Do's and Don't of Warehouse Store Shopping

by Sandy Carter

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What do a 25-pound bag of flour, a dozen boxes of personal pizzas and Disney's "Lion King" video have in common? You can find them all at a warehouse food store. And, for good or ill, they often find their way to your home shelves, too.

How do you navigate the aisles of megastores without being drowned by the sea of choices or shanghaied by clever in-store marketing? How do we arrive at our homeport carrying the treasures of value and savings while avoiding the hazards of impulse buys? Trust these Do's and Don'ts for safe passage on your next voyage through a warehouse store.

Do Think of Mileage

My local warehouse store is 15 minutes away by freeway. If I make frequent trips, my gas bill would put a major dent in any savings I might realize. Unless you live close to a warehouse store, organize your purchases around monthly or biweekly visits. Resist the temptation to make a trip for one or two items if that purchase does not offer sizable savings.

Don't Shop with Kids

How is it that a toddler who can't count to 20 can recognize the tiniest logo from 30 feet? Children often catch us off guard with their quick reflexes and assertive "we need these" statements. I once bought a three-pound container of graham cracker bears at my daughter's urging, "bearly" a wise purchase. It's far easier to shop without the children than to resist those adoring entreaties. Many a conscientious mother unwittingly overspent her budget at the skillful hands of a savvy four-year-old. Leave husbands home, too, unless you really need a gross of light bulbs, three years' supply of AA batteries or a two-room tent!

Do Use a List

The best memory does not substitute for a well-planned list, which strengthens our resistance to impulse buying. Remember, return trips waste time and gas while unnecessary purchases waste money.

Warehouse stores offer samples of featured products to encourage you to "try something new." If a sample tastes good but the item does not appear on your list, don't buy it immediately. Rather, consider it as a possible purchase and add it to our list or your next visit. You may then work that food into your menus.

Don't Overbuy

Don't buy more product than you can use within a reasonable length of time. This "don't" becomes extremely critical when items come in the "large economy size." Savings on the purchase of food that spoils is not savings at all. Even when food is properly stored, you risk losing much of its nutritional value. One year I purchased a 25-pound bag of flour for my holiday baking. Unfortunately, I ran out of holiday long before I ran out of flour!

Do Share

Pound for pound, I saved money by purchasing that 25-pound bag of flour. However, I should have found a friend or two to make the purchase with me. A large percentage of the warehouse store clientele are small business owners who need to buy in large quantities. Bulk sizes are often too large for the small to average-sized family. Two families shopping together can benefit from the quantity discounts and bulk packages.

Don't Buy More than You Can Store

Bulk items frequently require large containers; you may not have cupboard shelves sized to hold these larger packages and boxes. If you have smaller containers, dividing the product may solve the problem. Overly large canned items may present another problem. Once opened, most of these canned foods require refrigeration or freezing. To divide these products into smaller portions, you must consider refrigerator and freeze space as well. Will your saving warrant the purchase and maintenance of another freezer?

Do Know Your Prices

It seems like common sense, but be aware of your local supermarket sales. These stores list weekly specials to lure shoppers, often at little or no profit. These specials frequently give more savings than the megastore price for the same item.

Remember, at the warehouse store, you need to buy in quantity or bulk to realize savings. If the price per unit is not a significant discount over the retail price (at least 30%), you shouldn't tie up your grocery money in inventory.

Don't Buy without Doing Your Homework

Warehouse stores sell a lot more than food. The rotating inventory can include toys, lawn furniture, jewelry, and high-tech electronics. If you have researched the retail stores and know the features you desire, you may realize a significant savings by purchasing a high-ticket item from a warehouse store. However, these stores seem to carry models on the "endangered species" list of high-tech products. Buying nearly outmoded computers, for example, or hard-to-service brands may mean purchasing a replacement sooner than you anticipated.

In such a case, your overall outlay may well exceed the cost of purchasing a brand name model at retail value. However, by doing your homework and opting for a few less "bells and whistles," you may find a satisfying product at a significantly reduced price.

At last, outfitted with a sensible list, a good knowledge of retail prices, and a realistic view of your family's needs, you can sail through your area warehouse store, filling your hold with savings and value.

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