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Why I Bought A Sam’s Club Membership (And What I’m Buying)

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a membership to Sam’s Club.  If you have been reading here for awhile, you know that I’ve been on the fence about getting one for quite some time, but up until this point, I’ve just been shopping there when they put out a free pass for non-members.

Read this: 11 Things to Consider Before Joining a Warehouse Club

Here’s what finally tipped me, a long-time holdout and champion of avoiding the warehouse clubs, over the edge:

Good sale + coupon deals have become harder to get.

A variety of factors (the economy and coupon policy-tightening due to extreme couponers) have decreased the number of great deals that can be had with sales and coupons.  It’s harder to stock up when the good deals come around.

I don’t want to go to five grocery stores every week anymore.

sams-club-membershipBack in the day before I had five kids, I didn’t mind – in fact I liked going to a bunch of stores every week to get the best deals.  This is no longer practical for me – I prefer to shop at two, maybe three stores per week.  I have an afternoon every week where Jeremy watches the kids while I can go run errands or do whatever on my own, and frankly, I’ve decided we are all better off if I take a little time to relax rather than spend the entire time running around to different stores.

I could go to more stores if I wanted to  bundle up five children, ages seven and under, to go grocery shopping out in the cold, but again, when I leave the house with the kids, I’d prefer to do something with them that does not involve a rodeo inside the grocery store.

We now eat enough food to justify buying in bulk.

To be clear, I don’t think anyone has to “justify” buying in bulk even for a small family.  But, until recently it hasn’t made sense to me to buy large packages of things when it took us so long to get through them that they often got stale or otherwise spoiled before we finished them.

And, in the past I often didn’t want to buy a huge package of toilet paper at Sam’s because I knew that I could buy a smaller package at the regular store to get us through and then wait for an amazing sale on toilet paper to stock up.  Now that we are using a lot more and the sales are less frequent, it makes more sense to buy toilet paper at Sam’s since I can’t regularly get it cheaper somewhere else.

marinara-sauce

I want to do more freezer cooking.

Actually, I need to do more freezer cooking!  There aren’t a lot of meals that I cook completely and store in the freezer, but I have a lot of meal components that I like to make ahead and freeze (marinara sauce, the chicken breasts for Chicken Parmesan, muffin batter, beans, Crockpot Lemon Artichoke Chicken, raw meatloaf and meatballs, enchilada sauce, burritos, Sloppy Joes).

It’s been hard to do as much freezer cooking as I’d like when I’m waiting on a sale on flour or canned tomatoes, so shopping at Sam’s Club will help me be able to cook for the freezer at close-to-rock-bottom prices.

Sam’s Club is almost never out of stock.

Especially when I’m only shopping at a couple of stores a week, I get really frustrated when I plan a menu around the items that are on sale and get to the store and they are out of half of the items.  I can’t think of a time that I’ve ever been to Sam’s Club and they were out of stock of something.  I’m sure it happens on occasion, but it seems that they are better at keeping things in stock than other stores – probably because their shoppers tend to be very predictable since there aren’t any sales.

I am somewhat apprehensive that they will stop selling the items that I buy there, because that has happened before, though most of the items that I’m buying are pretty basic staples so hopefully they won’t stop carrying canned tomatoes!

Why Sam’s Club and not Costco?

I know that this post will bring out all of the Sam’s Club-haters and the Costco lovers.  Why did I choose Sam’s Club?

Primarily, the cost of the actual items at Sam’s Club is what caused me to choose it over Costco (the membership cost wasn’t a factor).  I compared prices a year ago and Costco had great prices on organic foods.  But, as I was comparing prices, I realized that there were quite a few things that Costco only sold as organic, and while it was a great price for organic, it meant that I would actually spend more than I currently was since I don’t primarily buy organics.

