Warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club are fun, and sometimes they can be a source of bargains.
But don’t assume that everything at Sam’s Club is a great deal, or even worth buying at all, cautions Shannon McCaig.
McCaig, an expert on savings and comparison shopping at the frugal shopping blog Passionate Penny Pincher, backs up her opinion with research. She annually tracks prices for 45 separate groceries at Sam’s Club, Costco, Walmart, Aldi and Target.
Read on for our list of products to avoid when shopping at Sam’s Club.
Sam’s Club and Costco rarely have the lowest prices, and frequently their prices can be among the highest, McCaig finds.
In the Passionate Penny Pincher’s latest annual price comparison sheet, for which prices were gathered in February 2022, Sam’s Club Member’s Mark brand milk is $3.32 per gallon, as is Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand milk.
These two aren’t the most expensive — Target’s Dairy Bell milk is, at $3.49 per gallon.
But Aldi’s Friendly Farms milk is $2.82 per gallon — a significant difference, and one that adds up if your family drinks a lot of milk.
2. Rotisserie chicken
Do you love Sam’s Club’s juicy Member’s Mark Seasoned Rotisserie Chicken? Maybe it’s mostly salt you’re crazy about.
When Consumer Reports ranked rotisserie chickens from a variety of grocery chains, the Sam’s chicken, with its unhealthy 550 milligrams of sodium per 3-ounce serving, was in last place, as we reported in “This Grocery Store Has the Healthiest Rotisserie Chicken.”
That’s a lot of salt, both because 3 ounces isn’t a lot of chicken and 550 mg is a big chunk of the CDC’s recommended maximum daily allowance of 2,300 mg.
Sam’s salty chicken scored worse than Costco’s popular Kirkland Signature rotisserie chicken. Kirkland hens can’t be smug, though. They took next-to-last place in Consumer Reports’ lineup, with 460 milligrams of sodium.
You have to be strategic when shopping at big box stores, observes McCaig. She watches box store flyers for sales and specials, avoiding impulse buys.
To keep her grocery bills down, she focuses the most on local chain supermarkets where, she notes, there’s no need to pay a membership fee. She tracks grocery store sales and clips coupons.
Her approach makes sense. Recently, at my local Kroger affiliate, QFC, loyalty program members could “clip” e-coupons that could be used up to five times in one transaction for a final price of $2.47 for a pound of butter, for instance. Buying in bulk can also be worthwhile sometimes, but you always have to do the math to make sure. Compare Passionate Penny Pincher’s survey prices: $0.63 per stick at Sam’s Club and $0.69 at Costco.
Sara Lee bread at Sam’s Club was 9 cents per ounce when McCaig checked. At Costco, Sara Lee cost more — 10 cents per ounce.
Aldi, meanwhile, had its L’Oven Fresh brand at 4 cents per ounce, and Walmart’s Great Value bread also cost 4 cents per ounce. (Note: Unit prices in the price comparison spreadsheet are rounded.)
5. Hamburger buns
Hamburger buns are a similar story to bread: In Passionate Penny Pincher’s comparison, Sara Lee buns at Sam’s Club are 17 cents per bun, well over twice Aldi’s price for L’Oven Fresh — 7 cents per bun.
6. Brownie mix
If you buy brownie mix by the boatload, you may want to shop for it elsewhere than Sam’s Club. There, Passionate Penny Pincher found Hershey’s brownie mix at 11 cents per ounce. Not a terrible deal at all, but at the same time, Target had Duncan Hines’ brownie mix for less than half that — 5 cents per ounce.
7. Vegetable oil
Sam’s Club Member’s Mark vegetable oil cost 6 cents per ounce when Passionate Penny Pincher checked. That was similar to prices at Aldi and Walmart. You could, however, buy vegetable oil for 5 cents per ounce at Target and Costco.
While that isn’t a huge savings, avoiding vegetable oil at Sam’s Club makes a lot of sense for smaller households that are unlikely to go through a 192-ounce package of Member’s Mark vegetable oil before it goes rancid. Target’s Good & Gather oil comes in a much more manageable 48-ounce bottle. Even Costco’s vegetable oil comes in a bottle somewhat smaller than Sam’s at 160 ounces.
8. Cooking spray
Sam’s Club Member’s Mark brand cooking spray was 32 cents per ounce when Passionate Penny Pincher checked.
If you shopped at Walmart, though, you’d find the retailer’s Great Value cooking spray at 20 cents per ounce.