There was recently a poll on Whitecoatinvestor’s forum on number of hours that we work, and I was embarrassed to see that I was actually on the upper end of the spectrum. I will make it a goal in 2017 to figure out a way to cut back hours, although it might also come with a pay cut.
That being said, my limited hours of free time certainly are reflected in my shopping patterns. I’ve got better things to do than to drive around finding the cheapest prices on items and foods that I need. Price shopping also takes mental power and an affinity to knowing what the going prices for items are. Some people have that knack. Some people don’t. Those who are intense price shoppers are the ones that pester their doctors to find the cheapest pharmacy for them as well. I could be one of those people, but I really don’t have the energy at the end of the week.
What do I do? I just shop at Costco and Sam’s Club. That’s right. Wholesale clubs. Some people hate them. The bulk. The crowds. I hate them too, but the stuff is [relatively] cheap with a slight premium twist.
The cost of wholesale clubs.
Membership isn’t free. Many people may not necessarily recuperate the cost of membership either. I’ve seen debates on the validity of purported cost savings at Costco and Sam’s Club. You buy two pounds of lettuce but a pound and a half rots. You don’t need 25 lbs of flour but you buy it because it’s “cheap”. However, if you spend a decent amount on bulk items, you could come out ahead and get a higher quality of product.
A standard membership at Costco is $55 a year. An executive membership is $110 a year, and you get a 2% rebate on all of your purchases. In order to make up the difference between the two tiers, you’d have to spend an extra $2,750 a year at Costco. That is not a small number. However, you also receive a second membership card. This allows other family member to use the same membership. I have an executive membership, and I share my card with a relative who doesn’t live nearby. I doubt that Costco actually cares, since it gives them another means to capture another customer. If you are in the market for a mortgage, you’ll come out ahead from getting better rates over the life of the loan.
The perks of wholesale club membership.
You don’t necessarily have to buy a ton of stuff to benefit from a wholesale club—you just have to have a general idea how much things cost in general to maximize your savings. For instance, Walmart/Target typically has a 2-pack of Colgate Total (8oz) toothpaste for $5. Costco had a 5-pack for $5! You’re not always going to save this big all of the time, but these little savings add up. Moreover, toothpaste is relatively shelf stable so you won’t have to worry about waste (you have to fill up you McMansion anyway!).
Gas. I violate one of the principle tenets of saving money: living close to your workplace. It just isn’t going to happen for me until I move somewhere else or hang up my hat completely. I spend a lot on gas. My strategy is simply to save some money when I fill up. Fortunately Costco has great savings at the pump. In general, prices are at least 10c/gal cheaper than anywhere else in my vicinity, so I save approximately $1.40 (oooh, big money) simply by filling up at Costco. With the Costco credit card, you automatically get another 4% back at the pump. If you have the Chase Freedom card, you can save 5% on gas purchases this quarter. I probably fill up once a week, so with the Chase Freedom card at Costco I “save” a little less than $3 on gas when I fill up 14 gallons at $2/gal. Will I get rich on this? No way. But it’s the best that I can do if I have to drive.
Penny pinchers beware.
If you are a price Nazi or a coupon clipper, membership clubs aren’t going to be for you. If you’ve had the luxury to shop midday and midweek, you can find really great deals on food items. I once found a 12oz bag of Gevalia coffee for $1.50 at a local (expensive) grocery store! If you are fortunate enough to have access to an Aldi grocery store (I do not), you can save quite a bit on groceries. That being said, most produce items at wholesale clubs aren’t going to be great deals, although the quality might be higher.
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Most busy people are going to consolidate their shopping trips. This might mean going to a wholesale club that’s 20 miles away every three weeks and stocking up on bulk items. You might even overpay (or pay a competitive price) on some items, but it can save you multiple trips elsewhere. In fact, the more items that your household needs in general the more you will likely benefit from joining a wholesale club.
How much of your monthly budget do you spend at wholesale clubs?