How to Pick the Best Wholesale Club

Photo (cc) by goodiesfirst

Want to save 20 percent on groceries? Then stop buying them at the grocery store.

Wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club generally offer the best prices on groceries and household items, according to Consumers Union’s ShopSmart magazine.

For their December issue, ShopSmart compared the prices of 18 grocery items at wholesale clubs, supermarkets, big-box stores like Walmart and Target, and online retailers like Amazon. Fifteen of the items proved at least 20 percent cheaper – and as much as 63 percent cheaper – at wholesale clubs.

Plus, wholesale clubs are good for more than just cheap groceries, especially this time of year.

“Take advantage of club ‘extras’ like eyeglasses, gas, cell-phone service, and health screenings, and your membership will pay for itself even faster,” as ShopSmart found. “Same goes for holiday shopping. The clubs are full of great gift ideas, including books, movies, clothes, and electronics, so now is a good time to join.”

How to decide

If you’re ready to join a wholesale club or try a different one, a little homework will help you get the most out of your membership.

I belonged to Costco for years but now love BJ’s Wholesale Club. I chose Costco because it was on my way home from work, but I didn’t end up shopping there often because it was always a zoo at that hour. I fought for parking just to wait in a long line. So as soon as a BJ’s opened in a less-trafficked location that’s closer to my house, I switched.

If you have more than one club to pick from, consider which factors are most important to you before you sign up…

  1. Basic membership cost: This expense doesn’t vary much from club to club, but if you don’t expect to take advantage of your membership often, consider Sam’s Club, where it’s $10 to $15 cheaper.
  2. Locations: Costco and Sam’s Club are by far the most common, but you may have clubs in your area that you didn’t realize were there. (I didn’t know till now that there’s a Sam’s Club 20 minutes away from my house – just because it’s in a city I seldom drive through.) So be sure to take a minute to plug your ZIP code into all three clubs’ websites.
  3. Hours: If you’re a night owl like me, consider BJ’s, which is often open till 10 p.m. If you’re an early bird, paying an extra $60 a year for Sam’s Club’s Plus membership opens the doors at 7 a.m.
  4. Coupon policy: If you’re a big couponer, you’ll prefer BJ’s. Costco and Sam’s Club don’t accept manufacturer coupons.
  5. Return policy: If you expect to return much, consider Costco or Sam’s Club, which both have generous policies.

A cheat sheet

BJ’s

  • Basic membership cost: $50/year (A free 60-day trial membership is also available till Dec. 31.)
  • Locations: More than 180 stores in 15 states
  • Hours: My BJ’s is open till 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, as are many other locations. (A few close at 9 p.m.) Almost every location opens at 9 a.m. daily.
  • Coupon policy: In addition to the in-house coupons that BJ’s posts online and mails to members, they also accept manufacturer coupons.
  • Return policy: BJ’s return window is 30 days (14 for computers). They do not allow online purchases to be returned to a store – and they won’t pay to ship them back either. BJ’s also has a relatively lengthy list of nonreturnable items.

Costco

  • Basic membership cost: $55/year
  • Locations: 433 stores in 40 states and Puerto Rico, 82 stores in Canada
  • Hours: Most locations close by 8:30 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on weekends. Most locations do not open until 9:30 or 10 a.m.
  • Coupon policy: Costco offers online-only coupons for online purchases but does not accept any non-Costco coupons.
  • Return policy: Costco is known for having an accommodating return policy. Their return window is endless with the exception of certain electronics, which must be returned within 90 days. Costco also allows online purchases to be returned to a store or will pay to ship them back.

Sam’s Club

  • Basic membership cost: $40/year
  • Locations: Sam’s Club has 596 stores, according to their last annual report, but that includes stores located in Puerto Rico (9) and foreign countries (127).
  • Hours: Most stores close at 8:30 p.m. on most days and open at 10 a.m. on most days. Business and Plus members can shop as early as 7 a.m.
  • Coupon policy: I scoured Sam’s Club’s website but couldn’t find any mention of whether they accept manufacturer coupons. According to ShopSmart, however, they do not accept them.
  • Return policy: Sam’s Club’s return policy is essentially the same as Costco’s with the exception of auction purchases, which must be returned within 30 days.

Karla Bowsher runs our Deals page, writes “Today’s Deals” posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; and covers consumer and retail issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
21 Purchases You Should Never Skimp On
21 Purchases You Should Never Skimp On

With some items, it makes sense to pay a little more rather than hopping on the lowest price.

12 Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Checks
12 Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Checks

You may be eligible for more retirement income than you realize.

The 3 Worst Money Mistakes You Are Making at the Gas Station
The 3 Worst Money Mistakes You Are Making at the Gas Station

Beware these cash-guzzling missteps when you stop at any gas station.

5 Awesome Places You Can Retire Overseas on $2,000 a Month or Less
5 Awesome Places You Can Retire Overseas on $2,000 a Month or Less

In this week’s podcast: tips on retiring overseas — from someone who’s been helping American expats for decades.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.