Dollars & Sense columnist John Ewoldt searches the Twin Cities and beyond for bargains and strategies to spare you time, money and hassles.
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Posts about Warehouse clubs

What does it cost to join DirectBuy? Is it worth it?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: May 2, 2012 - 2:06 PM



Recently, a deal spotter attended a DirectBuy membership pitch and answered the question, "What does it cost to join DirectBuy, the wholesale buying club?


It’s been five years since I last wrote about the buying club with franchises in Bloomington and White Bear Lake. Since then the membership fee has increased to $5,490 plus a $199 annual fee that begins in the third year. (Memberships are for ten years but after you pay the $5,490 you can quit  and avoid the $199 annual fees.) 


For such an investment, you pay less when you buy directly from nearly 700 manufacturers for kitchen cabinets, furniture, flooring, appliances, lawn and garden, sporting equipment, electronics and jewelry. Some popular brands, such as Apple, are not offered. How much less you pay depends on how good of a comparison shopper you are.

The presentation is high-pressure; once you walk out the door you won’t be allowed to join again for several years, they say. But it might be a good deal for a person who needs to furnish an entire house. To get an idea of how much you can save before you commit, make a list of 10 major purchases, including the manufacturer and model number, and take it to your appointment. Keep in mind that DirectBuy adds an 8 percent handling fee on larger items, plus freight fees and sales tax on all items. Items cannot be returned without a restocking fee unless they’re defective.
As with any major purchase, there can be some flexibility in the membership price. One deal spotter said that during a recent visit the $5,490 price was lowered by $500 after his resistance and a limited, Internet-only option for $1,990 was also offered.

I was unable to confirm if the White Bear Lake location charges the same fees.

If you buy a membership, you have three days to cancel but after that, cancellation is very difficult, even for those with an inability to pay, according to complaints at the Minnesota Better Business Bureau.

Any DirectBuy members who want to share their experience?  


Bet you didn't know about this gas-saving tip

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 1, 2012 - 2:37 PM



Every time gas prices rise, consumer reporters  reprise the best of the gas-saving tips. Experts are now predicting gas to hit $4 per gallon by May.


I'll mention some of the usual tips in a moment (including tips only for the Twin Cities), but here's one that I haven't written about previously.

Cenex has launched a Tanks of Thanks program that gives free fuel to those who make their communities a little better. Anyone can nominate someone for the award. Winners chosen monthly get a Cenex gift card worth $50.

Here's a winning nomination for Mike Berg of Burnsville, one of the winners in January: "Last November I fell and I had to go into a rehab center for five weeks. While I was in rehab, Mike and his wife Doris went to my house and installed extra railings on the staircases and grab bars in the garage and throughout my house. They also consolidated my living room, so it would be safer for me to move around. Without their help, I would not have been able to come home. I greatly appreciate the giving of their time to help me out. They never asked for anything in return. Good friends are a godsend. Throughout my ordeal I have had a group of nine very good friends that have taken time out of their lives to help me. I thank God for that. I am very fortunate. Thank you."

Cenex gas stations are located in Lino Lakes, Shoreview, Inver Grove Heights, Albertville, Belle Plaine and Northfield. Lino Lakes One Stop, 6501 Ware Rd., 651-765-0512; Shoreview Quick Stop, 5910 Lexington Av., 651-786-5591; Inver Grove Heights Cenex Pump 24, 5500 Cenex Dr., 651-335-4930; Albertville Heidi's Market: 11850 62nd St NE, 763-497-0905; Belle Plaine Cenex Convenience Store: 840 East Main, 952-873-3344 OR 952-873-4244, Northfield Central Valley Co-op, 1480 Bollenbacher Dr., 507-645-7379.

Get nomination forms on the Tanks of Thanks site.

You probably know these tips already, but it doesn't hurt to review them. Most of us have heard about keeping the car tuned up, keeping tire pressure at the recommended maximum, keeping the junk out of your trunk, driving the speed limit, using cruise control, and shutting off your engine if idling for more than a minute.  And don't forget about hoofing it or taking public transportation. 

Now on to more localized tips: 

Watch the newspaper inserts for cents off coupons at Holiday or other gas stations. Holiday and Super America will match all competitors' coupons. On Tuesdays, SA and Holiday double the coupon amounts.  


