Jan 08 2008

Costco & Sam’s Club

Before Christmas, I went to Sam’s Club with my mother-in-law. She’s had a membership for awhile, and enjoys getting certain things at better prices than the supermarket can offer.

I hadn’t been to a Sam’s before, so I was excited to see what it was all about.

Whoa.

That place is something else.

I liked getting food samples every few aisles or so–definitely my favorite part.

However, I didn’t see anything I wanted to buy. The bulk toilet paper was overpriced, and I didn’t need food items or socks, electronics, or any of the other assorted things.

I considered buying the bulk yeast at $7 ish for a big pack, but decided to use what I have before buying more.

At this point in my life, I don’t have a need for a year-long membership. However, I might get a guest day pass and spend 10 percent more on items I want (saving me a lot more than if I got it somewhere else).

A friend sent me a link to this article on Consumer Reports about Sam’s Club and Costco.

It highlights some reasons to join or switch warehouse clubs.

I live near a Sam’s Club, and there’s a Costco somewhere in Pittsburgh. But, they’re not from me right now.

 Do you shop at Sam’s or Costco? How much money do you think you’ve saved? What sorts of items do you buy? 



26 Responses to “Costco & Sam’s Club”

  1. My mom joined Costco last year and, because she gets two cards with the membership, put my name on the second. We went & looked around, and decided the membership was worth it on a yearly basis solely because of a OTC medicine my husband needs is enough cheaper at Costco that it makes up for the membership costs.

    I do agree- you have to do per-unit price comparisons at these big warehouse stores, because the packages are such a different size than what you’re used to. Sometimes things are cheaper, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re higher quality, and sometimes it saves me from going shopping for the same things over and over by buying larger packages. Other times, I don’t want to store the larger package, especially when we were in an apartment with no pantry.

    The typical things we buy there: sliced cheese & lunch meat. Medicine, as I mentioned. Some canned goods. Toiletries like shampoo, pads & soap. I foresee making more use of the membership when we have a chest freezer or a larger family.

  2. I should add- I didn’t consider join Sam’s and haven’t checked it out, as I take issue with the way employees are treated compared to Costco, as mentioned in the linked Consumer Reports article.

  3. I’ve never had a membership to any of the warehouse clubs. My mom has a membership to BJ’s and about once or twice a year I go with her just to check out what they have.

    And I almost always leave unimpressed with the prices. I find that most of the time the prices at the regular supermarkets are better as long as you shop the sales and combine them with coupons.

  4. Hi Kacie,
    I have membership to both since last summer. Since we have had both memberships (we’ve always had Sam’s but just joined Costco), I have been doing price comparisons on the items we buy the most. Check my price book in my blog you can see I have prices listed for those items at both places. Anyways, since I have started tracking prices and sales I find that I can find most things cheaper at other stores if I either shop a sale or use coupons or both. The only thing we buy at Costco right now are milk and eggs, and that’s when we are in the area.
    Right now the only reason we would keep the membership is to get the car oil since Dh changes the oil in our cars. Come this summer hubby and I would have to talk about this seriously because for sure we will be dropping one membership. He feels we should at least keep one even though I would like to get rid of both. If so, I would keep the cheapest: Sam’s. I do find that things are cheaper at Sam’s.
    But I would say that if you are considering joining either, you can walk around the store without a membership (just say you want to check it out before you join) and price the things you are more likely to buy and see if it is the cheapest you can find. In my experience it isn’t but for people who are not willing or don’t have the time to hunt down sales then it can be a place to find things more reasonable. But I also have to say that buying things in bulk can lead you to waste if you are not careful about how much of the item you use and how often.

  5. I am a member at both warehouses because of our small side business. I shopped at both and get my and my dog’s meds at Sam’s.

    Warehouse prices are not always the cheapest except for a few things. For example, I always get my minced garlic and Wesson Oil at Costco. I found the price there to be much cheaper than the supermarket.

    If it wasn’t for our small side business, I don’t think we’ll pay for membership.

  6. I have a Sam’s membership through work. I went for the first time the other day, and was not impressed. They have so few store brands that I think Super-Walmart (where I do most of my shopping) is cheaper if you buy store brands! I bought a 20-lb sack of rice for really cheap, saved a few pennies on bread, and plan to go back to buy Jif PB and Krusteaz muffin mix. Those are our un-frugal splurges. I don’t think I’ll be doing much other shopping there. Even their gas was much more expensive than the station near us.

  7. We have membership to CostCo because my mom buys it for us.
    I rarely go. The reasons being?

    Around here it is called the $500 store. Meaning, you pay $500 just to get out.

    I am not usually a fan of the brands they carry of the things I normally buy.

    You also must carefully compare to what you normally pay at a regular store. Half the time you are paying the same per ounce or only saving a few cents.

    The main thing that keeps me out-

    These stores market specifically to the impulse buy.

  8. I’ve had a Costco membership since they were Price club (1991!). The closets Costco to me has an optical department and a gas station. I get a great discount on my glasses and contacts, and the gas is anywhere from 3-10c cheaper than most gas stations.

