Monday, February 08, 2021

Sam's Club VS Costco

We've been Costco members since 2006.  We became members because I had a college class that took us on a field trip to the local Costco where the store manager gave a tour and told us she made over 100K in salary.  I believe this was to show us the variety of ways we could use our MBA upon graduation, prior to this tour I might have assumed a store manager would make 50-60K max.  As a side note, I dropped out of the MBA program after four classes when I realized it wouldn't benefit me at my job but that's a story for another day.  Anyway, she really sold me on the awesomeness of Costco, so much so that we've been members for 15 years and have only recently begun to question our membership.  

I recently began a Sam's membership to compare prices.  They offered $45 reimbursement in product, basically making the first year free because annual membership is $45.  

We've decided we cannot keep both memberships so the following is an exercise in determining which is the better option for our family.

Which warehouse is more beneficial in terms of distance?  

We live 3.6 miles from Sam's Club and 27 miles from Costco.

Conclusion - Sam's wins this easily.

Can we get the same products at Sam's and are prices comparable to Costco?

I don't know if Sam's offers the following yet, I consider them "extras" that were great deals but they are not part of the core reason we use a warehouse membership.

  1. Classic Lego set 1500pcs for $39.99 - this makes the price per brick $0.026 per piece.  On average, Lego's cost $0.104 per piece, so this is a pretty incredible deal for a Lego collector.
  2. 32 degrees tops and bottoms - bought in November with $3.00 off coupon for $12.99, I live in these during winter.  
  3. Kids clothing - over the years I've found great coats and mittens and usually from great name brands.  
  4. 3 storage containers for 11.99, making it basically $4 per container and these are 21 x 13 x 10", this is definitely something I've never found cheaper anywhere, except sometimes being given away free from a neighbor, just found 6 in January!  

    Costco is also great for gourmet foods, but we've recently begun to cut back on these so I don't think it matters as much if we can find them at Sam's
    1. Boom boom shrimp - an appetizer which I used to get at my favorite sea food restaurant Bonefish Grill.  It felt like we were saving by buying these and not eating out but they cost $13.99 per box for two servings.  I'm at the point now where if I want it badly enough I'll figure out how to make it myself. 
    2. Tikka Masala - this recipe takes two days to make from scratch so I prefer to buy pre-made, but not at the price of keeping a membership for one item.  I'll find an alternative.
    3. Chicken Taquitos - I can get the same brand at Walmart but haven't found at Sam's yet.  
    4. Madras Lentils - I'm going to try to recreate these myself.
    Outside of extra's and gourmet items, I narrowed down our monthly purchases to 24 items and of this list, only 3 items could not be found at Sam's.  When I compared the remaining items line for line, the differences was $16.70 more at Sam's.  

    Costco Membership is $60

    Sam's Membership is $45

    Hence they are basically at a break even point for me when only considering comparable cost of similar items.

    Gas prices - currently Costco in Frederick is $2.22 per gallon and Sam's Club is $2.33, our typical gas tank fill up is 27 gallons so we'd save $3.06 at Costco, but the 54 mile round trip would not make the savings worth the drive.

    Conclusion:  if we can live without the "extras" and gourmet items, we can probably make it work at Sam's.

    Is it really worth the money to still buy in bulk?  

    I've been under the illusion for 15 years that buying anything in bulk at warehouses equals savings.  When we first became members in 2006 this may have been true.  We lived in Fort Lauderdale and shopped at Publix or Winn Dixie until Aldi arrived in 2012.  In the early days I remember Aldi not having good produce, having a very small selection to the point of needing to shop at both Aldi and a main grocery store.  In the last two years, I've noticed Aldi has expanded their store footprint and has significantly increased their offerings so that I'm down to a handful of items needed elsewhere.  

    Recently I've started breaking down every item to see if it's worth buying in bulk and I've realized many items are not worth it.  For example:

    • 12 pack Tomato Paste $5.99 = $0.50 each at Costco
    • 1 Tomato Paste at Aldi - $0.29
    It's the same story with Nutella VS Aldi store brand, canned corn, canned green beans, unsalted cashews, butter sticks, cheddar, milk, eggs, etc.  The only reason to keep a membership is for the cheaper gas and any name brand products we are still buying.  Warehouses do tend to have much cheaper gas than local gas stations.  I use the Gas Buddy app to compare prices and in our area the typical savings is $0.15 - $0.18 from Sam's VS local.  

    Conclusion - warehouses are only worth it for gas and name brands.

    How does Costco credit card compare to Sam's?
    Sam's is better for gas, and if you are a Plus Member, which cost $100 per year, then you can get 3% back on purchases.  I'd say Costco has an edge on this area because they offer 2% back for the basic membership.  Sam's is really pushing their Plus Membership and you can only do their Optical and Pharmacy with this membership.  We use GeniusRX to get discounted prescriptions so I'm not concerned about Sam's holding out on their Pharmacy.  I've never had the opportunity to use Costco's optical so I cannot effectively compare the two.

    Conclusion - I'm happier to get 5% back on gas and get Sam's lower gas prices, I think this will pay for the membership price of $45 in less than six months.  

    Final conclusion - we've chosen to not renew our membership with Costco at the end of this month, thus ends a 15 year relationship.  If you're reading this Costco management, it's purely down to location and our frugal attitude to not drive 27 miles to get your awesome products.  We've also pared down our purchases of gourmet goods considerably so all your tasty treats are just a distraction from our end goals.  Trust me when I say we've truly loved being Costco consumers but it doesn't fit our lifestyle goals at this time.  I don't chose Sam's because it's better, it simply meets our basic needs at this time.

    This has really been an eye opener for me in terms of comfort level and familiarity with a store, Costco, and pushing myself to consider other options.  It's so easy and comfortable to say "this is the way we've always done things, no time to reconsider other options, etc". I feel like I've broken one more cycle of repetitive behavior that has cost us more than I had ever realized. I will miss Costco, but I feel at peace with canceling our membership at the end of this month.

    1 comment:

    Gina R. said...

    I need to do this with my cell phone carrier. I have been a faithful Verizon customer for 18 or 19 years. One point to note: At my parents' trailer in the woods, I still get reception even though we are deep in the woods. I go there once a year or more and getting reception is important to me.