Growing up, I was unfamiliar with big box discount stores. The nearest Sam’s Club was over an hour away, and I still don’t think there is a Cosco within decent driving distance. Moreover, there’s an entry fee to enter the club–$40 in the case of Sam’s Club. This means I had never entered one of these stores, even though I routinely read financial bloggers’ paens to the mighty Cosco. So when my friend E casually mentioned that she has a Sam’s Club membership, I did what any good friend would do and relentlessly bombarded her with price inquiries until she finally agreed to let me come along.
True to money nerd form, I arrived with a printout of my Aldi price book on a clipboard and my phone set to act as a calculator. Some two hours later, I made a decision regarding whether or not we would buy a membership. First, however, enjoy being subjected to my unqualified, unquantified impressions of the store.
The Less Quantifiables
1. “Don’t look Aldi, I still love you!” Aldi is literally across the road from Sam’s, and both are two miles from my house. Tie on location.
2. “Wow, this store is huge.” Imagine this said in a tone of bewilderment. I don’t love having to walk a mile just to get my short list of staple goods, and I don’t particularly like being presented with way more options than I need. This is because I find the choices annoying to sift through, and choice-fatigue makes me more likely to impulse buy extra things (in bulk!), which is a terrible idea. Aldi simplifies this whole process by carrying (almost) completely Aldi-brand products (so no brands to sort through), and a very streamlined, tight store layout. Aldi wins here.
3. “I don’t see anything out of stock.” One of my key frustrations with Aldi is that items are often completely sold out, especially if they are on sale. Additionally, their produce is often very under-ripe or very overripe. Being able to count on items being there in edible form when I need them is a definitely a plus for Sam’s Club.
4. “Oh, thank you, I’d totally love to try that.” There are free samples. Free is my favorite price! (Granted, I probably wouldn’t need so many samples if I didn’t have to walk a mile to get to them. Also, I don’t love the sales pitch it obligates me to hear.) Half-point for Sam’s Club.
5. “Hey, they have [x], but in an organic/natural version!” One drawback of Aldi’s aforementioned reduced number of offerings is that it can be difficult to get certain products (milk, chicken) in natural or organic forms. Go Sam’s Club for offering more such options.
6. Icees! Icees!!! I can’t actually give a point for this tasty, unhealthy, nectar of the gods, can I? Okay, maybe a half point for Sam’s Club.
At this point, Sam’s Club is whooping Aldi 3-to-1 in terms of its less quantifiable shopping experience.
The Cost Analysis
Sam’s Club price
so high I didn’t bother
no similar generic
Obviously, this chart is not comprehensive. I left off items that would have unfairly favored Aldi (like produce that is now out of season). Other items, particularly canned fruits and vegetables, only came in cans so large that we couldn’t finish them before it ruined at Sam’s Club, so I didn’t bother to compare prices.
The main problem I noticed was that Sam’s Club did not carry generics in many staple items. Sugar, for instance, only came in Domino brand. If they had more Member’s Mark versions of products, they might have matched or beaten Aldi regularly. If you care about brands, Sam’s Club would definitely be a better price than pretty much any other place… but I don’t think you should care about brands.* Aldi wins on price overall.
So did you buy the membership or not?
We have decided that right now, a Sam’s Club membership is not for us. The cheapest way for us to shop would probably be a combination of Aldi and Sam’s Club, if it weren’t for the $40 membership fee. If we shopped exactly like we do now, we might break even on the membership cost. However, I’m skeptical about our shopping habits remaining the same. Sam’s Club is loaded with temptations, in both good (more organic products!) and bad (Icees!) ways. Plus there is the hassle of having to go to another store. In other conditions, such as more (older) mouths to feed, or if we wanted a lifestyle upgrade in terms of food quality, we might reconsider the membership. For now, Aldi and I will stay besties.
Did you forget about the asterisk?
Oh, you noticed. I keep saying that you should not care about brands, but I do have an Achilles heel in this regard. Farm Rich breaded mozzarella cheese sticks are superior to all other cheese sticks because of their delightfully lightly breaded exterior and consistent lack of melting into a pile of cheesy goo in the oven. I get a single package a year, for my birthday. And this year, thanks to friend E and Sam’s Club, Mama got 72…