They promise huge savings, freebies and advance notices of specials. But many wholesale and buyers clubs require members to pay membership fees, and other clubs charge high shipping and handling fees on delivered goods. How much will you really save when you join a buyers club? We zero in on some of the more popular clubs in the country to find out.

IN PICTURES: 10 Ways To Cut Your Food Costs

Columbia House
You likely remember their name from your mail in the 1990s - flyer after flyer promising CDs for a penny each. Well, since no one buys compact discs anymore, Columbia House has become a DVD buyers club, instead offering deals like "Get three movies for $1 each" when you join the club. But once you've selected your three freebies, you must buy three more DVD or Blu-ray discs at regular price, plus shipping and handling, within one year.

After this, you can decide whether you want to cancel your membership or continue on. At prices starting at $19.95, plus the $3.95 shipping and handling fee per item, plus the $3 on the original deal, each DVD will end up costing approximately $12.45 before tax. Compare that to prices advertised at on, where newer titles are listed between $16 and $21, Columbia House may in fact save you a few dollars.

Sam's Club
This self-described "warehouse savings" outlet offers numerous products, from appliances to car services to groceries, and they have a variety of types of memberships to choose from as well. A basic membership for you and one other family member will run you about $40 each year to gain entry to any location nationwide, or to order online for pick-up the following day. (Learn more about smart shopping, read 5 Money-Saving Shopping Tips.)

A quick price comparison scan comes up with the following results: At Walmart (NYSE:WMT), "The Dark Knight" Blu-ray with Bat-Pod Display case costs $39.96; at Sam's Club, $48.23. At Walmart, a Kalorik 4-slice toaster is priced at $44.95 to buy online; at Sam's Club, it's $42.18, shipping included.

Doubleday Book Club
This long-time discount bookseller has been in the business for 80 years, and much like Columbia House, offers incentives based on you promising to buy books at regular price down the line. They offer five books for 99 cents each plus free shipping when you sign up, as long as you buy four books at regular price plus shipping and processing. You can also choose to buy a sixth book with the introductory offer for $5.99, and then buy just three books at regular price in the next year.

If Doubleday prices are between $12.99 and $18.99 as advertised in their membership agreement, then with the five books for 99 cents, plus the sixth book for 5.99, plus shipping and handling at about $3.95 for the final three books, then you'll be paying between $6.89 and $8.86 per book. Not bad - depending on the selection of titles.

BJ's Wholesale Club
This east coast wholesale retailer is similar to Sam's Club, but with a focus on electronics, office and home products; you won't find groceries here. For a 12-month membership, customers pay $45, and for additional membership cards for each household (limit up to three), members pay another $20. At Target (NYSE:TGT), one 16 oz. bottle will cost you $7.99. However, you can get two 20 oz. bottles of Cetaphil moisturizer for $15.99 at BJ's (NYSE:BJ) - perhaps indicating that buying in bulk when you can is the way to go at buyers clubs.

That brings us to the king of bulk - Costco (Nasdaq:COST), the largest of its kind in the United States. Joining Costco will cost you $50 per year, plus the cost of having to build a bomb shelter or storage shed in your backyard to house the high volume of goods you'll be bringing home with you.

But there are still many deals to be had, particularly if you look at the special offers. An Ezip-Eco Ride electric bike is $999 straight from the source, but it's just $829 at Costco. Or, for the bulk and emergency-minded, buy a one-year supply of Shelf Reliance THRIVE dehydrated and freeze-dried food (yes, you read correctly) for $999.99 at Costco, or buy the same 84 cans of food straight from Shelf Reliance for $1,075. (Buyers clubs aren't the only place that you can save; learn more in 6 Ways To Save Online.)

The Bottom Line
The comparisons listed here are just a small sampling, but they remind us that just because you are part of a discount club, doesn't mean everything will be discounted. You will still have to do your homework to decide which items to buy where.

Choosing to join a buyers club may save you a few dollars, but there are a few other considerations you should take into account before rushing out to the nearest club. For one, you could sacrifice wide selection for lower cost. Finally, make sure you read the fine print. Joining a club sounds informal, but you're still entering a contract when you become a member. Review any cancellation fees or other hidden costs in your contract before you put any money down.

Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: A Diving Dow And Rotting Eggs.

Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    Suddenly Pushed into Retirement, How to Handle the Transition

    Adjusting to retirement can be challenging, but when it happens unexpectedly it can be downright difficult. Thankfully there are ways to successfully transition.
  2. Savings

    How Parents Can Help Adult Children Buy a Home

    Owning a home isn't easy thanks to stringent lending standards. Thankfully, there's ways parents can help their kids buy a home.
  3. Personal Finance

    How Tech Can Help with 3 Behavioral Finance Biases

    Even if you’re a finance or statistics expert, you’re not immune to common decision-making mistakes that can negatively impact your finances.
  4. Savings

    Should You Look at 529 Plans Outside Your State?

    529 savings plans are not restricted by geography. So if your in-state offering has high fees or poor investment choices, look elsewhere.
  5. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Sears Stock

    Learn about the factors that have led to Sears Holdings' underperformance the past several years and where the ailing retailer could be heading in the future.
  6. Stock Analysis

    4 Key Indicators That Move The Markets

    Educated investors need to keep their finger on the pulse of the economy, and watching certain indicators is a good way to do that.
  7. Retirement

    4 Ways to Boost the Amount You Save for Retirement

    Retirement can easily last more than twenty years, which means you have to save a lot. Thankfully, there are ways to enhance the amount you put away.
  8. Savings

    Craft Beer Clubs – Bargain or Not?

    If you're an aficionado of artisanal brews (or would like to be), a beer club can be a palate-pleasing, albeit pricey, way to expand your hops horizon.
  9. Credit & Loans

    Adjustable Rate Mortgage: What Happens When Interest Rates Go Up

    Adjustable rate mortgages can save borrowers money, but they can't go into it blind. In order to benefit from an ARM, you have to understand how it works.
  10. Retirement

    How to Stretch Your Retirement Savings

    What does "nest egg" mean for your personal situation? Will you deplete it, or will you nurture it to generate income that lasts throughout retirement?
  1. Marginal propensity to Consume (MPC) Vs. Save (MPS)

    Historically, because people in the United States have shown a higher propensity to consume, this is likely the more important ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Is Japan an emerging market economy?

    Japan is not an emerging market economy. Emerging market economies are characterized by low per capita incomes, poor infrastructure ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Are Social Security payments included in the US GDP calculation?

    Social Security payments are not included in the U.S. definition of the gross domestic product (GDP). Transfer Payments For ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How does the trust maker transfer funds into a revocable trust?

    Once a revocable trust is created, a trust maker transfers funds or property into the trust by including them in a list with ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What economic indicators are important to consider when investing in the retail sector?

    The unemployment rate and Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) rank as two of the most important economic indicators to consider ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How do changes in interest rates affect the spending habits in the economy?

    Changes in interest rates can have different effects on consumer spending habits depending on a number of factors, including ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  2. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  3. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
  4. Quick Ratio

    The quick ratio is an indicator of a company’s short-term liquidity. The quick ratio measures a company’s ability to meet ...
  5. Black Tuesday

    October 29, 1929, when the DJIA fell 12% - one of the largest one-day drops in stock market history. More than 16 million ...
  6. Black Monday

    October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) lost almost 22% in a single day. That event marked the beginning ...
Trading Center