When Glenn was coming home from rehab, I asked his nurse where I should buy the various supplies he was going to need on a regular basis. She told me to try the warehouse stores — BJ’s, Costco, Sam’s Club, and the like. I bought a membership with BJ’s, and we started getting all sorts of food and household goods in bulk there, saving some cash and quite a few shopping trips.

A few months ago, I stumbled on Amazon’s “Subscribe & Save” program, and have been trying it as a BJ’s replacement. It allows you to select certain items to buy on an ongoing basis (every 1, 2, 3, or 6 months), and in exchange for subscribing, they give you free shipping and 15% off their regular price. I pay with an Amazon Visa card which gives 3% cash back on Amazon purchases, so my discount’s actually closer to 18%. They send timely reminders when something’s about to ship, and a subscription management page lets you cancel subscriptions, change the quantities and frequencies of shipments, order an extra shipment if you start to run low on something, and skip a shipment if you don’t need it this time.

As my memberships with BJ’s and Sam’s Club (purchased while living in West Virginia’s BJ’s-free zone) neared their ends, I bought one last epic carload from each, then let the accounts lapse. As we started to run out of things, I estimated how much of them we use and created Amazon subscriptions.

It’s been a good-enough replacement that I don’t plan to get a warehouse membership again. About 90% of what we bought at BJ’s is on Amazon at comparable prices, including all the essentials. Subscription management works fine, and packages active without a hitch. Carrying a box or two across the threshold is much easier on my back than loading and unloading a month of supplies from the car, and our shopping trips have been reduced to a drive to ALDI for perishables every 1.5-2 weeks (cartons of rice/soy milk travel just fine from Amazon) and the occasional bike ride to Dollar General. We haven’t been to a traditional grocery store this year, and haven’t had to buy a warehouse membership.

I’d say it’s worth a look for anyone. Just double-check prices against the warehouse stores’ websites. Most things we bought at BJ’s are the same price or even a little cheaper at Amazon with the subscription discount, while others are inexplicably twice as much for the same brand and package. Others are only available in boutique brands at boutique prices. Hopefully, this will correct over time as more variety becomes available and prices normalize. It’s occurred to me that this might be a tool in the kit of the carfree lifestyle I used to live before Glenn got sick. It could be a sort of return to the days of calling in an order to the store and having it delivered as the grocer’s truck makes its rounds. It certainly brings bulk buying and stocking-the-cellar to people who would have a near-impossible time doing it by bicycle. Walkable communities and delivery by local merchants might be preferable, but this is something the car-dependent could use now to aide a carfree or carlight life.

I do wonder about the environmental consequences. I’d love to see a study of which causes the least harm: goods going to storage at many, many supermarkets until people walk there to get them (or, let’s face it, make a dozen car trips to get a dozen small items), goods going to storage at warehouse stores until people drive there to get large quantities at one time, or goods going to Amazon storage facilities, then out to homes as part of a UPS driver’s regular rounds. One area in which this scheme clearly fails is excessive packaging. We’re drowning in Amazon boxes. I reuse them for shipping as much as I can, but am going to have to start offering them on Freecycle soon.

Take a look, I hope it works out as well for you. If you have kids, also check out Amazon Mom for an extra 15% off some items and a trial of free Prime (two-day) shipping on many Amazon items (subscription or not).

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