As I’ve mentioned many times before, my wife and I shop at Sam’s Club. It’s really the only warehouse club available to us easily (there are no BJ’s around here and the only Costco is on the far side of Des Moines, almost an hour away) and it serves a lot of our needs.
I’ve been shopping there for several years and I’ve found several little techniques that really maximize your value in shopping there. You really can do much better on some items by utilizing a warehouse store, but you’ve got to follow a good plan. Here’s how.
1. Take a look before you sign up. Before you walk in the door and sign up for a membership, visit the store and look at the prices and the selection to make up your own mind. Warehouse clubs often offer one-day memberships, either in the newspaper or at the desk there. Give them a call and find out before you go.
If you can’t get in using these methods, ask around your social network to see if anyone’s a member, then ask if you can visit the store with them. This method is even better because you can make purchases when visiting with a full member, whereas with the short-term memberships, there’s a 10% markup on prices.
2. Split a membership. Find a close friend and split a membership with them. Just go to the store, sign up for a membership, put your friend down as the other card, and get membership cards for both of you. This will cost you each half the normal price of an annual membership, getting you in the door for a year for just $20.
You usually have to sign up at the same time, but warehouses are completely fine with you and your co-member having different last names, different addresses, and different phone numbers.
3. Bulk-buy in cooperation with friends. Hesitant to buy a giant mountain of toilet paper? Talk to a friend of yours and agree to split the cost of that mountain. This way, your cost per roll on that toilet paper is very low, but you also don’t have to deal with the storage of that much toilet paper.
There are lots of items you can purchase this way, from paper towels and fruit juice to diapers and bagels.
4. Only buy stuff you know you’ll use up. One of the big temptations at a warehouse club is to convince yourself that you’ll use a huge amount of something that’s perishable, whether it’s salad greens or fresh fruits. You see the price per pound, recognize that it’s much lower than it is at other stores, and talk yourself into it.
Ignore the cost per pound. Instead, you have to focus on the amount you’ll actually use before having to chuck the rest – and that’s a tricky thing. I usually figure on the very low end. On occasion, it’s still a value even if more than half winds up in the compost bin, but most of the time, it’s not really a bargain.
5. Make a price book. Along those same lines, in order to maximize the value you get from a warehouse club, you have to have some sort of a price book.
A price book simply means that you have a list of prices of many of the common things you buy at various stores that you shop at. Maybe you just have the prices from your favorite grocery store on it. In any case, you simply take that list with you to the warehouse club and use that as a basis for comparison. So, an entry in the price book might be “3 rolls of Bounty – $3.33″ and then you can use that to figure out whether twelve rolls of Bounty for $11 is actually a bargain (it is).
6. Use a shopping list. Another important factor is to know what you actually need before you go. Thus, before you go, make a shopping list. Write down all of the things you actually need, then hit the warehouse club before you visit the grocery store.
Doing this not only helps to ensure that you get all the stuff you actually need, but sticking to that list goes a long way towards curbing impulse buys, since you’re so focused on the grocery list instead of wandering down the aisles.
7. Look at gas prices. Most warehouse clubs offer gas prices that are lower than other gas stations in the area. This savings varies a lot – in some areas it can be as much as a dime per gallon and in other areas it’s only a penny or two. Our area seems to vary between about two cents per gallon and five cents per gallon.
Thus, whenever I have an opportunity, I fill up at Sam’s Club. If I fill up there once a month, putting 20 gallons in my tank and saving five cents a gallon, that saves $12 a year. If my wife does the same, filling up there three times a month and putting 12 gallons in the tank, that saves $21.60. All told, we save $33.60 from the gas alone.
Two other areas where the savings were surprising for me were liquor (beer, wine, and hard liquor) and big-ticket electronics, like laptops and televisions. Their prices were very, very strong on these items.
8. Take note of the other benefits. Most warehouse clubs offer other benefits beyond the cheap household stuff and the gas benefits. Take a careful look at the pamphlets that the club provides and see if any match your needs.
For example, Sam’s Club offers a discount on car prices with certain cooperating dealerships. Thus, I can take that extra info into account when we make a car purchase and it might reveal a better car deal for me. That’s a potential significant savings.
9. “Gap” your membership. When your membership is about to expire, go to the club and stock up on all of the nonperishables you buy there – shampoo, toilet paper, soap, and so forth. Then allow your membership to expire for several months as you use your backlog of items. When you start to run out of your backlog, go in and renew your membership.
Let’s say that you fall into a twelve months on, six months off pattern. Over the course of six years, you would reduce your membership buys to four, saving you $80 over that period.
10. Get your impulses in check. This is perhaps the most useful tip for warehouse club shopping. You have to get your impulses in check before you go. If you don’t, the benefits of the club will go away for you.
What do I mean? It’s easy to see items at a warehouse club that you might use, and the price per unit is often very low. It becomes really tempting to throw it into your cart. However, if those buys are impulsive, not only is it something you wouldn’t have otherwise bought, it’s also something bought in an excessive quantity. That’s a recipe for throwing your money away.
We save a lot of money each year by shopping at Sam’s Club.