11 Costco or Sam's Purchases That Make Back the Membership Fee

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RETURN ON INVESTMENT

Shopping at warehouse club stores comes at a price: Costco’s basic Gold Star membership costs $55 (and will go up to $60 on June 1) and a basic Sam’s Club membership costs $45. But with the savings from various products and services, there are plenty of ways to make back the fee while enjoying the perks of membership

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PIZZA

It takes less than one pizza a month for the savings to make up the cost of a warehouse club membership. At Domino’s, a 16-inch Brooklyn-style pizza costs $12 to $18, depending on location and toppings. The same size pizza costs $9 at Sam’s Club and $10 at Costco. With average savings of more than $5 a pizza, buying eight to 10 pizzas a year would cover the membership cost.

Related: 11 Types of People Who Shouldn't Set Foot in Costco

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PHOTO GIFTS

Large photos come with large savings. A 16x20 canvas photo print at Sam’s Club costs $45,  which is $55 cheaper than buying through the $100 price listed photo site Shutterfly. Costco’s 16x20 canvas prints are $38, or $62 cheaper than Shutterfly’s. Buying just one print would cover the cost of membership to either club. Both Costco and Sam’s Club also carry personalized mugs, mouse pads, and other photo gifts. Custom photo mugs start at $12 at Walgreens and $17 on Shutterfly. At Costco and Sam’s, they’re in the $6.50 to $7 range. Depending on the items, the savings from five to 10 gifts would recoup the membership fee.

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MOVIE TICKETS

Both Costco and Sam’s Club sell bundles of movie ticket gift cards. Costco offers a set of four $25 gift cards to MovieTickets.com for $75. At $25 off the total value of $100, buying two sets would bring the savings just $5 short of the current membership fee. Sam’s Club sells two $25 cards to Goodrich Theatres for $40. With $10 in savings, buying four sets almost makes back the membership.

Related: 10 Ways to Make the Most of Gift Cards

GAS

In a survey released last year, Costco averaged nearly 20 cents less than competitors at the pump, according to GasBuddy, an app that helps consumers find the cheapest gas. At that rate, a car with a 12-gallon tank would save about $2.38 per fill-up. Members who get gas at Costco every other week would break even on the membership fee. Of course, the savings vary by location. Costco was the cheapest place to buy gas in 12 states; Sam’s came out on top in seven. And don't assume you're paying bottom dollar at a warehouse club. Double-check price comparison apps and consider gas bonus programs from chains such as Kroger.

TIRE CARE

Buying tires at Costco or Sam’s Club can cover the membership fee in savings from tire installation and routine care. The two warehouse clubs ranked first and second in a Cheapism analysis of the best chains for tire installation, ahead of Sears, Walmart, and three other chains. Both offer mounting and balancing for $15 a tire. Upkeep for the life of the tire is free, including balancing, rotation, and certain repairs.

Related: 11 Ways Costco Can Save You Money on Your Car

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RESTAURANT GIFT CARDS

Costco sells sets of $100 in restaurant gift cards for $80. The selection varies by location, but some of the cards available online include P.F. Chang’s, California Pizza Kitchen, and Baja Fresh. Shoppers who buy three sets make back their membership fee. At Sam’s Club,  some of the gift card bundles are the same price as the worth of the cards, or just a few dollars less. But the store does offer some deals that include $10 to $25 in savings, including gift cards for Logan’s Roadhouse, Buca di Beppo, and Outback Steakhouse.

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PHOTO CARDS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS

Savings on holiday cards, save-the-dates, and other photo cards easily match warehouse club membership costs. At Walgreens, an order of 60 flat cards on photo paper costs $45. At Sam’s Club, 60 cards cost $21. Even with a 50-percent-off promotion, an order of 50 photo cards from Shutterfly runs about $60. Costco  sells sets of 50 for $15. The savings from two orders of 50 or 60 cards would cover the membership fees.

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WATCH

A Victorinox Swiss Army Maverick men’s watch with a black rubber band is $450 at Macy’s but considerably less at Costco, where the price is $230. The $220 difference makes up the annual membership fee four times over.

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BULK FLOWERS

Buying blooms in bulk for a big event can cover the cost of membership in one purchase. At Sam’s Club,  a bulk order of 125 roses costs just under $90. That’s $59 cheaper than the same size order from online retailer Blooms by the Box. At Costco, 200 roses (sold as orders of 50) would cost $160. That’s $50 less than an order of 200 from online seller Fifty Flowers -- not quite enough to account for the Costco membership fee, but pretty close.  

Related: 10 Ways to Save Money on a Wedding With Costco, Sam's, or BJ's

ELECTRONICS

Savings on big-ticket electronics can make back the membership cost with just one purchase. For example, a Samsung 55-inch-class 4K LED smart TV is $750 at Costco, while the price is $1,000 at Best Buy.   

Related: Best Smart TVs under $500

UPGRADED MEMBERSHIP

Costco’s upgraded Executive Membership is $110, but shoppers earn 2 percent of their (qualified) spending in rewards. It takes about $450 a month to make back the membership fee. Shoppers with the $100 Sam’s Plus membership get $10 in cash rewards for every $500 they spend. With cash rewards alone, it takes about $415 a month to recoup the membership fee. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average family spends about $335 a month on “food in the home.” That doesn’t count clothes, furniture, electronics, and other items shoppers might buy at warehouse clubs, so crossing either threshold is reasonable.