When discount warehouses aren't a good deal

March 9, 2015

NEW YORK (3/10/15)--Buying in bulk: It's a no brainer, right?

If you can afford to do it, and the product is something you're going to use and have room to store, it makes sense to buy a lot of it at a steep discount. This is why warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam's Club are popular.

Last year, for instance, an extensive survey by Consumer Reports found that products as disparate as bacon, car batteries, coffeemakers, ice cream and laundry detergent are some of the best deals at Costco.

But while warehouse clubs can offer great deals, not everything is (MarketWatch March 5). Here are some products to consider buying elsewhere.

  • Media. Warehouse clubs still offer books, DVDs and CDs for their impulse-buy appeal, but these items can be found much cheaper online.
  • Perishables. Bulk items are affordable because it's less expensive to offer products at wholesale quantities. But if you're throwing vegetables away or finding that huge jar of mayo expired with only half of it used, you may be paying for products you're not using. 
  • Disposable diapers. These are something you're going to use a lot of, obviously, but they often can be bought as cheaply at stores like Target, Wal-Mart or even Amazon, which offers a discount for a diaper subscription and will deliver to your doorstep.
  • Laundry detergent. After six months detergent starts to become less effective, so it might make sense not to buy in bulk unless you're doing a lot of laundry.
  • Paper products. According to shopping experts, these tend to be some of the items most discounted at stores--particularly if you use coupons--with prices that often best the warehouse clubs.

Additionally, Consumer Reports makes the point that even if a discount warehouse has the lowest price, the product may not be of sufficient quality to make the savings worth it. The consumer review publication found that some of the Costco mattresses, gas grills, gel dishwasher detergents, facial tissue and toilet paper were not up to par.

For related information, read "Ironclad Couponing: Right Coupon, Right Store, Right Time" and "Is This Still Good? What Those Dates on Food Really Mean" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

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