“Shop in stores with concrete floors.”

By Paul Michael on 7 January 2007 23 comments

A self-made millionaire gave me that little nugget of wisdom. And boy oh boy, he was dead on the money. Basically, those huge warehouse stores (like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ's) are a treasure trove of cheap deals for the frugal shopper.

Now, I’m not suggesting everything they sell is quite right for your needs. A five-gallon drum of relish is probably going to go bad long before I get to use even half of it. But when it comes to things like toilet paper, cling wrap, aluminum foil, freezer goods, meats, anything like that, you’re getting a steal. I bought an industrial size roll of aluminum foil two years ago, and it’s still looking like it could last another two years.

Admittedly, the big stores are members-only places, and usually you pay anywhere from $30-$100 per year for the right to shop there. But you’ll make that back on your first big shop. I know I did. And on some of the larger electronic items, furniture, fridges, washers and driers, well, the price of admission is worth it to get that huge discount on one big purchase. (See also: These 6 Costco Items Will Easily Cover Your $55 Membership)

If you’re still not convinced, go by your local warehouse store and see the deals for yourself. Most of them will give you a pass to go and look around for free. Some even give you a one-day special, allowing you to buy whatever you want without paying the membership fee. But trust me, you’ll find way too many low prices to ever think about shopping at a regular grocery store again. (See also: 16 Tips to Shopping Warehouse Stores)

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Will Chen's picture

I didn't know there was such a thing. If I were a college student I might abuse that and buy like a whole year's worth of beer and cheetos in one year!

Lynn Truong's picture

my bf calls costco the happiest place on earth.

and regarding their refund policy - let's just say i saw someone return a pie...it was completely eaten...

Will Chen's picture

so what did they return, exactly? *shudder*

Lynn Truong's picture

the empty container w/some crumbs

Andrea Karim's picture

I bought a couch at Costco Home Store in August, and it has turned out to be a bad purchase. Lovely to look at, difficult to sit on. I was at the Home Store yesterday, and asked about returning it, and low and behold, they'll take it back if I bring it in. I mean, I'm sure there will be some sort of catch, but I asked all KINDS of questions, and they said that as long as there are no wild animals living in it, they'll be happy to accept it back.

I HATE going to Costco (long lines, slow women pushing large carts full of screaming children, Disneyland-like parking lots), but I have to admit, they can save you quite a bit.

Paul Michael's picture

I really had no idea it had no sell by date. Maybe I should eat more relish. But I concur, the lines and the hassle are a pain. I shop at Target for most things. But on bullk buy items, Costco is a great place to go.

Andrea Karim's picture

Hey, sorry I didn't properly greet you. I don't have time today to go back through the weekend's posts, so I don't always realize what changes occur here. Welcome to Wise Bread.

Relish probably does have a sell by date, but as far as I can tell, there's nothing organic contained in the jar, and thus nothing to spoil. The Costco purchase that I most regret was a huge jar or artichoke hearts (my bf's idea). I think he ate ONE artichoke, and then the jar sat at the back of the fridge for a year until I realized it was an unnatural color. I still get queazy thinking about it.

Guest's picture

i used to work for costco so heres the lowdown:

costco makes their money from memberships not products.

got the receipt? costco will take it back...


i once watched someone exchange a 2 year old big screen tv with a whole in the screen part for the newer equivalent...

Will Chen's picture

Hi Jess, do you have any insights regarding the whole Costco return policy? Apparently they've changed their wonderful no-questions-asked-ever! policy for computers to a six-months limit, and there is speculation that they will do the same for televisions.

I did some research and it seems that Costco will try to curb returns with their new concierge service first, and if that doesn't lower the return rate for TVs, they will change the return policy.

Any comments? (sticks microphone under Jess's chin)

Fitch Hurst's picture

I’ve read a couple places that there’s a tendency (perhaps just for Americans) to consume more when more is available. Ever been at the end of your paper towel roll and you think twice about tearing off a new sheet because that means you had to refill it? Or you have that giant barrel of snacks (let's say, oh, Cheese Balls from Sam’s) so it doesn't matter if you grab a few handfuls each time you want a snack, which could be every couple hours. I found a book on Amazon, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, that mentions eating habits when we buy in bulk. It’s best to remember to treat your bulk purchases like you’re down to your last portion, whether it be tin foil or Cheesy Poofs, which I simply can’t do, so I avoid the concrete floors and yearly fees and I clip coupons like a sucker. And sometimes, like Andrea said, you won’t get to the food before it goes bad, then you’ve thrown away your money entirely. I’ll revisit the idea once I’m buying for more than two, certainly.

