Membership Has Its Privileges

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Warehouse stores seem endless and the exact opposite of what a small household needs

If there is a phrase that plagues those living in smaller households it is “too much.” We either don’t even want to consider buying in bulk or if we do we feel we waste what we have bought. Costco, Sam’s, Amazon Prime, and a host of other membership opportunities seem focused on the large family and forever out of reach for those living solo or in pairs. However, with some planning and creative thinking about what we need and don’t need, these membership driven shopping companies are solid and even enjoyable option regardless of household size.

What, Where, and How (Much)

Most of us have the same basic questions about membership sites: What would I get at them, where are they (or with internet sites

Bulk items abound at membership stores
Bulk items abound at membership stores

where do they ship to), and how do I make use of them effectively? Like all things when we live in smaller family groups, these types of sites are not, directly, geared to our size household. They do, in fact, sell tuna in 6 can sleeves and 20 chicken breasts at a time. They can be overwhelming with the “bulk” of what they sell and even something as simple as Amazon seems to only make sense if you are buying a lot of something. So, why would a single person ever get a membership at a warehouse store or membership site?

Sure, if you have three hungry teenagers these memberships make perfect sense. But what about a household size of two? The real question isn’t what, where, or how do I use a shopping membership. The question is WILL I use it? Or, more accurately, CAN I make use of it? The answer is: of course! These memberships can be just as beneficial to the smaller household if we understand what we are buying and look for opportunities that we may not, initially, think about.

The Basics: Buy What Makes Sense

We all know that bulk deals aren’t “deals” if we never use up the product. It may seem like a good idea at the time to buy 16 cans of tomato sauce but if we end up throwing away half it becomes very expensive. Add in a membership fee and it might be the most expensive tomato sauce you have ever purchased. So, what makes sense in the smaller household. There are a couple of rules that, if you keep them in mind, buying in bulk is not only cheaper but very convenient.

Consider the following ground rules:

What not to buy:

—Fresh products are usually out. Even with freezing and vacuum sealing most fresh offerings at a membership site are out of reach for the small household
—Consider carefully your storage. And think about how easily you can get to what is stored. Buying toilet paper in bulk is great unless you have to store it in the attic. If you can’t store something where you can get at it don’t buy it.
—Even if you use a lot of a single product consider how much you “really” use. Even with regular use it may still be too much.

Example: A couple goes into a Sam’s and looks at 5000 straws in a box. They both like to use straws when drinking ice tea. The straws are cheap so they buy them. However, if they both use a straw a day…EVERY DAY…that is still almost seven years of straws.

What to buy:

—What do you buy at the grocery every month? Sports or energy drinks? Bottled water? Paper products? Oatmeal? These are all good “bulk” candidates.
—Lunch and travel items. Things like snack packs for travel or every day at lunch are a great buy at a membership site.
—House branded or exclusive items. Many of these sites (including Amazon) have paired with producers to carry items that are unique or hard to find without trolling the net.
—Anything that you have to wait to go on sale or buy in a manner that says “buy one get one half off”. Non membership mega marts are replete with these kind of deals. They usually aren’t very good prices. If you are prone to those kind of sales buy the stuff at a membership store or site.
—Gift Cards. Most of these sites have discounted gift cards that have discounts built in. Plus it is a great way to inflate your gift giving dollars for things like birthdays and graduations.

Example: One of our great local coffee houses, Bigby’s, offered $50 worth of gift cards for $40. They also have a buy 12 get the next one free deal. At $3.50 for an coffee drink that is 15 drinks with one free. With the purchase of gift cards it drops the price to well under $3.00. If it is something you purchase a couple times a week it is a no brainer.

Membership Has Its Benefits

Most membership stores and sites do have their benefits. For many this is the initial draw. Consider Amazon Prime. Most people see “free shipping” or “streaming video” and are hooked. Certainly both of these are worth a membership fee. However, Amazon also offers music options and one free book a month, two name a couple of membership perks. These so called hidden benefits might come close to paying for the membership to begin with. At an average of $5 a book from Kindle, a book a month is $60, already close to the membership cost.

Costco Eye Services
Membership stores have both exams and eyeglasses at very reasonable rates. They often have significant warrantees on the services not found in more conventional retail settings.

The same is true for membership stores. The obvious is gas prices. Both Sam’s and Costco offer membership gas stations that are, on average, about $0.15 cheaper than other pumps. Plus they don’t require any “perk points” or other such shopping concentration. The math is simple: if you drive 10,000 miles a year and your car gets 30 mpg then you will save around $50 annually buying gas at a discount store. For a single, in town, low mileage driver with a pretty efficient car that is most if not all of your membership cost.

There is a whole host of other services that may or may not be savings but are always worth checking out. Prescriptions, glasses and contacts, appliances, hearing aids, travel, even things like home mortgages and cars can be purchased through a discount store. As will all things, shopping around is paramount. Some of these stores are even offering health insurance via the national exchange with add ons like dental and vision. Again, shop around. If the cost of a dental plan is even $5 a month less than anywhere else you are close to paying for a membership.

Pharmacy services at membership stores are a real option
Pharmacy services at membership stores are a real option

To Join or Not to Join

The final decision to join a discount or warehouse site or store should not be driven by household size. Even a household of one can easily make full use a membership. Even your current shopping habits should not be the determining factor. The only thing that should be in the decision mix is whether or not you are willing to commit to making as much use of the membership. It may require some change in habits (like where you buy gas or where you send your prescriptions) but those changes can be both beneficial to our lifestyle and our bank accounts.

With a little research, some advance planning, and above all an awareness that warehouse and discount shopping memberships don’t, necessarily, mean a years supply of…well..anything, these memberships are not only easily inside of our orbit but can be an important and even enjoyable part of our smaller and active households.

Chris Watson
Publisher