4 Unexpected Warehouse Club Bargains

By Amy Fontinelle | June 02, 2011 AAA

Everyday items aren't always as good of a deal as they seem to be at warehouse clubs, especially when you factor in the membership fee. But these stores also offer surprising discounts on items you might not think to shop for at a warehouse club, and sometimes the discounts are so good that you'll instantly recoup your membership fee - and then some. (Use coupons strategically to score big savings on everyday purchases. Check out Coupon Shopping: Clip Your Way To Savings.)

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1. Gym Memberships
Costco offers a two-year membership to national gym chain 24-Hour Fitness for $299.99, which works out to just $12.50 a month or $2.88 per week. If you factor in a basic $50 annual membership to Costco and assume that you'll never use the membership for anything else, the effective cost becomes $349.99, which works out to $14.58 per month or $3.37 per week. The membership is valid at all of the club's 350-plus Fitlite, Express, Active and Sport locations nationwide. The drawbacks are that the offer is not available in Hawaii, Maryland, New York, New Jersey or Tennessee; it can't be used at the fancier, pricier Super Sport and Ultra Sport locations; and it's not available to current members.

Unless you have an already-equipped home gym or have a free gym membership through work, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better deal on a gym membership than this one. In fact, even if you were to purchase the same membership directly from the 24 Hour Fitness website, you would pay $34.99 per month for two years on a monthly payment plan, for a total of $839.76 over two years.

2. Caskets
When a loved one passes away, you're suddenly faced with a number of buying decisions in an industry where people shop infrequently and can get well into their adult lives without shopping in at all. Furthermore, you're probably feeling very emotional and comparison shopping is the last thing on your mind.

Funeral homes are fully aware of the situation their customers find themselves in and tend to price their products and services accordingly. According to a 2007 Elder Law Journal article by Jerry Ellig and Asheesh Agarwal, funeral home caskets are generally sold at a 300% to 400% markup. However, it's possible to avoid paying inflated prices for caskets and other funeral services by going through a discount club. Costco, for example, sells ten caskets from the Universal Casket Company that range in price from $950 to $2,600 with no additional charge for shipping.

Many people don't realize that you don't have to buy the casket through the funeral home. Costco.com says, "The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires funeral homes to accept any casket purchased from an outside source" And Costco is not the only independent casket vendor around; depending on what, exactly, you want to purchase, you could find a better deal through another company. The drawback is that many states restrict retail casket sales to licensed funeral directors.

3. Wedding Flowers
On a happier note, warehouse clubs can make wedding flowers much more affordable. With the discounted price, you won't get the personalized service that you'd get from a wedding florist; you don't always get vases, and you don't get a person to set up the flowers on the big day. You also can't customize the package to your exact needs - it may not contain the exact number of bridesmaid bouquets you need, for example.

However, for resourceful brides on a budget, flowers-only deals can be a godsend. BJ's, for example, sells various rose packages, including an 88-piece pastel rose assortment that includes a bride's bouquet, eight centerpieces, corsages, boutonnieres and more for $949; Costco offers a wider variety of flowers and package sizes, such as the 9-piece, 20-piece or 40-piece wedding calla lily collections.

There are a number of non-membership websites that offer discount flowers, so you'll have to see how the prices and offerings compare in determining whether the $50 warehouse club membership will pay off. (Reducing the amount you spend is the easiest way to make your money grow. See 5 Money-Saving Shopping Tips.)

4. Gift Cards
Warehouse clubs have a very limited selection of gift cards, but the savings can be substantial because the cards are sold for as much as 20% below face value. Of course, these deals can also save you money on gift-giving.

Movie ticket prices vary depending on where you live and what time of day you go to the movies, of course, but let's say you live in Alexandria, Virginia. A full-price AMC adult ticket costs $11.75, so four tickets would cost $47. A wholesale purchased discount pack saves you around $12. However, if you were going to use the gift cards on children's tickets, which are only $8.75 at full price, the benefits of a discount club deal would be the free popcorn. For frequent moviegoers, these savings can add up.

Another BJ's offering is four $25 gift certificates for SpaWish.com for $79.99. These certificates can be used at salons and spas nationwide.

Costco offers a wider selection, though it's still pretty limited. Here are a few of the options:

-Four $25 Baja Fresh gift cards for $79.99 (a $20 savings)

-Four $25 Coffee Bean gift cards for $79.99 (a $20 savings)

-One $100 Vegas.com gift card for $79.99 (a $20 savings). With multiple cards, you may be able to save quite a bit on a trip to Las Vegas.

The Bottom Line
These items are just a small sampling of the unexpected deals you can find through warehouse clubs. These stores don't just sell groceries and household items in bulk; they also offer deals on vacation packages, cell phone plans, satellite television, custom home decor and a number of services, including insurance, loans and business services such as payroll and credit card processing. If any of these products appeal to you, that $50 a year membership fee might pay off after all. (Find out why getting more for less isn't always a great deal. Check out The Dark Side Of Bulk Buying.)

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