10 Mistakes That Cost You Money at Warehouse Stores

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Being a member of Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s might seem like a steal when you find great deals. But there’s a chance you’re wasting more money than you’re saving.

Sure, deals abound at warehouse stores. However, if you’re not approaching shopping trips smartly, you could be throwing money away, regardless of which warehouse store you go to.

Following are some key ways you might be overspending at these membership clubs — likely without even realizing it.

1. Not earning cash back

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Hopefully, you already know there are multiple ways to earn cash back when shopping online — including on wholesale clubs’ websites. But you’re leaving money on the table if you aren’t also earning cash back every time you shop at a Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s store.

A free app called Ibotta routinely offers cash rebates on purchases from these three chains’ brick-and-mortar stores — among many other retailers’ stores.

To start using Ibotta, sign up for an account, which is free. Then, download the app and launch it. From there, you can select Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s from the list of retailers to see what cash rebates Ibotta is currently offering for purchases from those wholesale clubs.

Of course, you can also always earn cash back by paying with a cash-back credit card. Go to our Solutions Center to find the right credit card for your needs.

2. Assuming that you need a membership

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There is a lot you can buy at a wholesale club without a membership, especially if you’re open to buying items online or shopping with a friend or relative who has a membership to the store.

In fact, some people will save money overall by paying nonmember surcharges instead of an annual membership fee.

Let’s take Costco, for example. Becoming a member will cost you at least $60 a year, while not joining means you will pay a 5% nonmember surcharge on most purchases.

So, technically, if you spend less than $1,200 per year at Costco, you save money by paying the surcharge instead of the membership fee.

To learn more, check out:

3. Not planning your meals

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Large packages of cheap goods such as rice and pasta make bulk shopping seem enticing. And for families who go through such items quickly, they’re a great investment. But if your family seldom uses these things, you’ll only end up with a lot of food going to waste.

Before you hit the warehouse store, plan meals for the next few weeks so you know what to buy.

If you’re new to the concept of meal planning, check out our primer, “This Habit Saves Me Money and Stress All Week Long.”

4. Not reviewing the ads and deals

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Warehouse stores already have good prices on a lot of things compared with regular stores. But most warehouse clubs give even deeper discounts.

To find them, check the ads and fliers just like you would at a regular grocery store.

I tend to check the Costco app to see what offers are coming up. You can also find Costco’s periodic discounts on its Warehouse Savings webpage. Meanwhile, Sam’s Club’s periodic discounts are on its Instant Savings Book webpage.

5. Not figuring what you actually need

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If you’re going to buy that big pack of batteries, make sure you’re prepared to use them all before the expiration date. Just like many items sold in bulk, batteries have a shelf life.

Before you make this kind of purchase at a warehouse store, ask yourself how many of the items you actually will use. If they go bad before you expect to use them all up, the bulk package isn’t the deal it might seem to be.

6. Keeping things you don’t need

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Have you ever bought something that you later realized you didn’t need, want or like? Have you held on to it or thrown it away — barely used — because you didn’t think you could return it?

Before stashing or trashing it, check the return policy of the store where you bought it.

For example, Costco has one of the best return policies for both online and in-store purchases. Some things do have a return window — like 90 days for many electronics — but you can return most things at any time.

7. Not splitting what you can

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In my household of three, we know there are plenty of things bought in bulk that we won’t go through. So, if there’s a sale on something we want but we know it’s too much for just us, we try to split it with someone else. Such things might be food, paper goods or coffee. If it’s a great deal, we find a way to make it work.

Consider shopping with a friend or family member and splitting some of your purchases. What might be too much for one household can be perfect when it gets broken up for two.

8. Ignoring your household size

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Bulk goods are meant to feed and care for a lot of people. So, determine which products best fit your household.

If you’ve got kids at home or your parents live with you, it’s easier to justify larger quantities. But if it’s just you and your partner, reconsider some purchases — or split them with another household.

9. Forgetting your home’s space limits

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You might think that buying toilet paper in bulk will save you a few dollars — and it might. But do you have a place to put all those extra rolls?

Larger bulk items are not worth buying if you don’t have a spot to store the excess. So, evaluate your home’s space before splurging on larger quantities.

10. Not being flexible about your shopping list

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Sure, eating the samples at a warehouse store is like having an extra lunch. But they could help you make better shopping decisions, too.

Wouldn’t you rather buy something that you know is good than buy something blindly? That’s why samples exist — to give you the chance to try something you wouldn’t otherwise eat. Sure, warehouse stores know you’re likely to buy the food you sampled — that’s why they have samples.

It’s OK to change up your shopping list if you taste something you’d like to cook soon. And it’s even better if it’s on sale.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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