5 On Your Side

Warehouse clubs are a better bargain than grocery stores

Posted June 26, 2008
Updated June 27, 2008

— With high gas prices taking a mounting toll on budgets, some families have turned to warehouse clubs in a bid to save grocery money.

5 on Your Side’s Monica Laliberte went shopping to find out whether warehouse clubs really save money compared with grocery stores.

A special edition of WRAL’s Grocery Cart Tracker gives the results of the investigation.

Laliberte used the items in the normal Grocery Cart Tracker, including bread, beef and bananas, and compared their prices in Sam’s Club, BJ's and Costco clubs with the Harris Teeter, Lowes and Wal-Mart grocery stores.

The result: The savings at wholesale clubs can be significant.

Red delicious apples were 80 cents less per pound at the lowest-priced warehouse club than at the highest-priced grocery store. Boneless, skinless chicken came at a savings of $1.25 per pound. The difference per pound of salted butter sticks was $1.96 and of cheddar cheese, $2.00.

The biggest money-saver at warehouse clubs was sirloin steak, with a cost difference of $2.11 per pound.

All of the warehouse clubs beat the final bills at the grocery stores. The difference between the lowest-priced warehouse club and the highest-priced grocery store was $10.14 for 14 items.

Sam’s Club had the lowest total cost, but Costco was close to even with it, just 68 cents higher.

However, you have to buy in bulk to get those savings at warehouse clubs. Eggs were cheaper, but available only in 30- or 18-count packages. Bananas came only in 4-pound packages, bread in two-loaf packages, and ground beef in 5- to 6-pound packages.

Chicken, beef and bread can be frozen, but if you buy lots of perishable food that doesn’t get used quickly, you won’t be saving any money.

Another temptation of warehouse clubs is to buy a cart full of stuff you don’t need — or food you haven’t tried before. It’s not a bargain if no one eats it because they don’t like it.

Also, consider the cost of memberships. The least-expensive memberships cost between $40 and $50 a year, but all clubs also offer higher-level memberships that give 2 percent back on purchases. That perk can be useful for frequent, big-time shoppers.

If you decide a warehouse club is for you, look out for these super savings:

  • At Costco, prices that end in 97 cents indicate a discount, because they are either slow-moving or discontinued products.
  • At Sam’s Club, the letter 'C' at the end of an item number means it is a canceled item.

Individual items might be cheaper at grocery stores. That was the case with a loaf of bread at all the grocery stores. The biggest price difference was 84 cents – significant for a loaf of bread.

Grocery store’s loyalty clubs and weekly sales can also have a big impact on your bill total.

Note that the Grocery Cart comparison of soda price might be skewed because store-brand sodas were used for the Grocery Tracker, but those were not available at all warehouses. Laliberte substituted brand-name Coca-Cola.


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  • angora2 Jun 30, 2008

    Saturdays or Sundays are our weekly "lunch date" at Costco. We shop and try the food samples. It's fun! There are only two of us, but we save too, by paying attention. As someone said, refrigerate your bread, and we freeze four slices in individual baggies for later use.

  • pleshy Jun 30, 2008

    I agree the prices are better, but I get bored putting porkchops in freezer bag for 2 hours after shopping at Sam's. can't they package these in a little bit smaller number per package? I don't usually need 2 dozen cuts of meat at a time.

  • catwoman1 Jun 27, 2008

    I am a Costco junkie. I am there almost every weekend. You know you're part of the Costco family when the associates call you by name and you know most of theirs. We really do save alot there, especially on our pet supplies, milk, eggs, cheese, electronics. They also have great samples each weekend. The snackbar is a super deal and they boast a 100 rating. Great pizza!!!! Where else can you get a 10 inch giant hotdog and coke for $1.50??

  • Pineview Style Jun 27, 2008

    I am single and I have a Sam's Club membership. Now, granted, I went in halves with a friend on the membership, so it's easier for me to recoup the membership cost. You can buy a lot of non parishable items there and come out ahead. (I have enough shaving cream to last well into next year.) Also, Nature's Own bread is 2 loaves for 3.xx where at F-L it's 2.xx for one. And if you keep your bread in the fridge, it will last longer. I do find that soda (when on special) is cheaper at F-L and Wal-Mart.

  • HappyGirl08 Jun 27, 2008

    Well, I love to go to sams. I live just far enough away that I tend to make a "sams list" and go every other month unless I am just in the area and stop in. I have a family of 2, so I can't buy huge amts of perishable stuff but I get my sandwich bags and all kinds of stuff like that there. Then, I just clip my coupons and watch the sales. I love triple coupon days at harris teeter!

  • marcbeard1 Jun 27, 2008

    We have a membership to costco and BJ's. I prefer costco because of product selection and their corporate policies.They treat their employees better (pay,benefits). Both have gas for 10-15 cents less per gallon. BJ's accepts coupons which can add huge savings. We definitely save money over the course of a year even with 2 membership fees.

  • kittiboo Jun 27, 2008

    We save on baby stuff at BJ's- not MUCH, but considering how much we buy, it adds up. And dog/cat food and cat litter- we like buying baby and pet stuff in bulk- saves us trips to the store, too!

  • this is my Screen Name Jun 27, 2008

    LOL, Floyd!

  • OLD PIRATE 2 Jun 27, 2008

    Radio is probably better for you than the TV but WRAL probably will stay out of that issue...like they should.

  • FloydTurbo Jun 26, 2008

    If Cosco had condos above their store, I could live there.