Membership clubs like Sam’s, B.J.’s, and Costco claim to save money for their members, but is it worth the cost for a savvy shopper?
As with many shopping decisions, the answer depends on a number of variables. The two main questions to ask are, how often will you shop there, and what do you buy?
Sometimes the savings happens before the shopper enters the store. A representative of Sam’s shared that the company’s goal is to keep gas prices at five cents lower than local gas stations. For a family driving an SUV or large van, gas alone might be worth the membership price.
Inside the store, grocery savings depend on specific products and the shopper’s eating habits. Buying in bulk usually saves over purchasing small packages when comparing unit pricing, but it is important to know the prices at local grocery stores to compare. A family that drinks a lot of milk might find the savings of between $.50-$1.00 per gallon worth to be a valuable shopping perk. BJ’s “Member’s Mark” orange juice is often priced up to $2.00 less than the local grocery store juice.
Remember, just because you buy at the club doesn’t necessarily mean the price is cheaper. Sometimes regular prices can be cheaper at the local grocery stores than at membership clubs.
Buying in bulk is only cost-effective if the food purchased will actually be eaten. If half is thrown out after the expiration date, the savings is nullified. A place to store large purchases is also necessary. Ground beef can be purchased by the case at Sam’s for over $1.00 per pound less than at the local grocery stores. But if the shopper has no freezer to store 80 pounds of beef, it makes no sense to shop that way.
Shopping clubs have historically catered to shoppers who not only buy, but cook in bulk. While #10 cans of vegetables and gallon jugs of sauces are still commonly available, most clubs now offer six- or eight-packs of regular sized cans, or two-packs of condiments, still at quite a savings over regular grocery store prices.
Membership clubs sell more than just groceries. Shoppers may find membership worth the cost for purchasing tools, furniture, clothing, tires, and any number of non-food items as well.
Wise shoppers might consider taking advantage of a visitor’s pass or temporary membership pass that allows non-members to enter the club and shop without committing to the price of a membership. Some clubs allow visitors to purchase on their visitor’s pass, and others only allow entrance to the store, without the ability to make a purchase. Either way, a visitor’s pass provides an opportunity to take note of the price of various items to determine whether or not the savings would offset the cost of a membership for your family.