Costco and Sam’s Club seem like they’re pretty much the same store—you go there to buy things in bulk, grab a cheap snack at the food court, and score great deals on their signature in-house brands. It seems like customers pick one over the other simply based on location, but if you dig a little deeper, driving a few miles out of your way to go to one over the other might save you some money.
Let’s start with the membership. To shop at both stores you need to pay an annual fee. The Gold Star membership at Costco (the cheapest option) will cost $60. That includes one free household card and your membership is valid at all Costco locations. The basic membership at Sam’s Club costs $45. Right off the bat, Sam’s Club takes the lead as the cheaper option. If you want to avoid the membership altogether, this is how you can shop at Costco and Sam’s Club without a membership.
Now, let’s compare the prices of a few basic store brand items at both of the warehouses. Keep in mind that prices may vary slightly depending on the location.
- Costco Kirkland Signature 2% Reduced Fat Milk = $2.63 per gallon
- Sam’s Club Member’s Mark 2% Reduced Fat Milk = $2.68 per gallon
- Costco Kirkland Signature Organic Ground Beef Hamburger = $5.07 per pound
- Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Organic Ground Beef = $5.99 per pound
- Costco Kirkland Signature Chicken Breasts, Boneless Skinless = $3.09 per pound
- Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts = $1.72 per pound
- Costco Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Olive Oil = $8.30 per liter
- Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Extra Virgin Olive Oil = $6.66 per liter
- Costco Kirkland Signature 2-Ply Paper Towels, 12ct = $1.70 per roll
- Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Super Premium Individually Wrapped Paper Towels, 15ct = $1.13 per roll
- Costco Kirkland Signature Ultra Shine Liquid Dish Soap = $0.07 per ounce
- Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Liquid Dishwashing Soap = $0.07 per ounce
Sam’s Club’s prices tend to score a little lower in the majority of these categories, but the prices are so close that the less expensive wholesale club really just depends on what items are on your grocery list for the week. Just make sure you don’t add these items that you should never buy in bulk to your list.
Something that is important to note is that there are way more Costco locations than Sam’s Clubs. Costco operates 762 warehouses worldwide, and there are only 600 Sam’s Club locations. So, before you settle on Sam’s Club being the cheaper option, make sure you factor in the price of gas to drive to the store and back home.
At the end of the day, the main difference between the two warehouse stores is the price of their membership. A Sam’s Club membership is $15 cheaper per year. However, the differences in the prices of the store brand items are only a few cents or dollars’ difference. So, spending an extra $15 a year for a Costco membership might pay for itself if you can conveniently stop at the store on your drive home from work rather than having to drive ten miles out of your way.