Free Weekend at Sam’s Club: Did We Save Money?

This past weekend I found out the Sam’s Club was having an open house weekend. We’ve never been warehouse club shoppers and we always hear people singing the praises of places like Sam’s Club, Costco and BJ’s Wholesale. We’re only a two person household so we figured that buying in bulk might not be the most cost effective method for us as food would go bad before we had a chance to eat it all.

Since the open house weekend let non-members shop without the 10% surcharge we figured we’d stop in and see what all the fuss was about and if becoming a member would be worth it to us. Sam’s Club even said they’d have a ton of free samples this past weekend!

Our First Impression of Sam’s Club and Warehouse Shopping

When we first walked in the store we were shocked by how large and clean looking the store was. We were greeted by their giant electronics display with a ton of huge TV’s but we weren’t about to make such a large impulse buy. We browsed all of the aisles and were happy with how wide they were and how well everything was organized and stocked. Of course, it is a warehouse store so it makes sense to have these features.

What We Bought

We ended up buying some raw chicken tenderloins, frozen fish, broccoli, and some fresh fruit. The chicken was just a hair cheaper than Wal-Mart, which is where we normally shop, but it seems to be a bit better in the quality department. The fish was much cheaper and the brocolli was just a little bit cheaper (but they actually kept it stocked, unlike Wal-Mart lately).

In total we spent about $65 and I’d say we might have saved… $5 or $6 dollars compared to Wal-Mart. I feel the difference is probably in the quality of the food that we bought rather than the prices of the specific food items we bought. I’m guessing there are other non-food items that I could save on as well.

The Problem with Sam’s Club Type Stores for Us

I think we could recoup the $40 membership if we were very careful and bought only a specific few items. It wouldn’t save us a ton of money, but it would save us a few bucks. However, I can guarantee you that in the end it’d end up costing us more. What am I talking about if the food is the same price or cheaper? How could it cost us more?

First, I guarantee that no matter how hard we try, if we shopped at Sam’s Club on a regular basis we’d end up throwing out more food than we currently do. We’d have good intentions of using the 3 bottle pack of ketchup before they all expire but would likely only use one, if that. Then we’d be out the cost of the other two bottles! We’d never buy that much ketchup, but it is just an easy example.

We’d also end up buying fancier (and more expensive) foods than we normally do. We’d fall into the fallacy that it’s cheaper than if we bought it somewhere else so it must be a deal… right? I doubt we’d do it regularly, but I can see us giving in once and a while and with the quantities you have to buy in Sam’s Club, chances are it’d be a hefty purchase.

What Are Your Experiences with Warehouse Clubs?

What are your experiences with places like Sam’s Club and Costco? Are you a member? Would it be worth it if you were just a couple rather than a family? What items do you save the most money on and which items aren’t really a better buy at all? I’m interested to hear your experiences!

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. I definitely understand the allure of these big box stores, and like you, I love how open and organized they are vs. squishing between a ton of people to try to grab some toothpaste! However I think I can do better than the membership fee by using coupons, etc. at other stores.

  2. We have saved a ton of money on Diapers and Formula using Costco. We can also get a year supply of zertec for much less (the difference in cost versus a normal store pays for the membership). We also get paper towels and toilet paper there and store them in a closet. Overall we get good value out of it, but don’t buy a lot of perishible goods since we wouldn’t use the large amounts quick enouogh.

  3. You definitely have some good points Lance. We’re Costco members and love the store, but you do have to be careful with what you buy. We learned very early that it really is not a deal if you’re throwing out half of what you bought. We’re selective in what we buy there and have found the things we can get a true value with and really do not buy a whole lot beyond that.

  4. In my experience, a lot of the warehouse store stuff is overpriced. I don’t really like buying food in bulk anyway because I hate throwing food away. I went once with my mom to buy diapers and they were more expensive in bulk than they are when I buy the small packs at Kroger.

  5. We have a Costco membership and we actively try to make sure that we limit our ‘creep’ of items that aren’t on our list. This keeps us pretty much in check. We also make sure that we don’t buy stuff that we can’t fully use, so we rarely throw any items away that we buy there.

  6. We do not shop at warehouse stores anymore because we did what you are talking about. No matter how hard we tried, we spent way more there than we should have. There are some good deals there, but when we went through and price compared based on the size with Target, Target won hands down on all of the items that we purchase. It wouldn’t justify the cost for us.

  7. I have a Costco membership and use it sparingly. I use their gas station exclusively and between the rebates and lower than market prices, it pays for my membership alone. I buy some meat, chicken and certain items on a monthly basis which I know is less expensive than other stores as well.

  8. My wife had a free membership to Sam’s Club, so we’ve used it in the past but not often. We save so much at Target, Rainbow, and Cub using coupons that it really doesn’t make sense for us to shop at Sam’s Club.

