BJs or Costco, that is the question.
September 19, 2013 8:47 AM   Subscribe

There's both a BJs and a Costco near me. I'm not a member of either. Are they worth the price of membership? Which is better overall, and which might be a better choice for me in particular?

My SO and I are in the hipster/fancypants/liberal/intellectual demographic. Our most passionate hobby is probably cooking, followed closely by drinking. We're not going to buy a lot of mass market books, DVDs, or clothes, and we generally don't buy any prepared foods (of any sort, whether it's frozen foods or grab and go roast chickens--we make almost everything from scratch ourselves). I could see us buying big boxes of salad greens or oranges or whatever, and giant packages of TP or paper towels. We live in a rental apartment, so we're not buying outdoor equipment or new water heaters. No kids yet, but that could come in the next year or so.

Is it worth it for not-very-consumery people to become members of a discount club? If so, given our interests and affinities, would Costco or BJs be a better buy? Are there other benefits we're not thinking of (photo labs better at Costco, but BJs members get discounts at Hilton Hotels--I'm making these up, but you get the idea)?

I should add that the BJs sells beer/wine/liquor, which is a plus. If your BJs does, too, how are their prices? We're in MA.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Shopping (57 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a membership to either of these places but if I did I would probably choose Costco because it pays its workers a pretty good wage for retail work. I don't know whether that fits into your decision matrix and hope it's not a derail.
posted by gauche at 8:52 AM on September 19, 2013 [17 favorites]

I would go and ask for a one-day or short-term free membership to try them out. Do this every few months when they have a promotion or when you need something from there.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:52 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Costco in Waltham also sells booze, and at pretty good prices, too.

I just went to that Costco for the first time, and they do have good pricing on a lot of stuff. We have a membership card here at work, so I don't have to pay their dues, and I think I'll probably end up going once every few months for a bunch of canned goods and stuff like that.

The other benefit of shopping at a place like that is that you don't have to think about those staples for a long time. In my life, the fewer times per year I need to think about and go and get TP, the better. Plus I feel good giving my money to a store like Costco that treats its employees well, rather than CVS or Wallgreens.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:53 AM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

My wife and I are members at Costco, and don't buy their pre-packaged stuff. But we buy enough staples to justify the cost. For us it's mango juice, butter, 10Kg bags of flour, 5Kg bags of sugar, a lot of baking stuff that comes in nice large containers, coffee beans, cereal, etc. Along with occasional purchases like glasslock containers or appliances or underwear or wrapping paper, we feel like we're getting a pretty good deal. Their pharmacy also sometimes has good stuff.
posted by fatbird at 8:53 AM on September 19, 2013

I don't think so.

I have a Costco membership and I use it every so often. Basically I have an American Express card with a Costco membership included in the annual fee ($35).

I like them for beer and wine, they have Prime Meat, which is good, but not as good at the meats and poultry I get at the Farmer's Market. I like their enormo bag of peeled and deveined shrimp. When I lived in Florida, I used to buy booze there, great prices and surprisingly good selection. They had a deal where I got 3 blocks of Kerrygold Butter for $6. C'mon, you can't beat that!

Costco has a lot of ancillary stuff. Prescriptions, eyeglasses, tires, travel agency, mortage, car brokering. I'd go in there and see what they've got and see if it appeals. I'm a fan of the Polish, nom, nom.

Costco is good to their employees, and when I do shop there, I like what I get.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:56 AM on September 19, 2013

If you're brand-flexible and have a lot of storage for bulk goods (household and food), Costco may be good for you. We're a two-adult no-kid household and ended up not renewing because we're not brand-flexible enough and we couldn't eat the food quickly enough to make bulk purchases worthwhile.
posted by immlass at 9:01 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've sponged off my parents' and sister's BJ membership on occasion, and they sometimes offer free 60-day trial memberships. I'd rather send my money to Costco because of their business practices, but I've never even been inside one.
posted by gladly at 9:01 AM on September 19, 2013

I'm a Costco member. I've never done a cost/benefit analysis for myself, but you say that you make things from scratch, so...

