There are lots of great deals to be had at BIG BOX stores, but you still have to keep an eye on the bottom line. We have compiled an extensive list of tips to make sure you’re saving the most money possible when shopping at big box stores. We’ve done a couple of posts in the past about how to save money at warehouse stores:
But today we’re going more in depth to help you save even more money by expanding these tips beyond just warehouse stores to include Target, Walmart and Kmart.
Learn the stores’ price tag codes.
If you know how to read price tags you’ll always know if you’re getting the best deal!
- Prices ending in .99 are regularly priced
- Prices ending in .97 are marked down. Most of the time Costco doesn’t put the regular price on the tag when things have been marked down so if you’re watching a particular item it’s important to know the original price. You can ask a manager what the original price was if you don’t remember.
- Prices ending in odd numbers such as .79, .49, or .89 are specially priced items that Costco got a deal on from the manufacturer. These aren’t necessarily better deals than those ending in .97.
- An * in the upper right corner of the sign means the item won’t be reordered. You’ll get the best deals on items ending in a .97 that have an *.
- Prices ending in .88 or .00 are manager markdowns meaning they vary from store to store. Many times these markdowns are on returned but still sellable merchandise.
- Also make sure to look for the date on the tag. The date tells you when the tag was created or when a markdown was taken.
- Prices ending in a 1 are markdowns.
Sam Club uses letter codes in the upper right corner of the price tag.
- A: Active Item, this is something they normally carry.
- N: Never-Out, something they will always have in stock.
- C: Canceled, the store will no longer carry the item, likely a markdown.
BJ’s Wholesale Club
- Prices ending in .99 are regularly priced.
- Prices ending in .90 or .00 are manager markdowns.
BJ’s also uses special number codes in the top middle of the price tag.
- 1: Regular item, will be restocked
- 2: Discontinued item, will not be restocked. These will sometimes be discounted after a period of time.
- 7: One time buy, will not be restocked. These products are generally seasonal.
- 9: Will be sent back to the manufacturer and not restocked.
- Prices ending in .99 are regularly priced.
- Prices ending in an 8 are marked down or on clearance.
- Prices ending in a 4 are the marked down price of a clearance item.
- Target puts the markdown percentage in the upper right corner of the price tag so keep an eye out for that to know if you are getting the best possible deal.
- Prices ending in a 7 are regularly priced.
- Prices ending in a 5 are marked down.
- Prices ending in a 1 are final markdown.
I searched and searched and couldn’t find this information for Kmart. If anyone knows the Kmart codes let us know in the comments and we’ll update the post.
Click here to see an even more comprehensive list of price tag codes from Rather Be Shopping. You can even print out a price code cheat sheet by clicking here. And for a great Costco specific resource checkout this article on HubPages from Len Rapoport: Secret Price Codes Will Save You Money At Costco.
Know the stores’ return policy.
You never know when a product will break or you’ll end up just not liking something. If you know a store’s return policy you can save yourself a bundle by returning unused or defective merchandise.
Costco is known for having an incredible return policy! I’ve seen a 2 year limit listed on some websites but on the Costco website there is no limit listed for most items. They do not require that you bring the original packaging when returning an item and you do not have to have a receipt. However, if you don’t have a receipt there is a chance you will only receive a refund on the most current price which could be less than you paid for it. Televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, touchscreen tablets, MP3 players and cell phones must be returned within 90 days of purchase. Click here to see the entire return policy.
With a receipt you can return most items at any time. Without a receipt, you can receive store credit at the last selling price. Click here to see the entire return policy. Click here to see exceptions to the return policy.
BJ’s Wholesale Club
With a receipt you can return most unused items within 1 year of purchase. Click here to see the entire return policy.
With a receipt you can return most items within 90 days of purchase. Without a receipt, returns are processed on a case by case basis. Click here to see the entire return policy.
90 days on most items with a receipt. Walmart gives customers the option of a cash refund (if the purchase was under $25), a shopping card for the amount of the purchase (if it was over $25) or an even exchange for the product. Click here to see the entire return policy.
With a receipt you can return most items within 90 days of purchase. Click here to see the entire return policy.
Know the stores’ price adjustment policy.
