Aug 26, 2008

Guest Post: The Drugstore Game vs. The Warehouse Club: The Hard Numbers

This is a guest post from Mercedes of Common Sense with Money, which is one of my daily reads. Check out her post on how to make money on air fresheners at Walgreens this week. If you like what you see, why not subscribe to her RSS feed?

When I first started watching the household spending, I turned to warehouse clubs to cut back on the cost of every day items. During the last 10 years I have been a member of BJ's, Costco and Sam's. At first I was very excited about the savings, but eventually I started noticing that every time we went shopping to those stores we never left with a bill lower than $125.

Then at the beginning of this year I decided to give using coupons an honest try. When I first started doing this, I kept finding stories of people saving a lot of money by shopping at Walgreens and CVS. At first, I didn't want to believe it since I always thought that buying in bulk was the cheapest way to get certain household items.

But I am a convert and today I want to show you the hard numbers. First, I want to show you some of the things I would have bought at Costco at the end of July and how much I would have spent. Then I want to show you how much I paid for those same things at either Walgreens or CVS.

Costco Purchases:
Charmin toilet paper $19.17 big pack less $2 in store coupon = 17.17 or 23 cents per regular roll
Cascade Advanced Gel $7.99 less $1.50 in store coupons = 6.49 or 5 cents an ounce
Colgate 360 Toothbrushes $11.99 8pk less $5 in store coupon = 6.99 or 87 cents a brush
Colgate Toothpaste $9.88 less $2 in store coupon = 7.88 or 1.97 a tube
Pantene Shampoo $7.99 less $2 in store coupon = 5.99 or 15 cents an ounce
Total Spent: $44.52

But instead I bought these products at either Walgreens or CVS and paid:
Charmin toilet paper (on sale at the end of June): 10 cents per regular roll after ECBs and coupons
Cascade Gel: less than one cent per ounce after Register Rewards
Colgate Toothbrushes: free after ECBs during May
Toothpaste: free every month after coupons, RR and/or ECBs
Two bottles of Pantene shampoo: were free after rebate and coupons at Walgreens
Total spent: $7.30

Sure, playing The Drugstore Game may not offer the convenience of doing your shopping all at once the same way the warehouse clubs do. But at the same time, your wallet doesn't take one big hit every time you shop there. I have also never heard anyone talked about getting paid for shopping at Costco, or making money while shopping there. You also don't have to pay a yearly fee to shop at CVS or Walgreens.

Playing The Drugstore Game also gives you the opportunity to stockpile items for less money spent out of pocket than buying at the warehouse clubs. The best thing about this is that you don't have to play the game forever or with the same intensity. Once you build up a stockpile of the items you need, you can sit back and take a break. During these past eight months, I have been able to save thousands of dollars by shopping at these stores. That has allowed us to maintain not only our standard of living but also increase the amount of money we save for our and our children's future. To me, that is a great achievement considering the current state of our economy.


lbellomy said...

Great post!

I agree with a lot of these comments, but I'll still continue to shop at Costco in addition to drugstores.

Costco is an excellent fallback for when you unexpectedly run out of a toiletry item. Also, a lot of their deals on food are pretty great, especially when you consider the quality of their products. Like Mercedes, I used to pay at least $100 everytime I visited. Now that I participate in the Drugstore Game, I've cut that down to about $40-$50.

HotMommy said...

I like to do a combo too of Drugstore Game play and Costco. I invested so time a while back in calculating that items we buy in bulk at Costco are cheaper than we could get elsewhere. It's a short list, but it's consistent.

Plus I don't actually go myself. The husband likes to have Costco's hot dog/soda deal for lunch with his dudes every Friday, so he gets the weekly list on his lunch break. We're never over $30.

Anonymous said...

I am totally new to this and am trying very hard to figure the system out I cut out my coupons.I do pretty good on some things but am a memember at Sam's and Bj's and like way overspend when I go...

lbellomy said...

Chaynes03 -

I am also pretty new to this. I think being a costco member really helped me to figure out what a "good" price for something was. I basically kept my receipts and made a spreadsheet of per unit prices (e.g., shampoo is .09/oz, chicken is 2.31/lb.). Then I could start couponing with that knowledge as a baseline for what would be a good deal. Even though my deals might not be the best out there, at least I know I'm saving money, and I'm happy with that.

Mercedes said...

I still shop at Costco too. My husband changes our car oil and that's where we get it. Sometimes when we are in the area we pick up eggs and milk. I also love their ice cream. Look at the ingredients in it and it compares to those in Haagen Daaz.

My price book also has prices from the costco and sams and I compare to that for a lot of items.

JusFrugal said...