I get all of my baking staples at Costco. You can get 20 lbs of flour (a 10lb bag double pack) for less than 5 bucks. Vanilla extract comes in the world's largest bottle for less than you'd pay for a measly 4 oz at a regular grocery store. Butter and eggs are likewise cheap. A 2 pack of nutella is cheaper than a jar of nutella at a grocery store. And so on.

Their return policy is also REALLY really good. You don't even need a receipt, they'll just look you up. I just bought a mattress from them yesterday, for at least $200 cheaper than it's listed other places, and shipping was included. I had to buy online, but I can return it at basically any time if I decide it's not working out, no harm no foul. Costco will also refund your membership fee if you decide Costco isn't for you.

And like others have said, they pay and treat their employees well. It's not quite the chipper experience of, for instance, Trader Joe's employees, but people generally seem pretty positive and comfortable. (Also they get to wear street clothes with a name badge, which I think is nice.)
posted by phunniemee at 9:06 AM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

We only have BJ's in Rhode Island (plus Sam's Club: feh!), and I so wish we had a Costco. Better return prices, better products, better employee culture -- I would switch in a second.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:09 AM on September 19, 2013

My impression from the handful of times I've been in the stores matches up with Consumer Reports's survey of 26,000 people: Definitely Costco.

"The Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed subscribers who told us about 55,108 shopping experiences buying a range of products at Costco, JCPenney, Kmart, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Meijer, Sam’s Club, Sears, Target, and Walmart.

When it came to that list of 10 major chain stores, Costco was a standout, and Kmart and Walmart were at the bottom of the list as far as overall satisfaction was concerned."

However, some people object to the way they treat their employees: "'From the perspective of investors, Costco’s benefits are overly generous,' says Bill Dreher, retailing analyst with Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. 'Public companies need to care for shareholders first. Costco runs its business like it is a private company.'"
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:09 AM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

To add: at BJ's we buy milk and cream and bread and toilet paper and....nothing else.

They recently added three aisles of alcohol at pretty good prices, but nothing very interesting or local.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:10 AM on September 19, 2013

My SO and I are in the hipster/fancypants/liberal/intellectual demographic.

My wife, kids, and I are about the opposite of this demographic so YMMV. I have had memberships at both warehouses but dropped BJ's years ago. I prefer Costco.

I primarily use Costco for their meat. I eat a lot of meat so I load up a few times a month and top off my freezer. Boneless, skinless chicken breast is about $2/lb cheaper at Costco than at my local supermarket, so I think it is definitely worth the $50 annual fee. I buy about 15 lbs of chicken per trip so I've made up my savings in two trips. I am generally pleased with the quality of the meat department at Costco.

I don't generally buy produce at Costco because it will generally go bad before we could consume it all, thus making it more expensive that if I'd bought a smaller amount at the supermarket. Exceptions would be larger items like watermelon or pineapple that are sold individually.

And, it is also good for items like paper towels and toilet paper, until you start making your own artisan toilet paper. Anything you might go through in bulk like batteries and the like are also a good thing to buy at Costco. Anything shelf-stable is generally a good thing to get there.

Costco sells beer and wine and often has an attached but separate liquor store. You'd be surprised how good the Kirkland brand booze can be.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:13 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

We have been members of Costco for years. When we were getting out of debt, we just bought staples there - TP, eggs, regular food items that we would buy anyway. Now that we are out of debt, shopping there is a lot more expensive (Because we look around at all their nice other stuff). The return policy there is amazing and we have returned things years after purchase with receipt.

I have never been to a BJs, but I know Costco and Sam's both let you walk around before you decide to buy a membership. Perhaps BJs does the same, and you could tour the stores to see which one fits your needs better?
posted by getawaysticks at 9:15 AM on September 19, 2013

I think, yeah, it'll come down to whether Costco stocks particular staples that you go through a lot of. We free-rode on a relative's membership for about a year, and frankly, I'm not convinced it saved us money-- too many impulse purchases of things that looked like such irresistibly great deals, but then we actually didn't need that much of the thing, you know? The 10-pound bag of basmati rice got about 1/3 eaten before (18 months later) it developed a bug infestation and had to be tossed. The ginormous bottle of vanilla actually got used, but it was like two years later before we got to the bottom of it, and it had lost a certain amount of flavor by then. Pretty sure I still have that 12-pack of rotini in the pantry somewhere, and we haven't actually been to Costco for half a decade.

