Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Importance Of Warehouse Clubs

I thought I'd take a cue from the cookbooks of Thomas Keller and write a series about the things (stores, ingredients, techniques, people, etc.) that are essential to eating well on the cheap. My first post in "The Importance Of ..." series follows.

Ah, the warehouse club. That land of 5 gallon mayonnaise jars, 200-roll packs of toilet paper, and row upon row of products that seem best-suited for those with nine children of large appetite. But the modern warehouse club offers more than bulk size products, and I believe that a membership (even though it costs $40-50/year) is an important addition to a frugal foodie's life.

What do I buy at the warehouse club? Household goods like paper towels, toilet paper, soap, and laundry detergent are probably the most common items. But I've also bought cookbooks, clothing, and electronics, all at great prices compared to online stores or even discount stores like Wal-Mart or Target.

As for food products, there are a few things I buy regularly. Frozen chicken breasts and thighs are one, and frozen salmon fillets another. Both are great to have on hand for quick weeknight meals. I don't think you can find a better price on Parmigiano Reggiano anywhere. Soda is a great deal, particularly for those of who need Diet Coke in their veins to survive. I don't often buy huge packs of fresh meat or giant packs of canned goods, but I would definitely do so if I had a bigger family or threw large dinner parties using relatively expensive cuts of meat.

My favorite warehouse club purchase was a cookware set from Costco, a review of which I will be posting shortly. I've also stocked my kitchen with a Rubbermaid Stain Shield storage container set that has is sadly no longer available from Costco.

Costco and Sam's Club both have 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed return policies. In theory that means you can return anything you've ever purchased for any reason, but returns are at the discretion of the manager, particularly if you're trying to return something purchased a long time ago. I can report that last week I returned to Costco a broken year-old DVD player for a full refund. That alone was worth my $50 membership. So if you're buying items that might break within a year or two, such as kitchen appliances or electronics, a warehouse club is your best bet. There's no need to waste your money on an extended warranty. Even better, you can buy food and drink items without fear that you'll be getting something you don't like. If it tastes terrible, just return it.

Warehouse clubs are important. You can get high-quality products at dollar-store prices, particularly if you know how to spot a great value. I don't buy everything at a warehouse club, but the things I do buy there are a better value than I can get anywhere else.

Note: I've belonged to both Costco and Sam's Club, and I must say I'm partial to Costco. If I didn't have a Costco nearby, I'd join a Sam's Club. But given the choice, I'd choose Costco. The product selection is better suited to my slightly upscale tastes. (Example: Costco sells Heinz ketchup, Sam's Club sells Hunt's.) The meat and produce are of higher quality. The gourmet foods selection is greater. The employees at Costco are better paid. (Is this why the employees are more productive in checkout and more helpful with customer service?) My parents belong to a BJ's in Long Island, but I've never shopped there. BJ's appears to only have a 30-day return policy, which may be a deal killer for some.


Anonymous said...

You are preaching to the choir about Costco. I don't know why anyone in their right mind *wouldn't* shop there, the place is amazing. I just got a fabulous deal on a high quality Sealy Posturepedic mattress ($600 for a king size mattress and box) and I love knowing that after ten years I can take it back, no questions asked. I'm about ready to buy a set of stainless steel and copper cookware (also Kirkland brand) for less than $200! The price and quality of things like goat cheese, bell peppers, and spinach can't even be beat by Whole Foods.

Yep, Costco and I are pretty much BFF.

Shoaib Shahriar said...

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