Is Buying in Bulk Really Cheaper? Costco vs. Super Walmart

Welcome to My Personal Finance Journey! If you are new here, please read the “About” or “First-Time Visitor” pages to find out more about us. If you would like to receive free updates on articles like this by email, then sign up here or you can subscribe to the RSS feed. Also, check us out on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for visiting! Keep on learning!

Costco, Sam's Club, bulk discount, buying in bulk, food and groceries, grocery stores, walmart, saving money, frugal living

Click here to enter my free $50.53 giveaway for a chance to win 5% of My Personal Finance Journey blog income and give another 5% to a charity of your choosing! Deadline to enter is April 30th, 2013.

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer Travis.  Travis is a customer blogger for Care One Debt Relief Services, and also appears weekly at Enemy of Debt.  Travis candidly shares his personal journey to pay off $109,000 of credit card debt and the tips he’s learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.
A few months ago, a Costco opened up near my home.  My wife and I checked it out as guests of some friends who had purchased a membership.  I was skeptical of even going, as I haven’t been a fan of buying in bulk for the following reasons:
·           Many times, the product isn’t any cheaper per unit, it’s just in a big package.
·           Buying in bulk can cause people to buy and consume more.
·           Bigger packages can mean waste because products expire or get stale before they’re used up.
On the other hand, as we walked around the store,  I saw many great products.  I also saw products that we normally use in bulk sizes.  I remembered a comment on a different blog post about club store shopping that suggested making a monthly trip to the store,  purchasing items in bulk once a month, then filling in other things around it as needed from a “regular” grocery store.
Before unleashing my checkbook on a Costco membership and products, I wanted to ensure that buying products at Costco that we actually use will save us money.  I spent time walking through both Costco and a Super Walmart, where we usually purchase the bulk of our groceries,  comparing prices to find out which of the products my family uses would be worth purchasing at Costco.
The following is just a sample of the comparative data of commonly used products from both stores:
Orville Redenbachers Smart Pop 94% fat free microwave popcorn:

Costco:           $10.99 for 40 packages                  (27.5 cents per bag)
Walmart:         $5.18 for 10 packages                    (51.8 cents per bag)
Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter: 

Costco:           $10.99 for two 48oz jars                  (11.4 cents per ounce)
Walmart:         $4.08 for a 28oz jar              (14.6 cents per ounce)
Bounty Paper Towels:

Costco:           $19.99 for 12 Jumbo Rolls             (23 cents per square foot)
Walmart:         $  9.97 for   6 Super Rolls               (39 cents per square foot)

Costco:           $14.95 for 5lbs of 88/12                  ($2.95 per pound)
Walmart:         $  4.28 for one pound of 90/10      ($4.28 per pound)

Costco:           $5.99 for a 24 pack                          ($5.99 per 24 pack)
Walmart:         $6.48 for a 24 pack                          ($6.48 for a 24 pack)
Red Grapes:

Costco:           $9.92 for 4 pounds                          ($2.48 per pound)
Walmart:         Varies                                                 ($2.48 per pound)
I was surprised that almost every item that I checked was significantly cheaper when bought in bulk at Costco (negating one of my earlier points). 

Products purchased by household will vary, but I didn’t find many products that I would have an expiration problem with.  For example, with the hamburger, I would separate it into five 1-pound packages, put into freezer bags, and freeze them.  I would have a concern about the peanut butter, as I’m not sure we would use that much peanut butter before the second jar would go bad.  This may be a good opportunity to split the cost with a neighbor, each taking one of the gigantic jars.

I found that Costco carried many products that I normally cannot find at Walmart, such as a wide selection of non-frozen seafood.  However, I also found that  Costco did NOT carry some products that we use every week.  For example, the frozen pizza selection at Costco was horrible.  For that item alone, we would have to make a weekly trip to Walmart or some other store to pick up frozen pizza. 
While shopping at Costco looks to be able to save us quite a bit of money, the biggest obstacle will be coming up with the funds for what will likely be a large and quite expensive monthly shopping trip.
How about you, readers, do you shop at Costco or another club store?  How often during the month do you shop there, and how do you budget for an expensive shopping trip?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Image courtesy of Ambro /