Millions of people regularly shop at Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club because of the significant discounts not found anywhere else. You can keep
even more money in your pocket when shopping these stores with a few smart strategies.
10. Figure Out If It’s Worth the Membership or Shopping Trip
Shopping at a warehouse club isn’t without its hassles—the crowded parking lots, the travel distance, the giant aisles to navigate, forking over $ 200 every shopping trip, and then trying to finding a place in your home for all the bulk packages. So is it really worth it?
In many cases, yes. Multi-person households and those with big freezers or lots of storage space will especially benefit, but buying even just a few key items can more than make up for the membership fees (which you might not even pay, as we’ll discuss below). Individuals who want the savings from a warehouse club but don’t need 36 rolls of toilet paper for the next month could try a bulk buying co-op with friends and family.
Of course, this all depends on your individual shopping needs, so consider getting a trial membership and using a price book or your previous grocery receipts to see for yourself if you’ll really save as much from one of these clubs compared to your grocery store.
9. Get the Same or Even Better Deals Online
You might not even have to step foot in a warehouse store to save money with your membership. Warehouse clubs’ online stores sometimes have even better savings and more selection than their physical stores.
8. Go During Lunch or Snack Time
If you’re going to trek all the way to Costco, might as well get some free food while you’re at it. The free food samples at these warehouse clubs could save you $ 2,000 a year (much more than the cost of a membership), depending on how often you visit. Besides filling you up, the samples help you make better decisions about buying bulk items you’ve never tried before. (That said, you’re best off not buying anything in bulk you’re not completely sure you like.)
7. Beware Their Marketing Tricks
The other side of the point above, though, is that free samples is just one of the many tricks warehouses use to get you to impulsively buy more stuff. (That dumpling sample tasted so good when you were ravenous while shopping on your lunch break so you bought a four-pound bag!) Other tricks include frequently changing sales, so it’s like a treasure hunt, and the huge aisles and huge carts, which encourage you to stock up and make the most of your trip while you’re there.
As with shopping any type of store, it’s best to have a plan and stick to it.
6. Head to the Discount Aisles
Discount aisles in a store full of discounts? Just as you should avoid the expensive aisle end-caps and instead shop the perimeter at supermarkets for the freshest foods, location matters inside the warehouse clubs and big box stores. Head to the big displays or the pallets in the middle of the store to find some of the best deals.
5. Learn the Secret Price Codes
There’s a whole lot you can learn from the signs and price tags for each product. The “secret” numbers and symbols can clue you in on whether the items have been marked down or offer rebates. Costco has a few secret price codes (as do many other major retailers).
4. Take Advantage of Generous Refunds, Coupons, and Credit Card Deals
Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s have some of the most generous return policies around: 90-days return policy on electronics, but a “100% satisfaction guarantee” on every product (you can return spoiled food! Sam’s Club will even give you 200% back on fresh products). All three will also refund your membership fees if you’re unhappy.
You can save even more with these clubs’ rewards programs, although they’re not free. All three clubs give you 2% back on your purchases. It adds up if you shop these stores often.
- Costco’s Executive Membership ($ 110 a year) caps the cash back at $ 750 a year, however. With the Costco American Express card (one of our favorite rewards credit cards), you get another 1% cash back when shopping the store or 3% back on gasoline at Costco.
- Sam’s Club Plus ($ 100 a year) requires you to use their Discover Card for the cash back.
- BJ’s Rewards program costs $ 100 a year for the 2% back, plus an additional 2% back if you use their Visa credit card.
3. Skip the Stuff You Can Get Cheaper Elsewhere
Not all of the products at these clubs are as excellent a deal as they might seem. Produce and other fresh goods, for example, are often less expensive when on sale at the supermarket. Other items you can get cheaper elsewhere include soda, office supplies, and household paper goods, such as toilet paper and paper towels.
2. Go for the Best Items Offered at Warehouse Stores
For the biggest bang for your buck, go with these stores’ house brands, which tend to be identical to (and made by) name brand but cheaper. You’ll get the same quality batteries, alcohol, cleaning products, personal care products, and more for significantly less. Other great things to pick up, while you’re at it: meats (yes, bacon! And $ 5 rotisserie chicken), discounted movie tickets, and gasoline.
1. Shop Without a Membership
All of these savings aren’t just for members. Many states require you to be able to buy medications and alcohol without a membership to these clubs. Pharmacy services, like prescription glasses and immunization services, are also open to all.
You could also get your Costco-membership-toting friend to buy you some gift cards, which allow you to shop at Costco membership-free (save $ 55 a year). Note, however, that even though Costco’s own site says that non-members can use these cash card to shop at the warehouse club, there’s a chance you might be turned away by an oblivious door employee. You might get a temporary one-day pass at Costco, however. Both BJ’s and Sam’s Club also offer trial memberships and one-day passes.