Are Wholesale Clubs Really Worth It?

Over the weekend, I took a trip out to Costco to renew my membership and do a little bit of shopping. As I was picking up our two breakfast staples – oatmeal and yogurt, a curious thought crossed my mind – is buying here really worth it?

Never mind the $50 basic membership fee I shelled out at the checkout counter for the year. Are the products I’m buying more cost effective here than at the local supermarket?

If you’ve ever read common “wholesale” advice or have done this sort of analysis before, you have probably found that the answer is a resounding yes.

On an apples-to-apples comparison of products, buying in bulk is more cost-effective (if you can actually use the products before they go bad). And it makes perfect sense that it would be – you are buying more product and paying for less packaging.

But consider an interesting question. When shopping at your local supermarket, do you purchase the name brand merchandise, or opt for the generic brand? In my example of oatmeal and yogurt, I like the generic versions of both.

But when buying at the wholesale club, I didn’t have this choice. If the club even carries the item I want, there is only one type available and it’s typically name brand.

If you believe as I do (although some tests are not as conclusive), that generics are just as good and wholesome (and identical) as their more expensive counterparts, then you are more than within your right to compare a supermarket generic to a wholesale name brand. As with store items that are “on sale,” no matter how much an item is discounted, you are still spending money.

If a per-unit cost on a wholesale name brand is greater than the cost of a supermarket generic, does the extra perceived “quality” in the product justify the expense in your own mind? Or are you just as content eating simply packaged and less expensive products?

So did I lose or save money at the store this weekend? It turns out the name brand oatmeal was still cheaper, per packet, than the generic stuff I buy locally. But the only available yogurt (from the brand I eat) was individually packaged, while I buy large, generic tubs at the supermarket near my house that will end up costing less in the long run.

If you spend a lot of money on food, it’s worth doing this quick analysis for yourself and finding out where you really stand.

Photo by greenwenvy08