Beware the Big Box Stores

I see people’s monthly transaction on a daily basis. I see where people shop and essentially how much they buy. One interesting thing I often see is families of 2, 3 and 4 with memberships to “quantity” stores like Sam’s, BJ’s and, of course, Costco.

These stores are great if you are having 25 of your favorite 8 year olds over for a party or getting basics for a new house, but as a weekly or monthly place to shop, they may not be great.

I know the argument: store things that do not spoil and you pay less because you buy in bulk. I think that would be the case if you consumed in bulk. People with 4 teenage boys should take advantage of these stores, but for most of us, they may not make sense.

Do not get me wrong, I’m not saying stop going to Costco, I’m saying, think about whether it really helps you save or whether you just pay less PER UNIT. Per unit means if you buy a bag of 50 chicken wings it may be a few cents less per chicken wing than at the grocery store where you can by 10 in a bag, but now you have to store and eventually eat 50 chicken wings. Maybe at some point, you will lose your taste for wings...

You can also buy so much more at those stores like printer ink and sweat socks, which can be stored. You may even have a second freezer for those wings, but if you buy all or many of your groceries at a bulk store, chances are you are overspending on groceries that eventually have to be thrown out or just sit forever in your pantry AND buying things you did not think you needed before you walked in.

What I see from side, is people who buy their groceries at these bulk stores often end up buying a lot more than they came into the store to buy. That’s how those stores are set up. You cannot go in for “a few things.” You spend $400-500/visit and you think, “it wouldn’t be worthwhile if I spent less.”

Pretty soon you are spending $1400-2000/month on groceries and various other stuff (e.g. sweat socks and printer ink) that you didn't know you needed until you saw them for such a low PER UNIT price. Plus, you have to pay the membership and carve out hours of your day to get to one of these stores (unless you live near one).

With online specialists (e.g. diapers.com and amazon) you can get similar prices and the chance that you buy 75 sponges is low. Do not be fooled by the PRICE per UNIT. Think about how 75 sponges fit into your life, your home, and your monthly expenses.

Generally, I do not recommend memberships to these stores with fewer than 5 people in a household (preferably with at least one teenage boy). They are usually not worth it and you spend a lot more because you simply “must have” so many of the other non-food items sold there.

We’re all thinking about using, wasting and consuming less these days, and sometimes bulk stores just do not make sense.