Price adjusting is a super underutilized tool. I worked at Gap for a long time and very few people know that they could bring their receipts in for a price adjustment within 14 days of purchase! At Gap all we had to do was scan a receipt and the computer would tell us if anything had gone on sale and then automatically refund the customer the difference. I’m not sure if it’s that east at all of these box stores but it’s definitely worth a try. I suggest just storing receipts in your wallet so that if you go back to a store within the price adjustment window you can have someone check to see if things have gone on sale.
Offers a price adjustment if the prices changes within 30 days of purchase.
Offers a price adjustment if the prices changes within 7 days of purchase.
BJ’s Wholesale Club
Offers a price adjustment if the prices changes within 30 days of purchase.
Offers a price adjustment if the price changes within 14 days of purchase. Adjustments are not available on clearance items.
Offers a price adjustment if the price changes within seven days of purchase. Adjustments are not available on online prices, clearance, special buy, value of the day items, or for items bought up to seven days before Thanksgiving, Black Friday or Cyber Week.
Offers a price adjustment on in-store purchases that go on sale within 90 days of purchase. Adjustments are not available on holiday, seasonal, doorbuster, clearance and online prices.
Price matching is a great money and time saving tool! I price match at Walmart frequently because it’s the closet store to my house. But Target has a great price matching policy as well. As far as I can tell, Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club and Kmart do not price match.
Here is the policy directly from Target’s website. “We’ll match the price if you buy a qualifying item at Target or CityTarget stores then find the identical item for less in the following week’s Target weekly ad or within seven days at Target.com, Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com, ToysRUs.com, BabiesRUs.com or in a competitor’s local printed ad. Price match may be requested prior to your purchase. Simply bring in proof of the current lower price, your original receipt and we’ll match the price at the Guest Service Desk.” Click here to see the entire price matching policy.
Here is the policy directly form Walmart’s website, “We’re committed to providing low prices every day. On everything. So if you find a lower advertised price on an identical product, tell us and we’ll match it. Right at the register.” Click here to see the entire price matching policy. I use this all the time for grocery shopping! Click here to learn some best practices for price matching at Walmart: 4 Simple Steps to Cutting Your Food Budget in Half
Coupon policies very from store to store but there is a way to save with coupons in one form or another at every big box store.
Does not accept manufacturer coupons. However, they do have their own coupon book that is sent out monthly! Be sure to take advantage of those. For most coupons you don’t have to clip them individually. The cashier will just scan one barcode and any available coupons will be applied to your purchase. Also make sure to watch out for instant rebates that are offered on a monthly basis.
Their coupon policy is very similar to Costco. They do not accept manufacturer coupons but Sam’s Club Instant Savings on select products.
BJ’s Wholesale Club
They accept all manufacturer coupons. They also offer BJ’s members only coupons throughout the year. Members may also use one BJ’s coupon and one manufacturer’s coupon on a single item. Click here to see the entire coupon policy.
They accept all manufacturer coupons as well as Target exclusive coupons. Target has a special section on their site where you can print off Target exclusive coupons. Also keep an eye out when you are shopping at Target. Lately, I’ve seen signs around the store that will give you instructions for obtaining mobile coupons. Click here to see the entire coupon policy.
They accept all manufacturer coupons as well as Walmart exclusive coupons. Walmart has a special section on their site where you can print off Walmart exclusive coupons. Click here to see the entire coupon policy.
They accept all manufacturer coupons. Apparently, they don’t have an official policy online but I found a great write-up from The Krazy Coupon Lady on their policy. Click here to see that post.
Read up on Jillee’s best coupon tips: My Best Couponing Tip…From a Former Coupon Queen
Use the stores’ apps.
Just about every retail store has an app these days and almost all of them can help you save money!
- Click here for the Costco App.
- Click here for the Sam’s Club App.
- Click here for the the BJ’s Whole Sale Club App.
- Click here for the standard Target App.
- Click here for the Target Cartwheel App.
- Click here for the standard Walmart App.
- Click here for the Walmart Savings Catcher App.
- Click here for the standard Kmart App.
- Click here for Kmart Shop Your Way.
Click here for more of Jillee’s tips on using your phone to save money: Using Technology to Save Time & Money at the Grocery Store
Use third party savings apps.
