Warehouse clubs have been around for decades, offering members a way to save money on everything from bulk toilet paper and ground beef to big-screen TVs and tires (in the same shopping trip). But even with their cult followings, it can be hard to justify paying a membership fee just to be able to shop there.
Whether you’ve walked the long aisles of your local warehouse club before or are brand new to the idea, here are just a few ways that one of these memberships can save you money on many of the things you buy.
Getting a warehouse club membership
I’ll be honest: one of my favorite perks of being a Costco member is the samples. There’s just something about hot (free) food at the end of an aisle to really make your Saturday shopping experience better.
Of course, food samples alone aren’t worth the cost of my annual membership. To make that expense worthwhile, I have to take a look at how much money I’m saving each time I shop at a warehouse store, and how often those savings really come into play.
I’ll be signing on again when my membership comes up for renewal next month, because I have discovered that I definitely save serious cash with club prices. But warehouse clubs admittedly aren’t for everyone. To make that annual fee worthwhile, you’ll really have to do the math and look at your family’s needs, to see if this style of shopping makes sense.
Here’s a look at some of the things to keep in mind when debating a club membership, and some of the ways warehouse stores really can save you money.
How to save money at warehouse stores
Today, warehouse clubs are ten times better than the way I remember them from my childhood. They offer so many more products and perks, at pretty reasonable membership rates.
With a little strategy, you can save some serious cash at your local warehouse store.
You can buy organic
For years, I avoided buying a warehouse club membership because our family bought mostly organic food. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that Costco has quietly become the largest organic retailer in the country, surpassing even Whole Foods.
You can buy everything from organic fruits and vegetables to milk, eggs, juices, meats, and more. Whether you prefer conventional food or non-GMO and organic, you can still find what you need at a warehouse store … and often for a much more competitive price.
Did you know that warehouse stores don’t just offer bulk prices? Most chains also publish weekly circulars with sales, promotions, and rebates.
Try to double up on the savings by taking advantage of promotional pricing. If you have manufacturers’ coupons, many warehouse stores will accept those, too.
Save even more on Black Friday
Forget fighting at your local Walmart for deals on Black Friday. Clubs like Sam’s and Costco offer additional promotions on already-low prices, and often have huge discounts that are available in the days leading up to Black Friday — so you don’t even have to stand in line at 4 a.m.
Fill ‘er up
Certain warehouse store locations will offer gas pumps for members. You can easily save a few dollars every time you fill up, just by buying there instead of a typical corner store. (I usually save $0.10 or more per gallon).
Book your next vacation
It was only last year that I discovered the value of warehouse store vacation pricing. You can buy everything from local theme park tickets to Disney passes, cruises, and family vacation packages to destinations around the world, all at a discounted rate.
You can take a look at the discounts available in your local store, or call your preferred warehouse chain’s vacation booking line to price out your own trip. Sometimes, you may still be able to find a better deal elsewhere, but it’s yet another way to potentially save on travel and experiences.
Compound savings with a credit card
By signing up for a warehouse club credit card, you can further compound your savings.
Some cards offer extra rewards for all purchases made at the warehouse store. Others may reward you for all of your everyday spending. And some may even come with promotional membership fee credits.
Take advantage of return policies and guarantees
Warehouse clubs are notorious for having excellent customer service, great return policies, and satisfaction guarantees.
At Sam’s Club, you can return items opened or unopened within 30 days for a full refund … no questions asked. Hate that new yogurt but bought a 60-pack? Yep, you can return it.
At Costco, electronics are the only returns with a specified timeframe — everything else is open to the staff’s discretion. Oh, and if you’re unhappy with your membership at any time? They’ll refund that, too.
Things to Keep in Mind
Of course, warehouse stores aren’t for everyone, and the fee isn’t always worth the cost.
It probably won’t be your one-stop-shop
Even though today’s clubs offer a huge variety of products and even organic offerings, you’ll probably still need to visit your local grocery store as well. If you’re used to knocking out all of your household’s shopping in one trip, this may be an added pain.
You’re not saving money if you’re wasting
Yes, you can save money per-unit by buying in bulk. But if you don’t need 300 of something — or cannot eat your way through a warehouse store-sized box before the food goes bad — you’re still wasting money in the end.
Don’t fall into the trap of buying more than you need. That dog food might be on an amazing sale, but it’s still not a good purchase for you if you don’t have any pets.
Budget Still Matters
It’s easy to go to Costco or BJ’s and buy a year’s worth of supplies. However, it’s important to still keep your budget in mind, and make sure that you can afford to stock up all at once.
Saving a few dollars a month over the course of the year is great…but not if you wreck your budget in the process or have to carry a credit card balance to do so.
Many warehouse clubs will offer day passes or even have promotional weekly passes for potential members. If you’re considering buying a membership, this can be a great way to look around and gauge your interest.
–By Stephanie Colestock