I was going through my phone’s five hundred browser tabs to clean them up and came across this Warehouse Club Grocery Comparision from Chief Mom Officer. I’ve met her a few times at FinCon. She’s in Connecticut, and I’m in Rhode Island, so we have a New England personal finance thing in common.
That article takes on a Herculean task – comparing prices at BJ’s (our local warehouse/Costco chain), Target, Aldi, and Price Chopper. I have an Aldi’s and a BJ’s very close to me, so it caught my attention. Readers know that I’m a big fan of Aldi, sometimes scoring chicken for under 50 cents a pound. With inflation, it’s much more difficult to find those deals. I used to be able to stock up a couple of times a month. Now, it’s hard to stock up on meat, but there’s often a deal on expiring take-home pizza or something else that catches my eye. I find that flexibility is important when grocery shopping.
Chief Mom Officer did all the hard work getting the data for her family. There are a ton of disclaimers because it’s impossible to control for all the variables. We have different size families, different grocery options available to us, different preferences for foods and specific brands, different sales, etc.
Here’s the data:
She came to it from the perspective of getting most of her shopping done at BJ’s. It’s convenient for her and her family. Life is busy; who wants to go to more than one store all the time? Me. I know I’m weird, but I like grocery shopping. I never get bugged for problems, and I love hunting for deals. I can almost go shopping during off-peak hours. I suspect that most people would rather not deal with the hassle.
We’ve tried BJ’s, but we always let the membership lapse. The last time we tried, our kids were very small. At ages 8 and 10 now, they are bigger. However, for some reason, they don’t like to eat food. (They don’t eat things that are not food, which is also important.) They simply aren’t big eaters. My wife is more into vegetarian-type dishes, and I’m a meat and potatoes type. I think warehouse shopping would work better if we didn’t want very different things.
Looking through this CMO’s data, I can see why Aldi works better for us than BJ’s. Our BJ’s doesn’t have gas. If it did, it might be worth the membership alone. Almost everything seems to be cheaper on Aldi’s list. Some things that CMO couldn’t find at Aldi, like apple juice and Ziploc-style bags, are readily available at my Aldi. My Aldi doesn’t have two liters of diet soda (any brand), so I have to go next door to Dollar Tree. That’s a pain, but it also helps when I get a household good that’s not a grocery item, such as the D-batteries on CMO’s list. They aren’t great D-batteries, but we use them very rarely.
One of the problems that I have with BJ’s is that I can’t see buying five dozen eggs. It’s too much for our family and fridge. If that’s BJ’s only option, I must go to Aldi’s or another grocery store. Similarly, we can’t go through a 3-pound bag of bananas before they spoil. At that point, I’m already shopping at multiple grocery stores, so I’m not saving time by avoiding going to two stores. If I shop at BJ’s, I’m still going to need to go to Aldi about twice a week to pick up little things that I forget, but also perishables.
As complex as it has been up to now, let’s ramp it to another level. Consider an item like 1000 feet of aluminum foil is $33 at BJ’s. We use very little aluminum foil, so 1000 feet last a long time. I did some math, and it could last us for more than ten years. So should I care about saving $7 in aluminum foil every ten years or saving $3 on English muffins a couple of times a month? The English muffins are potentially a $72 annual savings ($6 saved times 12 months) which is $720 more in the ten years of our extra $7 aluminum foil expense. My point is that it can matter quite how much you use a particular item on the list.
Our flexibility also saves us money. I was shocked at the price of 12 Honeycrisp Apples. I just buy a bag of apples (Gala, I think), and it’s closer to the price you have the Granny Smith apples ($5) than CMO’s price of $23. I will take that $18 in savings every day of the week. CMO covers some of this in her analysis by saying that there are some things that off-brand is fine and other things that they simply wouldn’t substitute.
Finally, we also have access to a military commissary which can get us specific brands at great prices. We don’t need a lot of specific brands, but if we did, we could use that fill-in gaps. We also have the smallest Walmart known to the world. The selection isn’t great, but the prices are great, and it is another option to fill some gaps. You may not have access to a military commissary, but a secondary option could work for you.
The good news is that you may have enough information with CMO’s data to extrapolate what works best for you and your family. She explains quite well how BJ’s is a better fit for her family. It makes complete sense. If we did some kind of weird family swap, I would probably shop the same way she does. At the same time, I can look at the same data and see that I save so much money with how I shop.
That is some very interesting data. We do not have an Aldi’s super close, and I’m don’t love the ones that around, so we tend to not shop there. We have a Walmart Market less than a mile from us so that’s where we go most, though my wife is always frustrated at the lack of options. On the good side, their gas tends to be the cheapest in the area.
We do not have BJ’s, we have Costo and Sam’s in the area, but Costo is pretty far and always insanely crowded. We’ve had a Sam’s membership forever, and have one close, but, when Covid hit I updated my membership to free shipping(as compared to free delivery), and I think that has saved us money because it’s hard to impulse buy when you aren’t in the store. When I’d see a person with a 72″ TV and a pack of hotdog buns, I always wonder which one actually brought them to the store.
Lazy Man says
I think Chief Mom Officer brought that last part up in her article – impulse shopping is an important consideration. I’ve done a lot of impulse shopping at Aldi, so I don’t know if either is a big winner for me in that regard.
These days, we do most of our grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s and Safeway. They are close to our home and we walk there. It’s good to get some steps in. I could get better price at WinCo, but we’d need to drive. Now, I go about once a month to stock up. WinCo is a cheaper grocery store.
I don’t like grocery warehouse clubs. I tried CostCo before and it wasn’t that much cheaper. We just don’t buy bulk. Also, the shopping experience really sucked.
Lazy Man says
I wish we had a Trader Joe’s. They were all over MA and California when I was there, but only one in Rhode Island and it’s far away. Aldi is like a discount version of Trader Joe’s.
robyn weinbaum says
i live within 5 miles of a BJs, 2 Aldi’s, 3 Publix, a Targt, and a SuperWalmart. there are also maybe 6 or 7 convenience stores and some dollar trees within a mile or so. Costco is about 8 miles away, so all of these are a 5 to 20 minute drive, some are a 5 minute walk. my oldest daughter, my spouse, and I enjoy grocery shopping. we are all very price aware, more important, we are time and space aware. 5 dz eggs won’t fit in the fridge. 20 lb of chicken will take up the whole freezer. Aluminum foil? i buy 33 ft maybe every 5 years. we know the prices at each store, what we need, and how long it will take to get the job done, including the checkout process and how rude the other patrons are [sorry walmart, you are the worst for that.] anyway, my daughter and my husband like to grocery shop with me [seriously, they will wait til i get home from work, because they want my company] go over the list with me, check the clock [Aldis closes at 8, BJs at 9, Publix at 10, Target 11, Walmart midnight] and off we go. Milk for grandbaby? BJs or Aldis. Bananas – BJs. Cheese – BJs or Aldis or Walmart. Canned Soup, Cereal, Salad: Publix, they ALWAYS have BOGOs on these items. Fresh or frozen vegetables: Publix or Aldis. Roasted Chicken, Jarlsberg, Toilet Paper, leggings, coffee: Costco. interestingly, about 18 months ago, Costco reduced the size of its toilet paper rolls by 12% [reduced the price by 8%] So we have to go to costco every 6 weeks instead of every 8 weeks even if we did not plan to go there. We stock up on seltzer there, my husband burnt out the motor on his SodaStream, and he doesn’t like the new model.