Ironic you should post this! I just tossed this question out there the other day asking what people's views are on wholesale clubs:

I don't go often, but I agree... you rarely check out with a bill less than $100! But then again, I don't find better prices on meat anywhere else!

BusyMom said...

I think you have to watch when you buy in bulk, whether at a warehouse club like Costco's, Sam's or BJ's or the grocery/WalMart or drugstores. Manufacturers a while ago convinced us that bulk is cheaper, but if you look at the shelf tags that show the price per unit, a lot of times, you will notice that the largest size is not always the best deal.

We did a lot of comparison when we first joined a warehouse club years ago and found that for many items, our grocery store sales were a better deal than the regular price at the warehouse club. I think some good examples of this are cereal and individually frozen chicken. I do like that the regular price on milk at the warehouse club is better than that at the grocery. We seem to make our trip to the store when my husband is in the area on business or we need tissues, diapers, or wipes. We look for other deals while we are there, but that is our main purchase.

I'm not sure of all stores policies, but we liked that BJs accepts manufacturer coupons up to the number of units in the package you buy. So, if you buy a 6-pk of pasta, you can use 6 coupons. This has helped us the most in diaper savings, which usually have 3 - 4 internal units.

Tony's Mom said...

I rarely buy toiletry items from Costco now. But we still buy stuff from Costco weekly. I like their ready-to-eat meals, which cuts down our eat-out spending. I buy fruits and veggies from Costco as well for the quality and convenience. I supplement grocery shopping with Harris Teeter and Walmart for better deals.

The best saving for playing the drugstore game is for diapers!

Ruth said...

We belonged to Sam's club for quite a while, but didn't really buy a lot of things there. I did like the frozen fish and chicken and certain other items like toilet paper. Then a Costco was built right down the street from us. We didn't get a membership at first, but decided to give it a try a few months ago. I still use coupons at Walgreens, CVS & Kroger, but there are certain items we like to buy at Costco like milk, eggs (unless I have a coupon I can use at Kroger), frozen foods, bread, etc. We also buy our gas there and use an American Express card for percentage back at the end of the year. I think we will come out ahead even after paying the $50 to join (which I think is a rip-off).

Chief Family Officer said...

Wow, I think it's so interesting that so many of you continue to shop at Costco, especially for food. We've pretty much stopped going there except for gas, but in large part, it's because we hate how crowded it is, even first thing in the morning.

I may have to go soon, and check it out with fresh eyes!

P.S. Thanks again for a great post, Mercedes!

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

Hmmm...I still prefer Costco. I've tried the drugstore game and found the coupons and offers stressful to keep track of.

I buy primarily Kirkland signature--for TP, dishwasher detergent (I get the big tub of powder), nuts, etc.

I love the return policy. I've returned all sorts of things that weren't up to standard and received a cheerful refund.

Living Almost Large said...

If you like Costco shop there Friday nights after work. I do costco for food and CVS for toiletries. Been doing it for a year. Also it's just easier to know I'm getting a better deal on meats, cheeses, etc. Plus for meats the quality is higher.

Chief Family Officer said...

@CCS - I certainly understand the stress-free advantage of Costco. And you're right, the return policy is quite awesome, and Kirkland brand is usually quite reliable. Also, their price on cakes just can't be beaten! (Around here, it's $15 for a half-sheet.)

@LAL - Hm, I'll have to try to make it there on a Friday night sometime. And I'll take a closer look at their meat, too - I had been buying almost all of mine at Whole Foods, but of course, our budget is tighter now!

Anonymous said...

This was a great post, thanks for sharing it. I shop at Costco but mainly for milk, eggs, cheese and a few other things that I have found to be a consistent good buy. (They have a huge canister of Country Time Strawberry Lemonade mix that is awesome for $6. We got it at the beginning of summer and still have 1/2 of it to get us through fall!) By far the best deal on toiletries is at Walgreens/CVS. Meat I shop the grocery store adds for because Costco is way higher than sale prices. But I wouldn't do it at all without the Costco American Express card. Because of that card and the rebates earned on everything you spend (especially the 3% on gas!) we made our $50 yearly club fee back in the first 3 months we had it.

Anonymous said...

I used to work for a company that was a supplier for Costco. My boss told me that the biggest money maker for Costco was the membership fees! That is pure profit for them, and there is a psychological aspect to it as well. Because of the fee payment, people are preconditioned to believe that the deals are better than you can get elsewhere. That's why it's so important for consumers to crunch the numbers, as modeled by this blog.

I personally hate shopping at Costo. Huge carts, long lines, no windows, enormous quantities -- not for me! By investing time upfront at home to research the best deals & organize coupons, I cut the actual shopping time down to almost nothing.

Thanks to Cathy's intro to the Drugstore Game on Get Rich Slowly, I've been saving a lot of money the past several weeks -- and having fun doing it!