Shopping at bulk warehouse stores can be a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, you can get things in a quality and quantity that you can’t get elsewhere. On the other hand, you may end up buying things you never planned on buying and spending way too much money! There are also some moments in life that it may not make sense to have a Sam’s Club or Costco membership, either because you don’t have room to store bulk items where you live or there aren’t enough people in your family to use the products quickly enough. But when you do need the membership, it comes in very handy to be able to buy items in large quantities. I also view these stores with nostalgia; when my sisters and I were little, my dad would often take us to Costco on a Saturday to walk around and hit all the free sample stands. Bonus if we got a churro for a dollar!
A few years ago, before my husband and I had kids, we tried a Costco membership for a year because it seemed like the thing to do. We quickly discovered that our little house didn’t have the storage room for giant packs of paper towels and toilet paper, and we often went in with no idea of what we needed and just let Costco tell us. This resulted in a lot of fun finds, but also a lot of overspending. After that year was up, we decided not to renew our membership until we had a bigger family and more storage space. When that time came a few years later with a toddler and a bigger house, I looked at both Costco and Sam’s Club memberships. Although we loved Costco, we ended up going with the Sam’s Club membership. They were offering a $45 gift card when you purchased a $45 membership, which essentially made it free. But this time around I put a few ground rules in place to make sure that our membership worked for us over time.
Here are the “rules” I’ve worked out that actually make a bulk warehouse membership beneficial rather than a drain on our family finances:
- Only go to Sam’s Club once a month.
- Fill up on gas while you’re there since it’s the cheapest around
- Go close to lunch time so you can get the hot dog or pizza combos. Where else can you feed a family of four for $6??
- Go with a list and stick to it as closely as you can. The Sam’s Club app has a list function. We also use the Scan and Go feature in the app and it saves so much time!
- Walk past the clothes unless you actually need clothes…otherwise you will absolutely buy clothes — haha!
- Compare per unit costs with wherever you do your normal grocery shopping. For us that’s Walmart.
- Try not to buy things that you wouldn’t normally buy, otherwise you’re probably not actually saving any money.
If you loosely follow these rules, you actually end up saving money in the long run and making a Sam’s Club membership a benefit to your family. And with that, here’s what shows up on my shopping list month after month (although I don’t need all of these items every month):
- Precooked bacon slices
- Rotisserie chicken
- Applesauce pouches
- Fruit cups
- Paper plates and cups
- Toilet paper
- Paper towels
- Laundry detergent
- Special K pastry crisps
- Ground beef (the prepackaged 1lb. packs; I put them in my freezer for the month)
- Heartburn pills
- Gummy vitamins
- Pre-cooked barbecue pork
- Seasonal/special occasion items, such as: pies for the holidays, Halloween candy, snacks for my son’s class, steaks/stew meat/pre-cooked baby back ribs, the giant take and bake shepherd’s pie and the heat and serve Sadler’s sliced brisket
Obviously, if I have other needs that month I can buy plenty of other things in bulk, but those are the things I have purchased repeatedly. If we had an extra freezer, I’m sure I would hit up the freezer section more often as well. A Sam’s Club membership was also helpful when I worked for a university and did a good amount of event planning. If I go more than once a month, it’s usually to get something very specific and to fill up on gas. The other thing we do is switch whose email we use to sign up with from year to year to get the gift card offer when we renew our membership. Knoxville has two Sam’s Club locations which is handy if you live closer to one end of town than the other.