When I last checked Costco, I could only find organic canned tomatoes, at a much lower price than what you’d pay for a similar product in a regular store, but a higher price than what you’d pay for non-organic at a regular store, so compared to my current shopping habits, I’d be spending more by shopping Costco.  (I just checked their website and it appears that Costco does sell some non-organic tomatoes at least online, but if those prices are similar to their in-store prices, it’s still more than the Sam’s Club price for the equivalent item.)

If our budget allowed for more organic items, I might’ve chosen Costco; but it doesn’t, so I didn’t.

I know someone will jump in and rave about Costco’s amazing credit card that gives you cash back and all of that.  Let me just insert that if I wanted a credit card, I could get one that offered as good of a reward as Costco’s, so their credit card is absolutely no incentive to me. :)

sams-club-shopping-cart

The membership options and cost

I bought my Sam’s Club membership for personal use but since I was able to show my business debit card with my name and business on it, I was able to buy the basic business membership for $35.  (I think it’s $40 for a personal membership.)  They also asked if I had a public library card and gave me a $10 gift card to Sam’s when I was able to produce the library card.  (They said it was some sort of a promotion they frequently do with different businesses.)  So, ultimately the basic business membership cost me $25.

I definitely wanted the business membership because it allows you to shop at 7 AM, instead of 10 AM.  I probably won’t take advantage of this very often, but I’ve been in Sam’s Club before 10 AM before and it is so quiet that I know it’s a great time to shop if I can get there before 10!  (Then again, the Wednesday afternoon I shopped was also very quiet!)  And since I qualified and it was cheaper anyway, it was a win-win!

I didn’t buy their Business Plus membership and so I “lost out” on their digital coupons that they offer.  I’ve watched their coupons for awhile, and while they offer some good discounts, it’s not often on the things that I plan to buy there, so it didn’t seem advantageous for me to pay more for a membership just to get coupons that I won’t often use.

Unfortunately, since I didn’t buy the “Plus” membership, they asked me at checkout if I knew all about it and if I wanted to upgrade.  I have the feeling that this may be a regular occurrence which quite frankly will be annoying, but oh well.  I’ve heard Costco does a similar spiel for their credit card if you pay with anything other than their card.  I’m already buying a cartload of groceries, please do not try to upsell me (or solicit a donation as certain other grocery stores do) at the checkout every time!

Good deals at Sam's Club

What I’m buying at Sam’s Club

Here’s a list, roughly grouped by category or location in the store, of what I’m buying at Sam’s Club:

deli meat
breakfast sausage
pepperoni

mozzarella
parmesan
feta
cheddar

eggs
cream
buttermilk

craisins
raisins
mangos
pistachios
pecans
popcorn

flour
sugar
yeast
spices
vanilla
cocoa powder
chocolate chips

ketchup
peanut butter
olive oil
honey
maple syrup
canned tomatoes
oatmeal

veggie straws
sandwich bread

garlic
spring mix
potatoes
lemons

freezer bags
foil pans
toilet paper
dishwasher tabs
vinegar
hydrogen peroxide (for laundry)

A few of these items do go cheaper at regular grocery stores (with or without coupons, depending on the item) so when I see those sales, I’ll definitely be stocking up instead of buying it at Sam’s Club.

While my list is certainly not a “whole foods only” list, you’ll notice that there aren’t a lot of highly-processed or pre-packaged foods on it.  We buy very little of that these days and I prefer to cook most things from scratch.  In my experience, the pre-packaged foods are not only more expensive overall, they tend to be quite a bit more expensive at Sam’s than you can get even just watching the sales (without coupons) at the regular grocery stores.

If we ate more packaged food, I would probably be more likely to have purchased a Costco membership since they sell a lot more organic packaged foods (which may or not be a good idea if it means that we are more likely to buy/eat them!).  Right now, my goal is simply to eat better by cooking from scratch.

There’s also not a lot of meat on the list.  Trust me, this is not because we don’t eat meat! :)  We buy our ground beef at Ranch Foods, and I buy chicken at various stores when it’s on sale.  To be honest, I didn’t look much at the meat last time I was there, but it looks like they have chicken breasts for $1.77 so I’ll probably be buying some of those from time to time, and maybe some bone-in chicken, too.  I’ll be looking for manager’s specials on anything!

