“Free 2-day shipping!” “5% cash back!” “Exclusive offers for members only!!”

All of these retail promotions sound great at first, then you realize that an annual membership fee is involved. What? Ridiculous you say? Not so fast…

ShopSmart and CBS MoneyWatch analyzed some of the more popular retail membership clubs and found that some might actually be worth paying the annual fee. For example:

Amazon Prime (Free 2-day shipping + instant streaming video) is worth the $79/year fee if you buy from Amazon more than nine times a year or take advantage of the instant video service

Barnes & Noble’s membership program (Free express shipping + member discounts) is worth the $25 annual fee if you buy more than six books a year at a 40% discount.

Overstock.com Club O (5% cash back and free shipping for purchases over $25) is worth the $19.95 annual fee if you buy more than $100 in items a year from the company.

Personally speaking, I’ve been an Amazon Prime member for over five years now and have found myself buying about 20 times a year from the company. So I more than make up for the cost of being in the program. But if your shopping club isn’t listed above, here my one-and-only personal tip on figuring out if the club is worth joining:

Ask yourself, will you actually take advantage of the main benefits of the program? No seriously, I’m not being facetious. Free two-day shipping or 5% cash back has a great ring to it and sounds even better when you’re bragging about it to all of your friends. But if you don’t really buy from that particular store already, don’t pretend that you will after signing up for the membership. That’s just bad form.

If, after looking at your purchase history, you feel like this program is worth joining, then crunch the numbers. If the program lets you save on a fee, see how much you paid in that fee last year and see if it’s greater than the cost of membership. Or if there’s a cash back program, take your total annual purchase amount and multiple it by that cash back percentage to see if the amount saved is greater than the membership fee.

It’s that simple.

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