Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Financial Advice: Go Wholesale

The other day, I decided to do some comparison shopping, comparing the new Wal Mart groceries-only store I often shop at due to its low prices and physical proximity and the local CostCo. I bought some items I needed at the CostCo after working out at the gym across the street and then swung by the Wal Mart to get some fruit and compare the prices.

On the way to the Wal Mart is the QuikTrip where I often get gas. It was $3.15 per gallon there, but at the CostCo, it was $2.80 per gallon. If I save around $0.30/gallon (the difference isn't always the same) and I generally get 12-13 gallons of gas at a time, this saves $3.60 to $3.90 per tank. Over the course of a year, assuming I get gas around once per week, this would save $187-200. Considering a CostCo membership is  $55 per year, this would pay for itself massively. Even if the difference is only $0.10 per gallon, that's $60-70ish per year--still a net profit.

Once actually at the Wal Mart, I compared the cost of a gallon of one percent milk (the kind I usually get) to the cost of the two percent milk I got at CostCo. The CostCo milk was around $1 cheaper per gallon. If I consume a gallon of milk every two weeks, that saves me $25 per year.

I also compared the price of ice cream, which at the Wal Mart was $3 for 1.75 quarts but approximately $10 for two half-gallons sold together at CostCo. I busted out my calculator and found that at Wal Mart rates, it would be $13 for a full gallon of ice cream. I purchase ice cream much less often so I cannot calculate how much I'd save per year, but considering how I sometimes accompany cereal with raisins and bananas with a homemade milkshake for additional protein and fat (so I don't get hungry too fast during the day), it's probably a bit of money.

I didn't join CostCo until I'd been up on the Northside for awhile, probably more than a year since I took the new job. Before, when I lived on the Southside, I would periodically take advantage of the free month or two deals at the BJ's in McDonough. However, that was mostly to get the Tyson chicken fingers that only wholesalers seem to carry and the huge cinnamon muffins, with gas being an afterthought. I'd thought that since I was a single person, I simply wouldn't consume enough to make it worth the yearly membership fee. I had friends who were the first to make the leap into wholesale membership, but considering how it was two roommates and later one's eventual wife sharing a membership, I figured they'd eat enough to make it worthwhile.

In retrospect, that was a mistake. I don't remember the gas at BJ's being that much cheaper than elsewhere, but as my earlier example reveals, a $0.10 difference can be a substantial difference per year. BJ's membership is $50/year, so $60-70 would be a net profit, even if it would be only enough to see a movie or two.

So this is my advice to you, dear reader. Even if you're single, if you live a convenient distance from a wholesale club that has a gas station attached, get a membership. It might require revamping your shopping habits a bit (in my case, that means getting stuff that goes bad fast on separate trips), but even a little savings will add up. I didn't, and it probably cost me a few hundred bucks.

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