9/lb at Costco, regular supermarket price $15-18 for same size at supermarket.
Their liquor dept has better than local stores for both beer and wine, and no membership required, so if one is fortunate enough to have the Costco with liquor store, this is worth a look.
Your key point is well taken, one should know the cost of things they buy so over time be able to recognize the difference between a big deal, and a big box of stuff.

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2 RJ Weiss February 22, 2010 at 11:58 am

I’m a member at Costco. Every time we go, we have almost the same exact list – almond butter, salmon, olive oil, nuts, and canned tomatoes. These items are cheaper at Costco then anyone else we can find.

If I stick to a list, then membership stores are worth the fees.

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3 Brandy February 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I have a Sams membership. By having a membership I pay for better service (I havent gotten any attitude like I get at other stores) and I have never had anything ring up wrong. Also its not too crowded and people act better in there. do I sound snobby yes, but I also spend alot at Walmart and for as much as I spend I have to watch items ring up, get attitude and people showing theyre tails in there. Ive had bad cashiers at Walmart, never at Sams. Ive had some issues with Sams in the 10+ years Ive been a member but its pretty great there. I can get my car loaded with an oversize item, try that at Walmart. Also I shop at Krogers. I get all sorts of stares or comments and all if I buy in bulk there.

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4 Faye February 22, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Another trick with the membership stores — stock up right at the end of the membership period, and then let it lapse for a time.

Even if you let it lapse for 3-4 months, you’re basically saving about 1/3 of the annual fee over several years.

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5 Forest February 23, 2010 at 4:08 am

Totally agree…. You have to hunt around. A local farmer or even neighborbood grower may do you an awesome bulk deal on veggies or meat and it could be much better than any store would give you.

Thanks,
Forest.

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6 ctreit February 23, 2010 at 8:42 am

We have a joint membership with my mother-in-law at one of these places, but I don’t find the prices good enough to make an extra trip to the store. I have stocked up on really good sales at the supermarkets in our area. Just recently I bought light bulbs for 1/2 price. Now we have enough light bulbs to last at least a year and I did not have to drive to a warehouse store (where I am sure I would have had to pay more for these same bulbs) or pay a membership to get these light bulbs.

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7 Julie February 23, 2010 at 10:38 am

I love buying CFL bulbs from Costco because our local energy company gives rebates which are deducted immediately from the price. An 8-pack of good CFL bulbs for $3 is a heck of a steal!

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8 Wise Finish February 23, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Is cheaper better? I love shopping at warehouse clubs because they give me access to high-quality, healthy products (like that 5 lb container of organic vegetables) that I can’t get (or at least not for anywhere near the same price) at a health food or grocery store.

Eating cheap is what is causing many in America to have serious health issues: Obesity, Food Allergies, Cancer, etc

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9 Jason @ MyMoneyMinute February 23, 2010 at 3:25 pm

I’m a Costco member but seriously considering dropping it (again). It’s not the most convenient place to get gas for us, and every time I go in there, I seem to drop $200! Some things are great at Costco but often we find items that we “need” that we didn’t “need” just going down to Kroger and getting groceries every week.

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10 A Family of Geeks February 24, 2010 at 7:20 am

I’m a former grocery gamer who switched over to warehouse shopping for most items. For me, saving those 3-4 hours of travel/shopping/coupon clipping a week was worth it and our weekly budget hasn’t gone up any. (Our membership is ‘covered’ by the fact we save about $10 on milk a month)

I find that the meat cuts in our BJ’s are much better than the bargain cuts at the supermarket and they actually have them in stock. I used to try to hit up our local Giant for the $1.79 chicken, but unless you got there at 6am the day the sale started there usually wasn’t any. I may pay an extra $.20lb at BJ’s, but at least I know it will always be there AND I don’t have to wait 12 weeks for the sale to come around.

The one thing that is almost never cheaper for us is cereal. By buying what’s on sale that week and using the ridiculous amount coupons available, it’s usually $2-3 to pick up two packages in the local Safeway than it is to buy the bulk box at BJ’s.

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11 Craig February 25, 2010 at 8:27 am

It depends on what you are buying and whether you use it. We have a BJ’s membership and love it. It saves us on things like diapers, wipes, frozen pizzas, peanut butter, etc… But we’ve been burned buying items like aspirin where the jar was so big it expired before we used half of it. You have to get a feel for what pays off in the store for you.

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12 Ted February 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I do love bulk stores- I want a membership there. But it is more for the thrill I do believe. So far, we just stock up on what is one sale, when it is. We also shop at Trader Joe’s which does not do any sales or deals. They (supposedly) keep prices down everyday. That way we know exactly what something will cost (within $0.10 usually) when we go. We are not stressing that something is not on sale so we eat things we do not like or overspend.

So we watch target to stock up on chicken and beef, and use trader joe’s for the everyday things and fresh items. it works for us.

Once we get a few more bucks in the bank, I may get a sam’s club subscription in order to get office supplies and furniture for our home businesses. I have heard the discounts can be great but I want to wait until I have some luxury dollars.

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