Friday, May 1, 2009

Let's Go Shopping: At the Warehouse

This post originally ran back on May 16, 2008 as part of the Let's Go Shopping theme week.

A few years ago my husband and I got a membership to one of those warehouse stores. We didn't really research it, we just went with it. Probably because we heard it was supposed to be such a good deal. But it didn't take long before we were caught up in the abundance and spending too much money there. Plus, I grew increasingly suspicious of the quality of meats and other items. So we let our membership go and didn't really look back--until recently.

About nine months ago I started paying more attention to how much we spent at the grocery store on standard items like toilet paper, paper towels, etc. So I decided to conduct an experiment to see if shopping at the warehouse store would really save us money.

So here's what I did. I made a specific list and stuck to it. I didn't even look around to see what other items were there. The first visit felt successful, but I needed more guidelines. In the past I treated the warehouse store like a grocery store and went every week. This go around I made new rules. I would only go to the warehouse if I had a list of at least 10 items. Of course they had to be valid needs and not wants. I have to admit coming up with a list of 10 needs was tough, but that's the whole point. Doing so reduced my visits to once every three months.

After my first visit I created a spreadsheet to track my purchases against what I would have paid at the grocery store. I also wanted to be sure that I recovered my $50 membership fee. Here are the results:

Happily I recovered the membership fee just in this visit. For comparison I used King Soopers and tried to match up brands. Often I calculated price based on quantity and I used King Soopers' sale price whenever possible. Notice that toothpaste was not a big bargain.

Usually stuff like toilet paper and paper towels do run out just around 3 months. For the things that we go through more quickly like Cliff bars and Vitamin water our house rule is "when it's gone, it's gone until the next scheduled trip."

Of course this is all just an estimate and I should track this over time, but I still think it shows that the Costco savings are worth it. However, I could easily slip back in to overspending if I didn't stick to my essential list (with a few exceptions like the delicious large container of blackberries I purchased last time for just $4.99).

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