Updated October 19, 2012
I love shopping at Costco. I feel like a kid in a candy store especially with all the yummy samples! Below I share tips to save money while shopping at warehouse clubs.
1. Avoid food samples. As tasty as they are, the chance you will buy a new product goes through the roof when you put it in your mouth.
2. Consider executive. A regular annual membership is $55. An executive membership is $110. I recently calculated that my friend, who upgraded, would have to spend $2,584 a year in the warehouse, plus $780 a year in gas, and buy a $500 vacation through Costco to make his money back. Is a Costco executive membership worth it for you?
3. Get a small cart. It’s no wonder the carts are bigger at warehouses. So you can buy more stuff! Don’t even think about pushing around a flatbed cart – it entices you tack on extra purchases.
4. Take control of your shopping. One of the best ways to save money at these warehouses is to avoid spur of the moment purchases. In other words, stick to your list! If you’re not good at reining in your shopping, a warehouse membership may not be for you. I have to go with someone or I’ll bring the entire warehouse home. Bargain Babe allows herself a limited number of off-list purchases, just two.
5. Use warehouse coupons. Seems simple, but how many times have you bought an item without using a coupon from their coupon books? Purchase detergent, soap, and toilet paper only during coupon cycles for the best deals. Costco does four week coupon cycles. Sam’s Club has general coupons and coupons that are specifically for you. BJ’s mails out a monthly coupon book.
6. Use manufacturer coupons – Costco and Sam’s Club do not accept manufacture’s coupons, but BJ’s does. Whenever possible take advantage of this! Don’t forget to do a quick price check to figure out if the manufacture’s coupon can get you a better deal at your local grocery or drugstore. To browse more than 1,000 grocery coupons all in one place, check out the grocery coupons on LOZO.
7. Not everything is a bargain. Be careful not to slip into thinking EVERYTHING at a warehouse is lower priced than at another store. It’s simply not true. I’ve seen toothpaste for $3 a tube at Costco – ripoff!
8. Go for the gift cards. The selection rotates, but you can usually find a handful of A-list gift cards (like iTunes) for less than the face value. Catch is you usually have to buy $50-$100 worth of them.
9. Avoid the middle of the store. While interviewing a Costco executive years back, Bargain Babe learned that the center aisles are where most impulse buys are displayed. Think about it – that’s where the seasonal items are, plus clothes, candy, and other non-essentials.
10. Cash card. Costco, and perhaps BJ’s and Sam’s Club, allow members to buy gift cards (called “cash cards“) for non-members. Recipients get to shop at the warehouse without a membership and without any non-member surcharges.
11. Electronics deal? Costco used to have such a generous return policy on electronics that it often made sense to buy them there, even if you had to pay a few more bucks. Now, with its 90-day return policy, it’s more important than ever to compare prices at rivals Best Buy, Amazon, Walmart, and Target.
12. Take advantage of the pharmacy. Even if you’re not a member, warehouses with a pharmacy are required to let you fill your prescription there. Just tell the person checking membership badges that you’re going to the pharmacy.
13. Booze it up. No need to fret if you are not a member. Clubs usually allow nonmembers to purchase alcohol. Keep in mind that you will be slapped with a surcharge, so do your research and find out who has the less costly surcharge in your area.
14. Check price endings. Items that end in .97 cents at Costco mean they have excess supply and need to get rid of the item. It also means the product been marked down and the store is losing money the longer it hangs around. If an item has an asterisks on the price sheet, it means it will not be restocked and you should buy it now if you want it. At Sam’s Club, a price ending in .01, .41 or .91 is the equivalent to the Costco .97. If an item has a pound sign or a “C” on the price sheet, it means it will not be restocked.
15. Clean up on aisles 5, 6, and 7. I recently heard from Clark Howard, a consumer expert, that Costco and Sam’s Club have their best deals on the right hand side of the store. So head to aisles 5, 6, and 7, which typically contain housewares, decorations, and accessories. Remember your budget and tread carefully! They often overstock this area and then they have to discount it heavily to make room for new merchandise.
16. Buy organic. More and more warehouses are stocking organic produce. Buying organic food at a warehouse is cheaper than at Trader Joes and Whole Foods. A while back I shared tips on how to save money at Whole Foods and one of those was to use coupons.
17. Shop designer clothes and bags – Many warehouses sell high-end designer clothes and bags at bargain prices. I’ve scored Calvin Klein clothes at 50% off! Take advantage of these deals (if you can afford it and need it) as they will save you 20-50% off. Go for it when you spot the deal, or it may not be there when you come back. Warehouse merchandise is in constant rotation.
18. Buy glasses at Costco. You can’t buy glasses at Costco unless you are a member, but you can tag along with a member friend for the purchase. (You should be able to order your glasses without a membership card.) The savings are huge compared to a store like Len’s Crafters, though not nearly as cheap as many online glasses stores.
19. Renege. Your warehouse membership may be refundable if you are not satisfied. Costco, for example, has a policy that they will “refund your membership fee in full at any time if you are dissatisfied.”
What are your tips for shopping at wholesale warehouses? Leave a comment and we’ll add them to the post!