Are Warehouse Stores Wearing Out Your Wallet?

Jill Cooper

It's Saturday morning. With grocery list in hand, you drag a very unwilling family out to the car where you proceed to take them on a mega-shopping spree at Sam's or Costco. Marching down each isle you tell your family members "We need three cases of corn, four cases of green beans and -- Oh! That's a good deal on peanut butter so let's get three gallons. Of course Susie, your can get a bag of cookies -- they are so cheap! And Billy you can have a few bags of your favorite chips! Yum! Oh look -- samples! These taste great. Let's get some! What a great buy on chicken - we need 20..."

At the dog food aisle the excitement mounts as each member of the family grabs a corner of the 50 lb. bag of dog food to stack on top of the basket. (We won't mention you only have 1 toy poodle at home.) After waiting in line and waiting in line and waiting in line you push your agonizingly heavy, overloaded baskets out to the car.

Getting everything into the trunk of the car makes putting a 1,000-piece puzzle together a breeze, but finally home you go. After you lug everything into the house, it's time to spend the next few hours repackaging things for the freezer. You double wrap your 20 chickens (they could be in that freezer for quite awhile) and frantically try to find places for everything else in your cupboards and pantry. By the time you are done, you are so exhausted that you couldn't begin to lift a finger to cook, so you all go out to eat.

A few weeks later you gingerly sniff the gallon of half used peanut butter as you try to decide if that strange taste is because it has gone rancid or simply because you are sick of peanut butter. You threw out that partially used gallon of maple syrup yesterday because it had sugared and was looking really strange. You still have ten of your chickens left but if you bathe them in some spicy sauce you are pretty sure your family won't notice the freezer burned taste. In spite of having to throw out most of the 50 lbs. of dog food (after a growing family of mice had invaded it), you're sure you saved money because "they" said you would.

Time and time again, people ask, "can you really save money at Sam's or Costco?" I usually answer "not more so then any place else." I have checked prices several different times and factoring everything in, I have found no exceptional savings.

Here are some tips to help you decide if shopping at a warehouse store is for you:

1.Do your homework and compare prices. Buying in bulk is not always cheaper. You really save by checking and comparing prices. I was at Costco one day where there was a display of two Clorox one gallon bottles for $1.98 after rebate. I stood there amazed as people grabbed up this "great deal." I knew I could get that same Clorox for $.98 a gallon at my regular discount store and I didn't have to mess with a rebate, pay postage or lug 2 gallons of Clorox shrink wrapped together to my car.

2. Don't buy impulsively just because it sounds like a good deal. Say you can get 12 bottles of sunscreen for a great price. Think it through before you buy. If your family only uses one bottle of sunscreen a year, that means you will be storing sunscreen for 12 years, not to mention most of the sunscreen will expire long before then.

3. In most homes one quarter of food people buy gets thrown out. Even though my story was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, there is a certain amount of truth to it. If your family of four eats pancakes once a week, that gallon of syrup is going to last you a very long time. You might also consider that unless dry goods and freezer items are very carefully stored, they will go bad or get bugs in them. Remember to buy the size appropriate for your family.

4. Keep in mind that you need to be very well organized to buy in bulk. Given the large number of shows and magazine articles dedicated to giving organizational advice, chances are many of us are organizationally challenged. Finding places to store everything and then carefully keeping track of what you have is a critical skill if you want to use it all before it spoils.

5. Most people usually spend more then they originally planned on things they don't need. This never saves money. We taste samples and so often end up buying. If this is you be careful. Maybe sampling is a bad idea (unless you're making lunch of it)!

If you have ten kids, run a day care, or are buying for an organization then you almost have to buy in bulk. If you have a small or average sized family, you will probably save as much shopping for sales at your regular grocery store or discount store. The key is to do the math and evaluate your practical needs. You have to decide for yourself if buying at warehouse stores actually saves you money or just creates more work.

Jill Cooper raised two teenagers alone on $500 a month income after becoming disabled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She is the inspiration behind her daughter Tawra's frugal cookbook Not Just Beans: 50 Years of Frugal Family Favorites. To read more of Jill's articles and for free tips and recipes visit .