Beyond the stores’ actual app you can use third party savings apps to save even more. I haven’t actually used any of these but have seen them recommended on lots of other websites. This list is by no means comprehensive but here are a few you may want to try out…
- Snap by Groupon
- Saving Star
- Receipt Hog
- Checkout 51
- Red Laser
- Grocery IQ
- Cellfire Mobile Coupons
- Rather Be Shopping
Use your phone to check the stores’ websites while shopping.
Occasionally you’ll find an item cheaper online than it is in store! Some stores will price match the online price, but if they won’t you can still order the item online for a cheaper price.
Make a list…and stick to it!
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve just popped-in to Costco or Target for a couple of things and have come out spending way more money than I meant to. Making a list saves you from unnecessary purchases.
Check out Jillee’s post on meal planning so you know what to put on your list: What’s for Dinner? Meal Planning 101
Know your prices.
I tend to know what a good price is on items I buy often, but it is still a great idea to keep a price notebook. When you find a deal on something jot it down in your notebook. The next time you are shopping for that item you can check your notebook to see if you’re getting the best price possible. Don’t forget to write down the price per unit for certain items. That way you can more easily compare prices from store to store.
Avoid the center of the store at warehouse stores.
This is a good policy to follow in general, unless you are going to the center of the store for a specific reason. Think about the products you usually find in the center aisles in warehouse stores – clothes, candy, snacks, books, movies, home decor, holiday decor, toys etc. For the most part it’s items that you really don’t need and maybe don’t even want. However, if you are looking for a specific movie, book, food item etc. go for it! I’ve found great deals on books, movies and even clothes at Costco. One other exception is that clearance items are sometimes housed in the center of the store. If you can avoid the temptation to buy things you don’t need to may want to venture into the middle in search of clearance prices.
Buy store brand products.
I think this is a no brainer for most people, but if you haven’t switched to store brands I highly suggest it! The quality is almost always the same as name brand products. I have a few name brand products I buy because I do like them better than the store brand and it’s worth the extra cost to me. But 99% of the time I only buy name brands if I can get them on sale for cheaper than the store brand. I’ve also heard from many sources that at Costco in particular, their store brand products are actually manufactured in the same places as the name brand products! So they are literally the exact same product for a cheaper price.
Think about upgrading your membership at warehouse stores.
If you’ve always had the standard membership at your chosen warehouse store you may want to look into upgrading and see if the added membership cost would be worth it in perks. All of the stores I’ve listed will refund your membership fee if you don’t feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth with the upgrade.
Executive Membership – $110.00 Annual Membership Fee
All Executive Members enjoy a 2% Reward (up to $750 per year) on most Costco purchases, as well as additional benefits and greater discounts on their suite of services. You can also upgrade your regular Costco membership to an American Express Card for no additional cost. The American Express Costco Card, also known as The TrueEarnings Card gets you 2% cash back at restaurants, 3% cash back on gas, 2% cash back on eligible travel, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. This is the only credit card I use and I love it!
Sam’s Club Plus – $100 Annual Membership Fee
Earn $10 for every $500 in qualifying Sam’s Club purchases, up to $500 annually. Use for purchases, membership fees or redeem for cash. Save 40% on many generics and 8% on name-brand prescriptions when not using prescription drug coverage. Receive $40 off a regular-priced pair of prescription eyeglasses when purchasing a one-year supply of contact lenses not using vision plan/insurance benefits. Sam’s Club also offers a Mastercard that gives you 5% cash back on gas, 3% cash back on dining and travel, and 1% cash back on other purchases.
BJ’s Wholesale Club
BJ’s Rewards Program – $100 Annual Membership Fee
You earn 2% back on purchases in club and on BJs.com. They also offer a BJ’s Perks Plus Mastercard that earns you 3% back on in club purchases, 10 cents off per gallon of gas at BJ’s, 2% back on eating out and on gas, and 1% back on other purchases. Or you can choose the BJ’s Perks Elite Mastercard to get all those same benefits plus 5% back on in club purchases.
Target Red Card – No annual fee
I don’t usually like to recommend store credit cards but I’ve heard good things about the Target Red Card. They have a credit card and a debit card option. You get 5% of your purchases when you use your Red Card as well as free shipping at Target.com and an extra 30 days to make returns.
