Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJ’s Wholesale Club make items a bargain by selling them in bulk, but the savings don’t always add up. Sometimes, shoppers are actually better off buying the small size. The following items are just a few of the warehouse-club wares worth avoiding.
Last posted by Jason Notte | Cheapism
Costco sells a Heinz “picnic pack” with two 32-ounce ketchups, one 28-ounce mustard, and one 26-fluid-ounce pickle relish. Condiments have a long fridge life, but it isn’t indefinite: Relish lasts nine months, ketchup lasts six, and mayo lasts just two, according to the Department of Agriculture. Unless you’re hosting a big event and will use all of this, stick to the supermarket.
Parents know that Amazon, Target, Walmart, and outlets already have cheap diapers. Warehouse club diapers are inexpensive, but the smallest quantity available at Costco in size 1 (from newborns up to 14 pounds) is 192 diapers. A child might outgrow the size before the package runs out. Smaller quantities are available at Target and Amazon — which have subscription services with delivery and discounted prices.
Stylish Clothes and Shoes
Costco and Sam’s Club will occasionally offer club-only deals on Levi’s jeans, Adidas sneakers, and Michael Kors handbags. But Costco admits it isn’t a “fashion retailer,” which means designer labels that turn up under its roof aren’t there to set trends. It might just be an unpopular style that a designer label is trying to unload quickly. Let taste be your guide.
With department and discount stores so willing to offer coupons and discounts for luggage sets, warehouse stores such as Sam’s Club seldom have the overall best deals on luggage. It pays to shop around before packing up.
Unless you like one particular cereal and can stomach 40 to 70 ounces of it over several weeks, you’re better off hitting supermarket sales and getting more variety. Sale prices often dip below even the best bulk prices if you can keep track of your ounce counts.
Vegetable, corn, sunflower, canola, and olive oil are good for only three to five months after opening, according to the USDA. Those sold at the warehouse stores are great for restaurants, but they’re going to be tough to use at their freshest by a small family.
Costco sells extra-large eggs in packs of two dozen for close to $5. Safeway’s extra-large eggs are roughly the same price for the same amount. Meanwhile, eggs at a supermarket can typically cost up to 50 cents less per dozen at a supermarket than at a warehouse store.
Trust a writer who’s made many a regrettable trip through the candy, chocolate, and cookie aisle: If you bring it home, you’re going to eat it. You’re also going to see it as an infinite supply and not take stock of how much you’re snacking. Consider the higher price of smaller packaging a tax on your vices.
While Clorox puts the shelf life of liquid bleach at one year, some consumers say it starts to break down well before that time. If you’re a janitor, maybe a three-count box of 12-ounce bleach bottles will come in handy. If not, turn to small bottles of generic to save money.
Books and Blu-Ray Discs
You can get deals on books and Blu-ray discs just about anywhere online. Without a back catalog to choose from and stocking only premium items such as new-release hardcovers, new Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo packs, or Disney items, books and Blu-ray discs are warehouses’ impulse buys, which is why Costco puts them so close to the end of its loop, just before the snacks.
Liquid and Cream Eye Makeup
According to Good Housekeeping, those multipacks of mascara and liquid eyeliners go bad in just three months. Cream eyeshadows have only six months, which might also make them bad warehouse club purchases, but powder eye shadows and pencil liners are good for up to two years.
There are some really gross reasons not to buy in bulk. Ointments and creams break down after three to 11 months; and stuff that comes into contact with the hands have short shelf lives and can cause bacterial infections.
Baking Powder and Dry Yeast
Anyone who’s ended up with flat bread, cookies, or pastry by accident knows the shelf life of baking ingredients is finite. The USDA gives baking powder and dry yeast six months at best after it’s open, which doesn’t make for great bulk purchases unless making giant batches at a time.
Like other baking items, whole grain or whole wheat flour is good for only up to six months after opening, while processed white flour gets eight months in the pantry or a year in the fridge. Even occasional bakers should resist the 25-pound bag.
You can raid the bulk vitamin section for most items, but not probiotics. Those expire after roughly a year, with some requiring refrigeration to get there.