Paul Michael's picture

Wow, I didn't expect so much response from a first post.

Let me just say, I certainly don't subscribe to the overeating phenomenon that is sweeping most of the western world. As I probably didn't do such a good job of in the article, but will now, I was trying to say that the big warehouse stores are great for those non-perishable items that you will always need from now till the day you depart this life. Namely, things like toilet paper, kitchen paper, foil, clingwrap, cleaning products, soaps, shampoos, that kind of thing. Buy those in bulk, you'll always need them. But please, stay away from anything that will corrupt your good eating habits. No-one really needs an oil-drum sized ketchup supply. Well, McDonalds maybe, but watch SuperSize Me for the dangers of that.  

Guest's picture

I have a friend pick me up some items when he goes to those stores.I also belong to The grocerygame,there is a small fee for joining , the first store is 10.00 and every store after is 5.00 every eight weeks. It is just my husband and myself but we save over 50% or more every time we shop. The web site is worth checking out if you have never heard of it . There is also a trial membership for 1.00 for four weeks and the list is everyweek for items at the rock bottom prices. Thegrocerygame.com

Fitch Hurst's picture

Sorry, I didn't mean "you", Paul, I was talking to an over-consuming reader. Your (Paul's) article was just great!

Guest's picture

hmm...i dont work there anymore but i can only assume the returns were getting out of hand...


in my opinion it is a little ridiculous to refund a fully eaten pie or a big screen tv with what looks like a hole kicked in the screen...


one thing i liked about costco is that they are pretty willing to work with the customer.


that being said the one i worked at was the most sexist environment i'd ever been in. (i've heard this is a rare case though...) 



Will Chen's picture
Will Chen

I agree with your comment regarding the pie and the TV. People who do those returns only make things harder for the regular consumers.

I'm sorry to hear about the bad working environment at Costco. Is that the reason you left?

Guest's picture

pretty much. i still love costco as a store though....hahah

Will Chen's picture
Will Chen

That's pretty big of you.

Of course, if you ever want to write an expose on the dirty underbelly of Costco's employment practices, keep us in mind!

With regards to you Myspace quote:

"if you dont know where you are, then you won't know where you are going..."

I counter with: "Wherever you go, there you are."

Guest's picture

This might be a state by state case, but at Sam's club you don't need a membership to buy alcohol. (At least that's what I've seen in Wisconsin and Illionis). Typically though the prices on alcohol and beer aren't really a bargain though, you could do just as well by going to a well-stocked liquor store.

Guest's picture

in Massachusetts, either.
Beer isn't a great price, but the liquor and wine often have some bargains. For higher priced wine, you have to know exactly what you want. Bottles that would be as high as $60-$70, I've seen at Costco for $39.
Me, I drink the Beringers White Zin, 2/$9.


Guest's picture

Costco/Sams always have free samples on the weekends, and since I'm a member I often stop there in between other grocery stores just to 'taste' my way through a free lunch. Of course you have to practice self control and not buy anything that isn't on your list...Also, they are really good sources of paperbacks and new release books at very cheap prices. I've gotten three paperbacks for $5 there, by popular authors like Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, and Janet Evanovitch.

Guest's picture

There's an old story about a guy returning VERY expensive cigars after smoking them and getting a refund.....then getting arrested for arson ;-)

Guest's picture

If the cost of a year's membership is too high, go in with a friend to buy a single membership (or piggyback on your parents', like I do). It means you have to shop when they do, but there's nothing wrong with that, it gives us some bonding time.

Worth noting, however, Costco has gotten very difficult to shop from. As of 11/08 they will only accept payment in the form of cash and Discover cards (or maybe it's American Express, I can't recall, but I don't have one, whatever it is).

My parents just got membership at BJ's. It cost less for a year, the prices and merchandise are comparable to Costco. My brother, on the otherhand, got a Sam's Club membership, same deal, cheaper and comparable in cost/merchandise. The advantage of both of these is that I can join in their memberships for free or for a very low fee and shop independently of them.

So, my $.02.

Guest's picture
Pam Munro

If you don't want to buy in massive quantities - you can also shop at Smart & Final - originally for restaurants and so on, it has good deals in basic items & also large sizes of staples.