En español | The pandemic has made buying in bulk a more attractive strategy for older shoppers. If you minimize shopping trips and stock up on staples, you limit your time in stores and your risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
And the potential savings can be well worth the annual cost of warehouse club membership, which starts at $45 at Sam's Club, $55 at BJ's and $60 at Costco.
“I would expect [your savings would] probably pay for the cost of membership within two or three months,” says Casey Runyan, managing editor of shopping site Brad's Deals. “Sometimes, it can be sooner, depending on what you buy. You know, a TV might save you $100 and then, boom, you paid for the membership."
Plus, warehouse clubs, like many other retailers, have introduced rules and restrictions to encourage safe shopping habits. All BJ's, Costco and Sam's Club stores across the country practice increased cleaning and sanitizing, set up signs and markings to outline social distancing guidelines and require masks covering your nose and mouth to be worn inside at all times, unless you're age 2 or younger.
Special hours: They all also offer special shopping hours for older club members. BJ's opens an hour early for shoppers age 60 and up from, 8 to 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday. (On Sunday, that first hour of opening is reserved for first responders and frontline health care workers.)
At Costco, the same age group, along with the differently abled and immunocompromised, is also welcome to stores an hour early — 9 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, in most locations. Health care workers and first responders get priority entry at all hours.
Special shopping hours at Sam's Club are on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 9 a.m. (Sundays from 8 to 10 a.m. at Sam's are for first responders and frontline health care workers.)
Note, though, that these special hours are mainly operating under the honor system; shoppers may be asked to show proof of age, but store employees are not required to strictly enforce age limits.
Curbside pickup: BJ's and Sam's Club also offer curbside pickup, so you can place your orders online and pick them up outside the store without even having to leave your car. Costco lets you order only certain items online to pick up in the store — and charges standard shipping fees per item to do so. For example, in late October, items available for members to buy on Costco.com for warehouse pickup included an array of engagement rings and a few tech products. A $300 Chromebook came with a $10 shipping fee for in-club pickup; a $65,000 diamond ring did not require an additional shipping and handling cost.
What to buy
COVID-19 concerns aside, warehouse clubs offer good deals on more than just supersized cases of toilet paper. Here are five items to consider buying from BJ's, Costco or Sam's Club that should appeal to older shoppers.
You'll see great deals for eye care at warehouse clubs. BJ's, Costco and Sam's Club all have locations with optometrists on site — available for affordable eye exam appointments, even if you're not a club member, says Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at TrueTrae.com. But at Costco and Sam's Club, you do need to be a member to score the best deals on frames, lenses and contacts. Nonmembers are allowed to shop at BJ's Optical.
2. Prescription drugs
Bodge also recommends taking advantage of warehouse club pharmacies. “The savings can be substantial compared to your local pharmacy or pharmacy chain,” she says. (That's at Costco or Sam's Club; BJ's stores do not have pharmacies.)
Indeed, Consumer Reports found in 2018 that a one-month supply of five commonly prescribed drugs would cost $105 total at Costco and $153 at Sam's Club, compared to $928 at CVS or Target. Bonus: You don't have to be a member to fill prescriptions at the warehouse clubs' pharmacies. But members can enjoy even deeper discounts.
3. Patio furniture
Pandemic times call for socially distanced outdoor events no matter what the season. And patio furniture tends to be well priced in these colder months. Budgeting expert Andrea Woroch likes the deals she's seen at Sam's Club on outdoor furnishings under its private label, Member's Mark. One four-piece deep seating set was going for just under $2,000 in late October.
“It looks like high-end styles from Pottery Barn and others for half the cost,” Woroch says. A similar-looking collection at Pottery Barn costs more than $4,800.
4. Holiday items
Even if you aren't celebrating the holidays in person with family and friends this year, you can still celebrate. And warehouse clubs can help you do it on a budget. Bodge suggests snagging some of the huge gift baskets offered at all the big-bulk retailers.
“They are packed with goodies, like cookies and candy,” she says. “I recommend breaking these baskets up into smaller hostess gifts and stocking stuffers."
If you don't already have a stockpile of gift wrap, gift bags, ribbon and tape, stocking up on these holiday necessities at warehouse clubs is also a good idea. “You'll go through a lot of it, so it makes sense to buy in bulk,” Bodge says.
Woroch also likes the holiday offerings at warehouse clubs, particularly at Sam's Club. “I love their exclusive outdoor decor for the holidays, and they also have really nice-quality faux trees at affordable prices,” she says. “You want to shop early, though, since these items tend to sell out in the beginning of the season."
5. Store-brand goods
Each of the major warehouse clubs offers its own store brand for a wide range of products, from ibuprofen and vitamins to pet supplies and apparel. Sam's Club, as mentioned, offers Member's Mark, while BJ's has Wellsley Farms and Costco boasts Kirkland Signature.
Woroch and Runyan both note that Costco's Kirkland products are typically high quality despite their lower prices. But at all three, “buying the house brand is a great way to save because the items can be cheaper than some name brands,” Bodge says.