The key to making it worthwhile, I'd think, would be to figure out the 10-20 things Costco carries that you actually do use quite a lot, and then be very disciplined about buying only those 10-20 things. So it might be worth just stopping by your local branch to see how much overlap there actually is between their stock and your existing consumption patterns. Another thing to be aware of is that Costco actually doesn't always have the best deals-- IIRC, paper products, for instance, were almost always cheaper at the grocery store if you waited for super sales. Finally don't forget to factor in the extra time and stress of adding an extra shopping trip to your routine, since you'll almost certainly need to keep visiting your regular grocery store to stock up on random necessities Costco doesn't carry.

I've shopped both BJ's and Sam's Clubs on free visit days, and they struck me as smaller and less well-run versions of Costco.
posted by Bardolph at 9:19 AM on September 19, 2013

Money Talks News did a comparison in January of this year, which might cover something that interests you.

I have only lived in western states, so I don't know of BJs, but I've been a Costco member for a while. I opted for the Executive Membership, with the idea that I could get a free membership if I planned it out right. Last year I got around $50 back, but I know I've saved more than the extra $50 in membership costs through what I've bought there. BTW, I'm shopping for a family of three, plus a dog and a cat.

You can get nice big blocks of tasty, tasty cheese for the same price as smaller quantities of the same cheese at usual grocery stores. I like their gallon jugs of orange juice (sadly, only available without pulp), and when I'll be cooking more that week, I pick up an 18 pack of eggs. They have good deals on seasonal fruits, not just salad makings, so you can stock up on blueberries and freeze a ton for the off-season. I'm fond of the recycled paper goods, which are typically rather expensive at other shops (though you could wait for good sales and stock up).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:20 AM on September 19, 2013

Costco, all day.
posted by PsuDab93 at 9:22 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're a regular consumer of coffee, eggs, cheese, meat, gasoline (if your Costco offers that), tires, prescription eyewear, croissants, or sandwich bread, or some assortment of these items, I bet you'll find Costco worth the membership. Based on my experience, expect the liquor selection to consist of 3-5 choices for your major categories (e.g., for gin, they always seem to have handles of Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, and Hendrick's) for maybe 10% to 20% less than you'd usually find. And as Tanizaki said, their private-label booze can be a great deal. (For example, their Kirkland bourbon is Jim Beam Black at a much cheaper price.)
posted by ndg at 9:30 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

As far as "is it worth it" goes, my best friends fall into your hipster/hippy/make everything from scratch demographic, and she says her Costco membership pays for itself in savings just from olive oil and real maple syrup. (The one by me also has heavy cream in a 1/2 gallon for less than five bucks, if you make your own butter/ice cream/etc).
posted by Weeping_angel at 9:32 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm on the west coast and have never shopped at BJs, but I can say that my husband and I found our Costco membership to not be worth it. Between storage and spoilage it became a huge PITA. Not to mention the hassle of getting there and shopping in a major city. We eat almost all organic so a lot of the produce didn't work for us. We don't eat a lot of meat so the giant meat packages were unappealing. Plus we generally stick to grass fed, free range, blah blah and those options were very limited if they were even available. The giant packs of tp and paper towels were nice, but not too much of a deal/money saver and I really hated how each of the costco brand rolls of tp is individually wrapped. The booze was great though - have to give them that!
posted by tealcake at 9:32 AM on September 19, 2013

If you have a dog, the Costco membership is pretty much worth it for that alone; their Kirkland house-brand dogfood is fantastic. Costco also has deals with a ton of auto dealerships, if you're a buying-a-new-car type person. Saved me about $3k on my car.

When my husband and I had a Costco membership, we didn't actually end up buying too much food unless we had people over (their muffins are awesome). Toilet paper and paper towels were regulars. They also sell big packs of bar towels/shop towels that are super cheap and easy to use in the kitchen.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:39 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, you do not need to be a member to shop. You will however pay an additional non-member mark-up. In MA they cannot limit liquor sales to members. I am not certain if this means they do or don't charge the extra mark-up on booze.

