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10 Secrets to Shopping Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club

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This article was written about 6 years ago, but still has a lot of relevant information for shopping these warehouse stores. We’ve updated some of the information to give you the best chance at saving more money.

Shopping wholesale warehouses can be fun, but you can easily go overboard. Don’t walk out of Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s having paid an oversized bill. I share my secrets to shopping wholesale warehouses on a budget below.

Reconsider your membership

If you’re not good at reining in your shopping, a warehouse membership may not be for you. Ditto if you don’t shop there often. I’ll let you in on a little secret. You don’t really need a membership to shop warehouses. All you need is a friend who can buy a cash card for you. Costco allows members to buy cash cards to gift to non-members.  The best part is there aren’t any non-member surcharges and you don’t get stuck paying for a membership you barely use. It may be similar at other warehouses. 

Skip the food samples

Nibbling on the samples is my favorite when shopping at Costco, but it’s a big no-no if you want to stay on budget. Once you try something — especially on an empty stomach – you’re more likely to cave in and buy it (Editors note: I’ve seen this first-hand that when someone tries a sample, they seem more apt to purchase the item).

Shop the perimeter of the warehouse

Most of the seasonal items, plus clothes, books, CDs and more are displayed in the center aisles. For many of us, these items tend to trigger compulsive buys.

Consider the executive membership

Do shop warehouses regularly? Upgrade. The Bargain Babe recently calculated how much a friend, who upgraded to an executive membership, would have to spend to make the switch worth it. Do the math to learn whether an executive membership is worth it for you.

Buy glasses at Costco

You must be a member to buy glasses at Costco, but don’t let that stop you from tagging along with a member friend to make the purchase. The savings are huge compared to stores like Len’s Crafters, though you can find better deals online.

Use coupons

Costco and Sam’s Club do not accept manufacture’s coupons, but BJ’s does. Use them, but don’t forget to check prices at local stores to see if you can get a better deal. Remember to use the coupons that are mailed to you by the warehouse! Costco does four-week coupon cycles. Sam’s club has general coupons and coupons that are specifically for you. BJ’s mails them out in a monthly coupon book.

Dig through the clothes

On a recent trip to Costco, I found a pair of my favorite pants simply by digging through some of their clothes for $5. They seem to have a table that is a bit more mix-and-match and that is where you can find some real steals.

Fill prescriptions at the pharmacy

Even if you’re not a member, warehouses with a pharmacy are required to let you fill your prescription there. Just let the person at the door know you’re headed to the pharmacy. 

Learn the meaning of price endings

At Costco, items ending in .97 cents mean they have excess supply. It also means the product been marked down and the store is losing money the longer it hangs around. If an item has an asterisk on the price sheet, it means it will not be restocked and you should buy it before it’s all gone. 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 you must buy now as it won’t be restocked.

Shop gift cards

You can usually find gift cards (like local restaurants and Starbucks) for less than the face value. You will have to buy $50 – $100 worth of them. These make great inexpensive Christmas presents!

One of the best ways to save money at these warehouses is to avoid spur of the moment purchases so stick to your list! And keep in mind that not everything is a bargain. What are your tips for shopping at wholesale warehouses?


Yazmin Cruz is a staff writer at the money and coupon blog, BargainBabe.com.

See how you can save money on your monthly cell phone bill.

Update 10/6/17: Costco just announced they will be offering two-day delivery of dry grocery goods (free if over $75) and a same-day delivery service of groceries through Instacart. More details

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