View Full Version : 10 Memberships that are Worth the Cost.

06-04-2010, 05:39 AM

Membership has its privileges, the question is -- are they worth it? Unequivocally, the answer is a resounding ... maybe! Ultimately, the value of anything depends on how much you use it. If you pay $399 for a Disneyland annual pass and go once, that's an expensive trip. If you buy the same pass and go 200 times you'll be paying $1.99 per day --a deal! You might be singing It's a Small World in your sleep, but you will have received your money's worth.

WalletPop has rounded up ten types of memberships worth the cost, including one you literally can't afford to miss. Whether you consider yourself a "joiner" or not, sometimes paying for privilege really does add up in your favor.

Warehouse stores:

10 memberships worth the moneyCavernous, cement-floored warehouse stores stocked to their exposed rafters with pallets of bulk merchandise are the definition of a "no frills" experience. Still, millions of people pay annual fees at Costco, Sam's Club and BJs for the privilege of shopping sans elevator music, soothing decor, or in many cases -- cell service. Does shelling out for spartan style really make a difference?

According to a recent mystery shopper comparison by Consumer Reports (2009), it does. The non-profit consumer watch dog organization sent 28 undercover shoppers to more than 130 stores in 15 states (including: Target, Walmart, Costco, Sam's Club, and local grocery stores) to compare things like napkins, Ritz crackers, Corona, Domino sugar, trash bags, batteries, cereal, peanut butter and diapers. The results? "Warehouse clubs had the best deals by far almost every time (the one category in which the clubs didn't shine was drinks)," wrote Consumer Reports.

Overall, club stores were found to be 30% to 60% cheaper than non-club stores. In addition, club stores also proved a good bet for bargains on mattresses, books, eyeglasses and luxury goods, although the comparison study suggests shopping around for electronics.

Ranging in annual fees upwards from $50 (up to two household members) at Costco, $40 (up to two household members) Sam's Club, and $45 for East Coast chain, BJs, the club stores also offer services including optical departments, pharmacies, travel and roadside assistance services, cell phone plans, auto and home insurance, gas stations and more. The memberships are refundable if consumers are not "100% satisfied."

For those who might take years to use a thousand trash bags or have trouble storing 36 rolls of TP or paper towels, Consumer Reports suggests the buddy system. Divvy up the mega-packaging and split the costs. An added bonus: you have an extra person to help lug it all to the car.

Food-Buying Club:

10 memberships worth the moneyA food-buying club is another way to get groceries cheaper with a little help from your friends. Members of a food-buying club pool their buying power -- sort of like Costco, but with a more homey, virtuous vibe -- to procure natural, usually organic, farm fresh products at a better price than the local Whole Wallet grocery.

Coop Directory Services (CDS), a Minnesota-based non-profit resource dedicated to promoting natural food co-ops, defines a buying club as, "Typically ... composed of seven or more families, who share the chores of collecting money from the member families, placing the order with the distributor, helping unload the truck when it arrives at the drop-off site and dividing up the individual orders."

Comprised of friends, neighbors or groups (i.e., churches, temples, schools), buying clubs are member-owned and operated and vary from informal associations to larger, formal non-profit organizations. Sometimes the food-buying club is also part of its own co-op grocery store. Co-ops with stores provide members with benefits including standing discounts on each purchase, member-only events, newsletters and the right to vote on operating decisions.

According to Consumer Reports it's a membership worth considering, "You might have to pay a membership fee and/or volunteer a few hours a month, but you'll get a good discount on fresh food."

Local Harvest, the California-based online resource championing the Buy Local movement writes, "All food co-ops are committed to consumer education, product quality, and member control, and usually support their local communities by selling produce grown locally by family farms."

The cost of membership is usually minimal. Magpie Natural Foods and Buying Club in Prescott, AZ charges $25 for the first year's membership, and $15 to renew. Bountiful Harvest/Coop Buying Club in Apple Valley, CA requires a $25 non-refundable membership fee. At Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Market in San Diego, CA, membership and the right to call yourself a business owner is a thrifty $15. Wolf Lake Wellness -Organic Buying Club in Palmer/Wasilla, Alaska charges $10 per year to join.

To find a food buying club near your, or information how to start one, go to http://www.coopdirectory.org or http://www.localharvest.org/food-coops.

American Automobile Association (AAA)

10 memberships worth the moneyBecoming a member at AAA costs $20 for new admission plus annual dues of $47 for a "classic membership." It adds up to a little more than a dollar a week and could result in some serious savings.