How often I’ll shop at Sam’s Club

I’m planning to shop at Sam’s Club about once a month or if I can, once every month and a half.  I don’t want to go more than once a month – it’s way too easy to blow a budget when you’re buying in bulk, and I need to make sure that I am wisely using up the food that we have before I stuff the refrigerator and pantry again.

I’m hoping that my Sam’s Club purchases will help me to be able to shop less often overall!

Do you have Sam’s Club or Costco membership?  What are your strategies for shopping a warehouse club?

Read this for more thoughts on joining a warehouse club: 11 Things to Consider Before Joining a Warehouse Club

28 Comments
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Comments

  1. We got a Sam’s membership when we were expecting our first child solely to buy diapers there. Then I found out that the Target brand diapers are a better deal, so we didn’t renew our membership. But, we do typically go to Sam’s when they have free days for the general public. I have a spreadsheet of my “buy” prices as well as what we’ve paid for items at Sam’s club before. I bring that along with me and I only purchase what is cheaper at Sams club (ie almonds, yogurt) than I can get elsewhere.

  2. Be sure to load your Sam’s coupons on to your card at the machine just as you come in the door. There is a special coming that we just got a flyer for that’s dated for the 23rd-27th (I think?). It looks like the $4 off of Dunkin Donuts coffee will make the price comparable to the cheap stuff.

  3. I am impressed by your thorough strategy! My husband and I are both from the NW, and so Costco was a given for us when we moved out here. We used to drive to Denver to get meat and a few other things that I knew were cheaper than regular grocery store prices but didn’t have the motivation to watch coupons closely enough for. My strategy has jumped back and forth between sales/coupons and Costco heavy, but we are definitely in a Costco heavy phase. I just don’t care to put the time and effort into finding the rock bottom prices on things like I used to. The savings are shrinking and so is my free time!

    We have our list of Costco only items, that I think are a better deal than most sales: salsa, Tillamook cheese, soy milk and rice milk, sweet potatoes, bananas, bread flour, garlic. (Christmas cards :) ) Then there are those more convenient for me to buy there than watch for lots of sales. I do know we pay slightly higher on a few items than I could otherwise, but the peace of knowing we won’t run out of it and I don’t have to watch every week for a sale is worth it for me. Many of those I only buy when Costco has a coupon also: most paper products, diapers, pork chops, crackers.

    Lately the gas prices have been a fantastic bonus as well, and we seem to have one annual large purchase where the savings and warranty pay for our membership by itself (chest freezer, TV, vacuum).

    I definitely am loyal to Costco, but I also have never been to Sam’s Club so I can’t give a great comparison!

  4. It sounds like a really great option for you and your family! For our family of three, I am still able to better (price wise) with sales, coupons and gardening, but we definitely look forward to those free to the public days. That’s when we stock up on Hubby’s otc allergy medicine and a few other things we like to get there. I have cut my running around quite a bit by price matching at Walmart too, but I agree, the screamin’ deals are becoming less frequent….plus, since I don’t live in town and can’t just run out every time there’s a heads-up for a deal, I miss some of them entirely.

  5. We’ve had memberships at both clubs and prefer Costco. The prices were cheaper on the things we normally buy there. I miss the pretzels at Sam’s Club, though, the ones from their food court.

  6. Your list looks almost identical to my list of things I typically get at Costco! Dog food is also on my list — the savings on that item alone pays for our membership and then some…AND it’s better quality than the dog food I used to buy at Wal-Mart.

  7. We have a Costco membership currently but we have had Sams memberships in the past.

    We went with Costco this time because my husband and I both do Pilates and about a year ago Costco had a deal on a Pilates reformer (exercise equipment) that saved us about $500. Just before Thanksgiving we got a 60 inch TV for our basement at Costco and saved $800. Just before Christmas we used the Costco buying program to purchase a new Rav4 and saved about $3000. We are currently looking into the Costco Hunter Douglas purchasing plan for shades for our kitchen…

    This was obviously not a normal purchasing year for us but our membership has served us well.

