The Simple Dollar Takes A Trip To Sam’s Club

As a big fan of buying in bulk, I’m a card-carrying member of the only warehouse club within thirty miles of my home, Sam’s Club (there’s a CostCo about thirty miles away, but it’s really inconvenient to go there). As I go there on a weekly basis, I thought it might be interesting to write a bit of a travelogue of what a trip to Sam’s Club is like for me and my family. I usually go on late Saturday morning, so here’s a travelogue of the trip to Sam’s Club that I took with my family last weekend. Hopefully, this will provide an introduction to the warehouse club experience (CostCo is very similar), or perhaps you might learn a trick or two about bulk shopping.

Friday evening
After everyone else goes to bed, I often do an inventory of basic household supplies and finalize my shopping list for the week (I live and die by the shopping list because it keeps money in my wallet where it belongs instead of disappearing on frivolous stuff). From this list, I mark the things that we typically buy at Sam’s Club: toilet paper, diapers, paper towels, baby wipes, bread, skim milk, oatmeal, and so on. These things are almost always much lower at Sam’s Club than at local stores, so we buy them there by default unless we discover an incredible sale. Most of these items are purchased in large quantities because we use them so often, so they never run out.

Entering the store
There’s usually someone at the door to check your membership card, and then you’re off to shop. As with any store, they put lots of “Oh, wow, look at that!” stuff near the front and near the main aisles through the store to distract you, so I use my usual shopping tactic of averting my eyes and making a beeline to the back of the store, with the goal of working my way towards the cash register with things already in my cart so I’m not tricked into spending money. Another advantage of doing this is that you head right towards the free food samples…

Free samples are great!
Sam’s Club (along with many other bulk shopping membership stores) offers extensive food samples to their clients, so I usually maximize this by timing it to match our Saturday lunch time. My wife and I try out pretty much every sample, and because the samples are usually so large, this takes care of lunch for us. If the samples are healthy, we usually feed our child with them, too. Typically, I would consider this tacky, but we are paying for the samples by being members of the store.

Bulk items are the rule – expect it
You don’t go to a warehouse club to buy small quantities of items, so expect that it won’t take many selections from the shelves to fill your cart. A jumbo package of paper towels, a big box of diapers, two gallons of milk, and a pair of enormous boxes of breakfast cereal and our cart is full. This makes it easier to avoid frivolous items since there’s no way to fit them in the cart!

Checking out
Some people experience a bit of sticker shock at the checkout: “$80? I just bought diapers, toilet paper, cereal, and milk?!” The key thing to realize is how much you bought of each item and what you paid per unit. How long will it be before you even need to think about buying toilet paper or cereal again? Considering that these are staples that we continually use, the price per unit is the number that really matters – and that makes the sticker shock easier.

If you’ve never tried warehouse club shopping, I recommend giving it a try. Sam’s Club offers a one-time day pass; just go in and ask for one. You’ll have to fill out some papers and they’ll have to ID you to ensure that you’re not doubling up on the day passes, but then you can shop to your heart’s content.

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