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.
- 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.
- 32 degrees tops and bottoms - bought in November with $3.00 off coupon for $12.99, I live in these during winter.
- Kids clothing - over the years I've found great coats and mittens and usually from great name brands.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Chicken Taquitos - I can get the same brand at Walmart but haven't found at Sam's yet.
- Madras Lentils - I'm going to try to recreate these myself.
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
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.
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