Things that they sell that you may not think of, like tires, electronics (TVs), and office supplies can easily make the membership worth it in one purchase.
posted by Gungho at 9:44 AM on September 19, 2013

I've been a member of Costco (when I lived in Cambridge MA) and a member of BJ's (upstate NY). BJ's is a pale imitation of the amazing bounty of Costco, so if it is a choice between the two of them, it's Costco Costco Costco.

That's even before you consider Costco's enlightened labor policies. (Seriously, click that link.)

Whether you need to join one at all or not - that's the trickier question. You might look at whether the store near you sells gas, or whether you might want to buy tires or any durable consumer electronics in the near future. If so, the members' price difference is easily enough to pay for a year's membership. At that point, try it and see, maybe?

(Check out costco online for some of their prices on durables - but stores have better short-term deals, I think.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:57 AM on September 19, 2013

I've been a BJ's member, both when I lived in MA/NH, then I quit for a while, then re-joined here in MD. I have a long commute, and for me, the gas discounts alone are worth the price of membership ($50 per year). I fill up twice a week, and the BJ's location closest to my house typically is about 10c/gal cheaper than anywhere else. Costco locations have never been convenient for me, so that made the decision for me.

As a single person (which I was up in MA), or even as a married couple with no kids and one of us being a vegetarian (which is the case here), you really only save on non-food things that don't spoil. For the other stuff, well, it's not really worth the savings, as the food spoils before you have a chance to eat it, and you end up throwing it out anyway.

Keep in mind -- Per Massachusetts law, you can go to BJ's to shop for liquor without having to be a member. That said, they do have member/non-member pricing, and the non-member pricing is higher. The Westborough store (which is the one I most frequently went to as I lived in that area) has a separate liquor store which cannot be accessed from the main store. The member pricing is reasonable enough, but you still save more money by driving up to New Hampshire to buy your booze from the NH state liquor outlets. (In MD, BJ's does not sell liquor because it is against state law for grocery stores/club stores/big box stores to do so. I'm not sure what the case is in other states.)

I go to BJ's for (some) dog treats, vitamins, toilet paper and paper towels, tissues, toothbrushes, cat litter (although our local grocery store sells that cheaper), cans of soda, printer cartridges, and other such items that don't go bad. Occasionally I will buy food but only if I'm entertaining or otherwise know I'm going to eat a BJ's size portion of something before it goes bad.

When I've bought big-ticket electronics there it has only been after extensive online research and in-person shopping at other stores and verifying that I can't find a better price elsewhere. Sometimes they have the best deal and sometimes they don't.

I cannot speak to BJ's Optical because they do not take my insurance and so I go elsewhere for glasses/contacts/eye exams. I've considered going there for tires but typically when I've needed tires it's been an emergency and I've gone to Sears instead. I've never used their travel agent services.

As for Costco, you'll need to talk to someone who has had a membership there.
posted by tckma at 10:01 AM on September 19, 2013

You really need to actually visit and walk around each of them in your area. Based on reading the threads here, Costco seems to win. I have belonged to both in my area in the last two years, and BJs would win hands down because it is about twice the size of the Costco since it is much newer. Its selection is huge compared to Costco, and the services they provide are wider. They will usually let you walk around and check things out without purchasing a membership or even signing up for a trial.
posted by maxg94 at 10:32 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Between the two I'd go with Costco, based on the consistently high quality of the house brand (Kirkland) products.

One thing to consider is if you'll be willing to endure the frenzy of warehouse shopping. There's a Costco near my office and I go when the store is empty. In other words, I go before the samples are out. My husband will not go to Costco at all. The place makes him crazy.

Value for non-consumery people? Yes, if you buy gas or alcohol there. We do party shopping at the Costco Business Center location which is a great option to pick up bulk food/glasses/dishes.

(Also, we have some family members who work for Costco. That fair treatment of employees thing? Completely true from what I have observed.)
posted by 26.2 at 10:34 AM on September 19, 2013

We have a Costco membership, and we looked at the BJs when it opened - we stuck with Costco. Our impression of the BJs was that the brands were occasionally different, but the prices did not vary that much. Plus we found the staff to be incredibly rude. It also didn't seem to be that much bigger than Costco.

