Updated on 09.03.15

The Simple Dollar Takes A Trip To Sam’s Club

Trent Hamm

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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  1. Mongo says:

    I’m sorry – but dining out at the sample area at Sam’s is CHEAP – CHEAP – CHEAP.

    It’s not like you are poor – just trying to save money. Yikes. I hope you don’t actually take your kids out and feed them that way. Those are the kids that get beat up in the playground. heheh.

  2. amy says:

    We have a BJ’s near us (instead of Sam’s or Costco). And while a number of things are a good deal the brands are something else to watch out for. If I bought brand name from the grocery store then I am usually saving by buying from BJ’s instead. If however I buy a generic item then getting that same item, which is only available in the name brand at the warehouse, is almost always more expensive.

  3. Dan says:

    Most generic brands (at grocery stores) are manufactured by name brand companies and sold with the store’s name on the packaging instead.

  4. Richard Speidel says:

    I had a Sam’s Club membership at one time, but my observation was that, on a per unit basis, I could get generic cheaper at the Wal-Mart or elsewhere then buying the large Sam’s quantities.

    Note, I do live in Florida, a VERY competitive area for grocery chains (all 10 of the largest are in the market currently), so prices are substantially lower then in much of the country.

  5. Joe says:

    I’m sorry, but I just can’t go in and pay someone a fee to shop at their store before I can even save money on anything. If I’m correct, Ive got to pay 35 or 40.00 a year just to shop at Sam’s club. I’ve got to do alot saving before I make that up.

  6. Eddie says:

    I am a new Sam’s club member as Costco is not in my area. In response to Joe’s comment. Do the math. Gas at Sam’s is typically 5 cents cheaper per gallon than anywhere else in my area. At an average of 60 gallons a month my membership has paid for its self (I realize not everyone uses the same amount as myself). Aside from that its the convenience of buying a years worth of toilet paper or a 55 gallon drum of mayonnaise.

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