Is Shopping at Walmart Worth the Savings?

I’ll never forget the day my daughter and I spent 53 minutes in line at Walmart. It started innocently enough. My seven-year-old needed a new set of flip flops for our fall break trip, but we were also nearly out of food essentials like bread and milk. To save time, we opted to combine both shopping trips into one. And oh boy, what a mistake that turned out to be.

Arriving at the Walmart near my home didn’t set off any alarms. It was late Saturday morning, and the parking lot was only around half full. Since it’s normally packed from front to back, I thought this was good news.

Once we got inside, however, things quickly went downhill. Beyond the initial produce section of the store, aisles were crammed with shoppers and their carts. Each section of the store required a few minutes of queuing before you could get started, mostly because you had to wait for other carts and families to get out of your way.

Traffic jams were all over the place. Disgruntled shoppers angrily waited their turn, seemingly helpless to finish their shopping lists. We threw some final items in our basket, stopped by the shoe department for my daughter’s flip-flops, then headed to the front of the store.

The scene in front of our eyes at that point was almost unbelievable. Although the store easily has dozens of aisles, only around 10 of them were up and running. Begrudgingly, we pulled our cart into a winding line about 10 shoppers deep.

Alas, the 53-minute countdown would begin. That’s how long it took from the moment we got into line until the moment we paid our bill. I know because I was bored and annoyed enough to time the whole thing on my cell phone.

By the time I pulled out of the parking lot, I was livid. I mean, seriously. Since when should a trip to your local Walmart take up two hours of your Saturday?

Other Reasons I Try to Avoid Walmart

I love saving money, and Walmart does have some awesome prices. Still, there are plenty of reasons I tend to avoid Walmart like the plague.

The glaring, fluorescent lighting makes me feel uncomfortable, as does the fact my local Walmart has zero windows to the outdoors. At my local store, the aisles are cramped and messy, the bathrooms are so gross I intentionally avoid them, and a cloud of sadness always seems to hang over the store.

The employees always seem to be trying their best, but they are chronically understaffed. You couldn’t find help or ask anyone a question even if you wanted to, mostly because “help” is nowhere in sight. It’s not the employees I blame, however. We all know Walmart is known for underpaying its workers and leaving stores staffed with skeleton crews.

All that aside, there’s another reason I won’t generally bother with Walmart – pricing. Prices at the store are only nominally better than what I can pay at nearby grocery stores, making Walmart an even worse deal when you factor in the hassle and stress.

Walmart vs. Kroger: What’s the Difference?

In the central Indiana community where I live, we have all sorts of grocery chains to choose from. Within a 15-minute drive of my house, I can choose to shop at Meijer, Walmart, Kroger, Fresh Thyme Market, or Marsh Supermarket. A 20-minute drive opens up options like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and several different boutique grocery stores.

Most of the time, I end up at Kroger. Why? Because it’s easy, the lines are never long, and I love their generic products. There are two Kroger stores within 15 minutes of my house, meaning I can stop there no matter what side of town I’m on. The prices are good, both stores offer great, fresh produce, and one store even has its own olive bar.

What’s more, at Kroger, the prices are on par with Walmart’s — and they can be even cheaper at times.

Case in point: After a long hiatus from the store, my husband and I took the kids to Walmart last week. We needed something you couldn’t pick up at Kroger along with ingredients for chili and some other groceries, so we decided to combine both trips into one. Here’s what we bought at Walmart, along with how much we paid:

Walmart Prices

  • Gallon of milk: $1.59
  • 2 dozen eggs: $1.98
  • Generic pasta: $0.99
  • Soy crumbles: $3.29
  • Large can of tomato juice: $1.99
  • Package of celery: $1.99
  • 2 cans of diced tomatoes: $1.69
  • 1 yellow onion: $0.99

Total: $14.51

A week later, I priced out these same ingredients at my local Kroger store just for fun:

Kroger Prices:

  • Gallon of milk: $1.79
  • 2 dozen eggs: $1.58
  • Generic pasta: $0.99
  • Soy crumbles: $3.99
  • Large can of tomato juice: $1.99
  • Package of celery: $1.49
  • 2 cans of diced tomatoes: $1.18
  • 1 yellow onion: $0.99

Total: $14.00

So yeah, prices at Kroger were extremely similar, and even slightly cheaper on a few things — cheaper overall, in fact, at least on this trip.

But the biggest difference you get at Kroger has nothing to do with pricing — it’s the experience. Where Walmart is notorious for having long lines and few employees to help, my local Kroger makes it easy to zip in and out. Almost all of the lines are open at all times, and they have additional employees who bag groceries and speed up the process. Not only that, but Kroger employees seem happier and the store is much cleaner.

Prices may occasionally be higher on some items, but it’s possible to get a good deal on nearly anything at Kroger if you buy generic. And since Kroger and most other grocery stores have weekly sales, you can save even more if you plan your menu around the produce, meats, and staples on special pricing. And no matter what, I have never waited longer than 15 to 20 minutes in line at Kroger  — or any grocery store chain other than Walmart, for that matter.

Final Thoughts

Is shopping at Walmart worth it? For me, at this point in my life, I would have to say no. While I love saving money as much as the next guy, I can no longer stomach the crowded aisles and long waits.

Yeah, maybe I could save an extra couple of bucks by swapping Kroger for Walmart each week, but I’d rather trade those nominal savings for a better, less stressful shopping trip. An hour of my life is worth more than the five bucks I may or may not save by shopping at Walmart.

As most of us know, saving money isn’t everything. Money is and always has been important, but so is your time and maintaining your sanity.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.

Related:

Do you shop at Walmart to save money? Why or why not?

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