While warehouse clubs can offer price benefits, for many, shopping visits to these clubs can perpetuate a cycle of overbuying and overusing - shopping habits that are inconsistent with saving money in the long run.
If you're trying to stick with a budget each month and always seem to spend too much on groceries, make sure to avoid these six costly mistakes when shopping at warehouse clubs:
1. Buying perishables in bulk. Unless you're absolutely certain that your household will go through that 10 pound bag of oranges in a few days, or eat that multi-pack of guacamole within a week, you will end up wasting money buying fruits, vegetables and other perishables in bulk. Get into the habit of meal planning for the week so you have an accurate idea of the amount of ingredients you will actually need. Unless you can cook or eat all of that fresh produce and items that expire over the course of a few days or a week, most of that purchase could end up in the dumpster.
2. Depending on the warehouse club for all your groceries. Don't depend on the warehouse club for most or all of your grocery purchases. Make note of what items you can get for a good price, and plan on making a trip to a regular grocery store where you can use store coupons and take advantage of weekly deals and specials on items you know you will use.
3. Shopping without a list. You make a list for groceries and household supplies to keep yourself on track, so why not do the same when shopping at a warehouse club? Even though you might find some great deals and markdowns going from aisle to aisle at the club, buying items you don't really need or can't use right away won't save you money. Therefore, make a shopping list of items you need just like you would for a grocery store run so you can keep your budget on track and avoid those tempting impulse buys.
4. Ignoring the online selection. Many warehouse club websites carry even more inventory - and less expensive alternatives - than the items you see in the store, and some also offer free shipping and other online deals. When you're shopping for non-perishable items and larger items that you might want delivered to your home, consider the benefits of placing your order online instead. You can buy everything from patio furniture and bar stools, to kitchen supplies and bulk baked goods online at a discounted price. Compare your selections to the prices at other retail stores and online retailers to make sure you really are getting the best deal.
5. Forgetting about expiration dates on processed items. Buying in bulk only saves you money when you don't end up with bags of groceries that expire before you can use them. Even those highly-processed and packaged foods have expiration dates, though some won't expire for a few months. Still, it's a good idea to make note of expiration dates on everything from chips and candy, to breads and meats. Think about how long it will really take to get through that box of candy or family pack of deli meat, and make sure you're buying items that won't expire any time soon.
6. Failing to compare prices. Shopping at a warehouse club can make you feel more comfortable buying more of a certain item or buying a particular brand because you think you're paying a discounted price. However, this is not always the case. Make sure you're pricing out those bulk buys per item and can compare those prices to the grocery store or other retailers. If you're buying high-end items such as televisions, computers, car accessories or household appliances, do a price check and make sure you're comparing the exact same make and model. Some warehouse clubs may carry older models or items that are on sale or eligible for a rebate elsewhere. You might even find a better selection on high-end items if you shop at a specialty retailer such as a home goods store or electronics store. Do some research before splurging for that HDTV or furniture set.
Sabah Karimi is a contributor to WiseBread.com and Yahoo.com. Check out her best time to buy anything calendar to find hidden savings.