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Membership Warehouse Stores: Deal or No Deal?

Membership warehouse stores are definitely popular, but are they a good deal for the people who shop there?

When it comes to membership warehouse stores (such as Sam's Club, Costco, and BJ's Wholesale Clubs), people seem either to love 'em or hate 'em.

See also: The deal with outlet malls.

For warehouse-store shopping fans, nirvana is sitting in the snack bar enjoying a $1.89 jumbo hot dog and jumbo-jumbo soft drink, your overflowing flatbed cart next to you, with the smell of fresh rubber tires wafting your way from one aisle over. "Dessert?" you ask yourself. "I think I saw them handing out free samples of blueberry cobbler, right next to the display of hydraulic jacks on aisle 17."

Yep, I've been there.

Membership-warehouse stores are literally a huge business. There are more than 75 million card-carrying members of America's big-box behemoths. Sam's Club, the nation's largest members-only warehouse club, has more than 500 stores nationwide, each at 110,000–130,000 square feet. In case you were wondering, 16 U.S. Pentagons, one of which is the world's largest office building, could be housed neatly beneath the combined corrugated steel shell of those combined Sam's Clubs.

Membership warehouse stores are definitely popular, but do they end up a good deal for the people who shop there? The answer is, as with most money matters—it all depends. Obviously a lot depends on your family size, proximity to a warehouse store, shopping and cooking habits, and the amount of storage space you have available.

Here are some things to keep in mind before you get out your checkbook to join a membership warehouse club:

  • Make a List and Stick to It: Impulse Buying Alert! Impulse buying can be a problem at almost any store, but at warehouse stores, the stakes are much higher. As a friend of mine says about his recent shopping experience at a warehouse store, "We went in for some hot dogs and walked out with a hot tub." Warehouse stores are notorious for tempting people to buy things—big-ticket things—they hadn't intended to buy. Always go in armed with a shopping list and jumbo-pack of shopping willpower.


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