There I was, standing in the checkout line of Costco, unable to ignore the rather loud conversation going on in front of me. While moving their purchases onto the conveyor belt, the man, exasperated in both tone and volume, said, "But Gloria, I don't think we can afford to save this much money!"
I had to look away to keep from laughing out loud. It was a funny line! Then I got to looking at my own overloaded cart. There were maybe five items I'd planned to buy, the rest amazing bargains I couldn't pass up.
I know how easy it is to spend $300 on a run to Costco or Sam's Club — more than we would think of spending at any other store on a similar shopping trip. Worse, there are those of us who can do that without even flinching.
The secret for winning the warehouse club game is to have a strategy and then stick to it.
Rule No. 1: Go with a plan or don't go at all.
A plan means a written list. That should take care of all unplanned shopping. Later, you can make a new plan and come back to buy all of that great stuff. Chances are by the time you get to the car, the last thing you'll want to think about is Waterford or Gucci.
Rule No. 2: Shop with cash.
Real cash, not your debit card, will create a much-needed safety net.
Rule No. 3: Don't outshop your storage space or your ability to consume reasonably.
If anything will nullify your best intentions, this is it: buying more than you would under any other circumstances. No matter how great the bargain or how terrific the deal, if you can't reasonably use a 50-pound bag of flour or 25 pounds of onions before they spoil, that's not a good deal. You may have saved 50% on the purchase, but you'll lose 100% if you have to throw it out.
Rule No. 4: Create an appearance of scarcity.
Once you get home with the cases of this and that — even paper towels and toilet tissue — find a place to stash your supply that is out of sight. Abundance makes us less likely to use judiciously.
Rule No. 5: Know your prices.
Not everything at the warehouse club is a bargain, and you might even be paying more for the convenience. Toilet tissue and paper towels are good examples. These items, when on sale at supermarkets, are routinely cheaper than Costco or Sam's Club.
Rule No. 6: Get a shopping partner.
If you are single or have a small family, partnering with a friend or neighbor may be a way to take advantage of warehouse club bargains without going overboard. Split the large quantity items. Share the membership fee — but understand that only one of you will have a membership card.
Rule No. 7: Don't be afraid to make a return.
Warehouse clubs have generous return and refund policies. Take advantage of that if you buy something and then discover you can't use it, won't use it or it's just not right for you.
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."