  9. MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

    The one I liked best was BJ’s. the two reasons were they accepted manufacturer coupons (Costco and SAMs do not) and you could pay with a debit card (in my case that’s and extra 1%cash back). This was majorly great for diapers, wipes and formula. I often would get $1 off huggies coupons and stack them with $4 off BJ’s coupon. Same with formula and wipes. Also often was able to do the same for toilet paper and paper towels. I always went with non perishable items.
    One thing I did always find way cheaper were the Gillette disposable razors. It was a big upfront cost but it was worth it.

  10. We love Sams! With two kids and two pets, you need all the help and savings you can get. I’m ashamed to admit this, but we’ve ate at their little eatery on many occasions. If you can feed a family of 4 for $10, you take full advantage!! 🙂

  11. We have a Sam’s membership & we use it regularly. We buy fresh fruits & veggies there, which are frequently better quality than Wal-Mart or the grocery. Also vitamins & supplements are cheaper. Dog treats & cat litter are a bargain there. We also get small appliances, & household items there. One of the best deals at Sam’s is on clothing! I buy clothes for myself and my sons, including socks & underwear. There’s not a huge selection, but if you find things you like you’ll save money.

  12. We shop at Costco weekly, but it’s definitely not a replacement for a regular grocery store. Like you did, we mostly buy meat and vegetables in bulk and are careful not to waste them (we freeze a lot). We don’t buy giant containers of anything! I have kept a price book and everything we buy at Costco is cheaper and I don’t have to worry about sales. Plus, approximately once a year we’ll buy a “big ticket” item there and the savings pays for our yearly membership.

  13. We use Sam’s Club and originally got our membership because baby formula is 20$ for 3 lbs, which is a HUGE savings! We have 4 kids,so we get our money’s worth when it comes to food. The key for us is to stick to the list. If we go in without a list, we get in trouble. We get our paper products that last forever there and save a lot. We know the things that are cheaper and we have learned what will last for us, and what is too much. We bought our tv there, and our flooring.

  14. I saw this and I had to comment because I am obsessed with Costco. This is a long comment, lol, so bear with me as I have a lot to say on Costco.

    I live with my fiancee and we save a ton shopping there but for one reason: I live in Brooklyn. For paper goods, medicine, most bath products, cleaners, meat, frozen, dairy and bulk items we eat a lot of, Costco is definitely cheaper. I also have the executive membership which while $50 bucks more, ends up giving me 2% cash back and so since I shop for my brother there and other friends (who still can pay for themselves with their debit cards), it more than covers the cost of the entire membership. Also, shopping with friends/family is great so you can split stuff, like the 6 pack of toilet bowl cleaner I shared with my brother.

    Costco is great because of their warranty most of all… I bought a $25 sweater there and washed it and it tore in washer. Took it back and got reimbursed no questions asked. NO JOKE, a guy was returning one of his 6 pack of toothbrushes because something was wrong with it and the employee gave him a credit for 1/6th of the items original cost. My coworker got a bad batch of bagged avocados and was able to get her money back for them all. I got my laptop there for cheaper than Bestbuy and got the warranty for it for only $99 when the same equitable warranty would have been $299 at Bestbuy. My brother used my membership to buy a new mattress online because Costco has the BEST warranty on mattresses and free delivery to his Manhattan apartment. It’s the little things like that that start to add up the savings.

    Also, Costco’s pharmacy never sells their prescriptions more than 15% over cost so I recommend them to folks without health insurance as generics are much cheaper there than a Rite Aide. (and you don’t need a membership to use their pharmacy per Federal law).

    Also, we go through cheese, milk, and half n half like it’s going out of style in our house and their dairy prices are spot on. As an above commenter mentioned, we buy our meats to stock up and freeze. The quality of the meat is so much better than the local grocery store and it’s still cheaper. And when Costco issues their monthly coupons and a fun frozen food is on sale, like breaded cheese sticks or dumplings, we’ll buy one as it’s a food we won’t waste and is great when you need a snack in a hurry. But that’s the caveat… you want to buy fun foods/body products ONLY when they’re in the monthly coupon to really make the purchase worthwhile. Otherwise, a just-as-nice shampoo at Walmart is cheaper than their Nexxus shampoo.

    For produce, I’m a member of members-only food co-op (volunteer monthly for membership) and so I rarely buy produce at Costco. I will say that much of Costco’s produce, when not in season, is not that great. But when in season, you can get a ton of strawberries for a ridiculous rate. I also don’t like to buy fresh fish there as all of their fresh fish is farmed and I prefer wild. But for everything else we do eat, which is a lot, Costco still gives us savings and much better quality compared to the very-overpriced grocery stores in my Brooklyn neighborhood.

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