Tips on Joining Savings Clubs
Are savings clubs worth joining? RealSimple breaks it all down, and lets us in on which memberships are worth your time and money:
1. Auto Clubs - If you drive and don't already have emergency roadside assistance through your auto-insurance plan or car warranty, you may consider joining an auto club. Options include AAA (American Automobile Association), which in addition to roadside assistance gives you free maps and travel planning, and discounts on everything from home insurance to movie tickets. Annual fees vary by region, but the cost for one person ranges from $38 to $77 a year, plus a $10 to $20 enrollment fee; and BWC (Better World Club), an environmentally friendly alternative to AAA. Its reach of service is comparable to AAA's, and it donates 1 percent of its revenues to environmental and advocacy charities. Members also receive discounts on hybrid-car purchases and rentals. Membership starts at $54 a year, plus a $10 sign-up fee. For $40, BWC also offers a nationwide roadside-assistance program for bicycles.
2. Book Clubs - If you're an avid reader or you get impatient waiting for books you’ve purchased online, join one. Check out: Barnes & Noble Member program, which costs $25 a year, and gives you 10 percent off purchases in the store and online. It pays for itself if you buy about 12 full-price hardcover books a year; Amazon.com’s Amazon Prime, which is good for frequent book buyers who don't want to wait long for their online purchases to be delivered. For $79 a year, members get free two-day shipping or overnight shipping for $4 an item. For this to be cost-effective, you need to buy more than eight books delivered second-day or at least seven books delivered overnight; also check Booksonline.com, which provides links to more than 40 book clubs.
3. DVD Clubs – If you rent more than 52 DVDs a year (or one every week), you’re often late returning rentals, or you have trouble finding the movies you want at the local store, you may consider joining a DVD club. Netflix has three membership levels: The least expensive, $10 a month, lets you rent one DVD at a time and keep it as long as you like. For $15 a month, you get unlimited two-at-a-time rentals. For $18 a month, you can rent three movies at a time, with no monthly limit. You need to rent 40, 60, or 72 DVDs a year, respectively, for these memberships to be cost-effective (assuming an average rental price of about $3); at Blockbuster Online you pay $15 a month, and have to rent at least 60 DVDs a year for it to be cost-effective. Blockbuster Online allows you to rent three movies at a time and keep them as long as you like. This plan also gives you two in-store movie or game rentals a month.
4. Grocery Savings Clubs – If you're less concerned with privacy than you are with saving money, a grocery club may be right for you. These programs are free to join and entitle cardholders to members-only savings on selected products. In exchange, the stores keep tabs on what customers are buying. Of the nation's four biggest grocery chains — Wal-Mart, Kroger, Albertsons, and Safeway — only Wal-Mart doesn't offer one of these programs.
5. Travel Rewards Clubs – If you travel a lot or you have frequent (or long) stays at the same hotel chain, a travel rewards club may be right for you. For frequent-flyer programs, it usually takes about 25,000 miles to earn a free domestic round-trip flight in coach. For hotel-loyalty plans, you can generally count on spending at least $1,000 before you get a free night's stay. Most major airlines and most hotel chains offer these plans. Go to Webflyer.com to find information and enrollment forms for 37 frequent-flyer programs and 15 hotel-loyalty plans. To maximize the value of your membership, consider getting a credit card that earns mileage rewards on your airline.
6. Park Memberships – If you plan to make several visits this year to one of the nation’s biggest amusement parks a membership may be a good buy for you and your family. Six Flags, which has parks in 15 states, as well as one in Canada and one in Mexico, sells season passes for $40-$90, and should pay for itself with 3-4 visits. Disneyland/Walt Disney World Disney offers separate passes for its two U.S. locations, ranging from $209 to $395. Daily park admission usually costs between $53 and $60 per person for people ages 10 and up for one park ($43 to $48 for kids ages three to nine), so if you plan to visit Mickey & Company more than three times in a year, an annual pass may be worth it. If you think you’ll be making frequent visits to any of the 400 parks, monuments, or scenic areas run by the National Park Service $50 will get you and your family into any site run by the NPS throughout the year. This pass can be a great value, since regular single-visit park admissions are as much as $20 per vehicle per week.
7. Warehouse Clubs – If you're looking for a regular bargain on anything from bulk groceries to electronics to tires to computers, a warehouse club membership may be right for you. For those who can't use the giant-size food packages the stores are famous for, the discounts these stores offer on auto and home insurance and financing, long-distance phone service, prescriptions, gasoline and propane, and travel services may still make membership worthwhile. Check out: Costco, with 452 stores in 36 states and six countries, this is the biggest warehouse club in total sales. The standard Gold Star membership costs $45 a year and comes with an extra card for a spouse. Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart, runs nearly 540 stores in 48 states. The standard Advantage membership costs $35 a year and includes membership for a spouse or another family member. BJ's Wholesale Club is the smallest of the three major clubs, with only 154 stores, mostly in the Northeast. Still, its stores generally have a larger selection than Costco or Sam’s Club, with a focus on food, which accounts for more than half of all sales. The standard Inner Circle membership costs $40 a year and is good for two members of the same household.
8. Museum Membership Clubs - Join If your family likes going to a particular museum, zoo, or aquarium, this may be a good deal. Family memberships generally cost an average of $100 and pay for themselves within four visits. Membership also often comes with a handful of other benefits: discounts on museum-store purchases and children's programs, guest passes, invitations to special events (lectures, previews), advance ticket purchase for special exhibitions, and a members-only entrance (no more waiting in long lines). These memberships are often partially tax-deductible, too. Find out more about museum memberships or the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Some museums also have reciprocal agreements. For example, about 140 children's museums in the United States and Canada are members of the Association of Children's Museums and allow members of any associated museum free admission to all others. More than 100 zoos around the country have a similar arrangement; check your local zoo's website for details.