    I’m careful what I buy at Costco, mainly staple items and I’ve been very happy with the quality and price of most everything I’ve ever bought. Their Kirkland store brand is pretty decent. I have noticed that different stores stock different products. I recently went to another Costco location and noticed they carried items my “local” store does not. As some folks have posted, some items are good quality and great prices, some are not. I pretty much have a set menu of items that I know are less expensive at Costco than other stores and I tend to buy those items on a regular basis.

    I’m satisified with the membership and don’t mind budgeting for the membership fee.

    My biggest problem is I have limited storage space and it’s hard to stock up on things like paper goods, etc. I just don’t have the room for these items. When I first moved to my small home, I made the mistake one time of buying paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper all in bulk not realizing that my space was really small! Oh well, live and learn.

  9. I am a member of Sam’s Club. I love it! The tires are the best priced.

    I buy milk there – it runs 40-50 cents a gallon less than WalMart, about a dollar less than any other grocer store. We drink 3-4 gallons a week. I figured out that if *all* I bought was milk, my membership would pay for itself in a little more than 6 months. I buy cheese there – it runs 16-20 cents an oz., vs. 25 cents at the groceries during a sale.
    I buy bananas and lettuce there. 5 lbs. of carrots are $1.50. And meat! I can pick up a pork picnic for around $1 a pound, and boneless chuck roast (which I carve up for stir fries, etc.) for $2 a pound. Whole chickens are big (6-8 lbs.) and run 77 cents a pound.
    I buy 100% whole wheat bread for 1.35 a loaf (Dutch Country, in a two pack). I get frozen broccoli for 3.1 cents per oz. (vs. 5-6 cents/oz. at Walmart or on sale at groceries). Butter is routinely less than $2 a pound.
    25 lbs. of breadflour for $4.50 – when the stores in my little town didn’t carry breadflour at all!
    Recently, I got boxes of Barilla Plus pasta in a 4 pack for 1.80 – 45 cents per box. Whole Wheat spaghetti is a steal there, too, cheaper than regular spaghetti anywhere else.

    I never buy paper products, cereal, coffee, or junk food there – you are right, they are overpriced!

    BTW – Sam’s membership is refundable at any time, so you can buy a membership and if you don’t use it, get ALL of your money back. My only gripe is that I can’t use my debit card so I *must* remember my checkbook!

    I go maybe twice per month.

  10. We used to belong to Costco but have now moved too far away. For me, it’s worth it for batteries alone! They are so much cheaper there. I also LOVE their meat and produce. Their strawberries are TONS cheaper–at least here in Maryland! Here, their gas is also lots cheaper.

  11. We don’t have either where we live. We have a BJ’s Wholesale Club. It is not worth it. Although I think you can get some good deals, you really have to be careful. I think for 75% of the stuff you can do better with coupons and regular store sales. I’ve compared many prices there. Maybe Sam’s & Costco are different.. I know Consumer Reports rated BJ’s Wholesale club much lower than Costco and Sam’s.

    Another thing I’ve noticed, when we buy in bulk, we tend to consume things faster. For us, it just doesn’t work.

  12. My family always shopped Sam’s, and now I have a Costco membership (more of those here than Sam’s). They have the cheapest gas on the island if you’re a member, and I can get a lot of items for cheaper. We go less than once a month because it’s just the two of us, but we haven’t had to buy paper products since July. It is a challenge in a tiny apartment, especially with frozen foods. We usually don’t buy things that can go bad easily, except for bread and a few other perishable things, because we won’t eat them fast enough. But we always keep bread and chips in the fridge anyway, so they last longer. Since everything is so expensive here, buying in bulk makes sense.
    I know what people mean by impulse buying, though! I’m always drawn to the clothing and book sections, and my willpower has failed me a few times.
    But above all, the food samples are my favorite part of the experience. And maneuvering the gigantic cart.

  13. Do you have BJ’s up there? We have them in the south and I like them the best. The main reason we joined is because their milk is very cheap. I have only found milk priced cheaper ONCE and that was at ALDI (and I’ve noticed their milk prices are sometimes GREAT and sometimes sucky). I find that buying in bulk, even if the price isn’t the best price out there, saves me money b/c I don’t run out of things and have to make quick trips to the store. We all know those “quick trips” are usually to the closest place that may or may not have their products priced outrageously.

  14. PS Milk at our BJ’s is typically 80 to 90 cents less than the grocery store or Walmart. We calculated that the milk savings alone will more than pay for our annual membership – plus their gas is “usually” 4 or 5 cents cheaper per gallon, which adds up. Also BJ’s DOES take Visa and MC, which is GREAT because you can use your debit card. I’ve noticed that Sams only takes MC and Costco only takes AE. This can work to your advantage though if you don’t use your debit card, b/c it costs stores about 50 cents per transaction to let you use your visa or MC (did you know that’s how most credit cards make their money, not on interest as most of us think) so not taking credit cards prevents them passing this cost onto you – the consumer. :)

  15. We used to have memberships to both Sam’s Club and BJ’s. I found that we actually spent more money than we would have had we just been shopping at a smaller store.
    I now pretty much shop only at Aldi and CVS. My goal for 2008 is to get our food budget down to $35 per week. We’re a family of four.

