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Me thinks I shall join BJs, after all

January 21st, 2013 at 04:17 pm

Another weekly foray into the cavernous warehouse that we call BJs. I have spent way over budget on food there, but I was trying to wring out the maximum benefit before my 60-day "free pass" expires.

As I realize how nearly universal the cost savings are on many dozens of items there, I'm morphing from my former "I ain't gonna blow $40 on a membership fee" to something more like, "Gee, I could really lower my annual food costs if I buy from here consistently."

Of course there will be times when I'll want to fall back on my local Trader Joe's or Shop Rite. Cus, what the heck will I do with a gazillion pounds of sour cream, say, when all I really need is a cup for a quick bread I'm baking?

And there are certain things that BJs doesn't carry, I've discovered. Like farro, Quaker old-fashioned oats, steel cut oats and other stuff like pumpernickel bread.

Still, I'm tickled by the fact that unlike Costco, BJ's accepts coupons! If only I could remember to bring them.

I have painstakingly recorded so far the individual food prices of 23 food items I frequently buy. Of these, there have been only TWO cases where another supermarket had the same price as BJs (ground turkey at $2.49 a lb) or did slightly better, only because the supermarket cereal brand was a generic, compared to the BJs name-brand cereal (Cheerios).

But the prices on everything else have been quite impressive, from a low of 21% savings on Heintz ketchup to a savings of as much as 72% on pistachio nuts (BJs: 2.5 lbs at $4.99 vs. 6.99 a pound at Shop Rite). Paul Newman's salad dressing at BJs is also a great buy (55% savings).

A few other scores: 45% savings for 2 lbs of BJs organic quinoa at $4.99 vs. a pound of quinoa at Shop Rite for $4.56. Also, Amy's organic canned soups go for $1.66 each at BJs vs. $2.99 each at Shop Rite.

What's not to love?

I did see one anomaly, though. Inexplicably, 100 Bigelow organic green tea bags at BJs cost $8.49, while 100 Salada black tea bags at Shop Rite cost just $2.59. That's a 68% price difference in favor of Shop Rite. Is Bigelow an outrageously expensive brand to begin with? Is it just becus it's organic? I don't know, but I am a big tea drinker. Imay return these. I just can't justify buying everything organic. (I limit my organic buys mostly to the top 10 produce items on the Env. Defense Fund list of most heavily sprayed fruits and veggies.)

I may also return the six-pack of Glide dental floss I got for $12.99 at BJs. Cus it's the kinds of item I usually buy generic at Shop Rite. No need to pay extra for a brand name. I'll have to price it next time I'm at Shop Rite.

I was delighted with the frozen organic 3 lb bag of mixed berries at BJs at $9.99, compared to the stingier 12-ounce bag I get at Trader Joe's after shelling out $3.49. Savings: 31%, at BJs.

The icing on the cake is that shopping at BJs is a leisurely, unhurried experience without the crowds we all know and love at Costco. That's because it's a brand-new BJs store, and I suspect that more people will be arriving in coming months after their memberships at Costco expire. (This, after Costco raised their basic membership fee to $55. Hmph.) Most people would probably not find it sensible to have two concurrent warehouse store memberships running.

Seeing as how food represented my third greatest expense in 2012 after 1. the mortgage/property taxes and 2. COBRA, I would love to see my average monthly spend of about $230 come down.

My mother and I frequently exchange finds at BJS and I have shared my price book with a few girlfriends.

Oh...another good buy at BJs is dark chocolate squares, Ghiardelli's or Hershey's. Smile

The one thing I worry about is seeing "price creep" after people join. You know, they lock you in as shoppers once you plunk your membership fee down and then they hike up costs all over the store. What's to stop them? Scary.

7 Responses to “Me thinks I shall join BJs, after all”

  1. snafu Says:

    Is it possible to share the cost of membership for the 1st year while you track savings? For example, do they offer a 2nd card on the same membership? How much do you estimate you would need to spend to recover the $ 40. membership fee? Would you likely make BJs your primary grocery outlet or make it one more stop in addition to Traders or Shop Rite?

    Alternatively, arrange shopping expeditions with friend/neighbor/relative and either traverse the rows together or meet up at the till making use of the divider bar to separate purchases. The cashier will run group one through to sub total and carry on with group two; friend will need to pay for her subtotal in cash. It's quite helpful to have someone share quantities like 'gazillion pounds of sour cream' as well. Savings evaporate if you end up throwing out unused product.

  2. Wino Says:

    I suggest two things:

    Set up a spreadsheet and enter your "price book" data there. This will allow you a historical record of prices.

    Comparison shop as you have done above at least every few months. Or, selectively comparison shop one or two items when you go to not-BJ's.

    Sadly, we don't have this option here. The only time something is on sale is after they've ruined it (allowed carbonated beverages to sit in the sun and destroyed the sweetner) or it expires about the time they put it in the bag at the checkout stand. Everything else sells for retail value.

  3. FrugalTexan75 Says:

    For the products BJs doesn't carry (such as the oatmeal), could you put in a request for it? I know Costco and Sams both carry the old fashioned oatmeal ...

  4. creditcardfree Says:

    Sounds like it might very well be worth your money. I like the idea of tracking it for the first year, so that you know how you did. And remember those coupons, girl!!

  5. patientsaver.com Says:

    I figure that if the average savings on a food item is about 20% and if my average spend per trip is $100, then it should only take me two shopping trips to recoup the $40 membership fee.

    My goal would be to make BJs my primary grocery source, using Shop Rite and Trader Joe's as 'backups' for certain favorite items unavailable at BJs, or when the quantity I need is so small that it wouldn't make sense to get it at BJs. Also, I might add that Trader Joe's has a much better selection of fresh organic produce.

    I will keep tracking prices for the time being. I have many frequently purchased foods I want to compare prices on. I'm sure I attract stares by other shoppers who may wonder why I'm spending so much time flipping through my pages with a calculator and pen, but what the heck.

    I'll have to ask what their policy is on a second card. I don't think it would be convenient to coordinate shopping trips with a friend/neighbor since I vastly prefer shopping on Mondays or Tuesdays, my free days. It will always be much calmer to go then instead of the weekends.

  6. mjrube94 Says:

    My BJs membership came with a free second card. I gave it to my dad's helper, who does all of his grocery shopping. She lives 1 hour away from me - no problem, I just added her name to the account and she went into her local store to get her picture / card.

    I find BJs has exceptional prices on milk, 1/2 and 1/2, bread - all of the staples. My problem is that the BJs isn't that convenient for me to hit every week. You definitely need to know your prices though.

  7. Dido Says:

    I second the suggestion for sharing a card. The only thing is that technically you are supposed to live at the same address, but they don't check. The monthly magazine and coupon book go only to the first account-holder. But BJ's always has lots of their own coupons available on the rack when you walk in. I share a BJ's and a Sam's Club card with a friend. The two are located right across the street from each other where I live and they tend to be good for different things. I prefer BJ's food selection and Sam's Club is generally more likely to have cheaper gas (but the two are usually priced the same).

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