Shopping at warehouse stores like Sam's Club and Costco has its benefits, but it also makes us think of soccer moms. Are these stores worthwhile for people who aren't feeding a family of four?
In addition to being cheaper than regular grocery stores, Costco and Sam's Club also offer fringe benefits. These include pharmacies, travel services, and more lenient return policies (Costco is known for its "return at anytime" refund policy, though the policy no longer applies to most electronics). A Costco membership costs $50 per year, while Sam's Club members pay $40.
To find out if a membership to a warehouse store is right for you, ask yourself these 3 questions:
1. Do I Have the Storage Space?
Do you really want 75 rolls of toilet paper lying around your house? Will you have room in your pantry for that giant bag of Craisins?
2. Will You Use the Additional Services?
Some locations of both Costco and Sam's Club have gas stations that sell fuel for 3 to 10 cents cheaper than normal. As long as getting to these gas stations don't require a trip out of your way, that's an added incentive for your membership. (Or you can try to game the system.) Then there's the health services: Many Sam's Clubs have eye doctors (who take insurance), and Costcos offer health screenings. Both stores have pharmacies, though Sam's Club's low $4 generic prescription pricing is available at Wal-Mart, too. Additionally, Costco offers banking services through Capital One, offering financial incentives for opening an account.
3. Are You Purchasing Any Big Ticket Items this Year?
If you plan to buy a television, computer, digital camera, or other electronics, you have a good chance of making your membership dues back in one purchase. For example, a 42" Vizio 42-inch HD LCD TV with all the bells and whistles runs for $950 on Amazon, whereas the same TV at Costco is $900. These great deals apply to furniture and appliances, too.
Here are the best and worst products at warehouse stores (in terms of price rather than taste, though we do really like Costco's tzatziki dip):
Non-perishable items like toilet paper and batteries. At Sam's Club, a 75-roll package of Angel Soft two-ply is only $75.72, which breaks down to 91 cents per roll; meanwhile, a 4-pack is about $4 elsewhere. As we stated above, we really love buying our electronics at Costco because of the deep savings. Also, liquor, wine and beer is generally 10% to 30% cheaper at warehouse stores than elsewhere. But, before weighing this into your decision to join, do a quick check: In some states, you don't have to be a member to purchase discounted booze.
If you live alone, it's not worth your while to buy a lot of perishables. We are able to successfully work our way through items like chicken breasts, cheese, and meat, but doing so requires that we be conscientious cookers who plan meals around those items.