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Friday, March 13, 2009

Costco vs Trader Joe's vs Ralphs

We've been having connectivity issues this week, so I'll be back sometime this weekend with regular posts (I hope!).

In the meantime, I've been revisiting the issue of how prices at warehouse stores compare to other stores. (Mercedes of Common Sense with Money wrote a great post showing how buying in bulk is not cheaper last summer.) The specific stores I've been thinking about are Costco, Trader Joe's and Ralphs.

I shop at Trader Joe's and Ralphs weekly. And even after reading Mercedes's post, I've maintained my Costco membership, after calculating that the membership is worth it for the savings on gas and birthday cakes alone. That's right, I said birthday cakes. A half sheet cake at Costco is $16.99 - $2 more than a year ago, by the way. A half sheet cake at Ralphs is about $30, depending on the design. And gas is an average of 10 to 20 cents per gallon cheaper, which works out to a savings of $1 to $2 per week.

I go to Costco very infrequently, but I went recently and confirmed that sale prices at Ralphs and Pavilions are better than Costco's every day prices. And Trader Joe's low every day price is often better than Costco's, but not for everything. Bananas are cheaper at Costco by about 10 cents per pound, organic ground beef is cheaper by 66 cents per pound, and organic low fat milk is cheaper by 6 cents per half gallon. It's not much of a difference on a weekly basis, but I can freeze the meat and the milk is ultra pasteurized, so the expiration date is pretty far off. So I might make a run to Costco every two to three months to stock up on those items.

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  • At 3/13/09, 10:45 PM, Anonymous Natalie said…

    I agree with you and also hit up Costco once every month or so for select produce, dairy, ground turkey, other meat and bread. We have also found great deals on wine, clothing and other gifts. I think Mercedes did a good comparison about not buying drugstore items at grocery stores or Costco, but the argument cannot be applied to Costco as a whole. There are things, such as produce and meat, that are definitely cheaper and higher quality than any other place.

  • At 3/14/09, 7:05 AM, Blogger Donna said…

    I am about 30 miles from my local Costco, but it is still worth it for me with a larger (7 people) family to do a Costco run once a month for milk, bread, butter, organic produce, flour, sugar, and other such staples. I also do a TJ's run once a month for their fabulous organic whole wheat pasta, some vitamins, and some jarred pasta sauces. The rest I fill in with loss leaders and the Drugstore Game.

  • At 3/14/09, 11:09 AM, Blogger Clean ClutterFree Simple said…

    I like the consistency of Costco's prices for many items. I don't like to scour the weekly grocery sales flyers because by doing so I tend to buy too much, negating any savings on the basics. At Costco, I know what the price will be, so budgeting is easier. And, I love their guarantee--if I don't like something, they'll take it back.

    I learned that a TJs is opening up near to my neighborhood. This is good ... and bad, since every time I go there I come out with a bunch of yummy tasty non-necessities!

  • At 3/15/09, 3:35 PM, Blogger Camille said…

    I'm with everyone else -- you have to be select in what you purchase at warehouse clubs, but the savings is worth it! We belong to Sam's Club and they have the cheapest milk in town by $1.00/gallon! I have also purchased a toaster oven for half-off other stores and an enamel covered cast iron 5 qt pot for a tenth of the price of the brand names. It was even cheaper than the IKEA brand.

  • At 3/16/09, 2:39 PM, Blogger Suzanne Wells - The eBay Coach said…

    Oh my gosh, I can't believe you mentioned the Costco birthday cakes. Those are an incredible deal - and whatever is in that middle filling is soooo delicious. I agree that the Costco membership is worth it. But you absolutely have to know your prices! The mega pack of hamburgers put with the 30 cent buns at the bread thrift store can make a hamburger at home for about 45 cents. I always take advantage of the coupon booklets that come in the mail, especially on staple items and when you can buy multiple items with the coupons. I also have a membership to BJs and they accept manufacturers coupons, so you can do some awesome combining of BJs and manufacturers coupons. As other commenters mentioned, know your prices, sales, coupons and use them to get the lowest price!

  • At 3/20/09, 11:09 AM, Anonymous Aryn said…

    For me, the Costco savings comes in the form of photo-printing, olive oil, women's razor blades, and saline solution. For $16 total, you can get 2 bottles of solution that would cost $12 each (and be a little smaller) at the grocery store.

  • At 5/15/09, 1:06 PM, Anonymous Alex said…

    I agree not everything at Costco is cheaper, in particular drugstore items can be purchased for much less at Target, even without a sale. However they do offer deep discounts on many items, particularly packaged foods. We joined when making a major purchase, a king mattress, and the savings from that alone more than justified the membership fee. Since then I have been going in for groceries and other items. I use the cost per disclosures to compare so I know I am getting the best price. Also their guality is excellent and their fair dealing is refreshing.

  • At 8/18/09, 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Let me know how often you see Ralph's having a sale, a decent sale on produce.


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