If you're a Costco member and you use your True Rewards American Express card to pay for gas, you get an additional 3 percent discount in the form of a rebate check mailed in February. The 3 percent rebate is gravy on top of the fact that Costo's prices around the metro are already among the lowest. I used to believe that the 3 percent discount was only good at Costco stations, but it's good at all stations when you use your True Rewards credit card. However, the discount may not be applied at certain stations owned by a retail store, including Cub or Rainbow stations or Fleet Farm. It's because Cub or Fleet Farm may use the retailer code with American Express instead of a service station code, but you can always call Amex to ask if they can recode it for that and future purchases.


Use a site or download the app, both from Twin Cities Gas Prices to find the lowest prices in your area.

Anyone else have a tip not mentioned?

A good reason for members to stop at Sam's Club by Jan. 29

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: January 26, 2012 - 2:46 PM


Through Sunday Jan. 29, all Sam Club members can take advantage of additional discounts on eValues items.

Twenty-five items get additional savings, including Bounty, Honey-Nut Cheerios, Tyson boneless-skinless chicken breasts, an HP notebook, a Vizio 46-inch TV, Turbo Tax software, Tide, Cascade, Kleenex, Dunkin' Donuts ground coffee and HP inks.


Members can get a flier in the store that shows all the discounts, which range from an extra $2 off chicken to $250 off a computer. Normally the coupons are only available to Plus members who pay $100 a year.

Members who purchase these items will automatically receive the discount at the register. No coupon is needed. Wouldn't it be nice if Costco did the same with its monthly coupons? Still, Costco's cashiers are usually very accommodating if you forget a coupon. Members can also obtain additional coupon books at the service desk. Also, Costco's coupons are offered to all members, not just the Executive ones.


If you've ever thought that you could get cheaper prices on double coupon day at Rainbow than at a warehouse club, this is the time when, with Sam's Club extra savings, it would be nearly impossible to find cheaper prices on items such as the Tyson chicken breasts or Cheerios.


Unfortunately, each coupon is limit one per membership, so, unlike Rainbow, there's no chance to stock up.  You can use all 25 coupons, but not more than once.




Got a Costco or Sam's Club gift card or check? Get cash for it.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: October 6, 2011 - 8:52 AM



In today's article "Are home services a good deal at Costco and Sam's Club?", I mention that Costco and Sam's offer services on windows, patio doors, bathtub refinishing, hooded gutters, heating and air conditioning, carpet, cabinets, window treatments, and countertops.


When I talked to employees at a number of the companies, I was told that the discounts aren't that much deeper and in many cases are the same as getting a bid without a warehouse club membership.

But one way that some contractors such as heating and air conditioning can sweeten the deal with Costco is to offer a gift card of several hundred dollars or more. Most members assume wrongly that the credit can only be applied against future purchases. The good news is that the gift card can be taken to the service desk and redeemed for cash. 


It's the same as when Costco members get a rebate voucher from their American Express card or Sam's Club members get one from their Discover card in February. You can take the rebate to the register  to pay for purchases or take it to the service desk for cash.


Anyone want to comment on your experience with Costco or Sam's Club home service contractors? I interviewed more than a dozen Costco shoppers in various Twin Cities locations and no one had used the services. I also put a note on Facebook asking for customers who had used the service. No response.

Earlier this summer I compared prices on Hunter Douglas window blinds and found Costco's prices the same as several local sellers. Not only was I surprised that Costco's price was not lower but that the price was virtually the same from every seller. Hunter Douglas must be controlling its prices carefully. If that's the case, choose a dealer with excellent customer service.    

Two deals: Free Sam's Club entry and 100 free B&W business cards

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: August 3, 2011 - 9:22 AM



Sam's Club warehouses throw open the doors to everyone from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Aug. 5-7. No membership is required, but you can purchase one for $40 per year. In the flyer in today's Star Tribune, the following deals are included: an HP Notebook computer (Pavilion dv6) is $899, a Swiss Gear laptop backpack for $40, a dorm fridge for $100, Izod bath sheets for $10 each and Honey Nut Cheerios (49 oz.) for $7.38. No 10 percent upcharge will be applied during the open house. To check for a Sam's Club near you, click here.



Staples is offering 100 black & white business cards free with this coupon, a $20 value. Details: 100 count, 1-sided 10 point matte white stock. If you want a higher grade card, you can apply the $20 coupon vlaue to higher-priced instant business card offers. The offer is valid through Saturday, Aug. 6.



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