How to make the most of your wholesale club membership

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The prices of groceries and household necessities are rising, and with record-high inflation and soaring interest rates, American households are tightening budgets and re-prioritizing spending.

One option that may help with spending could be joining a wholesale club like Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s Wholesale Club. In exchange for an annual fee, you have access to bulk items and signature savings offered by the club.

"The annual fee, which is usually well under $100, can easily pay off after a few shopping trips if you nab discounts," said Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet. "The danger is that people overspend because they want to take advantage of all the deals and bulk-buy purchases, so you have to make sure you only buy what you will actually use and have room in your home to store." 

Below, experts share tips, tricks and recommendations so that you can stretch your dollars and reap the benefits of your wholesale club membership.

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What are the benefits of joining a wholesale club?

Joining a wholesale club gives shoppers access to exclusive savings on bulk containers of household items, personal care goods and groceries. In addition, you can reap savings on auto parts, gas, seasonal merchandise, home goods, toys, clothing, electronics and more, said Andrea Woroch, a consumer-savings expert. 

A shopper looks at clothing in a Costco store in San Francisco, California, on March 3, 2021. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via / Getty Images)

Does it make sense to join more than one?

Joining more than one wholesale club will depend on your purchase needs.

"It makes sense to join more than one wholesale club if there are items or brands you really like and would buy from both stores," Woroch told FOX Business. 

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
COSTCOSTCO WHOLESALE CORP.483.65-2.76-0.57%
BJBJS WHSL CLUB HLDGS INC76.69-0.98-1.26%
WMTWALMART INC.140.97+0.25+0.18%

How can you justify the annual fee?

If you consistently shop at a wholesale club the savings will offset a membership fee.

"Paying the annual fee makes sense if you buy enough that the savings cover the payment and more," Woroch explained. "This is especially true if you shop for most of your household needs from a warehouse store."

And, Woroch points out, a single savings on a rental car or furniture purchase could cover more than the annual fee you paid to lock in the deal in the first place.

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How to determine if buying in bulk is cost-effective

It can be very tempting to try to snag a deal by buying in bulk, but there are mitigating factors that prove the true value of bulk buying. 

Woroch said buying in bulk is not always the most cost-effective for a few reasons. 

First, you have to consider the product's shelf life.

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"Perishable items could easily go bad if you overbuy in bulk," she cautioned.

Think about what your family will really eat throughout the week and try to limit to those fresh foods in bulk unless you can freeze them (like chicken breasts). "I prefer to buy most fruits and vegetables in smaller containers or individually from my local grocer for this reason," she says. "Otherwise I end up wasting a lot of those fresh groceries if I overbuy in bulk. Not to mention, fresh fruit and vegetables lose nutrients when they sit out too long."

Next, think about if you have the room to store bulk purchases like paper towels, toilet paper and paper plates.

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"If you live in a smaller home or apartment, it may not make sense," said Woroch, adding that splitting bulk purchases with a friend or neighbor may be a better option.

Finally, be mindful of your actual budget.

"Even if you have room to store several oversized bulk packages of household and office supply goods, remember everything will cost more and your overall total spend in the single shopping trip can come out to hundreds of dollars, which could send you over budget," Woroch said. Keep in mind that if you’re placing this purchase on a credit card and can't pay it off in full, interest paid on the balance will eat into any savings you scored by buying those bulk items in the first place, she added.

How to resist the urge to overbuy and overspend

It can be tempting to buy lots of items in wholesale clubs, but a shopping strategy can keep your budget and actual needs in check. The best way to stay on track is to plan out your shopping trip first.

Customers shop for clothing at a Costco store on July 13, 2021, in Novato, California. (Justin Sullivan/ / Getty Images)

Warehouse stores promote all sorts of fun deals from seasonal merchandise to tech savings to toy bundles and clothing steals that can tempt even the most budget-minded shopper to pick up a few items on impulse, said Woroch. "Beware of this trap and plan out your shopping trip first, thinking about exactly which meals you're buying for, so you don't overbuy groceries either," she recommended. 

Beyond meal planning, write down what you may need for upcoming events/celebrations too. For instance, do you need a toy gift for an upcoming birthday or baby item for an upcoming baby shower? In those instances, looking for a deal with a budget in mind is a smarter way to approach the shopping trip, said Woroch.

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Reap gas benefits

Wholesale clubs offer up to 30% gas savings when compared to other name-brand gas stations, according to Woroch. This doesn't mean they are the cheapest option though, so it's a good idea to compare prices using a tool like GasBuddy, which shows you the cheapest gas stations in your area based on your location.

Motorists wait in long lines for gas on March 8, 2022, at Sam’s Club in San Bernardino, California. (Will Lester/MediaNews Group/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin / Getty Images)

 "You may find that there's a gas station that offers a similar or better price that is more conveniently located to you and, chances are, will have shorter lines. However, plan it right and fuel up on your next trip to Costco or Sam's Club to get full advantage of their savings offers," said Woroch. 

Understand pharmacy benefits

Woroch clarified that you don't have to be a member to access pharmacy savings at a wholesale club.

"It's actually illegal to require a membership for pharmaceuticals, so if this is the only reason you're paying to join, save your cash," she said.

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Research big-ticket purchases

Do your due diligence and compare prices on big-ticket items like TVs, computers, jewelry, patio furniture and other pricey items.

"I always recommend looking at a wholesale club when planning a big purchase," she said. "Although their merchandise selection may vary from season to season or year to year, they always have great new deals and both Costco and Sam's Club's own brand of merchandise when it comes to clothing, beauty goods and furniture is top quality."

Ken Shirley looks over a jewelry case inside a Costco store in New York, on Nov. 11, 2009. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via / Getty Images)

Look out for travel deals

Warehouse stores aren't just a good place to score savings on paper products, groceries and seasonal merchandise. They offer travel deals, too. You can find savings on vacation packages, hotel stays, car rentals and even theme park admissions and other entertainment passes like ski lift tickets, said Woroch.

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