Over the weekend we visited a nearby Sam’s Club, something we haven’t done in many months. My wife and I agreed it is something we should consider doing on a regular basis (maybe monthly) to stock up on a number of staple food items and paper products.
Naturally, we both wondered if shopping like this was really saving us money, or just saving us from more trips to the grocery store, which in turn would likely save us money.
The problem, for me, with shopping at places like Sam’s Club is that there are so many shiny things to distract you. If you manage to steer clear of the electronics section, bypass the rows of discounted books and outdoor equipment, you will eventually make your way to the food, where the occasional deal may be found.
We like to stock up on things like ground beef, which comes reasonably priced in big “family pack” packaging. Once home, we separate the ground beef into roughly 1 pound portions and freeze them for future use in various recipes and regular dishes (tacos, spaghetti, homemade burgers, etc).
We also typically like to stock up on certain non-food items – paper towels, toilet paper, kitchen trash bags, over-the-counter medicines and vitamins, etc. The bulk pricing is not always a deal here, and I’ve occasionally found that I can often save more by coupling a store sale with a manufacturer’s coupon.
Still, the idea of stocking up on paper products for the next month or two, and not having to contend with those items in your weekly grocery store trips is appealing.
Shopping at a warehouse club like Costco or Sam’s can drive down your unit costs for items you regularly use, but there is one thing to consider: storage space. I would not suggest shopping at a warehouse club if you are short on space, including plenty of freezer space.
For storing paper products, consider a closet shelf in an guest bedroom, or under-cabinet storage in a guest bath. Naturally, places like basements and garages make great storage locations, but consider fumes, humidity and temperature and only store items that may be safely exposed to those elements.
On the Way Out: Top Off the Tank
Before leaving Sam’s Club we typically top off our gas tank, as the cost of fuel is a good $0.05 per gallon cheaper than it is in our town. Obviously gas pricing is regional, and you may or may not experience similar results in your area. However, we have found the gas prices at warehouse clubs consistently beat those of surrounding stations.
Consider the Costs: Membership Fees
Though warehouse clubs do occasionally allow non-members to shop on special days, it does cost money to shop. Do a simple break-even analysis to make sure you aren’t giving away all of your savings in membership fees each year. Divide your annual membership costs by 12, and then estimate how much you are saving each visit over shopping at your local grocery store with coupons.
If the cost of the membership is more than the amount you are saving each monthly visit, then it probably doesn’t make sense to sign up. Remember, bulk shopping is not always cheaper shopping.