Warehouse retailers like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s are popular with families looking for ways to reduce money stress or businesses that need to stock up on products. They’re also favored by people who might try to minimize inflation’s impact on their grocery bills.
But not everything you can buy in bulk at a warehouse retailer is a good deal. In fact, there can be times when buying in bulk isn’t worth it. Before you head out for your next shopping trip, check out the ways that buying in bulk might not be a good plan.
You need to buy a membership before getting savings
You have to pay for a membership to take advantage of some of the savings at a warehouse retailer. But are you saving enough to justify the cost of that membership?
Comparing the cost savings on warehouse club products to the membership fees you must pay can help you figure out if a member card is worth the price. Also, factor in the fact that some of these retailers might raise their fees. Costco, for example, has hinted that it might increase the cost of its membership this year.
Pro tip: You might be able to buy some warehouse retailers’ products even without a membership. For example, some states prohibit warehouse clubs from restricting the sale of alcohol to those with a membership. You also might be able to order lunch for a low price at a store’s food court without a membership.
Perishable food goes bad
Perishable food is no bargain if you buy it in bulk and end up tossing much of it into the garbage after it goes bad.
Strawberries, for example, might come in a 2-pound package when you shop for them at Costco instead of a typical 1-pound package at your grocery store. But if you don’t eat all 2 pounds relatively promptly, they may go bad and you could end up wasting food and money.
It’s the same issue for items such as other fruits, vegetables, and dairy items. Instead, it might be smart to stick with shelf-stable items — or things you know you will eat quickly — when shopping at the warehouse club.
You might not have the space to store bulk items
Bulk items tend to take up extra space compared to your typical grocery items. So, as you shop, think about whether you have the space to store your purchases.
Perhaps you have some places where you can squirrel away extra cereal or canned goods. But frozen or refrigerated items may pose a big problem if you don’t have the space for them at home.
Variety packs often have things you don’t like
Costco and other retailers may offer a variety pack of items you love. Perhaps it’s a box of yogurts in three flavors or a pack of chips in a variety of flavors.
You may think you’re saving money, but if you only like half of the flavors in the variety pack, those not-so-loved options can become wasted money. Instead, stick with variety packs in which all flavors appeal to you, or simply buy your favorite flavor at the local grocery store instead.
You end up with more than you need
Condiments may be one of the most common examples of buying more than you need when you purchase them in bulk. You might enjoy adding ketchup or mustard to your burgers and hot dogs at home, but you probably don’t need bulk-size bottles of these condiments taking up space in your fridge.
The same can be true for bulk spices and seasonings, which may lose their flavor by the time you get to the bottom of them. Instead, add these items to your shopping list at the local grocery store to ensure you have the amount you need at home without going overboard.
It’s easy to end up with expired goods
Buying in bulk can make it easier to ensure you have items on hand when you need them. But it could also mean you will soon have a shelf full of items past their expiration date.
So, check the expiration before you leave the store and think about whether it’s an item that you will completely use before the date is up.
The per-item cost isn’t always a great savings
Buying an item in bulk likely is going to cost you more money up front, but it can be easy to justify the price when you break it out on a per-item basis. At least, that is true in many cases.
However, there may be times when the per-item cost isn’t so different from what you would find when shopping at your local grocery store.
Check the price of items you frequently buy at both a regular store and a warehouse retailer to see how much you may — or may not — save at the warehouse store once you break down the per-item cost.
Pro tip: It may be a good idea to compare these prices on a regular basis. Factors like supply issues can result in fluctuating prices at both your local grocery store and warehouse retailers. So, keep your eye on price developments at both types of stores.
It can bust your budget
You might think you’re shopping smart when you head to a warehouse retailer to buy in bulk. But your budget can take a beating once you get to the checkout lane.
Buying in bulk can save you money in the long run, but you will pay up front for costs instead of spreading them out. A 12-pack of soup, for example, might seem like a deal on a per-can basis. But you have to pay for 12 cans at once instead of spacing out that cost over several trips to a local grocery store.
If you have trouble paying your bills in full each month, buying in bulk can leave you vulnerable to busting your monthly budget, possibly forcing you to put other expenses on high-interest credit cards. That is no way to save.
Trying something new can be more expensive
Costco and other retailers may carry items that you can’t find in your local store. You may see something new that looks appealing to you, only to discover you don’t like the item once you get it home.
Now, you are stuck with a bulk-sized version of something you don’t like that created a bulk-size hole in your wallet.
Pro tip: If you're a member, you can take advantage of Costco's lenient return policy as well as these other clever Costco shopping hacks.
Buying in bulk can be a great way to save money and stick within your budget, especially if you use the right points-earning credit cards. On the other hand, you can actually lose money if bulk-buying mistakes trip you up.
Spend a little time in the aisles of your favorite warehouse retailers and check prices and products to make sure you’re really getting the best deal by buying in bulk.