Do you have a Sam’s Club near you? I do, and I pay for a membership every year.
But every year I do re-evaluate to make sure I’m saving money by having a Sam’s Club membership. I mean, I have to. It’s impossible for me not to question the wisdom of paying to shop at a store! All the other stores are like, “Hey, come spend your money here! Here’s this expensive full-color direct mail ad that we’ll send right to your house to get you to come here! And if that’s not enough, here’s a coupon for 50% off! Pulllease come shop here!”
At Sam’s Club, you get to the register with your shopping cart full of something like $200 worth of stuff and they say, “Hey, your membership is up for renewal; do you want to pay for that today?”
So I say “No thank you, not yet,” and go home to think about it.
When NOT to Buy a Membership to a Warehouse Club
Before I opine about how I save money at Sam’s Club, I feel like I should speak to the reasons you should not purchase a membership. There’s one really big one.
- I would not buy a membership to a warehouse club if I was working on getting out of debt.
Yes, it saves me money and I actually enjoy shopping at our club. But most times you shop at any warehouse club, you’re stocking up on large quantities. This makes for a pretty big total at checkout. If you were counting on that to pay down a debt, it’s going to hinder your progress.
The best idea is to spend as little as possible until all your debt is paid off and then when you have lots of extra money every month, you can start stocking up on groceries and things. Bulk buying can save you money if you’re smart about it, but it can also lead to expensive mistakes.
There are a few other reasons you might not want a Sam’s Club membership:
- You live in a small apartment, and you don’t have any extra storage space
- You live alone (It might still be worth it if you live alone, but an even better idea might be to share a membership with another single person.)
- You can’t afford to spend money to stock up on household goods or groceries (Sometimes there isn’t room in the budget even if you are entirely debt-free.)
Does Sam’s Club really save you money?
I question it every year. There are always people on social media or in articles online saying that warehouse clubs are a bad deal, that they trick people into over-spending, that they’re just proof that we’re a consumerist society. And gosh, how can you argue with that when you have a package of 96 paper towels in the back of your SUV?
(96 is totally an exaggeration. The paper towels I buy come with 15 mega-rolls to a package and each roll has 150 select-a-size sheets.)
When Do I Break Even?
But the fact is, paper towels are going to continue to be part of my life. They just aren’t something I’m willing to part with. (If you’re one of those folks who uses cloth/fabric towels for everything, you might think I’m a horrible person. But I will admit to tearing off a tiny little section of paper towel if that’s all I need. No sense wasting it!)
And these are the perfect paper towels. They aren’t wimpy, they aren’t linty, and the rolls last forever. And the price per roll is better than even the cheapo paper towels at other stores.
I haven’t calculated how long each roll lasts in our house, but if each roll lasts two weeks (totally guessing), then I might be buying a package twice a year. That would be 30 rolls and would run about $36 for an entire year.
Compare that to buying name brand paper towels at grocery stores. Even if I calculate the price using really great deals and coupons, I’m still saving $8 per year at Sam’s Club.
(Just so you know I’m being fair, I literally did the math two minutes ago because our local grocery store has a sale, plus a special “$5 for 5” deal, and I guessed that I could probably find a coupon for at least 50-cents off per roll. It brings the price down to 6 rolls for $8.50, or $42.60 for 30 rolls. Still more expensive.)
If I’m not using coupons and scanning the sales circulars, I’m saving $47 per year. Just on paper towels. Saving that much – not spending it!
And if I compare it to buying the cheap generic brand of paper towels, I’m saving even MORE money at Sam’s. A cheapo store brand with 36 sheets per roll costs $1. I would need four rolls to equal one mega-roll of my preferred Sam’s Club brand, so over a year’s time that would be, um… 4×30 = 120. Yikes! So I would be spending $120 per year on paper towels? Did I do that math right?
If that’s the case, then I’ve just saved the cost of my Sam’s Club membership right there. But who would really spend $120 on paper towels? We need more evidence of savings.
