I admit it. I love my club card.
And if you have a look at my house and you will see evidence in every room and on almost every wall that I buy a lot of stuff at warehouse stores—especially groceries.
The question is: am I saving money on food by buying at a warehouse store?
After years of buying at bulk stores, we decided to conduct a flash price check. We chose several staples and objectively compared their prices in the same week. Our test included milk, bread, salad mix, ice cream, chicken breast, ground beef, and apples.
Rather than relying on ads, we scoured the stores to record shelf tags. And to standardize our measurement, we calculated the unit cost of each item (such as price per pound, gallon, or loaf). We also looked for products that were similar in size, geared for consumers rather than large, restaurant-grade packages.
In all but one case, warehouse store prices were cheaper. Discounts ranged from 14 percent to 80 percent. Only in boneless chicken breast did the grocery store win, with an offering that was $1 per pound less than the warehouse club—making the club chicken 30 percent more than the store on this particular day.
Other staples, such as milk, bread, and salad were substantially less expensive in the warehouse stores we samples. (Complete breakdown below)
These savings, however, come at a price. Membership in these clubs, such as Sam's Club, BJ's, and Costco ranges from $40 to $55 annually. It's a hefty up-front fee, but it can be recouped—and then some.
When we figured the savings on bread and milk alone ($.60 and $1.30 respectively), we calculated that a typical shopper could cover the membership fee in about six months or so.
Our unscientific snapshot mirrors a larger survey undertaken by Consumer Reports' Shop Smart magazine in 2012. Editors compared prices of 18 items at grocery stores and warehouse clubs, finding food prices that averaged 20 percent lower at warehouse stores.
Although the numbers would fluctuate based on a shopper's individual buying, our sample yielded an average savings of 24.7 percent at warehouse stores.
Consumer Reports' Shop Smart noted one exception to the warehouse club's price superiority: soda. It recommends purchasing soda when supermarkets run specials, which often cut the cost of carbonated beverages by 50 percent or more.
Here is a detailed look at some of the prices we found in early March:
Grocery Store: $3.69 / gal
Warehouse: $3.09 / gal (16% cheaper)
Grocery Store: $1.99 / lb.
Warehouse: $2.99 / lb. (33% more)
LEAN GROUND BEEF
Grocery Store: $3.99 / lb.
Warehouse: $2.99 / lb. (25% cheaper)
Grocery Store: $3.29 / loaf
Warehouse: $1.89 / loaf (40% cheaper)
Grocery Store: $2.29 / lb.
Warehouse: $1.59 / lb. (30% cheaper)
Grocery Store: $5.32 / lb.
Warehouse: $.99 / lb. (81% cheaper)
Grocery Store: $6.99 / half gallon
Warehouse: $5.98 / half gallon (14% cheaper)