The very lovely Courtney writes:
I know you have been posting things relating to good financial decisions, but not necessarily internet deals lately and was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving your take on wholesale clubs.
I found it interesting that I am both a member of Costco and BJ’s and some of the MAJOR differences between these two particularly. The biggest thing that affects me is baby items (I have a 23 month old and a 6 month old which means two in diapers and one on formula). I was amazed at the limited selection at Costco not to mention their prices!! BJ’s is not only MUCH cheaper on their diapers and wipes, but they have a huge variety to choose from – Luvs, Pampers, Huggies and their own brand where Costco only carries Huggies and their brand (at least the one that I use). Not only does BJ’s carry a variety of brands, but they also carry a variety of sizes – at least in the wipes department. Anyways, I find myself wondering if people realize that they aren’t always getting the best deal at one wholesale club over another or that not all are the same. Another example is that Costco sells my contact lenses for almost $5 a box cheaper than BJ’s.
Not sure if this issue would be worth posting a blog about, but it is just a thought. I know BJ’s is not as nationally known as Costco or Sam’s Club, but I have to say, I have been nothing but pleased with being a member there. Plus, they don’t seem to be nearly as busy AND they accept coupons!
So… what do I think? Are warehouse clubs worth it? Yes. No. Sometimes!
This one is really almost too easy, because Courtney was swell enough to do most of the work for me. Thanks, Courtney!
She’s absolutely right—not all warehouse clubs are created equally. Some will meet your needs and some will not… maybe. In some cases none of them will meet your needs. So: How do you know when you’re right for a warehouse club?
A warehouse club might be right for you if:
… you have a large family. Buying in bulk when you have, well, a bulk-sized brood to feed/clothe/wash makes perfect sense.
… you have plenty of storage area. Yes, you may save a bit of money if you buy those granola bars by the case. But it’s not a savings if you don’t have anywhere to put them.
… you have a child (or two or three) in diapers. Although the halcyon days of warehouse clubs selling cartons of diapers for a song are probably over, most warehouse clubs do still use diapers and wipes as “loss leaders,” which means they sell them for under cost because they bring people in.
… the warehouse club is conveniently located. Do not join a warehouse club that’s 100 miles away. By the time you pay for the gas, it’s a wash, savings-wise.
… you have an employer who will pay your membership fees. If its free to join, why not? But if you’re paying $30 or whatever each year, you need to be convinced you’re saving at least that much.
… they take coupons. That’s assuming that you do the coupon thing, of course. But a warehouse club that doesn’t take coupons is rather limiting if the whole point is that you’re looking to save some money.
… if they carry stuff you need and use. The biggest savings-killers with stores like this are twofold—one, that you make a bunch of impulse buys (which are not only bad because, hey, do you need that? but also because now instead of a small bottle you have a gallon, or whatever), and two, that you buy a brand you really don’t like because that’s what they have.
Me, I used to do the warehouse club thing when I had two kids in diapers. What I saved just on their diapering far outweighed the cost. But in general, these days, for a family of four I simply cannot justify the cost—we don’t need mass quantities of, well, anything, really. And I’d rather buy things like fresh fruits and veggies in quantities we can actually consume. So it’s not right for us, but that doesn’t mean it’s not right for you.
Most warehouse clubs will let you do a free trial membership (or someone with a membership can take you as a guest), so regardless of your situation, if you’re on the fence, try it out before you sign up. That’s the best way to try it out without committing. And maybe you have a friend who’s in a similar boat—maybe the two families can decide to go in on a membership, together (how you work that out within the rules of membership is up to you; it may be as simple as one of you agreeing to be the member and always take the other one shopping in exchange for half the member fee).
Anyway, that’s my two cents. Am I missing something? Is there another super-fantastical benefit of warehouse club membership which I’ve overlooked?