We drink a lot of Diet Coke, and we calculated that for the Costco price we basically save the membership fee in just Diet Coke alone (compared to the price at Shaw's/Star Market), so it was worth it to us (I did say we drank a lot of DC). We also get all paper goods: paper towels, toilet paper, tissues there and thus only have to buy those maybe twice a year or so (2 adult household also). My husband gets cereal from Costco, and we also get meat there. They sell big multi-packs of chicken breasts and thighs with individual tear off packs, so you can stock up without having to use it all at once. It's definitely cheaper than the regular grocery store.

We also get OTC drugs like ibuprophen, fake sudafed, etc. in large quantities for less than CVS/Walgreens.

I'm not a wine drinker, so I can't tell you how the wine selection at the Waltham Costco stacks up, but I tend to think the beer selection is pretty meh, although they do seem to have good prices on liquor.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:34 AM on September 19, 2013

If you are at all interested in business ethics, how a company treats its employees, etc., Costco is known to be a good company and have relatively happy employees.
posted by radioamy at 10:56 AM on September 19, 2013

You didn't mention if you have a car or do a lot of driving, but Costco does also have gas stations at many of their warehouses, and their gas is generally cheaper than other gas stations. Of course, whether the savings are worth potentially going out of your way to fill up at a Costco is dependent on your circumstances.
posted by yasaman at 10:58 AM on September 19, 2013

We definitely prefer Costco. When we were deciding upon buying the Costco membership, they let us go in and check out the merchandise to see if there were things that we would be interested in. We made a round of the place and saw some things that we were interested in buying, etc. That helped us in deciding to go for it.
posted by gregjunior at 11:04 AM on September 19, 2013

We have a membership to Costco primarily because we take medications (generic Zyrtec) and supplements (generic lactase pills for lactose intolerance) and they are SO MUCH CHEAPER than anywhere else. (A bottle of 365 generic Zyrtec costs on the order of $15.)

We occasionally get meat or stock up our liquor cabinet there, but the meds/supplements are the real reason we keep the membership.
posted by telophase at 11:12 AM on September 19, 2013

Costco's great for their return policy if nothing else. We bought a TV there, and 2 years later it died (despite very VERY light useage) and they took it back no problem.

It's not good for paper towels, toilet paper, etc- Safeway on sale is cheaper.

I originally bought a membership for their eyeglasses but every pair I've bought has been inferior (prescriptions just slightly off/crooked) and not terribly cheaper than eyeglasses bought from the optometrist near the university.

They're very good for dairy products (the cheese! So good! So cheap! Vast quantities of goat cheese, bufala mozzarella, brie, parmesans....) and electronics, and sometimes seasonal things, like beach towels.

If it's convenient, and you happen to have a membership already, their gasoline is cheaper by a bit.

You do get cheaper prescriptions there, but not cheap enough to be worth a membership, since you can use their pharmacy without a membership for only slightly more.

If you're visiting Oahu or Hawaii, it's pretty much mandatory it seems to me- their gasoline and bread products are reasonably priced (unlike any place else there) and their collection of Hawaiian food and cookbooks and even beach stuff is excellent.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:18 AM on September 19, 2013

Things I prefer to buy from Costco include: cheese (the cheese!!), meat, wine and liquor, paper towels etc., pine nuts, yeast, fresh berries, onions, olive oil, vinegar, artichoke hearts, butter, cream, generic OTC medicine, electric toothbrush heads, dental floss, cleaning wipes, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, pillows, contact lenses, and gasoline. Their Kirkland brand products are consistently high quality.

In terms of food shopping, I think the more you cook the more worth it Costco is, as that means you're likely to use up the larger quantities that they sell. Also, yes, their return policy is awesome.

Costco's electronics prices are good but not necessarily the best out there, though you can find electronics on closeout on their website that are great deals. And all their electronics come with a 2 year Costco warranty.

I've gotten cheap and high quality photo enlargements from them (11"x14" prints), and they offer some terrific car rental deals through their travel website.
posted by unsub at 11:24 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have cats? If all I ever bought from Costco was cat litter it would still be worth it.

