Maximize Your Membership: 16 Tips to Shopping Warehouse Stores
More than one-third of 1,900 consumers recently surveyed by The Frugal Shopper said their "favorite way to save money" was to shop warehouse clubs. Clearly, the recession has given these super-super-super-sized stores a boost. More than 75 million cardholders shop the 500-plus warehouse stores spread across the country.
Some find the price savings invaluable to reign-in tight budgets. Others are simply confused by these stores that average more than 100,000 square feet and offer everything from creamed soup to caskets.
Warehouse stores are no-frills and no-service discount stores, usually located in low-rent areas. Many grocery chains now have their own warehouse stores, which allow them to attract low-income, value-conscious buyers while maximizing their buying power. Major warehouse stores include Sam's Club, Costco, BJ's Wholesale Clubs, and Kroger's Food4Less. Some clubs focus on a single type of merchandise, such as clothing, children's products or pet supplies.
Coupon Sherpa compiled 16 guidelines to help you make the most of your warehouse club membership.
1. Membership Fees
Paying for the privilege to shop seems like an oxymoron. Shouldn't THEY be paying us to shop their stores? Do the math, however, and you may find the $30 to $50 annual fee is well worth 365 days of savings. As a rule of thumb, you'll need to spend at least $250 annually to justify the fee. Keep in mind the value of a membership also greatly depends on the location of the store, as well as your family's size, shopping and cooking habits and available storage space.
2. Split a Membership
Split the cost of membership dues with another family or friend and you'll only need to spend about $125 per year to cover the cost of the card. Check with each store to make sure they allow membership splitting, however.
3. Shop for Prescription Drugs
Federal law stipulates warehouse stores may not require club membership to use the pharmacy, meaning you don't need to recoup a membership fee to save money on prescriptions. Many prescriptions are substantially cheaper through warehouses, so this can be a real boon to your budget. For example, 100 pills that cost $40 at WalMart may run just $10 to $12 a Sam's Club. Surveys indicate you can save anywhere from 25-percent to 77-percent on many prescriptions at a warehouse.
4. Payment Methods
Many clubs don't accept credit cards, preferring you pay using cash, checks, or debit cards. If this is going to be a problem each time you shop, it may not be worth your while.
5. Make a List
Warehouse stores depend on impulse shoppers for hefty profits. How many shoppers pop in for a gallon of milk and come out with two full shopping carts. Buying in bulk fills those carts fast, so make a list and stick to it.
6. Pull Back on the Perishables
The prices on bananas or artichokes may be mighty tempting, but perishable items as produce, breads, and dairy products may go bad long before you can use them. Check expiration dates — even on batteries — to make sure you'll use up the product before it expires.
7. Not Everything is Cheaper
You'll want to shop elsewhere for paper products, cereals, pet food, can goods, and snacks as warehouse prices on these items rarely prove to be a good deal.
8. Comparison Shop
Don't assume the warehouse price is the lowest price available. It helps to have a rough idea of supermarket versus club per-unit prices for commonly purchased items. Unit prices are usually listed as "cost per pound," "cost per tissues," etc. and are listed at the bottom of price tabs on store shelves. In some cases, you can comparison shop on the Web before heading out to the warehouse.
9. Consider Gas Prices
Gas is generally 5 to 10 cents per gallon cheaper than local stations. If you do a lot of driving, it'll take no time to recoup your membership fee. A Costco membership also entitles you to a free tire check and refill.
10. Wine, Beer, and Liquor
Most clubs sell alcohol at an amazing discount. For example, a 30-pack of 12-ounce Coors cans averages $17.50 at Sam's Club, nearly $4 less than at your local Stop & Shop.
11. Shop the Periphery
The middle aisles are filled with discretionary-spending items (aka non-necessities), while row ends push sale items that aren't always that good a price.
12. You Snooze, You Lose
Inventory turns over rapidly and may be replaced by an entirely different brand the next time you shop. If you spot something you frequently use in the brand you prefer, grab it.
13. High-ticket Items
Electronics, furnishings, and appliances are often sold at deep discounts, as compared to major-chain stores. Don't compromise, however, on brand, style, or quality just to save money. You may end up with a product that doesn't suit your needs and will disintegrate before your eyes. When comparing high-ticket prices, however, keep in mind that most membership stores don't charge a restocking fee, as opposed to big electronic stores that may charge up to 15 percent on returns.
14. Shop for the Office
Some Clubs offer executive memberships to small-business owners that include a two-percent annual return on expenditures. It's a great way to stock up on frequently used items, like paper and pens, and such major purchases as office furniture, computer peripherals, etc. Again, research quality before you buy.
15. Know the Benefits
Read the brochure so you'll know all the benefits included in your membership, such as discounts on carpet cleaning, automotive services and more.
16. Break It Down
After unpacking your bags and boxes at home, separate large combo-packs into smaller packages for easier storage. For example, divide packets of multiple-chicken breasts into freezer bags containing one or two breasts so you need only defrost as many breasts as you need for a meal.
This is a guest post by the Coupon Sherpa, a source of reliable online, printable and grocery coupons. You can download the free Coupon Sherpa iPhone app with in-store mobile coupons, or check out more great tips from the Ask Coupon Sherpa blog: