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Should You Pay for a Warehouse Club Membership?

by Tara Kuczykowski on May 5, 2009 · 50 comments

The following is a guest post from Cheryl at Swap Savers.

Shop at Samsclub.com (120x90)In order to purchase items at warehouse clubs (i.e. BJ's, Costco, Sam's Club) you have to pay a membership fee usually around $40-$50 a year. Before you pay the price for admission ask yourself these questions to figure out if it is worth it.

How far away do you live? Similar to a gym membership, if you live far away (20 minutes or more) from the warehouse club, the chances of you using it on a regular basis decrease significantly.  If you live close by (5 minutes or less) and you are able to purchase milk and other staple items, the prices are considerably less then other stores.  Also these staple items rarely go on sale at most grocery or other stores so the prices will always be less at the warehouse clubs.

Will you use the entire product? Most items sold at warehouse clubs are sold in bulk.  If you have a large family or business, your odds of using up the entire food product before it goes bad increases.  However if you have an average size family buying in bulk might equate to throwing away a lot of food.

How do the prices compare to nearby stores? This requires some research, but in the long run you will save either the price of the membership or you will save money from purchasing less expensive items at the warehouse club.  If you already have a price log of items you purchase on a regular basis, bring it with you to the warehouse club you are considering and compare prices.  You will need to do some math to figure out the price per unit for the bulk items.  If you don't have a price log create one for a few weeks making sure you write down the prices of items you purchase especially when the items are on sale since the sale prices can be noticeably lower then warehouse prices.  Also keep in mind most grocery stores double coupons and warehouse clubs do not.

Does the warehouse offer a free trial membership? Before purchasing the membership, ask if you can do a month or more free trial membership (without the surcharge fees).  BJ's usually offers a free three month holiday membership in October.  Obviously if you can try it for free first, you have more time to use the above questions to figure out if it is worth paying for the rest of the year.

Deal Seeking Mom here: I've talked before about some of my favorite items to purchase at warehouse clubs. Buying in bulk makes sense for some of the items that our large family uses; however, smaller families might choose to pair up to share the savings. What are your favorite items to purchase at warehouse clubs?

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Good, True and Beautiful May 5, 2009 at 8:55 am

Great Post Cheryl!

I definitely agree that shopping at wholesale clubs requires more deliberate thought and assessment. One thing that is an upside for BJ's is their great coupon policy - I wrote about it and include a link for the BJ's store coupons.

Might help folks save some money!

Good, True and Beautiful´s last blog post..Black and White Coupons?

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2 Amanda May 5, 2009 at 9:13 am

We used to have a membership at Sam's Club, but decided we were not saving enough money and were not satisfied enough to continue being a member. Here are the reasons for our decision:

1. We live about 45 min away from the warehouse (we had to take into consideration gas and time to drive there)
2. Many of our favorite items we purchase at our regular store costs less per oz/lb. (it can be tricky if you're not careful, because many times they package warehouse items in different sizes than they do for regular stores)
3. Some of the food items at Sam's didn't seem fresh (for example, Kraft Mac & Cheese was cheaper at Sam's but even though it was still in date, it tasted old, so I ended up throwing some of it out)

After considering these factors, we realized it was not worth it to have the membership. However, we do check their prices if we're looking for an electronic or something big and expensive to see what kinds of prices they have on those items.

If they have a great deal that would save us quite a bit of money, we will renew our membership so we can save buying that item.

Amanda´s last blog post..Being a Mom is So Worth It: Sharing the Love

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3 RAJEEV KUMAR SINGH May 5, 2009 at 9:33 am

Very nice article.. Gives a clear cut guide and checklist before paying up for this ... I think the most important thing os to check whether the warehouse offer a free trial membership.
Would love to have more on such topics.Keep them coming.

RAJEEV KUMAR SINGH´s last blog post..WHERE AND HOW SHOULD RETIREES INVEST THEIR MONEY?

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4 Melissa May 5, 2009 at 9:40 am

I have a Sam's membership and buy sugar, flour, spices and other bulk items to use in baking. On Mondays, they mark their meat down that didn't sell over the weekend. I can often find great deals as long as I have my price book and calculator with me. Because like others have said, it's not always a good deal!

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5 CarolH May 5, 2009 at 10:02 am

We have recently moved and now have a BJs with gas station only 1.5 miles from our new home. We also joined as part of our credit union and the annual membership $ is less than half of what it would be otherwise. It's something to check into if you belong to a group at work or a credit union.

Even if we paid the full membership, the cost of gas and weekly staples such as milk, make it worth joining.

(BTW, we have dropped Sams 'cause it's now out of the way. Even though it carries some things that I prefer over BJs. Costo closed near us so that's not an option.)

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6 Laurie May 5, 2009 at 10:29 am

We have a Sam's Club membership, and since starting couponing a couple months ago, I'm considering dropping it. Here's why:
*Sam's doesn't accept any coupons.
*Usually, if I watch sales and use coupons, I can get products for far less at regular stores... even staple items like milk (Aldi is cheaper) and chicken breasts (got it for $1.67/lb at Schnuck's vs. Sam's club's usual $2.67/lb).
*You get suckered into trying new products (in bulk) either with the free samples or b/c you THINK something looks delicious :) Or you buy things in bulk when you need just a few b/c you're there and don't want to stop at another store before going home! :)

However there are some things (for us it's Miralax & Oxiclean) that we use tons of, and are significantly cheaper at Sam's, that I have yet to see really good sales on in the regular stores. Oh, and I love their cheap deli ($1.50 or so for a combo meal) and the fact that they'll bake a pizza for you while you shop!
Our Sam's is close by (1o min) and we are a family of 3. Hope this helps anyone considering the membership.

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7 joanna May 5, 2009 at 10:41 am

I did a series on warehouse club memberships, too, here here & here. For us, with a household of just 2, there's a very short list of things we can justify buying in quantity- but those few things do justify the membership cost.

joanna´s last blog post..Buy Handmade

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8 Amy May 5, 2009 at 10:50 am

Milk and boneless, skinless chicken are always a better deal. I have found the price of eggs to be good as well. We also get premium ingredients in our dog food for a much better price than buying at the local Walmart or grocery store.

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9 Jason Allen May 5, 2009 at 11:07 am

I'm single and live a half hour away from the nearest wholesale club, so paying for a membership wouldn't save me money. I have a friend who invited me to go along as a guest on his membership. It's been tempting, but I just don't have the room in my pantry or freezer.

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10 Kate May 5, 2009 at 11:24 am

We have a BJ's membership and to be honest, I only keep if because I like to buy BJ's steaks, smoked salmon, and some of their frozen items that no one else carries. For a small family (3), most of the items they sell are just too large and/or the prices really aren't that good.

Add to that the fact that the 5 Citibank Thank You points per dollar that I receive on groceries and gas doesn't apply to Warehouse Clubs and I can usually find a better deal elsewhere -- except on those steaks.

Actually, almost every time I go there I find myself standing in line with my steaks and possibly one or two other items and staring at all the people with heaped up carts who think they are getting a good deal. I want to hand them a pile of coupons and send them to the grocery store.

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11 MoneyMateKate May 5, 2009 at 11:28 am

One of us gets the trial membership at BJs around Christmas because their butcher shop is awesome - very high quality cuts of beef. But that's really all we find worthwhile. Oh, and the cheesecakes, but our waistlines really don't need that!

MoneyMateKate´s last blog post..Twitter: I’ve caved to the latest fad

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12 Viola May 5, 2009 at 11:31 am

It's only a good deal if you consistently buy items that aren't found elsewhere. We buy a big pack of filet mignon at Sam's & freeze for later...this is way cheaper than buying at the local grocery. And the frozen desserts & meals are to die for.

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13 Swap Savers May 5, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Thanks for all your comments! BJ's is actually offering a free 60 day pass now (although whenever I go they usually end up giving me 3 months). Here is the link for the coupon
http://www.swapsavers.com/forum/topics/free-60-day-pass-to-bjs

Cheryl

Swap Savers´s last blog post..Sherry Spinner updated their profile

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14 alliegator May 5, 2009 at 12:28 pm

We get a free costco membership through my husbands employer, I've noticed we go a lot less now that I'm shopping with coupons.

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15 Andrea @ Mommy Snacks.net May 5, 2009 at 12:32 pm

We go for basic essentials, like you mentioned in your previous post on this Tara. We were also able to go in with our friends and do a joing membership. So, just she and I have a card but we do most of the shopping anyway. The cost that way makes it definitely worth it even if it is a 20-minute drive.

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16 Pamela May 5, 2009 at 12:50 pm

We go through at least 3 gallons of milk/week. Since BJ's milk is ALWAYS at least .50 cheaper (many times .75-1.00 cheaper) at my store than anyone else and closer than the nearest grocery store, I SAVE $78 just in milk from BJ's every year. It's definitely worth it for us. Now that I know their coupon policy, I'll be going to BJ's more often!!!! Thanks

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17 arcanabtn May 5, 2009 at 12:52 pm

No one has mentioned that Sam's has an instore deli. We live 30 minutes from our Sam's, but when we do drive the 30 minutes to go to a larger town - Sam's is the place that we do lunch or dinner at. I can get a pizza slice (which is huge and a soft drink) for under $3.00. They also have a cup of ice cream for 97 cent. I mainly use it for produce, much better quality than my local stores and the price is usually better.

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18 CaroleG May 5, 2009 at 12:56 pm

I have saved a lot on what others have stated - meats, dairy, etc. I also wanted to add that their sheet cake and cupcake prices are great for kids' parties, as well as pizzas, if you want to add that. I have also bought their fruit, veggie, and sandwich trays for parties. Another place to check is their clothes - I've gotten boutique and/or name brand stuff on clearance (their "last ones" rack) for super cheap. Always look for items ending in $0.81, which indicates clearance.

We told our inlaws to get the membership for us for Xmas every year!

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19 rabia May 5, 2009 at 1:05 pm

i personaly like there return policy on my big items,our box spring broke and they replaced it,we had problems with our printer and vacum and they exchanged it with no hassels.We are a family of six and we go through alot of grocerires,detergent etc,the only thing i dont like is no coupon saving.

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20 Emily May 5, 2009 at 1:25 pm

I have a Sam's membership for our family of five. Before I started "really" couponing, it was a good deal. Now I'm not so sure. I'm going to be keeping a close eye on what I'm spending there for the rest of the year (our membership expires in December) and see if it really is worth it.

Emily´s last blog post..Vons "Living Well" shopping trips

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21 Emily May 5, 2009 at 1:39 pm

I LOVE warehouse memberships- even for my small family of 3. We are Costco people, but I recently got a BJs membership too because they are a little closer and have a better baby selection. We live in an area where groceries are more expensive and Costco is almost always the cheapest option. Plus, we have a deep freezer and a vaccuum sealer, so I make sure to seal and freeze things so that they last longer. Plus I like the convenience of buying in bulk- less trips to the store.

But another thing to consider is the savings on medicine. The OTC drugs are amazingly priced. I can get a years worth for allergy medicine for the cost of one small bottle at the drugstore. I believe you can get RXs from Costco without a membership.

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22 Ruth Ann May 5, 2009 at 1:55 pm

I'm single and living alone but have found that my Sams Club membership is worth it for me. The store is convenient for me and I've found a few things that are staples in my house that I can get at Sams for cheaper than at other stores. I also like that I'm able to help out with church things by picking stuff up at Sams when needed. Gas is $0.03-$0.07/gallon cheaper at Sams.

I share a membership with my sister. When we signed up, they didn't care that we had a different last name, lived in different states, etc. I think I ended up with the "spouse" card.

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23 Christine May 5, 2009 at 2:17 pm

if for some reason (gasp!) we don't have any coupons or checks, we go to Costco to get Similac.

Christine´s last blog post..Entertainment Books now only $15!

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24 Tanya May 5, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Don't forget also that at Sam's club you can share the membership! My Mom & I purchased a membership together and she got a discount through her work. It wound up costing us just $15 each for the year. Definitely worth it for us!!

Tanya´s last blog post..May Charity Challenge

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25 Melissa May 5, 2009 at 3:17 pm

I heart Costco. They usually get really nice package deals on items, and give you extras that best buy and the like don't include.
Plus, they have amazing prices on things that are super expensive in the regular grocery store, such as cheeses, potstickers, egg rolls and produce. Obviously it's good to be careful and make sure you don't overbuy, but I really love having a Costco Membership. They also get fresher better fish than our grocery stores do, and the return policy is amazing.
Costco releases its own set of coupons every month or so, and I've saved even more using them, and it was completely hassle free.

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26 Susana May 5, 2009 at 3:30 pm

We love Costco! They have two kinds of memberships: regular $50 and another called the Executive $100/year on which they give you back 2% of everything that you spend in the store (except gas). I was very skeptical about spending $100 but they reassured me that it is guaranteed that you'll make the $50 difference back on your rebate check or they give you the difference in cash. We have shopped there for 4 years now and every year, a month or 2 before our membership is due they mail out a rebate check for your accumulated 2%. Our check is always over $125 (one year it was $230), which boils down to Costco paying us $25+ to shop at their store!!! yay free money!!!!
They also send out their own coupons in the mail. Usually every other month but lately its been every 4-6 weeks and they have some great deals on there!! Their return policy is also very good.
And if you ever want to give them a try and for some reason you don't like or want the membership, they refund your money.

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27 Clint May 5, 2009 at 3:40 pm

I agree that the bulk food and bulk paper products at Costco aren't that much of a great deal, but what about gas! Gas at Costco is consistently $.05-$.10 per gallon cheaper. Gas alone should cover the annual fee. They also have unique items that are a steal. (bathroom lights for $40, cheapest at Lowes was $100). And their return policy is the best in the world. No reciept, had it for 8 months, no problem and you get cash back. Target employees would have a heart attack if I asked to return an item 6 months later with no reciept.

Clint´s last blog post..Bad Cop, No Doughnut

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28 Shelly May 5, 2009 at 4:22 pm

We have a Costco membership and I have definitely noticed we don't use it as much since I started couponing. We never bought much of the bulk stuff, just things like meat (the best!), milk, eggs, coffee. We still continue to get most of those things there, just not as frequently. I used to buy a lot of books and they have great prices on those too. Spices and baking supplies are very well priced. Recently we ordered a memory foam mattress online that is AMAZING! The cost of that alone was worth this year's fees. Oh, and like the poster above mentioned, the gas prices are usually the best in the area.

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29 John @ Hard Work Blogging May 5, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Don't forget the great return policy. Costco has such a good policy that it might be worth it just for the peace of mind. Also some items are such a good deal that it could be worth the membership for one item. A HDTV that is $100 cheaper at Costco is worth the membership even if that is the only thing you buy.

John @ Hard Work Blogging´s last blog post..My Great Resume is all Wrong

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30 Rebecca May 5, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Something else to consider -

You get two membership cards, usually intending for a husband and wife to share a membership. But if you do the bulk of the shopping or if you're single, what do you do with the extra? Split it with a friend! I split my membership to BJs with a friend of mine. We each put in $20 and got our own personal membership cards. We both had to use the same address for the card, so only one of us gets the mailers, but it still worked out to be better for us than us each buying our own memberships!

Rebecca´s last blog post..Clearing Closet Clutter

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31 Rachel May 5, 2009 at 5:03 pm

the only thing I buy at BJs is baby formula (the Berkley & Jensen brand)...its has saved soooo much! other than that, the prices arne't worthwhile if you are a sale shopper & couponer.

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32 Rachel May 5, 2009 at 5:25 pm

I am single, but Sam's Club is within 5 minutes of my house and in an area I am frequently at for shopping. My aunt also lives as close and has a family of 6, so we split the membership - $20 each/year. Even though I'm single, I've found it's great! I buy my milk, cereal, paper towels, toilet paper, dish & laundry detergent, baking supplies, non perishables, and some freezer items like frozen chicken, and appetizer/meat/cheese items when I'm having a party. I also buy my chips there - they're a lot cheaper than the store. I like the fact that they have a gas station there - it's always the cheapest - or the nearby gas stations match their price, but it's never cheaper elsewhere.

I've also found great deals on dishes, bedding, clothes for kids in the family, books, dvd's, camping and other outdoor gear, coffee, etc.

Some things are not cheaper, but if you keep a careful eye, you can save money even with the cost of membership!

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33 brandy May 5, 2009 at 5:30 pm

I use my parents card and just buy DIAPERS there...

brandy´s last blog post..FREE KFC

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34 Becca May 5, 2009 at 5:33 pm

I love my Costco membership. I use the pharmacy there and it is great. I also buy tons of books. I think it definitely pays off but as you said, I live less than 5 minutes away.

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35 Farrah May 5, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I share a Sam's membership with my mother. Which makes the membership very affordable. We are there probably every other week picking up things. We do save a lot of money shopping there just on the grocery items.

I think if you are a household with babies, the diapers are a great deal. Formula is also a good deal at Sam's. Given you can watch sales and use coupons and get things cheaper. But you can't always get what you need on sale.

The only downside to Sam's -- they don't accept coupons. :( They will accept checks from the formula companies but not coupons.

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36 Anna Hanks May 5, 2009 at 6:27 pm

I have a Sam's club membership and I buy Cat litter there. It is like getting 10 or more pounds free. even with a dollar off coupon I can't beat this. However, it is the only thing I consistantly buy. I get impulse stuff and the produce is always nicer than the store but how much fresh produce can you eat before it goes bad. If I could get a great deal on cat litter I would stop buying a membership.
Addicted to the coupons Anna in MI

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37 karla May 5, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I shop at BJ's and think their gas prices are worth the price of the membership. We are a family of four(2 sons) and the formula was also way cheaper than on the outside. I may not buy a bunch in bulk but gas (sometimes 20-30 cents cheaper!) and formula more than paid for the membership, imo.

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38 Dizzy Mommy May 5, 2009 at 7:01 pm

We have a membership to Costco (I have 3 kids and a forth on the way). We use our membership to purchase things like Kirkland bottled water because we have well water and nasty well water at that. I also buy Tariyaki Sauce and Soy Sauce in the large containers. Peanut butter and jelly is nice in the large things to because my kids prefer to have sandwitches when they dont have school. I also use my membership to buy books for the kids... last summer I bought 30 (3 sets of 10) of the step up books for $10 each...it was a great steal and perfect birthday gifts for my kids. I also use it to purchase gas I have the executive membership and get 2% of everything back in a giftcard every year.

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39 Mendy May 5, 2009 at 7:47 pm

MILK! Our family uses 5 gallons a week. The grocery store on the corner sells a gallon of skim for $3.74; Costco sells is for $2.25. I go once a week for my milk, eggs, and avocados!

Mendy´s last blog post..Kenna's Vocab

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40 Shelly the Chic Crafty Chick May 5, 2009 at 8:59 pm

We have found our Sam's club membership helpful on big ticket purchases such as tires for our vehicles.

For bigger family get togethers for birthdays, their bakery cakes are a great deal. Bigger cakes that taste better and are a better deal than Wal Mart or the local grocery stores.

Shelly the Chic Crafty Chick´s last blog post..Two Tip Tuesday Cinco de Mayo Style

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41 Mikki May 5, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Hi! We have Costco and BJs membership. We considered not renewing this year but we kept both.
We purchase gas at Costco and the savings for gas is anywhere from 5 - 25 cents per gallon! We have two babies and BJs has terrific prices on diapers. We calculated that the amount we save at both clubs either pays for or exceeds the membership fee!

Mikki´s last blog post..Great Gift for Tech-Savvy Moms!

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42 Katie May 5, 2009 at 11:42 pm

I go to Costco for gas, cheese and free snacks. My mom pays otherwise I would not have their card. I occasionally buy other things when they are a good deal but they generally compare to either grocery outlet or sale prices. Spices are a good deal. I've found that strawberries were riper their than grocery stores and sale price at Safeway is better.

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43 Andi May 6, 2009 at 8:40 am

I heart Costco

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44 Bargain Becky May 6, 2009 at 8:47 am

Great article Cheryl! I def. agree with the distance portion - if there isn't one close, it's def. not worth it!

I calculated at the beginning of the year that I make more money just buying my milk at BJ's - it makes the membership fee worth it.

http://bargainbecky.blogspot.com/2009/01/getting-your-moneys-worth-at-bjs-just.html

Bargain Becky´s last blog post..Free Chicken at KFC! (Thanks Oprah!)

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45 Denise May 6, 2009 at 11:06 am

I have never been a member. It seems like a big expense for a small discount. I don't live close to one either.

Denise´s last blog post..Home Depot - Do it Herself Workshop

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46 Betsy Bargain May 6, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Since I have discovered Winco, a great store near me with lots of stuff available cheap in bulk bins, I have let my Costco membership lapse. Winco beats most of their prices, and they take coupons! Everything else I buy on sale with double coupons at other grocery stores.

Betsy Bargain´s last blog post..Don't Throw It - Grow It!

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47 Amy S May 7, 2009 at 8:32 am

i just purchased a SAM'S membership after resisting for a number of years.

We liked the resin shed they had there for $998 so I got the membership - THEN I found it also at Sear's, and they we willing to price match Sam's + 10% of the difference. Shopping online thru Ebates and with the price match difference it basically paid for the Sam's membership which I had to prove I had,...

BUT I have now remembered why I didn't want a Sam's membership,...I have no self control shopping there and always buy more than I intended,....huge scallops for dinner?? sure,..why not lol,...

I don't know if a warehouse club membership is a good idea for my household,..

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48 Frank June 4, 2009 at 1:24 pm

I just canceled my Sam's Club membership the other day. $40.00 a year is a lot to me. We buy the same stuff that's available in other chain of stores, and if I would brouse Valassis or Smart Source every Sunday, I still can manage to save. By the way, Customer Service said I still can use the card to get into the store but I cannot use it to pay my purchases, naturally, it's canceled! One of you mentioned of an "upcharge" for non-members at Sam's. This, I have to check out before my next shopping. As always, any of my friends welcome me to come hitch along on their shopping at Sam's.

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49 Kathie June 5, 2009 at 4:48 pm

I have shopped at these places a few times with friends or trial memberships. I don't think the deals are that great, often I can do better at the supermarket with a double coupon combined with a sale and buy smaller amounts. Buying in bulk often isn't cheaper. I just resent PAYING to shop somewhere. You spend way more than you expect to at these places because of the large items. I really don't want to spend $20 at one shot for toilet paper. The places near us do not sell gas, if they did I might consider joining. Whoever came up with the concept is a marketing genius........make people pay to shop here and only sell big quantities so everyone THINKS they are getting a bargain.............

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50 Mary B January 6, 2010 at 5:46 pm

We live about 10 minutes away, so travel isn't a consideration. I am keeping my membership because in our area, the produce is better value for the quality than local grocery stores. I also think they sometimes have better prices on meats than other stores, as well. Since I've started couponing, I use Sam's less because of the amount of money I save.

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