Don't Buy A Sam's Club Membership Until You Read This

If you're thinking about a membership to one of the big warehouse stores, like Sam's Club, then congratulations, you're officially an adult! Seriously, though, they're great. Where else can you get everything you need for a party at a fraction of the price you'd spend at a regular grocery store? And let's be honest, we all have those obsessions that are a little inexplicable to others, and if you're the type who will happily go on a pretzel binge through a whole series on Netflix, they've got all your singular snacking needs covered.

But which warehouse store should you choose? There's a lot of fuss in the news and on social media about Costco... and then there's Sam's Club. Walmart might have a reputation of being a little bit shady, but drastic times call for drastic measures. Is it worth it? Is it your best choice? Should you take the plunge and get the membership? Here's what you need to know before you make the decision to fork over some cash for a Sam's Club membership.

You can shop Sam's Club online without a membership

If you're not sure how often you're actually going to make it into the store to shop, you should know that there's another option available. Sam's Club does have a website, and you can shop there even if you're not a member. You'll have to sign up for a Guest Membership, and it's essentially an account that's active for 24 hours and lets you order through the site.

There is, of course, a catch. If you sign in with your Guest Membership instead of a regular membership, you're going to be paying a 10 percent service fee on everything you buy. But, if you happen to live in California, South Carolina, or Elmsford, New York, you're exempt from the fee. And that means all you lucky people don't need a membership to get the same great prices as everyone else... if you're ordering online.

Guest members can't arrange to pick up their items at their local stores, though, so if you need something ASAP, you're out of luck. Which is best for you? Only you can decide.

You can find great deals on a Sam's Club membership

Before you head into Sam's Club and fork over some of your hard-earned cash for the right to shop in their store, you should definitely look around to see where else you can pick up a membership for the warehouse club, because there are a lot of great deals out there.

For example, in March 2019, they announced a deal that let you downloaded their Scan & Go app, and use it to buy your basic membership for the standard $45. But then, if you went to the store and used the app to make purchases over $45, that amount was instantly deducted from your bill. That's basically a free membership (via CNET)! That deal was for a limited time, but Sam's Club runs similar deals frequently.

In June 2019, Sam's Club offered another deal on and it was even better. Sign up to receive their promo code and then use it to buy a membership in store or online, pay your $45 membership, and get a $20 gift card and $30 in coupons off things like hot dogs, hamburgers, buns, and cookies. In other words, things you were probably going to buy anyway.

Groupon regularly offers deals on memberships, and so does Living Social. If you're not in a hurry, it's worth checking around — you can absolutely score a free membership or some other great deals if you do.

You can't share your Sam's Club card

This one's potentially a big deal, especially if you and others in your household share the shopping duties. When someone signs up for a Sam's Club membership, their name is on the card and they're the only one that can use it. Sam's Club specifies that their membership also comes with a card for one other member in your household... and that's it.

Say you and your significant other want to get a card for your adult children. You can technically put them on your plan, but it'll cost you — almost as much as getting them their own membership. If you paid $45 for the standard membership, you can add eight other people onto your account... for $40 each. If you went for the Plus membership, you can add up to 16 other people... also for an extra $40 each. And those 16 people are not getting a Plus membership, they're getting the regular one that would cost them $45 if they got it themselves. Their membership will end at the same time as the primary member, and while they might pay less if there's only a few months left, is it really worth it?

You can get Sam's Club groceries through Instacart without a membership

If you're mainly interested in a Sam's Club membership for the grocery items, there's something you should know: You can order from them through Instacart, with or without a membership, and — according to TechCrunch — you'll have your items on the same day or in as little as an hour. When is the last time any shopping trip took you an hour?

Sam's Club first started their partnership with Instacart in Dallas-Fort Worth, St. Louis, and Austin before expanding to Los Angeles and San Diego. It was such a success they announced they were going to expand into almost 1,000 ZIP codes and 350 Sam's Club locations.

Instacart does charge for individual deliveries or you can get a membership there, too. According to Grocery Dive, an annual membership (the one that gets you free deliveries) dropped to $99 at the end of 2018 — but that membership fee means you can also use it for any of their more than 300 grocery partners, not just Sam's Club. It's another one of those things that you'll have to consider if you want to figure out whether or not it's worth it for you and your family.

Pharmacy discounts at Sam's Club might make it worthwhile

Medical bills and trips to the pharmacy can add up fast, and if anyone in your family needs prescriptions filled often, Sam's Club discounts might make a membership very worthwhile. Best of all? It's not just limited to the human members of your family.

If you opt for the Sam's Club Plus Membership — that's the $100-a-year one — that includes the option to get free prescription drugs like Donepezil (which is used to treat dementia) and Escitalopram (which is prescribed for both depression and anxiety). There's also a list of more than 600 generic drugs that you'll be eligible to get at a cost of $10 or less, and there are some pretty extensive savings on brand name drugs, too.

And your furry family members can get their medication there, too. Sam's Club pharmacies offer deals on everything from daily medication to preventatives like heartworm pills, and if you have more than one cat or dog? We all know how fast the cost of their meds adds up.  

Bottom line? If anyone in your family is taking anything for conditions like high cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, or a dozen others, getting that Sam's Club membership and getting your prescriptions there can potentially save you a ton of money.

Some of those bulk deals at Sam's Club aren't so great

If you're thinking about getting a Sam's Club membership, you're also thinking about buying in bulk. And that's extremely tricky.

There are plenty of good deals to be had at Sam's Club — things like pasta, snacks, and candy — but there are a lot of pitfalls, too. Things like canned goods and soda are going to be cheaper elsewhere, and then, we have to talk about things that are going to go bad before you use them. You know that giant box of cereal is going to go stale before you finish it, but there are other, less obvious bad buys.

