"Goals are dreams with deadlines" -- Diana Scharf

Monday, April 29, 2013

Wholesale Clubs: Are They Worthwhile?

Shortly after Mr. W. and I started shopping together, he suggested that we purchase a BJ’s membership.  For those who aren’t familiar with BJ’s, it is a members-only wholesale club much like Costco or Sam’s Club. 

At first, I doubted that joining BJ’s would be worthwhile for us.  Sure, these memberships make sense (financially) for families with children: families that need to buy diapers, prepare kids’ lunches, feed pets, and wash more loads of laundry than we do.  But would it be worthwhile for our little two-person family?  I was skeptical that we would experience a large enough savings to offset the $50 annual membership fee that BJ’s charges.  Since we try to eat primarily local foods, I also wondered whether BJ’s would carry any of our preferred brands.    Furthermore, we have a compact apartment with limited storage space.  Clutter makes me irritable so I generally try to avoid stockpiling out of fear that we’ll end up with unsightly stacks of boxes.  Lastly, would we end up buying more than we needed, simply because the prices were lower than at retail stores?

We signed up for a BJ’s membership in January.  I recently did a price comparison for some of the items that we purchase on a regular basis.  I estimated our monthly usage for these staples, and then calculated the non-sale price at our regular grocery store versus BJ’s.  It turns out that we save approximately $32 per month by shopping at BJ’s.  Even though we only buy a few items, the $50 annual membership paid for itself after only the second month.  (Note: we also buy other items from BJ’s but I haven’t estimated our usage of those items with enough accuracy to include those calculations).      


Is a wholesale club membership right for you?  Here are some questions to help you make the determination:

·         How much is the membership fee? 

For us, the membership fee was $50.  That’s not exorbitant, but we certainly don’t want to throw $50 down the drain, either.

·         Does the club carry items that you regularly purchase?  If so, how much are they discounted? 

We were glad that the club carries my favorite brand of yogurt (Fage).  Yogurt can be pricey and I eat quite a lot of it.  If BJ’s hadn’t carried Fage, it might have been a deal breaker.  Yes, there are other, cheaper brands of Greek yogurt, but Fage is my favorite by far.  BJ’s also stocks one of our favorite brands of turkey bacon, Applegate Naturals.  The BJ’s prices are approximately 40-45% less than at the grocery store.  This is especially important since Fage and Applegate Naturals rarely go on sale at the grocery store.

·         How conveniently located is the club?

Our wholesale club is a 15-mile round trip.  By contrast, we have five grocery stores within easy/reasonable walking distance of our apartment.  However, the wholesale club is located in the same shopping center as some other retailers that we like to visit regularly (ie, Target, craft store, thrift store, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, etc).  We would probably drive to this shopping center at least once a month anyway, even if we didn't have a BJ's membership, so we don’t consider BJ’s to be out of the way. 

·         Do you have the space to store bulk items?  Will you use perishable items before they spoil?

Since we have limited storage space, we try to restrict the amount that we buy in bulk.  At a maximum, we only have 1-2 months’ worth of staples on hand at any given time.  When we buy non-perishable household items (i.e., cleaning supplies, paper products, etc), we usually store overflow in the trunks of our vehicles.  Limiting the amount that we buy also helps us to ensure that we use all perishable items by their expiration dates.

o  Do you plan to purchase any big ticket items in the near future?

These clubs often offer a fantastic savings on big-ticket purchases like electronics, furniture, and automotive items.  My car needed two new tires this month and we saved almost $100 by purchasing the tires from BJ’s rather than an automotive store.  The tire savings alone made the annual membership worthwhile.  I’ve also heard that BJ’s offers heavily discounted travel packages.  We haven’t looked into this, yet, but we’ll definitely consider it in the future.       


Do you have a wholesale club membership?  If so, has it been worthwhile for you and your family?


  1. I had a Sam's Club membership when living with 2 roommates, and we would split the costs of household necessities. I've canceled it since living on my own. I've been eating mostly fresh fruits and veggies, and I just can't go through pounds of produce quickly enough and they don't always freeze well.

  2. I agree that buying wholesale produce can be a gamble. It's very difficult to use bulk produce quickly enough, and often it's already starting to lose its freshness while still on the shelf. Sounds like you made a good choice.

  3. I have gone to a lot of wholesale clubs because of my job and I don't think the deals are all that great personally.

    1. I did notice that for certain items there isn't a huge savings. For instance, pantry staples like flour and sugar weren't appreciably cheaper at BJ's than at the grocery store (especially if I buy on sale, which I always try to do).

  4. Our only option is Sam's and it's 70 miles away. I haven't been in a few years, but the never seemed to carry any of the brands we like, except A1 sauce, and you can only eat so much A1. It sounds like BJ's has more options. If one were close to us, I'd certainly check it out.

    1. Wow -- 70 miles is FAR! I probably wouldn't consider it worthwhile at that point, even if I drank A1 sauce like it was water : )

  5. well explained.. thanks for sharing your thoughts..