Is a Big Box Store Worthwhile for Apartment Prepping?

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When I first started prepping I resisted joining a warehouse store.  I did not want to pay the annual dues, and I felt I would end up with junk I don’t need.   The one year I did join with an employee discount, I overspent by about $300 and ended up with moldy croissants and way too many Cinnabon cinnamon rolls.  I figured there is no way I would ever join again.

Once I started buying supplies for emergencies I re-evaluated the membership store.   I checked the prices for bags of rice, flour, sugar at the grocery and discount stores like Target and compared them to Costco.  I found out that Sam’s and Costco have lower prices when you are buying 50 lb bags of bulk items.  For example, you can get a 5 lb bag of rice for about $6-7 at the grocery store, but Costco may have a 50 lb bag of rice for about $18-$20.

Here are examples of emergency supplies at much better prices:

  • batteries
  • vitamins
  • prepacked First Aid kit
  • pain medicines, allergy relief
  • pack of 3 LED flashlights
  • plastic bins for storage
  • toilet paper

Here are some tips to conserve space and cash:

  • If you but a large number of toilet paper rolls, remove the center cardboard from the center of the rolls and smash them down in a giant ziplock bag.  This way you can lay the whole thing flat under the bed or on top of a closet
  • If you don’t wish to pay the annual dues, watch the newspaper or mail flyers.  I have seen Sam’s give out coupons for a 1 day trial membership.  Make a big list,  and buy all your bulk and prepping items all at once.
  • Bring cash or use your debit card, as credit card use may be limited – for example, Costco only accepts American Express credit.
  • Feel free to try the store samples they are always giving out-it’s best to taste before you buy.  Stay away from untasted specialty items, as you may end up with a large quantity of something you don’t like: for example salsa that is either too sweet or too spicy.
  • Try sharing a membership with a friend or family member, you can also split the multiple items in a pack
  • Seasonal items are available 10 days before department stores even bring them out, so plan ahead.
  • Gas prices are cheaper at the Costco or Sam’s so you might as well fill up while you’re there.

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  1. We ran out of our membership and I am so bummed. Waiting to get another one. I have always faired well at Costco. I don’t have credit cards and I always use cash and buy what we need so there is never waste and we teach our son this. Sometimes, we go with friends and split items if I am low on cash. Because we are in an apt like you , room is soarce and important so we cannot store toliet paper rolls because food is more valuable for the space we need. What I have done is I store kleenex (which is the same thing anyway) and I put it in big space bags and vacuum it down so I can store twice as much and it takes up less space and is safe in a water proof bag! Love the post!

    1. Hi Clarissa, Thanks for the comment. I like your kleenex idea, kleenex is pretty much the same as tp, maybe even a bit softer. I avoid credit cards as well, they are just a big temptation when going to a store like costco.

  2. I would be embarrassed to tell you how much a year we spend at Costco. I did want to mention, though, that you do not need a membership to use the Costco pharmacy. They work on a cost plus basis and can be very inexpensive – sometimes less than a Canadian pharmacy.

    Another thing that is really cheap at Costco is flour: white flour, bread flour and whole wheat flour. If you have limited space, you might want to consider splitting a 50 lb sack with friends or neighbors. Packaged in 1 gallon sized mylar bags (with oxygen absorbers), they can be easily stored under a bed or tucked away in a closet.


    1. Gaye, I will have to start using the Costco pharmacy. Flour would be a great deal, I just have to split the 50 lb bag with someone. Thanks!

  3. We use our Sams Club membership pretty much for milk and gas. That alone pays for the membership in a year. My girlfriend and I use about a tank of gas a week each traveling to and from work. So saving ten to twenty cents a gallon on gas makes up for the yearly membership. The milk prices are always less than major stores. So you come out ahead in the long run on those two items alone. The bulk items for prepping are way cheaper there as well. I can’t believe that if you plan to prep in a urban environment that Sams or Costco isn’t involved in stocking your supplies.

  4. Although not an apartment prepper, the content here is solid for house owners as well. I try to avoid but things in bulk that will rot unless we’re having a party. Bulk veggies and fruits spoil quickly. Frozen steaks may have been a bargain, but thawed steak sucks.

    Keep up the good work

  5. We also are apartment dwellers and do a Costco run about once a month. We get most of the staples there and only buy incidentals at the grocery store, but it’s true, if you have poor impulse control you’re dead 🙂 I find it best to make a list before I go (we tend to buy the same items over and over) and try to stick to it.

    Costco’s house brand items are often very good quality, for example their Kirkland brand batteries are a Consumer Reports best buy.

    Also the web site is worth checking out, it has many items not available at the warehouses. I noticed the Canadian one has good deals on Thrive and Mountain House cans for example (the selection is probably a lot better on the US site). I haven’t bought anything online from them but I’ve heard a lot of good things from those who have.

  6. Even if you’re in an apartment it can’t hurt to purchase canned goods and such at a warehouse club. You’re going to use it anyway and it is fairly compact. On the other hand, I understand the problem with storing a lot of paper goods (such as TP) in any home due to its bulk. Focus on the compact items and a club membership can be useful for anyone.

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