It may be a strange activity to enjoy, but I've always thought warehouse stores are fun to shop in if nothing else. The samples are plentiful, they sell candy in massive buckets, and they have those spinning desk chairs in the office section that make for great racing material down the boulevard-sized aisles. Not that I've tried it.
But to the real point here: Does shopping at warehouse stores actually save you money? Are they worth the $45-$55 annual memberships? The answer can be complicated, but here's a general look at which items are a wise bundle buy, and what's not cheaper-by-the-dozen.
The skip list
The first rule of bulk buying is don't buy what you don't need, and especially don't buy massive quantities of something you've never tried before.
Also, there are so many things on the shelves at warehouse stores such as Costco and Sam's Club that may seem like the cheaper deal for someone who hates looking at grocery ads or clipping coupons. But generally speaking, for those who really want to save a buck, toilet paper, cleaning products, cereal, packaged snacks and even coffee are not the better deal at a warehouse store. Supermarkets constantly have buy one, get one free deals on these items. And, if you're tossing in a manufacturer's coupon that many grocery stores will double, those warehouse prices may be a far cry from the real deal.
Meats typically are not the best prices at these stores, either, especially ground beef, according to Business Insider. They may be a good quality, but it's best to shop grocery store sales for meatier deals.
Other fresh foods such as produce and breads are usually more expensive at Costco and Sam's Club, according to Consumer Reports. And, unless you have a large family, they'll go bad before you can eat them.
Assuming you have enough storage space in your house, these are some unbeatable bulk deals:
Diapers, if you like Huggies, are about 20 percent cheaper at Costco than at a superstore, according to price-comparison blog SquawkFox.
The blog also found that a dozen eggs at the warehouse stores are about $1 cheaper than they are at a superstore.
High-end cheeses also can be a good deal if you don't mind freezing half of it, or eating it in a couple of days like I have been known to do.
You will have to be careful with frozen foods. Being a vegetarian, I've found that the frozen fruits and veggies are the stand-out deals at these stores. They keep well and the price is right for the quality and quantity. Frozen pizzas and some appetizers are good buys if you're expecting a crowd. Anything else is typically overkill, like the giant box of 300 fish sticks.
If you drink a lot of beer, or you have a party coming up, head to a warehouse store. A case of beer is about 25 percent cheaper than at a grocery store, Consumer Reports says, which is like a free six pack. Canned sodas also can be a good deal in bulk, but it's hard to say if it's the best deal in town because grocery stores often run those "buy two packs, get three free" deals.
Cakes and snack platters are usually much cheaper at warehouse stores as well. So if you do a lot of entertaining, Costco and Sam's Club are your friends.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.