12 Things You Need to Know Before Shopping at Any Warehouse Club

Wholesale superstores like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s can save you up to 55 percent on some items. If you aren’t careful, though, you can find yourself considerably out of pocket. Read on for the best insider’s tips for saving money with your warehouse club membership.

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Know Your Tier

Warehouse clubs offer different membership levels or tiers. Higher-priced tiers make sense for big families and business purchases, but for standard domestic shopping, a basic membership is fine.

Find a Shopping Buddy

If you don’t have a spouse or kids, split membership costs and bulk purchases with a friend. You’ll both be able to save money, you won’t end up buying more than you could possibly use, and you may find that shopping with a friend will help rein in impulse purchases. 

Plan a Monthly Trip

Club memberships can save you money on bulk purchases, but your bill can quickly add up the more frequently you shop. Plan a single shopping trip per month, stick to the items on your list, and avoid free samples and other traps that are designed to get you to buy more.

Make Your Lists

Make two shopping lists—one for regular groceries and the other for club purchases. Your grocery store list should contain items you run out of on a weekly basis, while your club list should have only your bulk or seasonal purchases, such as turkey for Thanksgiving.

Related: Do These Things to Keep from Overspending on Regular Shopping Trips

Know How Pricing Works

At Costco, price tags that end with $.97 may indicate that an item is being sold below cost—but don’t count on it. Each store has a slightly different system for markdowns, so it’s best to get familiar with your local club’s pricing strategy.

Look Ahead

Some warehouse clubs will stock seasonal items much earlier than other stores, for instance, bathing suits in December. Before you write up your monthly shopping list, think about upcoming holidays, vacation plans, and other reasons for special purchases, and update your list accordingly.

Related: The Best Things to Get for Your Backyard from Sam’s Club

Compare Unit Prices

Buying nonperishable items like toilet paper and paper towels in bulk can make you feel like you’re saving big, but pay attention to unit prices. Compare the unit prices of your favorite items at your local warehouse store with prices at other big retailers like Target and Amazon to see whether you are really getting the biggest bang for your buck.

Do Research

If you’re thinking of buying a big-ticket item—for instance, a new TV or computer—do some online research, and don’t simply assume you’ll get the best deal at a warehouse club. You can also check your club’s website to find out what products and models they sell.

Related: 9 Things You Never Have to Pay Full Price For

Consider Club Credit

Depending on how much you buy at your warehouse club, it may be worthwhile for you to get a club credit card, which comes with financial incentives. You can typically expect to get a small percentage (2 to 5 percent) back on gas purchases, eligible travel, dining out, and other purchases made with the card.

Eat Before You Go

Costco and Sam’s Club have food courts with relatively cheap eats—plus free samples. But a lot of the fare is high in fat and sugar, so protect yourself from impulse buys by fueling up before you go.

Gas Up

Some warehouse clubs sell gas at relatively cheap prices, and if you have a club credit card, you may get additional savings. To make the most of this benefit, hold off on gassing up your car until your next shopping trip.

Go Beyond Groceries

Planning a vacation? Look for good deals on travel packages at your local Costco or online. And travel is just one of many special product categories on offer at warehouse stores. Others include eyeglasses, hearing aids, prescription drugs, caskets, and cars. Pay attention to these “extras,” which could save you some cash.

Related: The 10 Most Surprising Things You Can Buy at Sam’s Club

Score a Deal

You have to shop smart to save money at a warehouse store.