Have a Costco or Sam’s Club Membership? Here’s How to Get Your Money’s Worth
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Warehouse membership clubs can save you money if you shop smart.
The big three — Sam’s Club, Costco and BJ’s — offer significant savings and benefits to their more than 120 million members, said L.A. Times consumer columnist David Lazarus in an interview on Marketplace.org.
While annual membership fees typically start at around $50 and go up from there, offering more incentives and benefits at higher levels, many members leave money on the table by not taking advantage of everything membership has to offer.
How Much Money Can You Save?
While your trip to the warehouse club will not entirely replace going to the grocery store, Today.com reports that, “according to a Consumers' Checkbook survey published by the not-for-profit Center for the Study of Services, BJ’s prices were on average 29% lower, Costco’s 30% lower, and Sam’s 33% lower than the largest supermarket chains.”
Adds Lazarus, “According to one recent study, any family that spends about $150 a week at a typical supermarket could save more than $2,000 a year shopping at these big clubs.”
Make the most of your membership fee with these strategies.
Check for a Store App
The App Store and Google Play stores are always good to check before you even head out the door.
For example, the free Sam's Club Scan & Go app for iPhones lets you scan your items as you add them to your cart. When you're ready to go, you check out with the app and skip the line altogether.
It might not save you actual cash, but what's your time worth?
It sounds simple, but many people overlook this option: Compare prices on your common purchases between the warehouse store and your usual grocery store.
Lifehacker.com suggests “[using] your old grocery receipts and a day pass to the warehouse store to see how much a membership would — or wouldn't — save you.”
Frugal Farmer blogger Laurie notices her biggest savings on dairy products. “Just on dairy products alone, our family saves a good 30-40% off of regular Walmart grocery store prices when we buy at the warehouse club instead,” she shares in an article on Frugalrules.com.
Share a Membership
If you find a friend to split the cost of the membership with you, you’ll both save and no one has to store or use everything you buy.
Another option, if you live near family members with memberships of their own, is to tag along on their shopping trips to pick up a few items without committing to a membership.
Expand Your Shopping List
Warehouse stores aren’t just good for toothpaste and toilet paper. Be sure to thoroughly review the membership pamphlets and paperwork available at the club you join to see what else they offer.
Other deals available at your store might include:
Many clubs also sell gas at a discounted rate.
In fact, his warehouse club is the only place my father fills up, often saving up to 10 cents a gallon over nearby gas stations.
You could save up to 50% on big-ticket electronics when you purchase them at a warehouse club, according to Allyou.com.
Trent at The Simple Dollar suggests this might be the sweetest deal of all.
“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 at Sam's Club. Surveys indicate you can save anywhere from 25 to 77% on many prescriptions at a warehouse.”
Eyeglasses, Hearing Aids and Health Screenings
While not all the clubs outline their exact member benefits and savings on their websites, Sam’s Club boasts $40 off a regular-priced pair of prescription eyeglasses as well as free hearing tests and health screenings at some of their locations.
You can save 35% or more on hard liquor and 25% on beer, according to Consumer Reports, with the best savings on high-end items.
The Organic Consumers Association offers these suggestions in their website’s Dollar Stretcher feature:
“The big warehouse stores are carrying more and more organic products and you can often get a great deal. In our area, eggs, canned tomatoes, milk, dog food … and environmentally friendly laundry soap are cheaper here than anywhere else.”
Consumer Savings expert Sarah Platte found and shared with KARE 11 in Minnesota that “for a 52-pound bag of dog food, it will be $24.99 at a warehouse club — the same price as a 30-pound bag at the grocery store.”
She suggests stocking up, since the warehouse price is 40% cheaper.
Yahoo Finance suggests that, “the price may be cheaper and the installation practically free. What’s more, your tires can be changed while you shop, making it a convenient way to cross one more thing off your to-do list.”
Caskets and Urns
It’s not something many people like to think about, but these items can be pricy.
Both BJ’s and Costco offer caskets and urns for sale online with shipping included. The rates are most likely less than you’ll pay at your local funeral home and FTC regulations protect your right to shop for your casket or urn anywhere without the funeral home charging an additional fee.
Read the Fine Print for More
It pays to read the membership paperwork at your local club.
Other benefits can include discounted movie tickets, small business loans, discounted merchant services processing for businesses, or discounts on car purchases and travel.
Membership Isn’t Always Required
Looking for an even better deal? In many states, you can skip the membership and still save on alcohol and prescription drugs.
According to KnowHowTo.com, “what Costco and other warehouse clubs such as Sam's Club don't tell you is that there are a couple of items that they are legally obliged to sell to anyone in the general public — even if you don’t have a paid membership.”
States where you can purchase alcohol without a membership include California, New York, Hawaii, Texas and apparently my home state of Massachusetts. You’ll need to do some investigation of your state’s rules and regulations or speak to a manager at your local warehouse club to see what rules regarding alcohol sales apply to your state.
As for prescription drugs, Trent at The Simple Dollar notes, “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.”
KnowHowTo.com states, “unlike the alcohol regulations, purchasing medication without a membership is nationwide and is very well known.” If you’re having issues, get in touch with your state’s pharmacy board.
Your Turn: Are you a member of a warehouse club? How do you make the most of your membership?
Ally Piper is a writer, designer and marketing director living on Cape Cod. She blogs about life, business and balance at allypiper.com.