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Warehouse clubs can seem like a great deal. We’ve all probably heard that most things are cheaper in bulk, and the cost per unit price usually goes up when the size of the package goes down.
Here’s the thing: it’s not true in all instances. Retailers are savvy, and they understand their market. They know you might be walking into a Costco or a Sam’s thinking “bigger is cheaper”, and you might just walk out with more than you were planning to buy if you think you are getting a great deal.
My advice to you is to be familiar with prices period. I started my frugal journey before everyone was on the internet and couponing websites made match-ups of every conceivable deal. I owned a copy of the Complete Tightwad Gazette, and learned how to keep a price book. It was a three-ring binder with college-lined notebook paper, and every sheet listed a different item.
Through that, I learned that store brand mac n cheese usually went on sale for 20 cents per box every 3 months or so, and so did store brand spaghetti (at least they did 15 years ago!). I lived off a tiny food budget of just $10/week for just myself, and I did it- with full cabinets– by using that price book. I would only buy mac n cheese when it hit its lowest price, and then I would buy 20 boxes, or enough to get me through until the next sale cycle.
Now, I don’t really have the need to keep a formal price book any more. I can tell you what my stock-up price is for most items after doing this for over 15 years. For those of you struggling to get your food budget down, however, I highly recommend it as one of your main strategies to use.
Because I know my stock-up prices, I know when I walk into Sam’s and see a double-pack of Cheerios for $7.98, that it is way overpriced. I generally buy 12 oz. boxes of brand name for $1.50 or less per box, or 12.5 cents per ounce. Sam’s is making a killing on those huge boxes!
Frequently, the price after sale + coupon at a regular grocer or even a pharmacy can be cheaper than Sam’s. This is especially true for toiletries and hygiene items, and certain over the counter medications.
I tend to follow the Prudent Homemaker‘s suggestions for what to buy at Sam’s. I never thought I had room in my home for bulk purchases, or a way to safely store them. A year ago, I ended up getting the food grade bulk storage bins and gamma lids she recommended to store them. I now have five bins in my kitchen holding bread flour, all purpose flour, white sugar, rice, and pinto beans.
My kids can’t open them and in the year I have had them, we have had no issues with pests or mold. It certainly has helped us save some money.
At Sam’s, you may have a few different bulk options available to choose. To decide which option is better, I always calculate the unit price and compare. Just this week, I calculated that the 25 pound bag of white Domino sugar has a higher unit price than buying several 10 pound bags of Pioneer sugar. Don’t just assume bigger means cheaper!
What I buy at Sam’s:
Brown sugar (I keep mine is a tightly sealed plastic container with this terra cotta maple leaf to keep it from going hard)
All purpose flour
Block cheese (I shred it myself). Buying shredded or sliced at Sam’s may not necessarily be cheaper. And sometimes grocers have a deal where it meets or exceeds Sam’s good prices.
Dried beans (Only 10 lb. pinto beans are available at my Sam’s, but at 55 cents.lb, they are cheaper than at the grocery store.)
Juice boxes and cans of pop (for parties-but I also check for sale prices and coupon deals at stores. They may be cheaper.)
Large bottles of apple juice
Bulk spices (We buy only those for which we use a lot- Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, Cumin, Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Kosher Salt). More options are available.
Butter (unless a grocer sells for $2 /lb or less)
Canola oil (we refill a small jar so we aren’t schlepping it from the basement)
Walnuts, Almonds, Peanuts, and Deluxe Mixed Nuts
Now, we eat meat so rarely that I have never bought any at Sam’s, so I couldn’t compare prices. If you are a meat-eater, I would start with a price book and go well armed with that information before stocking up at Sam’s or another warehouse club.
As for us, we stock-up about every 6 months, which seems to be the point when I need more flour, cocoa, nuts, and raisins.
What about you? What do you buy at warehouse clubs? Are you certain you’re getting the best price?