Trash bags are another thing I buy without fail at Sam’s Club. I *think* I buy them once per year. They are these thin, clear and sort of flimsy-looking 33-gallon trash can liners, but we stuff our kitchen trash can full (and then tamp it down really good a few more times so we don’t have to take the trash out, lol) and they rarely – if ever – break on us. I tell you this just so you know that we aren’t compromising by using trash bags that aren’t up to the job – they just look like they aren’t very strong. But they are.
I’ll spare you the math and tell you that after comparing prices I discovered I save $30 per year on trash bags.
Between paper towels and trash bags, I have easily made back the cost of my Sam’s Club membership.
Do you really SAVE money at Sam’s Club?
Now I’ve seen that I can save at least as much as my membership price. But that’s just breaking even, and although I am really glad I don’t have to clip coupons, scan sales, and trek to the store every other week to buy those items, breaking even is not saving money. We need more proof that I’m actually saving money at Sam’s Club if I’m going to grit my teeth and open my wallet for another year of membership.
So here are some other things we buy at Sam’s that bring us significant savings:
Gas – Sam’s Club consistently has the cheapest gas in the town where I live. Sometimes if I have fuel points from the local Kroger affiliate I’ll fill up there, but usually Sam’s is where I go for gas. Recently, I’ve seen it as much as 30 cents cheaper per gallon. Amazing.
Allergy medicine – We buy either the generic OR the name brand; which is easily half the cost of it in other stores. If you don’t think you’ll use it by the expiration date, then yeah – that’s not going to be a good deal. I would do one of two things in this scenario: split the purchase with another family, or pass on this deal.
Coffee – We are coffee snobs because my husband roasts his own green coffee beans. This little hobby of his allows us to enjoy some of the world’s finest coffees at really great bargain prices! But when he is out of green beans or when life has been too busy to keep fresh-roasted coffee on hand, we find the best deals on good whole-bean coffee at Sam’s Club.
Chips – Whether you buy the big party-size bag of chips or the snack-size bags that are great for lunches, chips and snacks always seem to be cheapest at Sam’s Club. (Maybe at other warehouse stores as well.)
Nuts – So far I haven’t found a better deal on whole raw almonds than at Sam’s Club. They come in a huge package, but since they’re whole they don’t seem to lose their flavor as quickly as slivered or chopped nuts do. This does mean I have to chop them myself when a recipe calls for it, but I have a sharp knife and/or a food processor I can use, so it’s not a big deal.
Personal care items – Things like razor blades are stupidly expensive anywhere you buy them, but we save a little bit of money by buying them at Sam’s (63 cents per blade). I’m thinking about checking out the Dollar Shave Club to see if they can match the quality of the blades we use. But if you can find your brand of soap, shampoo, deodorant, etc. these items will also almost always be cheaper at Sam’s.
Name-brand cereal – It’s about $1.60 per box cheaper for the “O” cereal we prefer. We don’t always buy name-brand cereal, but when we do we usually buy it at Sam’s.
Produce – This is one area where you can save money OR disastrously waste a bunch of it, along with the food, if you don’t use it before it goes bad. But as an example, if you eat a lot of salad, you can save over $1 per head of romaine lettuce at Sam’s, and that’s without watching sales or clipping coupons. But produce is a tricky one – sometimes Aldi has better deals on apples, oranges, avocados, etc. and you don’t have to buy a huge quantity.
Spices – The argument against buying spices and seasonings at Sam’s Club is that it may lose its flavor before you use it all up. We have not actually experienced that in our house, where we don’t store the seasonings directly over the stove; also, I make all my own seasoning mixes so I use them up pretty regularly. One HUGE drawback, though, is finding cabinet space to store them all. Something to consider.
Some meats – Porkloin roasts and Tyson frozen boneless chicken breasts are particularly good deals at our local Sam’s Club; sometimes when we want a really good steak, the Sam’s Club price beats the grocery store price for Choice. We don’t do this often, but we really like their steaks!
Frozen fruit – A staple in our house are bags of frozen blueberries or mixed fruit, because they’re like dessert but probably 100x healthier.
