Pay a membership fee, buy in bulk, and save a ton of money. Not so fast, fellow frugalitarian. Warehouse clubs aren't always the tightwad utopia they seem to be. I let my membership expire, and I don't plan on renewing it, mostly because of my distance from the closest store. OK, I might miss poking around the seasonal merchandise, and my kids might miss grazing the free samples of food. But, for the most part, I'm not missing the way my eyes glazed over whenever I walked in and that surprised feeling when I handed over large sums of cash at the checkout. I never left that place without spending more than I intended to. It's too easy to convince yourself that products such as giant jars of pickles, peanut butter and pancake syrup are the best deals around. I always felt a bit ridiculous hauling all the mega-sized products, too. It was the joyful abundance versus shameful gluttony factor.

My lessons learned are these: Some products aren't meant to last a year and get a little gross after a while. It's not always a deal simply because it comes in a bigger container, and it's definitely not saving me anything if the product goes to waste. You need room for all those bulk products, too. I do have an upright freezer, but I have limited storage space for products that aren't frozen.

It can be helpful to shop there. Be sure to do your homework and compare prices for the same products in other stores. Many of my readers share lists of products they have found cheaper at warehouse clubs. Some of these items include baby supplies, milk, baking supplies, produce, gas, meat, pet food, printer ink, laundry detergent and prescriptions. Visit on a nonmember free-pass day. You can ask their customer-service desk for a pass, and some stores offer free passes on their Web sites. You can go with family or friends who have memberships, too.

Ask whether your local warehouse store accepts coupons, issues store coupons or lets you pay a surcharge to shop without buying a full membership. You should know your rate of use for the products you buy so you're not wasting anything. Also, do you have to travel far to get to the store? With simple math, you can see whether it's worth it for you to join based on these points alone.

However, if you're not a disciplined shopper, it can be a budget buster. Don't forget that warehouse stores carry far fewer products than most grocery stores. You can face a long wait time during checkout, and don't expect the same level of customer service aisle to aisle that you're used to at the grocery store. On the upside, warehouse clubs often offer products you won't find easily in other stores.

If you discover that warehouse-club shopping saves you money, here are some tips.
-- Compare prices on warehouse store-brand products, too.
-- Lunch can be cheap there. Some offer free drink refills.
-- Check unit pricing.
-- Check for discount prices at new-product, free-sample stations.
-- At Sam's Club, a "C" on the price tag indicates a product that has been discontinued. Sam's Club markdown price ends in a penny. At Costco, products ending with 97 cents are markdowns, and an asterisk indicates a discontinued item. -- Michelle, Tennessee
-- Above all else, avoid temptation.

While I don't find a membership worth it for my family, plenty of people are saving a lot of money by shopping at warehouses. Only you can decide whether it's worth it for your family.

How about you? If you have a membership, share what makes it worth it for your family.