Did you know that sunscreen is only effective for about a year after you buy it? If you bought a four-pack three years ago, that stuff you're slathering on your skin isn't actually helping. And other skin care products — like face cream — only keep their maximum effectiveness for between three and six months. Cheat Sheet says there are other sneaky problems, too: detergents, fabric softener, and cleaning products will only be good for between six months and a year after they're opened, baby wipes will dry out, and that giant bottle of cough syrup you're going to get just in case will lose potency, too.

So, if buying in bulk is your goal, take a look at how much of these items you go through in your household. In some cases, you might be surprised to realize it's not worth it.

Member's Mark products from Sam's Club might be your new favorite thing

In 2017, Supermarket News reported on what was the last phase of a Sam's Club overhaul. Previously, they had carried private label products under a whopping 21 different names, and all those products were getting consolidated into one: Member's Mark.

And it was a huge deal. At the same time, they added around 300 new products and stressed that each and every Member's Mark item had something — like an ingredient or recipe — that made it different from anything else on the market. And that means that if you're not taking Sam's Club private label brands into consideration when you're trying to decide whether or not you want a membership, you're overlooking something big.

The Kitchn says there are a ton of great products on sale under the Member's Mark name, and not all of them are food. There are things like frying pans, storage containers, and plastic plates, and there are also — of course — the things like their private label snacks, frozen foods, and everything you'll need to throw a killer party. And since you can't get these exact items anywhere else, well, that just means getting that Sam's Club membership has a big benefit.

If you're looking for a bargain, Sam's Club has a secret

Part of the fun of going to Sam's Club is looking through that middle section to see what's shown up there. You know the section, it's where all the latest and greatest books, movies, and video games are, the clothes, and all the seasonal goodies you'll find in your cart before you even know what happened. Sam's Club has something even better than that: auctions.

You don't even need to put pants on for this one, but what you do need is a membership. Sam's Club auctions off a number of closeout items online, and there's no telling what you'll find there. There's electronics, office supplies and furniture, home and kitchen goods... anything you'd find in a Sam's Club store, and you have the chance to get them at ridiculously cheap prices. You don't even have to sit at your computer to watch the clock tick down: just enter a proxy bid of how much you're willing to spend, and if the auction ends with the item at a lower price than what you bid, you'll automatically win with a bid that's $1 higher than the last person.

But in order to take advantage of this one, you'll need both a membership and an approved credit card on file with Sam's Club.

There's an easy way to avoid the crowds at Sam's Club

Quick, what's the worst thing about shopping? If you said the people and the crowds, you would be correct. (A close second is when those people hit your car with their shopping carts.)

If you agree, here's some food for thought. Opt for the more expensive Sam's Club membership option (costing $100 instead of $45), and you'll be able to get in, do your shopping, and get out in the hours before all the other card-holding members show up. Many (but not all) locations open at 7 a.m. for their Plus members, and that just might be worth it, right?

That's not the only perk you'll get if you go this way — you'll also get cash back rewards, free shipping, better deals at the pharmacy, and discounts on eyeglasses. That is, of course, all in addition to all the benefits of a regular membership, and whether or not it's worth it depends on you, your family, and whether or not you're willing to get up that early.

Sam's Club has been closing stores

Here's some food for thought, too: in 2018, a whole bunch of Sam's Club members were shocked when they showed up at their neighborhood store to find it closed. There were a lot of reasons for the business decision, but one of the things that didn't sit well with a lot of people was the fact that they hadn't given anyone — not even their now-unemployed employees — a heads' up.

Around 63 stores ended up closing, and it was a sign that there were changes to come. Among them was a shift to target more higher-income families, move away from catering to small businesses, turn some of those locations into online fulfillment centers, and overhaul their grocery business. Depending on where you live and what you're looking for in a warehouse store, this could be either good news, or bad news.

And in some cases, it might have made your decision for you. Most of the stores that were closed were ones within 10 miles of a Costco, because that was just some serious competition they didn't want to deal with.

Is Costco better than Sam's Club?

You've undoubtedly heard about Costco, and the people who go there are usually some seriously devoted fans. Are you missing out if you opt for Sam's Club instead? Fortunately, comparisons have been done.

Cheapism took a close look at the two, and found that while Sam's Club had more payment options, Costco had slightly better prices (although on many items, it was declared a tie). They also noted that Sam's Club has self-checkout lanes and a free pickup service, also a bonus there.

And what do actual customers have to say? According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Costco has an overall satisfaction rate of 83 percent. Sam's Club is below them, but just barely with their 80 percent satisfaction rating. When it comes down to it, it's all about what services you're going to use most, which private label brands you like best, and what's closer to you.

You've got nothing to lose

So, you still haven't decided if Sam's Club is right for you, and that's all right. Sometimes it's tough to tell just how useful a store is going to be, and let's be honest here: there's just something weird about paying for the privilege of shopping at a store. It's kind of like paying for the privilege of going to someone's house, cooking for them, and then doing the dishes. It's weird!

Here's the good news: Getting a membership is actually so low-risk you could call it no-risk. Sift through the Terms and Conditions of Sam's Club and their membership program and you'll find that they have a 100 percent Satisfaction Guarantee on Membership.

That means that if you decide — at any time during the year — you're not happy with your membership, you can cancel for a refund. Don't believe it? They say, precisely: "We'll refund in full the actual amount you paid for your current annual membership at any time during the membership year if you aren't satisfied."

So, there you have it. Go ahead and give that membership a try — you might just find a ton of stuff at crazy cheap prices, and a whole bunch of stuff you didn't even know you needed.