Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
For families and those who have space in their homes to buy in large quantity, a warehouse store membership often makes sense — dollars and cents.
But for many frugal people, the idea of paying to shop at a store gives them pause. How can you decide if Sam’s Club is worth the membership price?
To help you answer that question, here are the details about Sam’s Club membership prices, when we think it makes sense to have a Sam’s Club membership (and when it doesn’t), the best deals at Sam’s, and some lesser-known perks of having that Sam’s card in your wallet.
Does Sam’s Club save you money?
If you have the space to buy in bulk and you use the products, you can definitely save money at Sam’s Club.
You can easily overspend at Sam’s Club too, if you’re not careful. Because almost every purchase is in bulk, you need to be deliberate about what you’re buying.
But when you can get a Sam’s Club membership deal or Sam’s Club Groupon, you really don’t have anything to lose. You’ll easily recoup what you paid in your first one or two shopping trips.
Consider our list of the best deals at Sam’s Club. If you purchase any of these items regularly, they’ll more than pay for what you spent upfront.
When Sam’s Club membership isn’t worth it
Sometimes a Sam’s Club membership isn’t worth it. Here is a list of times we think you should avoid the warehouse club:
When you have to pay full price for your membership
Unlike Costco, which has few membership deals, Sam’s Club regularly offers deals on membership that make membership a no-brainer.
For example, if you pay $45 for a regular club membership and they give you a $45 e-gift card to spend at the store, why wouldn’t you join?
Alternatively, you may be able to score a Groupon for Sam’s Club that shaves $30 off the membership price.
If neither of these deals is available, you probably want to wait until they are.
When you don’t have room to store bulk purchases
If you live in a tiny apartment, you may not want to get a Sam’s card. It won’t matter how many things are cheaper at Sam’s if you don’t have the room to store them.
If you aren’t willing to comparison shop
Not every item is cheaper at Sam’s. While heavy whipping cream or half-n-half are competitively priced, milk and eggs usually aren’t. You can find similar examples in other aisles as well.
If looking at unit prices and shopping several stores for the best deals isn’t your style, then a Sam’s Club membership is not for you, unless you are shopping for a crowd and you just really need bulk quantities of things.
If another warehouse store is closer
Most warehouse club stores are comparable in terms of price and products, so if it’s more convenient to go to a competitor, you might just want to sign up for that club.
That’s especially true if one of the reasons you’re getting the membership is to save on gas money at the fuel center.
However, Sam’s membership is usually less expensive than its competitors, and it does offer occasional deals on membership, so do take that into consideration.
Sam’s Club best deals
So if every item is not a great deal at Sam’s Club, which ones are? While pricing may be different in various parts of the country, here are some of the products we won’t buy anywhere but Sam’s:
Things like paper goods (paper towels, toilet paper, trash bags, freezer paper, zipper top baggies, paper plates and cups, etc.) are almost always less expensive at Sam’s, and those can be stored indefinitely if you have the space.
Pantry items like spices, coffee, rice and other dry foods are usually cheaper too, if you don’t mind buying in bulk.
Coffee is another pantry staple that is priced very well at Sam’s. The Member’s Mark brand is a favorite of frugally-minded coffee snobs, but you can pick up your favorite Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts blend as well.
Fresh produce and meat
Fresh meat and produce are very good quality and are often at great prices, but again — only buy if you’ll use it all or freeze it before it goes bad. (See our article on vacuum sealers if you’re looking for a way to keep food fresh for longer.)
If you have a special occasion coming up, keep Sam’s Club in mind. They have a fresh flower section in most stores with beautiful, expensive-looking flowers at a fraction of the price you’ll find elsewhere.
It isn’t uncommon to find bulk roses for less than $1 per stem, and if you have the talent to be your own florist this could save you a lot of money around Valentine’s Day or for special birthdays and anniversaries.
Sam’s Club membership benefits
Beyond the money-saving aspect of shopping in bulk, Sam’s Club membership has some lesser-known benefits that might actually save you even more money than you expected.
Sam’s Club fuel center
Gas prices at Sam’s Club have always been among the cheapest you can find. At times, the fuel center at Sam’s is more than 20 cents per gallon cheaper than the gas station right across the street. That kind of discount can save you from $3 to $5 per tank. And the attendants always seem so friendly!
Sam’s Club gift cards
Another benefit of your Sam’s Club membership is getting discounts on gift cards. While not every gift card sold at Sam’s is at a reduced price, you can almost always find some at up to 25% off the face value.
For example, at the time of this writing, you can get two $25 Golden Corral gift cards for just $35. That’s an amazing discount!
And here’s a tip: You don’t have to give them as gifts. Use them to save money on dinner out with friends or family, or save a bundle on back-to-school shopping.
Sam’s Club Tire and Battery Center
One of the best deals at Sam’s is the Tire and Battery Center. Sam’s Club has name-brand tires and batteries at really good prices, but the membership perks don’t end there.
If you purchase tires from Sam’s, they’ll install them for you and give you free tire rotation and balance until they reach a certain tread depth. If you purchase the premium installation package, which is price per-tire, you’ll also get free roadside assistance for three years.
If you purchase your car battery there, they’ll install that for free too.
Here are some of the no-charge services for Sam’s members they offered at the time of this writing:
- Wiper blade installation
- Balance and rotation
- Lifetime tire repair
- Air pressure and tread-depth check
- Battery check
Sam’s Club Instant Savings — better than coupons
Although Sam’s Club doesn’t take (or offer) coupons, it does have Instant Savings. Instant Savings are better than coupons because they’re loaded to your card automatically.
There’s no need to clip, download, scan, or do anything special to redeem these limited-time promotional discounts. You just bring the item or items to check-out and the discount will be automatically deducted from the register total.
With all of these benefits of a Sam’s Club membership, you might decide that the $45 price tag is worth it. But use the information above to do the math and make sure it’s right for you. If you do decide to go for it, remember that you can cancel before it auto-renews. If your situation changes, you can sign up again later, and maybe even get a deal.
How much is a Sam’s Club membership?
Sam’s Club has two membership levels to choose from. Most people will benefit from the basic membership level, but some of the extras included in the Sam’s Club Plus might be of interest.
(Sam’s Club used to have a Business Membership that is no longer offered. Most or all of those perks are now included in the Plus.)
A wise choice is to start with the regular membership; you’ll have plenty of opportunities to upgrade your membership later if you want to.
A regular club membership for Sam’s Club costs $45 per year. This level gets you members-only pricing at Sam’s Club both in-store and online, the cheaper gas prices, prescription discounts, discounts on glasses, and access to Sam’s Tire and Battery Center.
Sam’s Club Plus membership
The Plus membership at Sam’s Club costs $100 per year. In addition to getting all the benefits of a regular membership, Plus members earn 2% back — up to a maximum of $500 per year — on qualifying purchases. They also get free shipping with no minimum purchase online, early shopping before 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and select free prescriptions in the pharmacy.
Both levels of Sam’s Club membership need to be renewed every year. If you got a deal or a discount, you most likely agreed to be signed up for auto-renewal.
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