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It’s something of an age-old argument among thrifty shoppers – can you save more by buying in bulk at a warehouse club store, or by using coupons and shopping the sales at your local grocery store?

The country’s leading consumer magazine is coming down on the side of Costco and Sam’s Club – even though many couponers may beg to differ.

Consumer Reports recently took a shopping list to a local ShopRite grocery store, and Costco, and filled a shopping cart four separate times. Their goal was to determine how much an impulse shopper, a savvy shopper, a store-brand buyer and a warehouse club shopper would pay, shopping from the same list.

Not surprisingly, the impulse shopper spent the most, by far. “We filled our cart at ShopRite with our favorite name-brand products no matter the price,” the testers reported. “We didn’t bother looking for coupons or other discounts.”

And they ended up spending $5.86 for a box of Cheerios, $34.80 for a quart of olive oil, $46.04 for a 100-count box of diapers and a lot more money for 15 other items, for a total of more than $200.

Clearly, impulse shopping is not the way to go.

So they tried using coupons and looking for the best deals on brand-name products. “We chose whichever was on sale, used coupons available online or in the newspaper, and took advantage of extra discounts with our ShopRite bonus card.”

And they got the Cheerios for $4, olive oil for $9.39 a quart and the diapers for $36.45, spending a grand total of about $100 – half as much as the impulse shopper.

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On their third shopping trip, they chose only store-brand products, and spent about $20 less than the “savvy shopper”.

Finally, they shopped at Costco – and spent just $81.53. The Cheerios were much lower at $2.24, olive oil was $5.99 a quart and the diapers were $28.88.

“By shopping at a warehouse club, we cut our bill by 61%,” the researchers concluded.

So forget all that couponing and just head to Costco instead!

Some couponers might disagree. Surely you can do better than Consumer Reports’ “savvy shopper” did. There are better deals to be had than spending $9 for a quart of olive oil. $36 for diapers? And who pays 4 bucks for a box of Cheerios?

Plus, the Costco prices were calculated using unit pricing – so while many items may have been less expensive per ounce, quart or pound, the Costco shopper had to pay more money up front for the larger-sized products. And it’s only a money saver if you’re actually going to use up a full 3-liter jug of olive oil.

Another problem is that surveys such as this leave out one crucial part of successful couponing – stocking up when an item is at its best price. If you just show up at a store with a set list, even using coupons and looking for sales will only help you save so much. If you were one of the Consumer Reports shoppers, and had enough cereal, olive oil and diapers at home that were purchased with coupons when they were on sale, then they wouldn’t have been on your shopping list at all.

In the end, there are deals to be had no matter where you shop. Even many hard-core couponers will agree that sometimes choosing the store brand, or buying in bulk, does make for a better deal.

But planning ahead can be the best savings strategy of all. Otherwise you, too, may end up spending 35 bucks for a quart of olive oil.

Photo by Mike Schmid

4 Comments

  1. Please Jane or whatever your name is, get a flipping clue. I lost IQ points from reading this.

  2. This article was supposed to compare couponing vs. Buying in bulk! Why didn’t it? According to this article the only item purchased in multiples was diapers. Instead this article was about warehouse stores having better prices than shop rite on individual items.

    • Apologies for any confusion – I’ve tweaked the article just a bit to reflect the fact that this price comparison used unit pricing. So the Costco prices were less per ounce, quart, pound, etc. even if the package sizes (and out-of-pocket costs) were larger.

      You can click through to the Consumer Reports article (link in the third paragraph) if you want to see the full list of products they compared.

  3. Nothing beats couponing when it comes to stockpiling!

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