Oh and great discounts on contact lens solution, awesome selection of cheese, large size of shampoo and conditioner. The croissants are delicious. Low fat chocolate milk and otehr shelf stable beverages. I freakin love Costco.
posted by mokeydraws at 11:32 AM on September 19, 2013

Chiming in to note that you can save money on used cars at a dealership as well - we bought a 3-yr-old Subaru recently and saved about $2500 over the 'best price' - and (so worth this) - absolutely no hassle. The price was the price.
posted by dbmcd at 11:49 AM on September 19, 2013

Here's the same question on Reddit /r/frugal.

Costco is absolutely worth it, in my opinion. Organic meat, lunch meat, greens, mushrooms, salsa, toilet paper, paper towels, laundry/dish/dishwasher detergent, toothpaste, cooking oil, rice, snacks (chips), vitamins, eggs and butter are all INCREDIBLY cheaper for good stuff at Costco vs buying at the local grocery store.

Their frozen veggies and berries are very high quality and well priced.
posted by cnc at 12:09 PM on September 19, 2013

We're a DINK couple and we loooooove Costco. We only go once a month/once every other month for dog food (we have 3 little dogs so it lasts a while), paper towels, laundry stuff, La Croix, chicken, and some snacky items. Their chocolate macadamia clusters are soooooo gooooooooood omg. I often like their store-made stuff--pasta salads, chicken salads, mac n cheese, etc. Nearly everything I've purchased from Costco has been SUPER tasty except maybe the refrigerated falafel balls, but since they have a great return policy it's no big deal. I guess I don't know if we actually save money, but knowing I've got paper towels for six months and dog food for two is pretty nice!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 12:30 PM on September 19, 2013

We joined Costco to get access to the auto insurance. It saves us ~$800/year.

I shop in a Costco maybe once a year (since it's not convenient to where I live), but the discount on car insurance makes it more than worthwhile.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:37 PM on September 19, 2013

we had the same problem as immlass. if you live in an apartment where there's nowhere to store the year's supply of toilet paper or 6 month supply of peanut butter, there's no point. there's also almost no brand flexibility (want the variant of a brand, like sensitive instead of whitening crest, tough). and we're very picky.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:43 PM on September 19, 2013

Since you have a choice, go Costco. Light years ahead of BJs in terms of quality of merchandise. To me, BJ's is more focused on quantity.
posted by FergieBelle at 1:02 PM on September 19, 2013

You should be able to do a walk-through of Costco without a membership. So do that. Take note of the prices on things you'd be likely to buy. (Warning: I found Costco overwhelming the first time I went there.) Then shop the same list at your regular grocery store.

In my household, I think the amount we save on coffee alone balances out Costco's annual membership. Cheese is also much cheaper. Meat, in my experience, is not cheaper than my local grocery. I don't like Costco's produce, and even if I did, it comes in large enough quantities that you risk some of it going bad before you're done with it.

We only do resupply runs to Costco fairly infrequently, and I wish we had a bigger freezer.
posted by adamrice at 1:34 PM on September 19, 2013

We have both. I go to BJ's much more often because it's closer, although I prefer Costco in the abstract. I have three adults and two kids in my household.

Since most of the thread is listing the advantages of Costco, let me tell you what I do like about BJs: They have an actually deli counter where you can get sliced meat and cheese (but! it's slow as hell, so I never use it). Some of their produce comes in moderately smaller quantities than Costco. They happen to have the turkey dogs and chicken nuggets my kids prefer. They have self-check-out. They accept coupons (ok, I've never actually used a coupon there). BJ's had significantly cheaper wire racks when I needed them. (Costco's were bombproof, which I didn't need).

My local BJ's doesn't have booze or gas, Costco does and we take advantage of it.