Take advantage of the food court.
This isn’t going to be the most healthy option in the world but you can eat for cheap at some stores’ snack bars and even grab free samples throughout the stores! The most famous food court is of course Costco with their $1.50 hot dog and drink combo. My husband and I have totally grabbed that combo for a cheap dinner on date night. You can’t beat $3 for to feed two people! I also love to grab a bag of popcorn and a soda at the Target food court.
Shop the clearance sections.
Whenever I walk into a clothing store I head right to the clearance rack! But I don’t always do this for other items. However, most departments in big box stores will have clearance sections. I’ve learned that at Target you always want to check the end caps. I’ve found some incredible deals there on home decor. I haven’t ever shopped clearance at a warehouse store but while researching this post I found a couple of different sources that said you’re most likely to find clearance items on pallets in the middle of the store or tucked away on random aisles. If you can resist the urge to buy things you don’t need, it can pay to hit each aisle while you shop to ensure you don’t miss markdowns.
Bring your own bags.
I’m not sure if any other stores offer this perk, but at Target if you bring reusable bags you’ll receive a five cent discount at checkout for each bag you use. I know that doesn’t sound like much but every cent adds up!
Know the markdown schedule.
- Monday – Electronics, Accessories, Kids Clothing, Books, Baby and Stationery
- Tuesday — Domestics, Women’s Clothing, Pets and Market (food items)
- Wednesday — Men’s Clothing, Health and Beauty, Diapers, Lawn & Garden items and Furniture
- Thursday — Housewares, Lingerie, Shoes, Toys, Sporting Goods, Decor & Luggage
- Friday — Auto, Cosmetics, Hardware, & Jewelry
Be sure to also read Jillee’s post about the best times to buy things on sale: The Best Time to Buy…Everything! A Month-to-Month Guide
Use a calculator when you shop.
My mom taught me to do this from a young age. I always use my calculator when I shop so that I can get the best price per unit. This is especially important at big box stores where you may be buying things in bulk. Bulk often seems like the best deal but you need to know the price per unit to know if you are really getting the best bang for your buck.
Take advantage of the pharmacy.
You’ll often get the best prices on prescriptions at big box stores rather than going to a stand alone pharmacy. I went on a couple of new prescriptions in the last year and called a few different stores to make sure I got the best price. I ended up going with Walmart for my specific prescriptions but I’ve heard great things about the Costco pharmacy as well. At Target you can sign-up for the Pharmacy Rewards Program. When you fill five eligible prescriptions you’ll get a certificate for 5% off a day of shopping.
Use gift cards at warehouse stores.
Costco allows non-members to shop at their stores if they have a Costco gift card. This would be a great way to shop without paying the membership fee if you have a friend with a membership and you only shop at Costco a couple of times a year.
Ask for rain checks.
This is something I always forget about but most stores offer rain checks on sale items. Rain checks are not available for clearance items but if their is an item listed in a weekly ad that sells out make sure to ask for a rain check so you can grab it at the sale price when the item is restocked.
Buy gift certificates, movie tickets etc. at warehouse stores.
Most warehouse stores offer discounted gift cards! These make great gifts but it’s also a way to save at other stores or restaurants that you already frequent.
Split the cost of bulk purchases with a friend.
If you know you won’t be able to use up a bulk purchase, try splitting the cost with a friend. That why you both get the discount without having to store excess times or having things go to waste.
Take advantage of warehouse store gas stations.
I almost always buy gas at Costco because they are frequently cheaper than my other local gas stations.
Take advantage of other services at warehouse stores.
Remember that warehouse stores can save you money on things besides groceries! My husband and I bought tires at Costco a couple of years ago because they were the best price we could find. You can also save on things like vacations, banking, insurance, cars, home repairs etc.
A few other helpful posts from around the web…
- How to Get the Most Out of Your Costco Membership
- How to Shop at Costco – a behind-the-scenes look!
- Sam’s Club or Costco
- Sam’s Club vs. Walmart: What are the best deals?
- Walmart Shopping Secrets
- Target vs. Walmart: Which has better grocery prices?
- How Costco Saves Us $2000 a Year