Liz Pulliam Weston

The Basics

Discounts hiding in your wallet

If you belong to a professional organization or a discount club, if you support public radio or TV, or if you've reached a certain age, you may be entitled to a discount.

By Liz Pulliam Weston

I like to think of myself as a frugal person, but researching this particular column has made me realize I've wasted hundreds of dollars in recent years.

What's worse is that saving the money would have been easy. All I had to do was use the membership cards already in my wallet.

The discounts I missed out on range from a few bucks at our favorite local restaurants to 10% off online purchases at Target to more than $100 on the auto sound system for my husband's car.

I would have continued on in blissful ignorance had I not reviewed an upcoming book, "Spending Smart," by Gregory Karp, a money columnist for the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call. (Karp's book will be published in February 2008.)

Karp mentioned some of the often-overlooked discounts associated with membership in organizations including AAA, AARP and warehouse stores like Costco. It didn't take too much digging to find others.

Best deals in town

Here are some deals you may not know you can get:

AAA. The auto club is one of the biggest associations in North America, with 49 million members in the U.S. and Canada. Its roadside assistance, travel discounts and insurance plans are well known, but AAA's affiliated regional clubs also negotiate a host of breaks on retail and service purchases as well. Among them:

  • 6% off Dell computers

My local association, the Auto Club of Southern California, also offers 15% off products at Al & Ed's Autosound, where I got hubby's car sound system.

Some of these discounts are available by presenting your AAA card at the participating retailer. Others require a coupon you can get from your regional club's Web site (type in your ZIP code at the AAA site to find it) or require you to start your shopping from that site.

Warehouse clubs. Yes, you can buy a year's supply of toilet paper at Costco, Sam's Club and BJ's Warehouse. But these warehouse retailers have branched out considerably in recent years and now offer retirement plans, home-equity loans, vacations and caskets.

With all warehouse purchases, you shouldn't assume you're necessarily getting the best deal. (Even toilet paper can be purchased for less elsewhere with the right coupon and grocery-store sale.) But the clubs' size and market clout often allow them to come up with some pretty good discounts, so they're worth checking out if you're a member.

All three clubs offer pharmacies and car-buying services. Other deals vary by club.

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Costco, for example, offers:

  • Small business 401(k) plans

  • Home-equity financing

  • Funeral supplies, including caskets and urns

  • Theme park and movie tickets

Sam's Club has:

  • Health insurance plans

  • Pet insurance

  • Auto financing

  • Rotating "once in a lifetime" deals, such as the current offer of a trip to Tuscany for eight people for $54,000

BJ's Wholesale Club offers:

  • Vacation and cruise packages

  • Health-care discounts

  • A network of home improvement contractors

  • Home heating oil

Continued: AARP, NRA and union savings

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