If the stores were equidistant I'd probably go to Costco and let BJ's expire.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:19 PM on September 19, 2013

We go to BJs because it's verry close to our house... but some things about BJs are an annoyance. Their selection is hit or miss at times. Their customer service simply sucks. Three cashiers and 22 self-serve lanes. I do LOVE BJ's Optical (Pearl Vision Center refuses to match their price for contacts, LOL). The Berkeley and Jensen products are also top notch. We have shopped there for years but if a Costco opened up closer, hell yeah, I would consider switching. FWIW, I did a very detailed price comparison, and found that coffee and paper towels could be found at a cheaper price at our local Giant food. We have 5 kids and a dog, so buying n bulk has saved a lot of $$.
posted by brownrd at 2:34 PM on September 19, 2013

We had a Costco membership for 3 years, but dropped it last year. We had moved all the big bulky stuff like TP, diapers and washing powder to Amazon Subscribe and Save, so it just showed up on the doorstep on schedule instead of one of us having to go get it. Gradually all the other sundries we'd been buying at Costco, like toothpaste, soap and mouthwash moved over to Amazon too.

Costco's Executive membership offers cashback, so if you're planning on a big ticket electrical item, like a new TV, it's generally worth it. They usually extend the warranty on things you buy from there for an extra year or two as well.

The fresh produce at Costco is good, but we were chucking out a lot of it that we couldn't get to eat. The meat is good too, but we're lucky enough to have some really good grocery stores nearby. The meat is better quality and their semi-regular sale prices are competitive with Costco, so I don't feel like we're missing out and the grocery store stuff is fresher. I have had produce from Costco that's been off a few times. As other have mentioned, their return policy is great, but I still had to take the stinking chicken back in my car to get a refund.

The Costco we went to was a shitfest at weekends as well. Packed with people standing 3 deep with their huge carts by the sample stations they have everywhere, waiting for a sliver of breaded chicken in front of the one bloody thing I need to get out of there.
posted by IanMorr at 2:51 PM on September 19, 2013

We just switched from BJs to Costco, mostly because Costco treats their workers better. We use the membership for stuff like toilet paper, cat food, their generic brands of OTC medications, giant things of soap and laundry detergent, stuff like that. And yeah, the one in Waltham has beer and wine, although it's not a huge selection.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:22 PM on September 19, 2013

There are many things I like about Costco, but be aware that you might end up buying way more of something than you need because the price is good, and it is only available in xxLarge. The result is that you may end up throwing stuff out, and if you don't you will almost certainly end up storing it.

I have joked about the fully loaded cost of a costco item should include not just mileage, if you go out of your way, but also meals (because you may buy a delicious, inexpensive all-beef hotdog), and, most significantly, the going rate for the space you devote to storing it.
posted by Good Brain at 4:34 PM on September 19, 2013

For a two adult household, perishables at Costco aren't worth it but liquor, office equipment, garbage bags, motor oil, tires, sugar, rice, sheets, towels and mattresses make up for that.

You need 4 or more people to finish off a Costco purchase of bread (two loaves, each 1.5x normal length) before it spoils.
posted by zippy at 5:12 PM on September 19, 2013

It's hotly contested whether it's actually repackaged Grey Goose, but Costco brand vodka is excellent (and cheap).

The house I lived in at university shared a BJ's membership, and the store we used (in NYS, not MA) struck me as kind of small and poorly kept compared to the Costcos I see on the West Coast. My little sister also worked at a Costco in the Midwest for a while and felt they treated their employees really well.

Costco vitamins and OTC meds are great and really reasonably priced, but many of them are available on Amazon if you do a search for "kirkland + [drug name]".
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:55 PM on September 19, 2013

The two big-ticket items I used to purchase at Costco were booze and Rx meds. But: you don't need a Costco membership to purchase either of those products there.

I still buy my computer hardware from Costco (via online) because of the free shipping, easy return policy and extended warranties.

I've mainly kept my membership so I can share it with a friend who does a lot of driving -- your membership allows you to share the membership with another person. Makes a nice gift.

All that said, my local Costco is a major crowded stress-fest clusterfluck, esp. the parking lot, so I refuse to shop at the actual store -- I only use them online.
posted by nacho fries at 9:24 PM on September 19, 2013

I can't remember where we were shopping, it was one of these places and we had like a free month's membership or something, but they searched our bags on leaving and it seemed like a standard practice, that they'd check your receipts and look over your packages. We never went back. Depending on your tendency toward righteous indignation, you might want to take the place for a spin. (I've previously been told to 'lighten up' so, you know, no surprises here if this is a minority opinion.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:31 AM on September 20, 2013

