If you indulge in every potentially cost-saving membership offer that crosses your path, you may very well end up with a bunch of cards you’ll never use, magazines you’ll never read, and emails you never wanted. You may even find yourself shelling out more cash than you would have otherwise. However, choose judiciously, and you’ll find yourself making the most of memberships and subscriptions and stretching your bank account farther than you thought possible.
Types of Memberships and Subscriptions
So, what are we talking about? What kind of memberships can save us money or save our sanity? What subscriptions are worth the annoyance of filling out yet another form?
While many great community resources, like parks, don’t involve or require memberships, signing up, often for free, can open up additional opportunities.
We’re big fans of public libraries here at How Do You Do It? In addition to books, music and movies you can borrow, there are often story time opportunities, game nights and other community events going on. If your children can have their own library cards, often connected to your account, managing their own library materials can serve as a great lesson in responsibility.
Gym or Rec Center
There’s likely a gym or recreational center near where you live. Prices are often quite reasonable, and gyms can often serve as community centers. Our local YMCA not only has a complete gym with extended hours and unlimited group exercise classes available to all members, it also runs an excellent full-day and after-school childcare service on site and at local elementary school. The savings I get on childcare for being a Y member more than pays for the membership fee. Getting to go to the gym and having free childcare while I exercise is just icing on the cake. We also get access to swimming pools, splash pads, and other facilities.
Mother of Multiples Club
Mothers of multiple clubs are more than just a safe haven with other moms who understand your life! These moms can clue you into the hidden gems in your community. If your local club hosts a consignment sale, members will likely have pre-sale browsing privileges. If your family falls on hard times, there is no group that will jump to your aid faster than your local MoMs.
Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are fixtures of the community. Like MoM groups, they can clue you into what’s available in your community and are there for their members in their joys and troubles. Not religious? That’s okay. I’m actually openly atheist, and have found the evangelical church I attend to be immensely welcoming to me and my kids. We have opportunities to volunteer, share parenting tips and tricks, and have made amazing friends. I am raising my kids Christian, as I committed to my now ex-husband when we conceived, so having a church community is essential for that to work. It does take a degree of open-mindedness and tolerance to really participate in a congregation where you don’t share the faith, but that’s a conversation for another day.
If you’re going to be frequenting some local entertainment with high frequency, a membership may very well be worth it. There’s a coffee shop/indoor playscape that we go to all the time, whether it’s because it’s too hot to play outside, because I need to catch up on work on the free wifi while my daughters play, or because I want to chat with a friend without the kids being the centre of the conversation. You can bet that I invest in their multiple entry package!
We have a Gatti’s pizza parlour/arcade locally that we go to only rarely. I don’t buy the membership because we don’t go often enough for it to be worth it. Plus, with each game costing a few cents, the price can easily add up. Instead, we go on the free entry coupons my daughters earn at school for high academic performance. They spend their own allowance on loading up their game cards. I’ll talk more about how to decide whether to invest in a particular membership over a one-time entrance fee later in this post.
Types of entertainment venues that offer memberships include:
Katelyn talked about saving on shopping earlier this week, so I won’t get too deep into this topic.
If you do a lot of your shopping online, Amazon offers a couple of membership/subscription options that can really save you a ton. Amazon Prime requires an annual fee, unless you’re a student, so make sure that it’s worth it to you to spend that money. It gives you free shipping, movie streaming and other perks. Amazon Subscribe and Save doesn’t cost you anything additional and saves you money, but is designed for scheduled recurring purchases like diapers or food.
Discount and wholesale clubs like Sam’s Club and Costco can be a great investment if you are interested in buying in bulk and have a location nearby. The cheapest Sam’s membership is $45, and you get $15 back as a gift card if you’re active duty military or a college student. However, if you’re not going to save at least $30 ($45 if you don’t qualify for one of the special programs) shopping there during the life of the membership, it’s not worth it… unless the other stores in your area don’t have double-seat shopping carts. In that case, $45 may be worth the store having carts that can accommodate twins! Costco memberships are $55.
Store Loyalty Cards
Store loyalty cards are usually free and can add up in savings quickly. I frequently get 25% off coupons when I shop at CVS, in addition to product-specific coupons I use more rarely. Walgreens has a similar loyalty program. I just carry my cards on my keychain, but I wouldn’t want so many fobs on there that I had to search through them when shopping. No thanks. I just signed up for Ikea family. The Swedish meatballs there are my cheap cheat when I just can’t get dinner on the table.
Restaurant punch cards are another variation on this theme. If you go somewhere often, it doesn’t hurt to get every 10th sandwich free. I have a few cards to restaurants near my office. I’ve worked at the same place for over 8 years. I’ve had time to earn those punches, even though I try to bring lunch from home.
We help avid readers Swap, Trade & Exchange Books for Free.
- It’s easy: List books you’d like to swap with other club members.
- Once a book is requested, mail it to the club member.
- In return, you may choose from 4,790,612 available books!
- Books you request are mailed to you for free.
- No late fees. No hidden charges.
When you ship by media mail, the shipping prices are extremely reasonable. Do you know of other similar services?
Do you travel a lot? Look into frequent flier programs. Those miles can add up quickly when you travel with multiples. Hotel chains also offer loyalty programs.
Choose Your Memberships Wisely
All these programs are well and good, but always use this rule of thumb: The membership must save you money. If you wouldn’t pay for the service without the membership, then avoid paying for the membership.
How far/convenient is it?
What will you spend on gas, food and accommodation? The farther away the location is, the more hidden costs you’ll accrue on the way. I seriously considered buying annual passes to SeaWorld, but San Antonio is just too far to be worth it for us. My old neighbour’s mom lived in San Antonio, so they were down there often anyway. For them, the membership made sense.
How often will you go?
Realistically, will you frequent the location often enough during the lifetime of the membership to warrant the cost? If the membership costs twice a single day entry, but you only end up going once, you’ve wasted your money.
How big is your family? How many are allowed on the membership?
A lot of family memberships assume a family of 4. My family has 3; sometimes it’s cheaper to go with single entry passes. If you have more than 4, will you have to pay extra for the additional family members?
If you can legitimately share a membership with another family, that may be worth your money. Read the fine print and confirm that it’s allowed. Can you bring guests? Some memberships may be worth your money if you need to entertain out of town guests.
Is a membership the cheapest option?
Sometimes non-membership discounts come out to be cheaper than investing in a membership. Do they offer a discount on multiple kids? For military service? Are children younger than some cutoff free? Maybe adults are free. Do your research.
When does the membership expire? Are there blackout dates?
There’s nothing worse than showing up somewhere expecting that you’ve paid for entry, only to learn that you’re going to have to pay full price.
Will your kids be old enough/lose interest during the lifetime of your membership?
Many memberships last a year. Realistically, will the location hold interest for all your kids for that whole year? If not, you may spend more than it’s worth.
What are the benefits?
Do you get discounts or food and lodging? Some memberships are worth the side perks alone.
Are there hidden costs?
Think about childcare costs, parking, monthly fees, lodging, gas and food. Is it really going to be worth it?
What memberships do you have? Have you ever bought one you regretted?
* Some links are Sadia’s affiliate or referral links.
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.