Warehouse Clubs: Why They Make Sense for Most People

I want to start by announcing that my wife and I are expecting our first child in November! We’re both beyond excited for the opportunity to be parents. It will truly be an adventure because for one, I’ve never changed a diaper. I also have no idea what it’s like to have to comfort a screaming baby at 3 in the morning. That said, I’m going to approach this new chapter in my life by being humble, learning everything I can and committing to being the best father I can be. 

As a new parent, I realize I’ll be spending a lot of time in Costco. Diapers, formula and baby wipes are just a few of the many things I’ll be buying there. I’ve heard that babies go through about 12 diapers a day when they’re first born. That means over 1,000 diapers in the first three months alone. 

But the truth is, my wife and I have been members of all three national warehouse clubs (Sam’s, BJs and Costco) at some point during our marriage. Some of you might wonder why, as a two-member household, we would pay up to $55 a year for the privilege of shopping somewhere. There are several reasons, which I’ll discuss briefly below. I’ve also included the percent of the yearly membership fee, out of $55, each category would pay for.

  • Prescription glasses. This is probably the best reason I have for why it makes sense to be a member of a warehouse club. Consumer Reports has consistently rated Costco among the best places to buy glasses
    based on price, quality and service. You can get a complete set of glasses for about $150, compared with $200 or even $300 at independent shops. Percent of membership paid: 100%
  • Contact lenses. I wear contacts once a week when playing basketball and usually go through a box of the disposable ones in about a year. While comparison shopping online recently, I found that the lowest price for the contacts I needed was $45 per box. I called Costco and asked for their price: $30 a box. Buying my contacts there instead of from an online seller saved me $15 per box, or $30 total. Percent of membership paid: 55%
  • Low-carb shakes. My wife likes to drink chocolate-flavored shakes for breakfast sometimes because they fill her up and they’re convenient. The cheapest place outside of the warehouse clubs I can find them is Walmart, at $7.00 for a 4-pack. At BJs they were $16 for a 12 pack, saving us $1.66 per 4-pack. Assuming she drinks 120 shakes per year, we save $50. Percent of membership paid: 91%
  • Allergy medication. My wife has minor allergies and normally takes an over-the-counter allergy pill each day. At Sam’s we bought a generic version of Zyrtec, which had a year’s supply of pills for $16. Compare that to drug stores, where you’d pay over $100 for a year’s supply of even the generic version. This one purchase not only pays your annual membership fee but saves you money every month as well. Percent of membership paid: 100%

These are just a few of the ways we’ve saved by having a warehouse club membership. We’ve experienced these savings even though we’re only a two-person family (for now). When the baby comes, we’ll save even more on the things we buy.

Are you a member of a warehouse club? Has your membership paid for itself yet?

Photo by frugalvillage.com

32 thoughts on “Warehouse Clubs: Why They Make Sense for Most People

  1. I’m not a member of any warehouse clubs, but I sometimes wish I could justify the membership fee. I figure it’s just not worth it for most single people. I can’t say I spend in any of the categories you mentioned above. As for diapers, are you serious about 12 times per day?! That’s insane. I gotta find me a woman that is willing to take care of that kind of thing lol.

    • Haha yeah, that was my reaction when I first heard about the 12 diapers a day rule. That seems to be the baseline for newborns. So obviously it makes sense for parents to shop at warehouse clubs.

      Some people just don’t buy enough in a year to justify a membership fee, and that’s fine. I wanted to point out a few of the most common things people buy that they could get for cheaper at the warehouse.

  2. Those are definitely good reasons. I actually got my first pair of glasses from BJ’s a couple of years ago, and they were less than $100. We didn’t even have to pay the membership fee at that time due to an agreement the local store had with RIT (where my husband was a student).

    That being said, we paid for a membership a couple of months ago and have been having a hard time breaking even considering most groceries are actually cheaper at Wegmans. Even their gas is (at best) one cent cheaper than neighboring stations. We’re actually better off buying gas elsewhere since the prices can vary up to 25 cents per gallon depending on the town.

    I’d definitely appreciate other suggestions of things that are significantly cheaper at warehouses. 🙂

    • That’s a nice setup you had through his school. Sometimes I miss being a student and getting all those nice perks and discounts!

      I remember going to Wegmans when I was up north, and as I recall it has a sort of cult following among Northeasters.

      As with anything, the unit price is the thing to look for. If you’ll use it before the expiration date it’s usually a better deal in bulk. I hope you’re able to make back your membership fee soon!

      • The funny thing is that Wegmans actually does sell a lot of items in bulk – including toilet paper, paper towels, produce, frozen foods, meat, etc. They also have a really good store brand which is cheaper across the board than anywhere else, even when buying in bulk. (They’ve actually been getting some criticism for pushing out a lot of name brands in favor of their own.) Hence my disappointment with the BJ’s membership. I’ve heard better things about Costco, but unfortunately we don’t have them here.

