Friday, January 25, 2008

Price Comparisons/Sam's Club

We hold a Sam's Club membership, and each year we must decide whether or not the savings we see by shopping there is worth the membership fee. At our membership level, I believe the annual fee is $40. Is suspect it is probably similar at other clubs such as Costco or BJs.

We aren't frequent warehouse shoppers; we make a trip, on average, about once a month. While we've bought a couple of big ticket items there in the eight or so years we've been members, namely a freezer and a set of tires, most of our purchases are small. So, it seems like every year when renewal rolls around, I tell Shane that I don't think it's worth the cost of membership. And every year I'm wrong.

The first thing I consider is the location. For us, Sam's Club is nearby and often on our way to other places we may be going. In other words, we never have to make a "special trip" to go there.

The second thing I consider is the items we routinely buy there. Milk, half & half, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese and butter are all quite a bit less expensive there than anywhere else we shop.
Vitamins and OTC drugs such as ibuprofen are all cheaper there. They also seem to have the best prices on microwave popcorn, big cans of tomato sauce and ketchup, and some spices. We like to buy paper towels and bath tissue there, both because of the price and because of the convenience of having larger packages on hand. Padded mailers for things we sell on eBay are far less expensive at Sam's than at a "regular" store, and Shane likes their store-label jeans for his work jeans because they are inexpensive at about $13 a pair, yet hold up as well or better than some famous label brands.

The third thing I consider is whether having a membership is tempting us to spend money we wouldn't otherwise spend. I'm sure other shoppers have a hard time passing up books or electronics, but for me the biggest temptations are in the grocery department. When there are food samples at the end of every aisle, it can be hard to pass up ready-made pasta meals or five different kinds of gourmet cheesecake. Occasionally, I'll give in, but usually I just enjoy the sample without putting it anything my cart.

I also take into consideration whether we plan on making any major purchases in the next year. For us, that's usually a "no", but the savings from just one big-ticket purchase can pay for the annual membership fee. (As long as it's not an unnecessary impulse purchase, that is.)

Finally, I look at their gas prices. Depending on where we've lived at a given time, the savings on gasoline alone might have paid for the membership. Right now, that's not the case, and we can often find gas more cheaply elsewhere.

After taking all of these factors into account, we usually save far more than the cost of our membership fee. I think it's important, however, to review this every year just to make sure. Habits change, as well as prices, and there may come a time when warehouse shopping no longer makes sense for us.


Donna said...

We have a Sam's membership also. I Really wish we'd get a Costco though...I Really like that store! Stay warm today friend!!

ajooja said...

I we let all our memberships lapse. We just don't go enough to justify the cost.

However, I have been craving a few items I can't find at our local grocery stores. Might have to make a trip with my mom or something.

Nobody™ said...

We let ours expire until we need something that will save us enough money to renew. Now that you can renew when you check out, it makes it real easy. A couple years ago I needed a new UPS, it was about $30 cheaper at Sams, so that was close enough to breaking even that I renewed the membership. I made up the rest in savings on big boxes of Johnsonville Bratwurst. After it expired again I waited until I needed new tires. I saved over $100 on the set at Sam's, so the membership was worth it.

I used to get a membership through work for $7/year. That was awesome.

Tug said...

I LOVED Sam's Club & Costco in Vegas, & my work provided free memberships. I'll never forget the look on K's face when she saw their mondo sized can of tuna... HA.

Now I don't have a store close...I'm free member ship.

I'm not a belonger. ;-)

Annie Jones said...

Donna: We have Costco, but last time I checked, the store was almost identical to Sam's but the membership was higher. :(

Ajooja: I'm not sure we'd have a membership if the store wasn't just a few miles away. I think it's a good idea to shop with someone else if you don't think you'll get your money's worth with your own card.

Nobody: That's a pretty creative way to use a membership. The one thing I don't like is that they automatically charge renewal fees each year unless you cancel the card before your renewal date. So far we've always renewed, but I'd prefer that was my decision and not something happening automatically.

Tug: I guess I'm a belonger this time, but I don't think I use the card the way a lot of people do.

Becky..Absent Minded Housewife said...

I live 120 miles from a Sam's and our membership costs still make sense. I save 40 bucks a year alone just on hair conditioner, not to mention baby wipes, rice, kraft mac n cheese and Tide detergent (Oh Tide, how I love TIDE!)

We have two large freezer bags for our Sam's purchases. Huge bags of fresh frozen veggies, chicken breasts, meat...oh yes.