5 On Your Side

Learn how to save at warehouse clubs

Posted May 7, 2009 3:27 p.m. EDT
Updated May 8, 2009 2:46 p.m. EDT

Warehouse clubs stores offer everything from wine to the Nintendo Wii, countertops to clothes, bananas to bread.

"You can go up there and buy a $7,000 diamond ring," shopper Carmine Bondatti said. "There's not too much you can't get here."

Plenty of people are passionate about shopping at warehouse clubs and about the deals they get.

"My house is full of Costco," shopper Farida Sharief said.

"Where else can you get butter for $1.25 a pound?" Bondatti said.

But can you really save? To find out, 5 on Your Side went shopping at Costco and compared prices with Harris Teeter, Food Lion and Lowes Foods.

We started with electronics. A price check showed about $100 savings between a 52-inch Sony Bravia television and similar models sold elsewhere. A 32-inch Samsung television, though, went for the same price as in other stores.

The real savings at warehouse cubs might be in the generous warranty and 90-day return policy.

Gas is a popular warehouse buy – with good reason. According to WRAL's Fuel Tracker, only one station in the area had a lower price than the warehouse clubs.

Smartmoney.com reports that the best buys at warehouse clubs are often the biggest buys -- are cars, engagement rings and caskets.

As for groceries, first, know that many retailers have better prices once you factor in coupons and sales. For example, paper products are often a better deal at grocery and department stores with coupons.

It is hard to beat warehouse prices on some items, especially those that typically don't offer coupons, such as alcohol. A bottle of Cabernet was $1.50 less than at the least expensive grocery store. The savings was about the same for a case of beer.

There are deals in the dairy case: Save 80 cents on a gallon of milk over grocery stores. On a pound of butter, save 14 cents.

While eggs come in a package of 3 dozen, you'll spend 38 cents less a dozen than at a grocery store.

In the meat case, save $1.70 per pound on boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and 40 cents per pound on lean ground beef. Rib-eye steaks cost $3.80 less per pound than at grocery stores.

Most produce prices were lower too. Bananas were just 44 cents a pound, but you have to buy four pounds. There's no savings if you end up throwing it away.

Shopper Kathy Kapetanakis considered a package of two huge jars of olives. "I wouldn't buy that. How fast am I going to eat that?" she asked.

To really save at warehouse clubs, you need to be careful that you don't end up with a cart full of stuff you don't need.

"I buy what we're going to use," Kapetanakis said.

The best deal 5 on Your Side found was a Mother's Day special at Costco. The store is offering $50 in Godiva gift cards for just $20.