    My monthly shopping list is pretty small… frozen chicken breasts, frozen blueberries, breakfast sausage, pecans, canned tomatoes, craisins, toilet paper and napkins…

    Our membership expires next month but I think we will renew.

  8. I can relate to your post. Back when my 5 were young Sams made the most sense! Now that my youngest is 7 and all are in school, I can run around again and chase the deals. Not practical with several young ones! Anyway, look into “click and pull”! I used that every time and absolutely loved it!!!! The day before I would go I would go online and click the items I knew I wanted and they would have them all pulled on a cart waiting for me…already rung up. I would first walk through the store and pick up anything I wanted to add on, but it would save me a ton of time, especially if I did have to take the kids with me! I really miss that feature not having a Sams card anymore!! It was a free benefit back when I used it, but I am not sure if it is still free, it has been about 4 years since I have been there.

  9. I agree with you on the only going to a few stores. We have a Sam’s membership because I bake, a lot. Also we found that some things are a better deal. The one thing I do when I go is take a list. It keeps me from random shopping. Also I write out the list of other things that I may need and the sale price at the store. That way I don’t feel bad if I pass up a deal there that seems good. My husband used to laugh at me about it but now I find him checking the list also and comparing the price. The only thing on the list you have that we will not buy there is the Sam’s chicken. The last two times we got bad chicken but they were really awesome about making it right.

  10. We go to Costco.. they have amazing coupons every month… I got Finish powerballs for super cheap a couple months ago for way cheaper than I could ever stock up for at KS. Also, their warranties on big ticket items (camera, tv) are awesome… our tv wasn’t working right after 2 years and they gave us full credit. Plus i enjoy the organics.

    Carrie… are you still keeping an eye on ads and couponing? I’m wondering if it’s worth just saving the money i spend on the Post and shopping full time at Costco.

  11. We have had a Sam’s membership for 10+ years. We keep it because of the gas discount. (My husband drives A LOT for work.) But we have our few standard things that we always get there. I have noticed that their prices have gone up recently, though. I used to always get our milk there, because it was always $2/gallon, but now it’s around $2.75 or something and we can get it elsewhere for $2.09-2.20. I also used to buy their big blocks of cheese, because at $2 or less per pound, you could rarely beat it at the grocery store. Now it’s around $3, I think, so I need to start watching the grocery sales more.

    The other nice thing about Sam’s for me is that, since my husband is always there getting gas, I can just have him go in and get what we need. One less thing on my to do list!

    By the way, what do you use hydrogen peroxide for in the laundry? Just curious.

  12. lizlemontree says:

    I got a fee sams club pass from coupon cabin. I was able to be the other person on a costco card of a relative in another state. They just have to mail me the print out and then i take it into the costco here. So thats an option if you know someone who already has one.

  13. I can totally understand where you’re at. Going to the store with my 5 is a recipe for a stressed-out mama. Funny enough, several weeks ago we went as a family to check something out at Costco and my husband saw firsthand the challenge of shopping with them and told me we should always find a way for me to go alone. :) We love Costco and I shop there mostly for things you have on your Sam’s list. I love that Costco really stands behind everything they sell. And the coupon books they have out each month normally make for great deals on items I normally buy or can buy because they are a good enough value with the coupon. Costco has become my primary grocery source, with produce from Bountiful Baskets and filling in the rest with some stuff from Safeway (I’ll go when their Friday deals warrant a trip there) and King Soopers (mostly during their Mega Events). We also get gas and prescriptions there for substantial savings.

  14. During a promotion they were having a year ago, I upgraded to the Plus membership for 6 months – I did break even for what it cost me. I no longer have because periodically throughout the year they offer their Plus products to ALL Sam’s members (for instance, this weekend the 25th-27th). You should get a flyer in the mail or they hand out in the stores. During these times I purchase the items I use often and get an additional discount!

