Warehouse Club Buys
By Kelli B. Grant
THERE'S ONLY ONE place where you can shop for everything from a 20-pack of Dial soap to high-end stereo equipment: warehouse clubs. Not only is the selection vast, but if you take the time to stroll through the warehouse's cavernous aisles, you can unearth some amazing deals.
Think of it this way: While supermarket prices are often 22% to 27% higher than wholesale prices, there's only an 8% to 15% markup at warehouse clubs, according to Warehouse Club Focus, a trade publication.
And you don't need to be in the market for a four-pound jar of peanut butter to save, either. In some cases, you don't even need to pay the membership fee.
Here are five of the best buys you can dig up at a warehouse club.
1. Prescription Drugs
Item: Prescription Drugs
Reason to Buy: No membership required; save up to 50%.
If prescription drug costs are breaking your bank, a trip to the warehouse club may be just what the doctor ordered. Prices there routinely beat those of mainstream pharmacies by more than 50%, says Gabriel Levitt, vice president of research for PharmacyChecker.com, a site that rates online pharmacies. Warehouse club deals are often even lower than Wal-Mart and Target, both of which made news this year by offering 30-day supplies of generic prescription medications for just $4.
Let's say you need to fill a prescription for 20mg of Lisinopril, a popular generic blood-pressure medication. At Costco, you'll pay $10 for 100 pills, whereas a 90-count bottle would cost you $38.90 at CVS and $12 at Wal-Mart or Target. Considering the price per pill, you'd save anywhere from 25% to 77%, by heading to the warehouse.
Better yet, federal law stipulates that you don't need a club membership to access the pharmacy counter. That includes purchases of prescription eyewear and contact lenses, where available. You will, however, need a membership to purchase over-the-counter meds. (Looking for more ways to cut your prescription drug costs? Click here for tips on ordering your prescriptions online.)
2. Milk, Eggs and Butter
Items: Milk, Eggs and Butter
Reason to Buy: Savings of 10% to 20%
Time your supermarket purchases just right - i.e., by matching store sales with manufacturer's coupons - and it's actually possible to beat warehouse club prices, says Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game, a savings program. But there are some notable exceptions: milk, butter and eggs. "There just aren't enough coupons and sales [on those items]," she says.
Considering that these are often staples in the typical family's refrigerator, the average 10% to 20% savings you can get at a warehouse club can add up quickly. For example, a gallon of fat-free milk at Sam's Club in Freehold, N.J., goes for $3.15. At the nearby Shop Rite supermarket chain, you'd pay $3.99. A family buying a conservative two gallons a week would save $87.36 over the course of a year - more than enough to compensate for the $40 club membership. (Other kinds of memberships can pay off just as quickly. Click here for more details.)
3. Web Deals
Item: Web Deals
Reason to Buy: No membership required for savings of up to 20%.
When shopping online, don't forget to compare prices against those offered on the warehouse clubs' sites. Items in their online stores typically share the in-club discounts of 10% to 20% - but without the same membership restrictions. That makes for substantial savings. At BJ's online store, for example, you could snag the Bose 3-2-1 Series II Home Entertainment System for $799.99 plus $19.60 shipping. That's an 18% discount off CircuitCity.com's price of $999.99, with free shipping. Here's what each club offers at their online stores:
BJ's: Nonmembers can currently shop at member prices. Offerings include computers, electronics, CDs, DVDs, fitness products, home goods (including bedding and appliances), fragrances, jewelry, toys and seasonal items.
Costco: Nonmembers pay a 5% surcharge at checkout. Online offerings include appliances, auto, home goods (including decor, furniture and fixtures), beauty products, books, CDs, DVDs, computers, electronics, clothing, flowers, food, wine, over-the-counter medications, jewelry, pet products and toys.
Sam's Club: Club membership is required for all online purchases. Offerings include appliances, groceries, computers, electronics, furniture, jewelry, office products, books and toys. Items can be reserved online for in-store pickup.
Of course, buying over the Internet isn't always the best option. Click here for online-only deals worth passing on.)
Reason to Buy: Average savings of five to 10 cents per gallon.
Everyone's feeling the pressure of prices at the pump. But at warehouse clubs, some of that pressure is alleviated by the sheer volume of customers coming through the store, explains says Michael Clayman, editor of Warehouse Club Focus, a trade publication. If it means drawing more consumers into the store, clubs will gladly sell gas at close to what they paid. Local gas stations don't have that luxury. In Austin, Texas, a gallon of regular unleaded goes for $2.92 at Sam's Club, 12 cents less than the Texaco station down the street. There's just one catch: When prices jump too quickly, gas can become one of the warehouse clubs' worst deals. Check price comparison sites like GasBuddy.com and GasPriceWatch.com to make sure you're getting the best deal.
5. Wine, Beer and Liquor
Items: Wine, Beer and Liquor
Reason to Buy: Savings of up to 30%
Whether you're looking for a few 24-packs of beer for your backyard barbecue or a special bottle of wine for a romantic dinner, chances are your local warehouse club has exactly what you're looking for. Most clubs sell wine, beer and liquor at a serious discount. A 30-pack of 12-ounce Budweiser cans is $17.47 at the Sam's Club in Concord, N.H. -- $3.78 less than at the local Stop & Shop. If you're looking for a quality bottle of wine, both Costco and Sam's Club boast world-class sommeliers as their buyers. Even connoisseurs may be impressed. Costco, for example, is currently taking pre-orders for the highly anticipated Chateau Mouton Rothschild Pauillac 2005, a Bourdeaux that noted wine critic Robert Parker awarded 93-95 points on his 100-point scale. Prices at wine shops range from $650 to $1,000 for a 750 ml bottle, which won't be released until spring of 2008. Costco's price: a savor-worthy $549.99. These deals aren't all restricted to members only, either. Thanks to esoteric state laws, many clubs have separate spirits stores or sections that anyone can access. (Click here for details.) Sam's Club doesn't require membership for alcohol purchases in any of its stores.
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