Best known for its roadside service plan and rescuing drivers from dilemmas big (roadside breakdown) and small (flat tire, keys locked inside, dead battery), members who make the most of their dues also take advantage of features like: Triptik, the online interactive travel planner, domestic maps, tour books, a free magazine subscription. Also included: GPS solutions and iPhone apps like AAA Discounts, AAA Roadside, and AAA Triptik Mobile app which shows users where to find the cheapest nearby gas stations, calculates and displays the route to a selected address, and will talk you through it turn by turn. AAA FindMe is for Sprint users who can use the function to help AAA tow truck locate them when it's hard to describe exactly which part of the deserted highway they have broken down on.

In addition, membership allows drivers to skip long DMV lines and take care of vehicle registration, lost plates and stickers, transfer of out-of-state vehicles, and disabled placard pick up inside local AAA offices. And recently, the company added free identity theft monitoring with fraud resolution support (you do have to sign up for the free program).

One of the best ways to save with AAA, however, is simply by flashing the card at businesses that give members a discount. Card carrying members can save 10% 20%, even 30% on amusement parks, restaurants, shopping, sporting events, hotels, rental cars, gym memberships, museums, aquariums, fitness centers, cultural events and even prescription medicines ... to name a few.

AAA member Candy Johnson was buying a prescription for an upcoming trip to China (to prevent Typhoid) and the medication was not covered by insurance. "The pharmacist asked if I was a AAA member," said Johnson, "and it saved me almost half the cost of the med! AAA -- not just for flat tires and hotel reservations ... who knew!"


10 memberships worth the moneyOne could argue that AARP is the upside of aging. Once there are officially 50 birthday candles flaming away on your cake, you are eligible to join the ranks of millions of people around the world who can remember things like Rolodexes, phone cords, double features, MASH, and what it was like to not take your shoes off before every flight. Good times. Funny, how 50 just doesn't seem so "old" anymore. Did you know Valerie Bertinelli is an AARP member? True.

AARP acknowledges the shift in our attitude about aging, as well as new realities. After scouring its website for the official meaning behind the acronym, I discovered that although the group has maintained its four-letter name, it is no longer identifying itself as the American Association of Retired Persons. After all, who retires at 50 these days?

Luckily although retirement is postponed, the benefits of AARP are not. For only $16 per year, less if you opt for a five year membership, you are eligible for significant discounts on everything from gym memberships and personal trainers (I wonder if Oprah and Bono are using their discounts?) to more than 14,000 restaurants nationwide, hotels, cruises, travel packages, cell phone/Internet services, home security systems, rental cars and groceries to name a few.

Discounts on legal services, insurance and health care are also biggies for which AARP not only obtains price breaks, but also actively advocates regarding legislation that affects their members.

A free magazine subscription, AARP Bulletin, and website round out membership offerings with information on everything volunteer opportunities to lifestyle, health, finance, travel, relationships, home and garden, politics and world news.

AARP members are also eligible for discounts on movie tickets, and with the ever-increasing cost of cinemas, that benefit alone could pay for the price of membership. BYO candy.

"People join AARP because they want to live their best lives after 50, " AARP spokesperson Drew Nannis told WalletPop. "As they strive to improve their lives as they age, AARP is there to provide information on the best of what's next -- in their own lives, in their families' lives, and in the world around them."

Culture Club

10 memberships worth the moneyLions, and tigers and bears -- oh, my! The next time you've corralled the family and organized a trip to the local zoo, museum or science center consider purchasing an annual Association of Science and Technology Center Passport instead of individual tickets.

Similar to buying an annual pass, the ASTC Passport allows free access to the site where the passport is purchased, as well as free- or reduced-price entry to more than 600 museums and science centers -- including zoos, aquariums, planetariums, botanical gardens, children's museums, and nature centers in 45 countries around the world.

There is a catch, however. The ASTC Passport is valid at the place where it was purchased, and at science and technology centers located outside a 90-mile radius from where you live. According to the ASTC, many centers work out agreements with other participating museums within the 90-mile radius to allow reciprocity. The best bet: know before you go by always calling ahead.

The ASTC Passport is a great deal for families who plan to visit friends, relatives or vacation in another city. Having the Passport would ultimately save significant money on all trips planned within that year. Here is a complete listing of science and technology centers that participate in the ASTC Passport program.

On the flip side, if you're more apt to be staycationing closer to home, a membership to the local science or technology center could buy the most "Wows!" from your wallet. Membership to the local attraction not only serves to support something cool and worthy within your community, but also provides member discounts on merchandise from the gift shop, food, parking, and possibly local restaurants as well. In addition, annual membership holders usually score invitations to special member-only events at the center, free guest passes, not to mention local pride.

In most cases annual memberships provide funding toward research, education and conservation -- money well spent.

Theme Parks

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06-05-2010, 04:33 AM