Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sam's Club: Which are Real Deals?

If you're new to this blog, you might want to know WHY I delved into the world of couponing and bargain hunting. Last October I received a major wake-up call from my spending at Sam's Club. My total the last time I visited was $722.97! It still hurts. I just now mustered the courage to visit again with all my new-found knowledge of what's truly a good deal.

In the past, I bought without seriously looking at prices, and I'd only use coupons occasionally. If this is you, then Sam's Club is where you could save the most money. However, now that I know what typically is the lowest price per pound for meats and how I can usually get cereal for $1.50 a box or less, I've decided not to renew my Sam's Club membership. Sorry, guys. However, with the two months remaining of my membership, I will stock up on a few products that I consider good deals.

Let's start with what are NOT good deals. You can even cross off entire sections of the store. Now that I've learned how to get most hygiene items (shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, feminine care, etc.) for free--check my weekly Couponing for Charity updates--I don't even bother checking those prices. I also skip the pet food section since they don't carry our brand, the clothing because I can't try anything on, and the furniture because I don't need any. I also won't consider snack foods that I've gotten for free or nearly free: Chex Mix and granola bars. I've gotten photographs printed here in the past, but you can often find better deals--even the occasional free prints like this photo collage through May 8--online.

As for all the paper goods, I don't buy styrofoam (though you can now recycle it in Knoxville), I don't need the volume they sell, and I didn't see a single option made from recyclable paper (plates, napkins, paper towels, or toilet paper). If we don't BUY goods made from recycled material, they won't MAKE goods with it. Marcal often has coupons in the paper, and I've found some deals at CVS on green paper products. The Huggies diapers at Sam's worked out to about $.22 a diaper. I've been getting diapers for $.14 - $.16 each, and Sam's doesn't carry the overnights I need for the boys. So no sale there.

For health and environmental reasons, I've stopped buying sodas, bottled water, and juice boxes. I also avoided some of my previously favorite pre-packaged meals: lasagna, potstickers, and burritoes. If I don't buy them, I'll force myself into preparing all my own freezer meals. Yikes, so what's left?

Armed with my notepad and calculator, I compared prices on lots of items, and some worked out to be fairly even compared to store prices on sale and with coupons: laundry detergent, dish washing tabs, canned foods, pasta, pudding, coffee, juice, potato chips, milk, and peanut butter. The question is can you be patient for the sale and do you stock up when it's a good price?

But putting price aside for a minute, there's one other problem with warehouse stores: lack of variety, especially organic and green products. However, I did find some at Sam's Club: Kashi cereal, Naturally More peanut butter, organic olive oil, Bertolli organic tomato sauce, Muir Glen soup, Hunts organic ketsup, Stacy pita chips, and organic baby spinach. Of these, I did buy the spinach ($3.97 / lb) and the olive oil ($8.88 / liter). I haven't yet decided if it's important to me to insist my olive oil (of which I use a lot) is organic. If not, the three liters of conventional EVOO is a good deal: $16.98.

When I perused the cereal aisle, the only one I considered a deal was Quaker Life. I don't see that on sale often and coupons aren't as frequent as the Kellogg's. Consumer Reports rated it a good cereal for kids, and the whole family likes it. When I compared the per ounce price with what I had recently found on sale at Ingles, Sam's won out. I also picked up several bottles of Hershey syrup (my weakness) and pure maple syrup (taste it and you'll never go back).

I would consider Sam's best deals in the dairy section. Fresh Parmesan was $5.42 / lb and Jarlsberg cheese was 4.56 / lb. Kroger prices can be 2-3 times that much. While you're in that section, pick up some of their fresh salsa for $6.97 (3 lbs); it's amazing! And I got 4 pounds of unsalted butter (I read somewhere most chefs recommend unsalted) for just $7.84. It's not organic (which I'm still wrestling with), but I've been paying $4.27 for just one pound of organic butter at Kroger. That's a big difference.

I managed to skip most of the produce since I was going to the farmers' market, but I did pick up 5 avocados for $4; the cheapest I've seen them at Kroger is $1 each. I also picked up some Earthgrains sandwich bread and milk which was slightly cheaper but I needed them.

I was most eager to see if I could score some good deals on beef, pork, chicken, or fish since I used to get ALL of this here. As I checked each price per pound, I was stunned at how high they were compared to sale prices. "That's no deal, I can get that cheaper, how much do they want?!" Not even chicken was the lowest price I've seen recently. The one meat I did buy was the thick country style pork ribs for $1.78 / lb. They're good in the smoker and I can't seem to find them at Kroger.

Finally, where Sam's probably outshines the competition most often is in their seasonal department. We shopped all over for a backyard playset last year and decided theirs was the best quality for the money. Tip: these usually stick around for just a couple months; buy now if interested. We've also saved considerable money on a canoe and tires. This trip I bought two more Body Glove life jackets. Sam's price was considerably lower than anything I could find online, and the quality was superior. Since our kids are in life jackets practically every day during the summer, that's money well spent.

So will I miss Sam's Club? Yes, but it may not be good-bye forever. I've heard you can get a one-day pass and pay just 10% more on all purchases. As long as that's not more than $40 in a year, it's worth it. Or maybe I can find a friend with a membership who's willing to pick up a few items for me occasionally. We'll see.

I'm happy to report my total this trip was $166.36 ($117.63 of which were groceries). That's more like it. What are your favorite purchases at Sam's Club? Do you think it's worth it?


  1. I buy my chicken and pork at Sams Club. My beef is purchased locally by the side. My usual purchases at sams consist of pork, chicken, bread (no HFCS Whole wheat, 2pk for $3.88), greek yogurt and salad mix. I also buy my new books there if I am not able to locate them at Mackays. Thanks for all of your amazing posts. I smile when I read them! It is so nice to have someone else who appreciates the earth and their wallet at the same time! Keep up the great work!!

  2. I just saw this article about what to buy and what not to buy at Wal-Mart; interesting timing. I'm encouraged that they are supporting fair trade coffee and only concentrated laundry detergent (less packaging, better environmentally). Check it out:

  3. I'm so glad to see this post. It's hard to convince Sam's club shoppers that couponing is the way to go if they really want to see savings!

    Check out Aldi, Save-a-lot or some other discount groceries for things like avacados. A friend recently purchased them for $0.50/each at Aldi.