        • You don’t see grocery stores offering bulk products too often. It seems like you’ve done a good amount of price comparing. I’m happy you’ve found something that works. 🙂

          What drew me to Costco was their private brand, Kirkland Signature. Consumer Reports consistently rates this brand among the best in a ton of categories. The other thing is the 15% maximum markup on all merchandise. I can relax knowing that I’m never paying a steep markup on anything I buy there. Sorry to hear you guys don’t have one!

  3. Congrats on the baby! It’s a great experience! We have a Sam’s membership and buy our diapers and wipes there, as well as a number of other non-baby things. We buy all our paper products there as well as a lot of canned goods. We typically go about once every couple months and stock up on things. When we first signed up we got a gift card for half the membership cost, and then when we renewed this year we got another gift card for half the renewal cost.

    • Thanks, Justin! I’m sure we’ll be buying most baby items there too. Going every couple months is probably a good idea because it limits the temptation to spend extra.

      Having the gift cards certainly helps with the membership cost as well.

  4. I don’t have a warehouse club near me. The closet one is about forty five minutes a way. If there was one near me I would definitely become a member.

    • So I’m preaching to the choir, I guess! 45 minutes is a long drive just for one store. I have that same issue with Aldi – the closest one is about an hour away. When I’m near there I stop by sometimes, but I never make a special trip.

  5. BF has a Costco membership but we rarely go. I don’t really find the need to buy things in bulk besides toilet paper. I guess we save there? Also I should look into their prescription center to see if my insurance is accepted! Thanks for reminding me haha

    • Storage is a big issue. In our old apartment we didn’t have a lot of storage space for extra things, so we were limited in our bulk-buying choices. We have a little extra space now though, and we often buy non-perishables in bulk if we know we’ll use them.

  6. We don’t belong to any CLUB type shopping warehouses but some of our family members do and love it. They say the quality of products is amazing although I still have yet to justify some of the prices since using coupons has skewed my view on paying full price for most items. Congrats on the baby btw that’s awesome news mate!! Cheers…. keep us updated.

  7. I use a huge amount of printer ink for my various projects. The savings on that ink, alone, pay for our Costco membership. The rest of the savings are gravy. Besides, my guy loves the hot dogs! 😉

    • Hi Beth! Thanks for stopping by. Doing ink refills at Costco is a great idea! I’ve never done this before, but I hear it can be about one third the cost of buying a new cartridge.

      I’m a fan of their “combo” pizza myself. Some of the best pizza I’ve ever had! Plus, 1 or 2 slices fills me up.

  8. My membership has paid for itself. You do have to make sure that the warehouse club is actually cheaper though. I compared prices for the things I buy most often and made sure that the warehouse was cheaper. In most cases it was, but there are a few things that weren’t.

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  11. Congratulations on your pending arrival! I know this is an exciting time for you and your wife!

    I actually analyzed the pros and cons of buying in bulk at warehouse clubs (BJ’s, in particular, in my case) not too long ago on my blog (link above). Even though I was able to save a good amount on baby items like formula, diapers, and wipes, I ended up being “tricked” into buying much more than that over the course of my membership. I don’t think it was a good deal for me overall. Perhaps I’m too gullible, though. LOL If you read my article, you’ll see what I mean.

    I like to look at savings in degrees. Just like buying generic can save you a baseline X% off of brand name prices, it usually doesn’t beat using coupons on brand name items when they go on sale. I like to think of shopping at warehouse clubs as the equivalent to buying generic items. You’ll save a certain percentage versus paying full retail price at a regular store, but you could probably save more if you put a little more effort into scouting deals and clipping coupons. How many high-priced/bulk items you must buy also plays a part. Babies certainly add tons of expenses, especially in the first year. Once you’re out of diapers, the baby-related costs really go down.

    Seems to me that multiple warehouse club memberships would only be a good idea if there are certain products you use quite a bit that are only available at one store and not the others.

    • Thanks, Lena!! You make a very good point about warehouse clubs tricking us into spending more. I think it’s a psychological thing as much as anything – we feel that we have to spend more than we normally would to make up the cost of membership.

      You’ve clearly thought through the costs and benefits of warehouse club shopping versus buying generics and using coupons at regular stores. I think most people aren’t willing or able to put in the extra time you’re talking about to find better deals at regular stores. Couponing takes a lot of effort, and for many people it’s easier just to buy a membership and shop at a warehouse club.

      I think that as long as I avoid the temptation to spend more, I’ll break even at the very least, and at best I’ll save real money on our food and baby items.

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