Shopping at bulk stores like Sam's Club and Costco can save you a lot of money. But to really save big, you have to know how to navigate these stores smartly.
Pay in Cash
If you limit yourself to a cash allowance when shopping at bulk stores, you can't buy more than you need. “Take with you only the amount you can spend according to your budget,” says Kevin Gallegos, consumer finance expert at Freedom Financial Network in San Mateo, California. “Leave the checkbook and credit card at home, and you won’t overspend.”
Make a List (and Stick to It)
A shopping list not only helps you remember what you need, but also can serve as a guide to keep you from picking up items on impulse. “Stick with frequent-purchase items and stay away from items you use infrequently,” says Gallegos. Doing so ties up money that could probably be better used elsewhere.”
Go Beyond Groceries
While most people shop at bulk stores for groceries, they may be missing out on crucial savings, says Gallegos. “They offer some of the best gas prices around,” he says. Long-distance phone cards are a great deal, too, at bulk stores. “Rates for domestic calls can be less than 3 cents a minute, and rates to many other countries are hard to beat,” says Gallegos.
Choose a Small Cart
Bigger isn't always better when shopping at bulk stores. “Be aware of the sneaky ways they make you spend more,” says Carrie Brenner, a consumer specialist with GiftCardRescue.com in Ellicott City, Maryland. Opt for a smaller cart versus the oversize one, she says. “The shopping carts are bigger so you have more room to fill it up. If you use a large shopping cart when shopping at bulk stores, you’ll spend 40 percent more [on average],” says Brenner.
Look, But Don't Touch
Even if you're shopping without the kids, it’s best to keep your hands off the merchandise, warns Brenner. “Consumers can avoid unnecessary purchases by not touching products,” she says. “When a consumer touches a product and a positive response is received, this increases perceived ownership. The consumer will be 50 percent more likely to purchase the product.”
Avoid Perishable Items
Buying only what you need will save you money in the long run, says Brent Shelton, financial representative at FatWallet.com in Beloit, Wisconsin. “One big pitfall is buying perishable items in bulk,” he says. “Make sure you can use [them] up or have an adequate freezer and method to rotate these items, to keep them fresh and good-tasting.”
Buy in bulk and save much more by clipping coupons for items on your shopping list. “Look for coupons before bulk shopping to see if there are some with a big limit that match your shopping list,” says Shelton. Watch for special promotions for double-coupon days, too, to get the most bang for your buck at the bulk store or a warehouse club.
Know the Inventory
“Don’t just buy bulk items because you get a better cost per piece,” warns Shelton. “Do a little research and understand when to buy certain items.” For example, a simple Internet search for “what to buy in March” will reveal the most cost-effective buys on produce and out of season merchandise. “You’ll find out that certain items make sense to buy in bulk, as stores are rotating inventory and offer them at a huge discount,” says Shelton.
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