September 7, 2016 in Smart Money

7 tips for beginners at Costco, Sam’s and other warehouse clubs

Warehouse clubs have long been stereotyped as shopping grounds for middle-class suburbanites and parents of many children. But warehouse clubs offer deep discounts that could be beneficial for the budgets of the millennial, penny-pinching crowd. While Trader Joe’s might be trendy, the real deals can be found at places like Costco and Sam’s Club.

Warehouse clubs, though, can be intimidating. The vast, never-ending aisles offering everything from clothes to steak to paper towels overwhelm indecisive shoppers everywhere.

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Here are tips for warehouse club newbies on how to get the most for your money.

The membership fees at some warehouse clubs can be pretty steep, especially for penny-pinchers. Going in with a friend for a membership is smart, and will save you both money. After signing up, put your friend’s name down for the other card and just split the cost. 

If that friend happens to be your roommate, even better! You can buy in bulk shared household items, like dishwashing liquid and paper towels, and split the cost while splitting the membership fee. Every warehouse club has different rules regarding memberships, though, so be sure to check the club’s membership regulations.

One often overlooked part of warehouse clubs is the pharmacy. Medicine is one purchase that comes with a high price tag, so scoring a good deal could make a big difference on your budget. Warehouse stores often offer amazing discounts on commonly prescribed medications. Sam’s Club Pharmacy, for example, stocks over 200 of the most common prescribed medications for just $4.

Even if you don’t have a membership, many clubs still will refill your prescription at discounted prices because of state laws, so be sure to check your local warehouse club.

Check out the warehouse’s website to avoid the hassle of driving to the store and dealing with crowds. Deals are sometimes even better online, and there’s more inventory compared with the in-store selection.

You’ll also, obviously, have the internet at your fingertips, so take advantage and compare prices you find on the club’s website with other retailers using a price comparison site such as PriceGrabber.

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While it might be tempting to take advantage of a warehouse club’s marked-down prices on produce and meat, buying your groceries in bulk makes sense only when you have a big family or lots of freezer space. You’ll end up wasting a lot of food (and money!) on produce you’re unable to eat before it goes bad.

Instead, hit up your local grocery store and take of advantage of their daily deals and discounts, and use your warehouse club membership to stock up on nonperishables.

Generic stores brands are often underrated, and offer similar quality for a cheaper price. You should consider purchasing store brand staple food products (like sugar and flour), which are regulated and often produced the same way that the brand name items are. Paper products, like napkins and toilet paper, are also good to go generic on.

Costco’s store brand is called Kirkland Signature (and has been touted as excellent quality), at BJ’s it’s Berkley Jensen and at Sam’s Club it’s Member’s Mark.   

Warehouse clubs are filled with temptation, and it can be easy to lose all self-control once you step through the doors. In order to make sure you really are buying only the items you need, be sure to make a list beforehand and then stick to it.

Shopping with a smaller cart, as opposed to a bigger one, is also a sneaky way to make sure you don’t go overboard with the shopping. Also, avoid the food samples that warehouse clubs are famous for! After you take a bite, you’ll want to buy the entire box or bag. Shopping at a warehouse club is meant to save your budget, not break it.

Many warehouse club memberships offer awesome benefits, like savings on gasoline and cash back. Costco members, for example, could qualify for savings on a new or pre-owned vehicle as part of the Costco Auto Program, as well as 15% off popular car services like preventive maintenance.

BJ’s Perks Rewards Membership program, which has a membership fee of $100, can earn you 2% back on most BJ’s purchases. The BJ’s Perks Plus Credit Card can get you 10 cents off a gallon of BJ’s gas, as well as 3% back on most BJ’s purchases. At Sam’s Club, members can get discounts on travel with Sam’s Club Travel.

Be sure to find out what your local warehouse club offers!

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