Are wholesale club memberships worth the cost?

As inflation and shortages are driving up prices at the grocery store, you may wonder if you'd save more with a wholesale club membership, such as Costco, Sam's Club, or BJ's Wholesale Club.  

Shopping at wholesale clubs requires a membership fee, ranging from $45 to $120 a year. A USDA price survey found they often have lower prices on many groceries than traditional grocery stores, but not always.  

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Whether you'll save more than the cost of membership will depend on what you buy.

Once you pay the membership fee, wholesale club shoppers save money buying in bulk, paying lower prices per unit.

"You may get a ton of ground beef that you wouldn't normally buy in a regular grocery store. But the price overall is going to be better. And as long as you have the room to store it and freeze it, then it’s well worth your time to look into things like that," said Julie Ramhold with DealNews.


Just remember that buying a lot of something that you don't end up using is not a good deal.

"Don’t buy something just because it’s this huge package," said Ramhold.

To determine whether you'll save more than membership cost, Ramhold says list items you often buy and compare prices on the store websites.

"So if you’re getting 10 of something for $3 at your regular grocery store, and you’re having to pay more than that at a warehouse club, but it breaks down to lower price per unit, you can see that apples-to-apples savings," explained Ramhold.

Consider the size of your family.  One or two-person households won't need as much as larger families. And a University of Michigan study points out lower-income families may not be able to afford to buy in bulk.


Ramhold's tip to saving at wholesale clubs is to shop the sales and look at the website for deals you may not see in the store.

"If you have a membership, and you're not checking the website, you have no idea what you’re missing out on. It’s worth it," she said.

GasBuddy reports that wholesale clubs tend to have lower gas prices, and offer credit cards with cash back on gas purchases.  

Wholesale clubs also offer savings on big-ticket items, such as furniture, tires, and electronics.