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.