Frozen convenience foods – Almost any frozen meal or entree that we’ve done a price comparison on is cheaper at Sam’s Club. A big plus is that Sam’s always seems to carry the tastiest brands (to my palate, anyway). However, you might find deals on generic or other brands if you’re really pinching pennies. This is something worth checking on. For me, when I’m buying convenience foods it’s because we’re in a busy season of life and would otherwise buy expensive meals out. So this does save us money.
Tires – I can’t believe I almost forgot this one, since nearly every tire on every car we’ve owned for the past 10 years has been from Sam’s Club. They carry the major brands, at good prices, and they put them on for you and balance them like any other shop. But the real deal comes with the free balance and free flat repair you get with your purchase. I think it’s for the life of the tires, but make sure they haven’t changed that before you purchase.
What isn’t a better deal at Sam’s Club?
The warehouse club naysayers do have some valid points that you should listen to if you’re really interested in spending less. Here are a few times when a Sam’s Club membership could cost you, and I’m sorry to say I know some of these from experience.
Impulse buys are more expensive – Any store will try to entice you with impulse buys, but if your resistance is weakened when you’re at Sam’s Club you might come away with an above-ground pool or home theater setup – complete with reclining seats!
Not every item is cheaper – You really need to know the prices of things before you buy a 24-pack or 10-gallon container of something. While I’m a huge Sam’s Club proponent because it does save me money, I’m not a proponent of having a garage full of something that cost me more than it would at a different store. So price-check wisely and often. Just two examples of things I never buy at Sam’s are milk and eggs. The grocery store in our area is always a better deal on those.
Storage can become a problem – Even though we typically compare prices and avoid impulse buys, we have a different problem when we come home with our good deals from Sam’s Club: where to store it??? As I mentioned with the spices, almost everything takes up more space. Packages are bigger. Where are we going to keep 15 rolls of paper towels, two large boxes of cereal, a box of 320 trash bags, and a 25-lb bag of flour? We manage to figure it out because we live in a house with a few different storage areas, but if we moved to an apartment this would become a real issue.
What not to buy at Sam’s Club
I guess you can find a lot of conflicting advice about what is and isn’t a good deal at a warehouse store. I recently read an article warning not to buy coffee at Sam’s Club because it won’t be fresh by the time you get to the bottom of the bag. Let me tell you two important things that might change your mind if you tend to agree:
- By the time coffee gets to the grocery store or the warehouse store shelf, it’s already not very fresh.
- Buying beans rather than ground coffee is the key. Ground coffee loses flavor and freshness much faster.
Now that I think of it, this article disagrees with me almost 100%. There are definitely things you shouldn’t buy at Sam’s but the items they chose are on my “do-buy” list. And some of the things they chose are completely ridiculous; they say not to buy condiments because they only stay fresh for a year. A year. That’s after they’re opened. Otherwise you go buy the “use by” date on the bottle. Believe me, the bottles of ketchup and mustard they sell aren’t so huge that you can’t use them up in a year.
Some articles online exist only to get a reaction. I have a feeling that was one of them. Don’t let any article scare you away from something that will definitely save you money. But you can use them to help you think things through for yourself.
You know how you can really tell, for sure, what is and isn’t a better deal at Sam’s Club or another warehouse store? Use your calculator and do the math. That’s what I’ve done to make sure my membership is worth it.
Is a Sam’s Club membership worth it?
As I prove to myself every year, a Sam’s Club membership is worth it for us. We do save more than the membership price, and I particularly enjoy not having to clip coupons for those items or keep heading back the store for them week after week.
I also like getting name brands for less than the cost of generic; the quality of everything at Sam’s is very good.
Something else to consider is that we live very close to our Sam’s Club and that makes shopping there (and getting gas there) very convenient. I don’t drive across town to the other warehouse club that we have in our city, even though it’s a very popular one.
Whether a Sam’s Club membership is right for you really depends on so many things. Do you have limited storage? Do you live near enough that you would shop there often? How big is your family, and will you use up the things that you buy? Also – and this is very important – how likely are you to walk past a 65-inch HDTV that’s a great price if it wasn’t on your shopping list? 😀
I hope this helps you! Do you have a warehouse club membership? Do you think it’s a good deal, or a waste of money? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!