We're a DINK couple, and I love my Costco membership. We go through a lot of fresh fruit and veg, and I love buying cherries and berries and mangos there - so much cheaper then Star, and great quality. Worth it if you're big fruit eaters. I tend also to buy their giant packs of celery and onions too, because we use those items in so many things we cook.
I buy the 2-pack of bread and freeze one loaf, it freezes well.
Their frozen fish is VERY good, and comparable price to Trader Joes
Their beer selection in Waltham, as someone said above, is meh, but the wine selection is decent, and definitely well priced

I have bought my last 2 pairs of glasses there, as well as a pair of prescription sun glasses, and have been impressed with the variety of frame styles available

And then there's the items people have mentioned above: the giant supplies of shower gel and cat litter and TP and vitamins and shaving foam. Granted, we are lucky to have some storage space in the bathroom and basement to put all of this.

In comparison, when the BJ's opened in Waltham, we went to do a look-see. Their produce section is bigger, but not that much, and they didnt seem to have as much fresh fruit as Costco did. The options for non-perishables, on the other hand, was definitely less extensive than at Costco. Stuck with Costco.
posted by darsh at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2013

We live in MA and live 5min from a BJs. We drive to Costco instead. Mostly it was their labor policies that won us over, but we love everything about them as well. Note I have not been in a BJs, so I can't fully comment on what they are like. We get all our meat and fish at Costco, which works great as long as you have a vacuum sealing device (ala: foodsavers), and most of our fruit (because my kids easily eat the large sizes before they go bad and it's so much cheaper, and often better quality than the grocery store), as well as diapers (definitely cheaper than elsewhere), and basic household staples (TP, paper towels, soap of all kinds). They even have had clothing we have bought as well. We actually upgraded to the premium membership because we spend enough money to make money back. The two Costco's we go to (Everett and Danvers) both have alcohol now as well. Plus the cheap snack bar food they serve there is a great way to get lunch and shopping done together. Both places will let you come in and check them out without a membership, though I think Costco requires you to get one before you can buy anything while BJ's gives you a 60 day trial, but I am not certain of that. We've been Costco members in a small apartment and in a small house. You have to have some storage space, but you can tailor your purchasing to fit your space needs too.
posted by katers890 at 8:02 AM on September 20, 2013

Prescription eyeglass lenses and big bottles of generic allergy medicine save me enough to pay for the membership.
posted by kbuxton at 4:20 PM on September 20, 2013

I'm not 100% positive this applies to all Costcos, but at the one near me in CT, the only credit card they will accept is Amex. Period. You no have Amex, you either pay cash/check, or you get nothing. Since neither husband nor I has an Amex card, nor can we justify getting another credit card right now, nor do we carry around large wads of cash, we have somewhat disappointedly fallen back on BJs, which accepts all the usual credit cards, instead. It is indeed not quite as Disneyland-like as Costco, but it does the job when it comes to inexpensive Benadryl, paper towels, etc. For the few things we really love Costco for, we either beg family members to pick it up for us and then reimburse them (dog food), or we muster up the cash (liquor, which in CT can be bought without a membership.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 4:03 PM on September 21, 2013

t 100% positive this applies to all Costcos, but at the one near me in CT, the only credit card they will accept is Amex

I think it's true that Amex is the only *credit card* Costco accepts, but they do take debit cards. We have definitely paid with a debit card at the Watham Costco.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:06 PM on September 21, 2013

Response by poster: Update: We joined Costco, and have since spent a lot of money saving money. It is a wonderland. We got an "executive" membership, and we'll see what kind of savings can be had on car insurance, etc.

For the record, we did find that even if you don't think you'll buy the prepared foods, there are a lot of really nice grocery items.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:20 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

For the Executive membership, the refund check is attached to your membership renewal statement. If you renew at the warehouse, don't then shred the renewal statement/check, especially if you purchased a computer from them in the previous year. Don't ask me how I know this. :)
posted by SillyShepherd at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2013

Congrats. Also worth checking out is the discount on DirecTV--I swapped out our old subscription with a new one in my partner's name, done through Costco, and it's 40% cheaper each month. Also, you get a $200 gift card for Costco. Amazing.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:56 AM on December 23, 2013

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