9 budget-stretching strategies at your local club store
Everyone on a gluten-free or allergy-friendly diet knows that specialty foods can cost twice as much, if not more, than conventional foods. So we asked ourselves: Would buying a membership in a club store like Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s save us money? To find out, we headed to Costco with a club membership card in hand. We found out that membership is worth it. You can get great deals at club stores. You just have to search them out.
1 Bulk Savings
Buying at a club store means buying in bulk. This is ideal for large families but even singles can save big-time. They just need storage space and a freezer to stockpile.
We found great deals on gluten-free pantry staples, like pizza (a variety of brands), Udi’s gluten-free whole grain bread and gluten-free granola, Rudi’s gluten-free tortillas, Lundberg Farms organic whole grain brown rice, Kind healthy grains bars, Barilla gluten free penne pasta, Krusteaz gluten free brownie mix and all-purpose flour and Crunchmaster crackers.
Two specific examples of cost cuts: We grabbed a 40-ounce box of Honey Nut Chex for $4.99. At walmart.com, two 12.5-ounce bags sold for $3.28. We found Mamma Chia Squeeze (12 count) for $11.99. At amazon.com, an 8-count box sold for $13.98.
2 Meaty Deals
Club store membership isn’t just for packaged goods. There’s plenty of meat (organic and conventional), as well as gluten-free staples like rice and beans, vegetables, fruit and
liquor. Costco, specifically, has beefed up its organic fruit and vegetable sections. We bought a giant bag of organic baby kale there for the price of a small one at Whole Foods. And 3 pounds of organic bananas was only $2!
3 Sample First
Do you want to try a new item before you buy it? Club stores offer sampling events where you can taste, touch, smell and demo featured products.
4 Shop Online
Club stores offer additional gluten-free cost-cutting online. A visit to costco.com showed savings on gluten-free bulk pizza shells and pretzels, as well as jerky, popcorn and protein powder. You can often find bulk staples like gluten-free flour blends online, too.
5 Kitchen Tools and Cookware
If you’re looking for culinary gadgets and appliances, a club store membership pays off. You can find deals on blenders, toasters, dehydrators, coffee makers, utensils, bake ware and cookware.
A specific example: Costco advertised a KitchenAid 6-QT 600 design series mixer with a glass bowl for $289.99, a discount on its regular price of $349.99 and a steal compared to the manufacturer’s suggested price. A benefit of club stores is their product road shows where you can try a product to see how it works instead of guessing at its functionality. This is helpful on big ticket kitchen items.
6 Waste Not
Buying in bulk can have a costly downside: waste. If you end up throwing a lot of food away, are you really saving money? Don’t let the cost of waste outweigh the savings. Freeze any food you’re not planning to quickly consume. Consider buying in bulk with a friend or neighborhood group and splitting the bill and the haul.
7 Clip Coupons
Much like a conventional grocery store, club stores offer in-store coupons and online coupons. While manufacturer coupons don’t apply to bulk items, club stores offer their own coupon booklets and some stores feature a sale section on their website where you can save even more.
8 Try Out a Membership
It costs a minimum of $45 a year to join Sam’s Club, $50 a year for BJ’s and $55 for Costco. Each store has the option to upgrade to a higher-cost membership ($100 or so) that offers exclusive deals, including services and travel, additional membership cards or earning a percentage of your purchases back. Assuming you get the lowest level card, membership costs a little over $4 a month.
If you’re not sure about buying an annual membership, ask for a one-day shopping pass. BJ’s offers a pass with a 15 percent non-member surcharge on purchases. Sam’s Club tacks on a 10 percent service fee. Costco will refund your membership if you’re not satisfied. Look for membership discounts, including military and college student discounts.
9 Note the Numbers
A club store membership is useful and cost-effective when it’s used correctly. Over the course of a year, keep track of how much you spend, including your membership fee, to compare what you saved to what you would have typically paid at a conventional grocery store. Then capitalize on your savings by using everything you purchase.