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.
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.
Back 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.
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. :)
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!
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:
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