Watching Carefully at the Big Warehouse Clubs

I made a run over the my local BJ's warehouse club store today.  I don't shop their often but I do have a membership because their gasoline is significantly less expensive than anywhere else nearby.  I heard a rumor that they had a great price on wheeled backpacks, which my daughter needs due to her shoulder injury and the ridiculous amount of stuff that sixth graders are required to carry around.

On the way out the door, I grabbed a coupon book that the store had recently mailed to me.  I had lots of time to look over the book while I waited for the store to open, and I started trying to remember how much the same items cost the commissary and also at the local grocery store.  It was really hard, and I have a pretty good memory for food prices.  The comparisons were harder due to the huge sizes that most of the warehouse club stores offer.

I went through the store quickly and picked up a few things that I knew were good deals.  More often, however, I wasn't sure.  How much was a gallon of orange juice at the commissary yesterday?  And how many "regular" boxes of chicken nuggets equals one giant sized box?  And will we really use 640 post-it note flags, or are we better off paying more per flag but buying less at the office supply store?

In order to be a savvy warehouse shopper, you must be very aware of the prices that are available to you.  If you live in a non-military community, the answers are usually a little easier because warehouse clubs often do provide good value over regular grocery stores.  However, if you have access to a commissary, the question becomes a lot more difficult.  Often the commissary prices are better than the warehouse club, the selection is greater (if you have a large commissary) and there is a lot more flexibility in sizes.  On the other hand, the warehouse club may offer certain products that your commissary doesn't carry.

My good finds today included the wheeled backpack for around $17, a six pack of binders for $8 (wish I had found that before I bought them at Office Depot!), the megapack of Post-It flags for $6, and the calculator my daughter needs for $11.  I also picked up some sweet peppers (expensive but very cute, they are miniature and look like hot peppers but they are sweet), a case of organic milk in the little boxes, a big bag of Baby Bel cheese, and an enormous package of Listerine strips.  The first two are items that I can't find at the commissary, and the second two were a much better price than the commissary.

There were other items that I wasn't too sure about:  garbage bags, orange juice, yogurt, cereal.  In order to make smart choices, I'll have to check prices a little more carefully next time I'm shopping on base.  My friends swear by their meats and produce but I wasn't too impressed with the prices.  I often do better shopping the sales at the grocery store.

All in all, the warehouse stores can be a useful tool in keeping the grocery (and other) spending down.  However, it requires a thorough knowledge of the prices you can find elsewhere to ensure that you are truly saving money.  In addition, check to see if your local warehouse store accepts manufacturer's coupons to extend the savings.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.