  15. They are offering the Plus membership for $13 for the rest of the year, which gives you extra discounts on certain items and they change every month apparently (I did upgrade today), and it also gives you a free one year warranty on electronics, so if you are considering an electronics purchase, that would pay for the year. Not sure how I’m going to like it, but I’m giving it a shot. I also have a Costco membership (got a sweet deal with a friend), but I find I don’t shop there very often and probably won’t renew it next year. I LOVE that you can go to Sam’s between 7 and 10 am if you have a business membership. It is pretty quiet during that time and easy to get in and out with your list.

  16. Hi Carrie, great post. I recently bought a Sam’s membership for many of the same reasons you stated and also after being on the fence for several years! :)

    I’m curious about the coupon savings because I bought the basic $40 membership and after going yesterday noticed some instant savings on my receipt. Do you know anything about that? I’m curious as to how one finds out what items have the instant savings available as well!

    Thanks,
    Monica

  17. I am a member at both Sam’s and Costco right now. If I had to choose only one, it would definitely be Sams.
    That being said, I have the no annual fee- American Express card from Costco. I get 3% cash back on gas and 1% on anything I buy in Costco, so that pays for my membership. The coupon book Costco sends out also saves me money.

  18. my parents continue to keep their Costco membership because it pays for itself with their prescription glasses alone … even cheaper than Walmart or Sams according to my mom who has shopped all three for years.

  19. Unfortunately, Sam’s has increased their membership prices. A small biz membership went up 30% (an additional $10)! They provided no notice of the increase and now use coupons, so rest assured, you know they aren’t giving you the best price available. Hopefully, your sams experience is better than mine as I’m not going to renew.

  20. Love the post! We have a membership to both Costco and Sams, but if I had to choose one, I would most definitely choose Sams. It has the practical, every day things that are always on my list, at a good price, and always stocked! Your list and my list are almost identical. I do buy frozen foods ( vegetables , meat, and some seafood). I visit Costco whenever I am entertaining because I like their selections of specialty foods and desserts, especially around each holiday. Husband always likes to compare them when shopping for electronics. Both have excellent return policies, so I never worry if I have a problem with a big ticket item.

    • “Practical, every day things that are always on my list” – yes, that’s why I’m at Sam’s and not Costco! I considered getting a Costco membership, but I determined that I would be spending more there than perhaps what I spend by watching sales at the grocery stores, because their lack of selection forces to you buy the organic stuff even when you don’t care on that particular item, and for me it was going to end up costing me more to buy organic stuff at Costco than buying the non-organic stuff at King Soopers or wherever. They do have great prices on specialty foods but not so much on the every day stuff, like you said.

  21. For a fabulous deal on meats, especially on French, never frozen chicken and ground beef…try zaycon.com you can not beat quality and cost.

  22. Thank you for this post! A lot of your reasons for going for the membership are ones that I can directly relate to. I’ve been on the fence about getting a membership and trying to figure out which one to go with, if the basic one would work for me or not. There isn’t a costco near us, so I’m not worried about their comparison. LOL In fact, Sam’s is over an hour’s drive from me too, so I’d never be there by 7 am anyhow. My parents have a membership and I occasionally just go with them to stock up on a few things, and what really interested me in a membership of my own was their produce section. Our kids LOVE things like apples and bananas and oranges and carrots and for the same price as a small package at a regular grocery store- I could get nearly twice as much or more at Sam’s.

  23. FYI: Groupon is running a special on Sam’s Club memberships for a couple more days.

    http://www.groupon.com/deals/sam-s-club-5-abilene

  24. Sherry Hoffman says:

    I have memberships at both warehouses for two reasons:
    1) I like to buy gas at either warehouse and go to whichever one I’m the closest to.
    2) Both warehouses carry different items that we use regularly.

    Tip: We have used Costco Travel for car rentals as they often have the lowest price.

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