I’ve shopped at warehouse clubs for almost 15 years, and have visited Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJ’s. I’ve found that all three are very similar, with the exception of their store brands, return policies, and coupon policies. In order to maximize your savings at a warehouse club, you’ll want to join as an annual member. You can shop at them on a one-day membership, but you’ll pay a mark-up on the advertised prices.
Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s all offer two personal memberships: Costco Executive for $110/year and Gold Star for $55/year, Sam’s Club Plus for $100/year and Savings for $45/year, and BJ’s Rewards for $100/year and Inner Circle for $50/year. Costco Executive and BJ’s Rewards members receive 2% back on most purchases, along with other perks, while Sam’s Club only offers a percentage back on purchases if you use their branded Discover card.
Sam’s Club and Costco do not accept manufacturer’s coupons, while BJ’s does. Costco and Sam’s Club both feature “in-club” discounts and coupons, as does BJ’s.
Maximizing Your Savings
Warehouse clubs have great prices on some items, and are overpriced on others. I’ve found that their prices on produce, candy, foods, books, and even gift cards are great. I routinely buy Milk-Bones for our furry family members, because at Costco, I’ll pay $10 for a 15-pound box, while at our local grocery store, I’ll pay $15 for a 10-pound box. I figure that, over the course of the year, if I buy 60 pounds of Milk-Bones at Costco, rather than our local grocery store, I’ve paid for my Costco membership.
Our local Costco features gift cards for national and local merchants, and for $100 in gift cards, they usually charge $80, or for $40 in gift cards, they charge $28. I recently used this when purchasing Coldstone Creamery gift cards for a community service project. I was able to purchase $360 in gift cards for $252.
Candy and bulk foods are also generally a good deal, assuming you’ll use all of the food before it expires. If you won’t use all of it before the expiration date, you may be able to split the purchase with a friend to reduce the quantities to more manageable levels and still realize the cost-savings. When buying food items, check the expiration date carefully, and for perishable foods, check the freshness before using them. I purchased a large quantity of mozzarella cheese at Sam’s Club once, opened it to use it, and found that even though it hadn’t expired and hadn’t been opened, it was moldy.
Books, movies, and similar items can be purchased at substantial discounts, but titles are fairly limited to new and popular releases. These can also be money-suckers, if you’re anything like me. When I first started shopping at warehouse clubs, I’d always stop by the book and movie sections, and routinely would find books or movies I considered must-haves. They weren’t on my shopping list, and I’d find my total increasing substantially! Now, unless I know I want something, I avoid those sections.
All three warehouse clubs sell automotive items, including tires, and have their own automotive service departments to mount and balance tires. Until a few years ago, we used to purchase our tires at Sam’s Club, in part because they seemed to have the best prices on Goodyear tires. They were usually fairly relaxed on the road hazard warranty, and would prorate the price of new tires if the manufacturer’s warranty had not expired.
A few years ago, I was looking to replace a tire that had a nail puncture and kept going flat. I stopped by Sam’s Club, only to find out that the tires were now considered special order, would take up to two weeks to arrive, and even though the tire had a nail in the tread, because my car’s alignment wasn’t perfect, they would not do anything in regards to prorating the cost of a replacement tire. As I told the automotive center employee, their lack of honoring the road hazard warranty lost a customer for them. Tires are very much buyer beware at these clubs.
Items to Avoid
While buying toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels in bulk may seem like a great idea, these are usually items to avoid buying at warehouse stores. I routinely can beat the unit price at the grocery store, especially when I couple grocery store sales with coupons. If you are brand-loyal for laundry detergent, prices at warehouse clubs may be reasonable. However, if you are not brand-loyal, avoid laundry supplies, as you can routinely find better deals at your local grocery store when coupling sales with coupons.
A good rule of thumb is to comparison shop before venturing to any warehouse club. Check the prices at your local grocery store for the staples you would buy in bulk, and then venture to your local warehouse club to do the same thing.
Which Warehouse Club Is Best?
I’ve shopped at Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJ’s, and have had memberships to all three. Currently, I only have a membership to Costco. While both BJ’s and Sam’s Club have locations closer to me, I’d rather drive farther to get to Costco. The quality at BJ’s has always seemed a little lower than the other two, and between my issue with tires at Sam’s Club and the generally lousy attitude of employees, I’ve allowed my Sam’s Club membership to lapse. Costco’s employees are friendly, usually very willing to help, and their perishable foods and Kirkland brand items are of a high quality. That said, while I used to regularly buy a drink, and usually a snack, from their food court, since they’ve switched to Pepsi products, I’ve cut that from my shopping list!