Warehouse clubs

Why now might be the time to look at DirectBuy

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

I have not been a fan of DirectBuy in the past, the company that lets its members buy thousands of items at cost. You may have seen its infomercials with members praising the company for savings $5,000, $10,000 and even more on furniture, kitchen cabinets, carpet and other purchases. The national company has locations in Bloomington and White Bear Lake. What has irked me about the company in the past is the lack of transparency. Only after sitting through a one-hour presentation do potential members learn that the enrollment fee is $4,500 (it may be as much as $5,000 but the Bloomington owner would not confirm it). And members have told me about other fees that you don’t hear about in the infomercials–a 6 percent handling fee and a 17 percent shipping fee on each purchase, as well as sales tax.

But recently, DirectBuy has started offering a 30 day trial membership  as well as shorter-term memberships. I have always recommended that anyone who is considering joining make a list of items to consider for purchase. Write down manufacturers and model numbers to compare in DirectBuy’s catalogs or website. In the past, members didn’t have 30 days to make these comparisons. This is more transparent way for new members to know if the large cash outlay will pay off and, in my opinion, it should have been done years ago.

DirectBuy is not a good deal unless a member plans to make many major purchases, such as remodeling a home or furnishing a new home. Without big purchases, members don’t recoup the original investment. I have never been a member and the owner of the Bloomington franchise refused to let me take advantage of the 30-day trial, but members have told me that DirectBuy’s price on carpet, for example, is slightly higher than Jack Rubenstein carpet wholesalers, which has no membership fee and is open to everyone.

To set up an appointment, call the Bloomington location at 952-835-0790 or the White Bear Lake franchise at 651-287-0050.

DirectBuy members, do you think you have gotten your money’s worth?

Costco beats Sam’s on gift card discounts

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

I counted no less than six offers for discounted gift cards when I visited Costco in St. Louis Park Wednesday. Costco offers a 20 percent discount on cards from Caribou Coffee, Nutrisystem, SpaFinder, AMC movie theaters, Nickelodeon Universe Park at Mall of America and local restaurants. Each of the cards is discounted 20 percent. The recent offerings, which can change without notice, include Build a Bear workshops for $39.99 (reg. $50), two $25 Caribou Coffee gift cards for $39.99, Nutrisystem program for men or women for $259.99 (36 days worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and desserts), SpaFinder gift certificates at Twin Cities and nationwide salons, AMC movie theater tickets for $15.99 (reg. $20), two $50 gift cards to Palamino, 2021 in the Walker Art Center, or McCormick & Schmick’s restaurants for $79.99, and an unlimited ride wristband for $23.49 at Nickelodeon Universal Park at MOA (reg. $29.55).

The Costco website offers even more gift cards including iTunes, bed & breakfasts, Napster, San Diego restaurants, Baja Fresh, Rosemary’s Restaurant (Las Vegas) and On Point Sports but not all are discounted 20 percent.

Inexplicably, Sam’s Club doesn’t seem to care that Costco kicks its butt in this department. I called Sam’s stores, the PR department, and checked online for gift card discounts and came up empty-handed. Am I missing something? If I hear back from Sam’s PR people about this oversight, I’ll let you know.

Take your rebate check in cash at Costco and Sam’s

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Big spenders, if you read the fine print enclosed with the American Express or Sam’s Club Discover rebate checks sent out recently, you will notice that you do not have to redeem your check in store merchandise. Take it in cash instead.  Even you big spenders getting back $1,500 or more can walk away with a wad of bills to sock into savings, rather than spending it on a new patio set.

 Other tips: A reader who got her eyeglasses at Costco recently told me that she bought lens cleaner there and gets free refills at the optical counter. My tip: You can check Costco’s prescription drug prices online at Costco. Anyone paying out-of-pocket should check Costco’s prices. Also, you do not have to be a member to use the pharmacy at Costco or Sam’s or check prices at the above site. 

Sam’s and Costco members, what are your favorite savings tips at the warehouse club?  

Save $15 with a Sam’s Club membership

Friday, August 15th, 2008

College students can save $15 by signing up for a $40 annual membership at Sam’s Club. Students must have a valid student ID and a university email account (.edu). A $15 gift card comes with the membership. Members also get one additional card to hand out to friends at the same address.

Maybe a dorm-sized fridge can’t hold a Sam’s Club-sized bottle of ketchup, but it’s a great idea for students sharing off-campus housing.

 My guess? This is a smart “get-em-while-they’re-young” strategy. Does that mean that after students get a good job they’ll “graduate” to Costco? Hmmm, check my other blog post for membership deals going on now at Costco.