Liquid laundry detergent starts to degrade within six months of being opened. The container sizes sold at warehouse stores can last multiple years, but will not be nearly as potent by the end of the bottle.
Dishwasher detergent fares even worse than laundry detergent. According to Good Housekeeping, dishwasher detergent retains peak effectiveness for only three months. You’re better off hand washing in dish soap, which lasts 18 months.
Nuts and Seeds
You’ll get two to nine months out of a jar of nuts after you open it, but it’ll smell and taste odd almost immediately afterward. They contain a lot of natural fats, which tend to go rancid after a while. Freezing helps, but buying in smaller amounts from supermarket bulk aisles or on sale is smart.
Your grandparents kept bread in the freezer and you could too … but why? Bread gets marked down at supermarkets and bakeries based on freshness and isn’t all that costly to begin with. Unless you crave more-expensive seeded and multigrain breads or feel the need to hoard loaves, just pick it up as needed and scrounge the supermarket bakery section.
McCormick, which wants to sell you more spices, says herbs and seasoning blends last one to three years, and whole and ground spices for two to four. But the USDA agrees, and that makes buying spices in bulk a good idea only if you’re actually going to use them in that time. Cheap dollar-store spices and loose spices present better, more manageable options.
Yes, those big boxes of cans look like a great buy, but canned goods reward the patient shopper. The Canned Food Alliance and its partner supermarkets host Canned Food Month every February and drop prices to just cents per can. Since canned goods have incredibly long shelf lives, we recommend checking out those sales before sprinting to warehouse stores.
Supermarkets use cheap soda as a loss leader to bring people into the store and buy more items. It’s why soda so frequently appears at the entrance to a store, and it’s why it is often cheaper at supermarkets than at warehouse clubs.
Oats, rye, barley, dry beans, and even brown rice have life spans measured in months, or maybe a year if you freeze them, the USDA says. Though white rice can hang out for up to two years in a pantry, forgo the 25-pound bags of everything else and stick to manageable sizes.
Cold and Flu Medication
A bulk pack of Vicks DayQuil/NyQuil Liquicaps at Sam’s Club comes out to 28 cents per capsule, while a 24-pack at Walmart tends to work out to around 36 cents per capsule. Though Harvard Health says even expired medications can still be effective, keeping it in bulk almost ensures it will lose some of its potency before it’s finished.
This depends on the household. At Costco, cucumbers come in packs of three, peppers in packs of six, and cherry tomatoes in 2-pound containers. If you have enough salad nights in a week to knock them out, splurge. If you don’t think that six-count bag of avocados will keep long enough to make it worthwhile, pass and pick up a few singles at the supermarket.
It doesn’t spoil, so a 25-pound bag of it can be a great buy. But the 25-pound bag of store-brand pure cane sugar at Walmart sells for less than the same quantity of Domino Pure Cane Sugar at Sam’s Club.
Sunscreen and Lotion
Sunscreen and lotion last up to three years under ideal conditions, but exposing it to heat also causes it to lose effectiveness more quickly. Inexpensive as that multipack may be, check the expiration date and be honest about how much you’ll actually use in a summer.
Big packages of paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, and other paper goods are warehouse staples. But when Sam’s Club’s 15 rolls of 150-sheet paper towels go up against Walmart’s 12 rolls of 168 sheets, the warehouse’s $1.17 a roll isn’t all that much better than Walmart’s $1.25.
Even electronics retailers such as Best Buy are routinely undersold by online shops, and the warehouse stores can’t come close to matching the best deals. Though the location of the best laptop deals varies by season, it’s almost never at a warehouse store.
Not only are you limited to a warehouse store’s meager furniture offerings, but there’s no room for haggling and no wiggle room on pricing. An independent furniture store will likely cut a bigger break.
There are people out there who really love warehouse club beer. Unfortunately, as BeerDates knows all too well, even warehouse club beer starts breaking down after three months or so. Those beers can be cheap with a volume discount, but they shouldn’t be stockpiled.
Chicken and ground beef might be competitively priced during supermarket sales, but Costco notoriously sells rotisserie chicken as a loss leader, meats do fine in the freezer, and more exotic meats can also be better deals for club members.
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