Big Box Stores versus Warehouse Shopping – Which is Better?

Money and Savings

Big box stores like Walmart and warehouse shopping like Costco have many things in common. They both want to save you money and they do in their own ways. Both have advantages and disadvantages for the working family. The truth is, they are really not made for the same demographic. Just the fact that there is a Sam’s Club as well as a Walmart tells us that.

That said, how do you know which store fits you? It actually is not as hard as it might seem. You really only need to look at the pluses and minuses for each.

Big Box Stores Sales and Ads

Find the coupon matchups for Target and Walmart on the Sale Shopping page!

Big Box Stores

If you are a loyal Target or Walmart shopper like most people, it is easy to know the pros and cons. They are pretty similar at most big box retailers.

Big box means bigger crowds because it is open to everyone. They also have slightly higher prices than warehouse clubs, though that is argued quite often. It certainly is not a clear, across the board difference on every item. Some things that are bought at Walmart or Target are cheaper than Costco.

The advantages are just as obvious:

  • Big box gives you tons of choices and easy access.
  • They are free to shop at and they accept coupons and price match items.
  • There are many more locations to choose from so you generally won’t have to travel to shop.

Just being able to use coupons means a big advantage for big box stores in my opinion. Target has come out with Carthwheel coupons which are even more attractive to the digital savvy couponer (I personally love it!).

Costco Logo

Find a list of the the Costco monthly coupon booklet with in-store pricing.

Warehouse Clubs

Warehouse shopping at places like Costco, Sam's Club and BJ's to name a few, has several great advantages. Before I get started, I have a confession that many people who attend our coupon classes already know.

We have a Sam's Club AND a Costco membership. I joined Sam's Club when we lived with my best friend as we were building our home. We were technically under the same roof and Sam's Club allowed it. I'm told that isn't their policy so not sure why they allowed us to share a membership. I then joined Costco a few years ago because I understood they had a better selection of organic products and since our family purchases some organic items, it was worth it.

In general, warehouse clubs make the most sense for shoppers that have freezers, large families and plenty of storage for bulk purchases. You do get a cheaper price in some cases, and will save money on things like gasoline in some areas.

When it comes to cons, it is a pretty long list.

  • You cannot use manufacturer coupons at most of them. Sam's Club and Costco have store coupons valid for a month-long period and can offer great buys. However, the purchases are in bulk so you may not need the quantity required to get the discount.
  • Several locations require a membership fee to shop in-store. This is the biggest drawback since the savings may not always be worth it.
  • Many people rarely has pantry space for normal groceries, much less four thousand pounds of peanut butter bought in bulk.
  • There are much fewer locations to shop at as well. I like the convenience of having a big box at every corner without making a special trip.

I can see how warehouse clubs offer value for larger families, or families that will use up the bulk quantities before they expire. If you have the storage and the need for large amounts of food and supplies, then the warehouse might be for you. Otherwise, you will likely save even more by shopping at the big box stores, along with grocery stores and drugstores which all take coupons.

Tell me, do you have a warehouse club membership?
What do you view as the benefits?


  1. Kim on September 9, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    I have a Sam’s membership. I find the quality and prices of their meat far surpass regular grocery stores. Since it’s only my husband and I in our household now, I divide the packages into meal size portions and freeze them. (and I always pick up one of those big ol’ rotisserie chickens for dinner!)

    • Savings Lifestyle: Andrea on September 10, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Kim, that’s a smart tip on dividing into meal size portions for you and your husband. I don’t buy a lot of meats at any grocery store since we purchased a 1/2 side of beef each year.

  2. Kaity B on September 10, 2013 at 1:10 am

    One advantage of a warehouse store like CostCo is that is you buy enough, they sometimes have upgraded memberships that cost extra at the start, but earn you money back on your purchases, so if you spend enough, you can earn a free membership, or even earn money back beyond the cost of the membership.

    • Savings Lifestyle: Andrea on September 10, 2013 at 8:26 am

      Kaity, I’m in the regular Costco membership group. I’ve heard about the upgraded membership. Have you earned enough to get your membership paid for?

      • Rose on August 27, 2016 at 4:20 pm

        I have earned enough money back to get a free membership

      • Savings Lifestyle: Andrea on August 28, 2016 at 11:33 am

        That’s awesome, Rose!

  3. Donna on February 18, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    I have a BJ’s Warehouse rewards card. I get 2% cashback reward every six months. It comes in a gift card for their store. (Free money). I also get a discount for the yearly fee through my work. (Another bonus). I don’t buy anything that I won’t use up in a certain amount of time. Most things I do buy are K-cups coffee, Coffee Creamer, Paper products, and meats. I also have a Foodsaver, so since I buy my meats in bulk, I can separate and freeze them in portions. They have a quarterly coupon and sales booklet and one the comes out every six months with specials, recipes and more coupons. And the do allow me to use clipped manufacture coupons on top of their own coupons. Lot’s of savings.

  4. sabina edwards on January 31, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    in Canada, where I am, the bonus of Costco is that gas is generally 11 cents cheaper there but you have to wait in line for about 35 min each time (with your vehicle running. ..) in order to finally make it to the front of the pumps (currently there is only one costco in the city and I rarely go to that side of town as there is no other shopping in the area that costco is)

    in the month that we had the card, Cat food was on sale there BUT it was only $2 cheaper then superstore and with superstore I actually get points and money back (I only bought the cheapest Costco membership)

    our one and only trip so far we bought muffins and banana bread and there is only two of us, so 3 muffins got tossed out as hubby was 100% certain he was going to eat all 6 for work (The other 6 are stll frozen and will prob get tossed out from freezer burn at this rate)

    I also disliked the long wait at the cashier for 3 items and now really appreciate that box stores have lines for fewer then 12 items

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