  16. The only things I buy at Sam’s Club are the Starbucks Coffee Beans (about $21.00 for
    a 40oz. bag) and the big box of shrimp.

  17. I just had a friend take me to Sam’s today and I bought some yeast. It was so much cheaper then I have been able to find. I also picked up some baking honey and some bread flour. The flour wasn’t much of a deal, as occasionally I can find it priced cheaper, but I am need of some and haven’t found those good deals for months. The honey and yeast were a huge savings though! I am not sure if I will sign up, mostly b/c I shouldn’t need these items too often and my friend said she would be happy to take me again…

  18. Everytime I go to Costco to get a couple things I walk out with more than I need and spent more than I should have. But on the flip side, I have enough Mayo to last the rest of the year. ;-)

  19. It’s funny you posted this! We have a BJs membership and I was just thinking today that we probably shouldn’t renew it. I am new to couponing and shopping based on what’s on sale this week.

    We used to get diapers, Cherrios, vitamins, peanut butter, toilet paper, paper towels and some staples there. But now I find I can find these things cheaper if I really look. But there are some great deals at BJs too and we have made our membership money back based on some larger purchases.

    Ours lets us use two coupons for really big things. Like a huge box of diapers- I could use 2 $2/off coupons. The Cherrios come in a large box with two bags inside it and I can use two cupons (or one buy two get $1 off) for the one box. I haven’t really tracked my spending there yet because we only go a few times a year. I plan to keep better track of this now so I know whether or not to renew.

  20. I let my Sam’s membership go. I used it for much better fruit and produce than I can get at my local stores, but that was all. I decided just to pay the “extra” at Kroger and buy their produce and meat. Sam’s was out-of-the-way so I used more gas. I do miss the convenience of buy a 3 pack of toothpaste and the gigantic things of shampoo! And the large bags of pre-cut brcolloi! But for the cost of the membership I could easily buy those things elsewhere. I never found the savings to be great. GSF is a good alternative–no membership fee, but similar food products. The only “real” savings I ever found was for spices and for Jet Dry. Not worth the cost or the drive. Costco is way too far away for me, but my cousin would die without her Costco card!

  21. Thanks for the comments, everyone! You all have helpful insight.

    We don’t have a BJ’s in Pittsburgh (as far as I know).

    I don’t think I’ll be joining either club any time soon.

  22. I think the savings is worth it if you do a lot of baking. I can save on my baking supplies (bread flour, flour, sugar,& yeast) and pay for the membership in one trip.

    We don’t go often, but we do go often enough that I see our cost benefits. You just have to really price things out in a price book and really compare prices and stay away from impulse buys.

  23. Costco is great for buying in the bulk… I save a bundle on chips and drinks for the big football games… and yes… I can’t resist to nibble on the tasty treats they offer you… It’s also cheaper than the big electronic stores if your looking to buy ink for your printer…

    I’m a regular member and I do notice that I still have one full glass of jelly out of a two pack I bought last year on February…

    Follow Amy’s advice and stay away for buying on the impulse… =)

  24. I believe each individual has to compare the potential savings.

    For our family [8 total, two adult daughters living nearby, so they eat with us about once or twice a week] utilizing the local Sam’s Club is a no-brainer.

    Add to that the fact that:

    A. I only grocery shop once a month and
    B. I prepare a meal for a large group [12+] at least once a week (for our fellowship gathering).

    I watch my per unit prices carefully, because some items are NOT a good buy (that’s what they bank on) but many are. I get most of my fresh produce, canned goods and baking materials there.

    A local grocery generally always has better meat prices, so a stop there for meat and a few various and sundry items is always in order.

    All in all, for my house, Sam’s is a HUGE benefit. :)

  25. You really have to be aware of the costs when you go to these places.

    We have a Sam’s membership and I used to buy A LOT from there (until I woke up :) ). I now carry a calculator with me when I shop….which totally embarasses my husband. I used to buy diapers from Sam’s until I calculated that I pay .26 cents/diaper. I can get the same diapers (size and count) at our local grocery store for .21 cents/diaper.

    However, my kids love apples and you can not find them in any grocery store in this town for less that $1.29/lbs. (once in a while you can find a good sale). Sam’s carries 5 lbs bags for $4.97. That’s where we get our apples now.

  26. We used to belong to Costco but let our membership expire a few years ago. When a Winco opened in our area, I took the last few register receipts from Costco and a few grocery stores to compare prices. We thought Winco would beat the grocery stores but would match Costco. Amazingly, only 1 item was cheaper at Costco, and only for a few pennies cheaper! The same products, same size were 50% cheaper at Winco than at Costco. And there is no membership fee…even better. We have no desire to ever set foot in Costco again. And we would never use Sam’s Club (or Walmart). We won’t support their employment practices.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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