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A Sam’s Club membership can feel like a commitment, and it’s hard to know if it’s totally worth the annual fee. So, I’ll show you all the ins and outs of Sam’s Club — what’s available, how to save money shopping at the warehouse, and you can decide if it’s right for you or not.
Seasoned Sam’s Club shoppers, I’ve got some tidbits for you too, including ways to maximize your Sam’s spending.
1. Don’t pay the full $45 price for a Sam’s Club membership if you want to join.
The reason I say not to pay full price is because of the many Sam’s membership deals throughout the year. You won’t find an official schedule, but about once a month I see a deal for a Sam’s Club gift card with a $45 membership purchase. Most common is a $45 Sam’s gift card, which basically covers the cost of a basic Club membership for the first year.
While a basic Club membership is $45, it’s $100 a year for a Plus membership. A Plus membership gets you everything Club offers, but you also get a few extra perks like free shipping, pharmacy, optical, cash rewards and early shopping hours.
I’ve also seen discounted memberships at Groupon, so definitely wait until you see a deal like these to sign up! Here are common examples of these membership deals:
- Join for $45, Get a $45 Gift Card
- Get $50 in Freebies at Sam’s Club
- Sam’s Club Membership for $35 + $30 in Free eGift Cards
- Get $45 in Instant Savings
Learn more tricks to save money on a Sam’s Club membership.
2. Can I shop at Sam’s Club without a membership?
Sort of. Without a membership, you can take advantage of the optical center, pharmacy, and the cafe. You can also shop SamsClub.com without a membership, but you’ll pay a 10% markup on prices. Sam’s Club really wants you to be a member, hence the markup.
3. Sam’s Club and Walmart gift cards are interchangeable.
You can use a Sam’s Club gift card to buy things at Walmart and a Walmart gift card at Sam’s Club. But here’s the catch — you can’t use either to shop Sam’s Club as a non-member.
So, while Costco non-members can absolutely shop Costco armed with just a Costco gift card, Sam’s doesn’t allow this work-around.
4. You can’t use coupons (at all), but look for Instant Savings once a month.
Sam’s Club won’t accept manufacturer or competitor coupons, which is a total bummer. So, instead you’ll need to look for “Instant Savings.” These are limited-time sales automatically loaded to your membership card. Access these discounts through SamsClub.com, Sam’s Club app, or you can pick up an Instant Savings Book at your local warehouse and find them.
Expect dollar-off or percent-off discounts on a variety of products. The discount is immediately applied at checkout, like this:
- Folgers Classic Roast Ground Coffee, 51 ounces, (reg. $8.98), $6.98, Instant Savings price
- Samsung 2.1 Channel Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer-model HW-T45C, (reg. $199.88) $149.99, Instant Savings price
5. …Unless there’s a Special Savings Week. Then, no Instant Savings but tech deals are hot.
A few times a year, Sam’s offers a Special Savings Week. These Special Savings Weeks offer deals on tech, clothing, and other non-grocery items. (Instant Savings is when you can find grocery savings).
During a Savings Week, the regular Instant Savings booklets won’t be available. With one exception — during November Savings Week, Sam’s Club offers both. Here are Savings Weeks to watch for:
- May Savings Week: Happens in early May. I’ve seen almost 30% off Galaxy tablets and 10% off LG 70″ TVs.
- Spring Online Savings Week: Happens in mid-April. I’ve seen deals on tech like over 20% off Monster Bluetooth speakers or 23% off HP laptops.
- November Savings Week: Happens in early November. I’ve seen 30% off Samsung Galaxy watches, 15% off Apple Airpods, and 10% off UGG boots
- August Savings Week: Happens in early August. I’ve seen over 20% off Instant Pots and 30% off a Shark Rocket.
6. If you’re lucky, you can find fried pickle and ranch dip (or popcorn) at your local Sam’s.
I believe there are two kinds of people in this world. You’re either thinking “That’s a thing? Gimme.” Or you’re thinking “EWW!”
First, to the Gimme folks. Yes, it’s definitely a thing and the fried pickle and ranch dip is available at Sam’s Club exclusively in 24-ounce containers for $4.98. The lucky states carrying this are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
Also, fried pickle and ranch popcorn is available for a limited time at Sam’s Club, so stock up!
Now, for the Eww folks. I’m with you, but I guess the heart wants what it wants.
7. Shop Sam’s for the cocoa-covered almonds, kayaks, pools, and wide candy selection.
New to Sam’s? Check out the candy aisle, where you’ll find a huge selection — far beyond Costco’s offerings. (Grab cocoa-dusted almonds while you’re at it.)
Also, pay attention every spring when Sam’s offers deals on pools and water slides. In 2021, they offered a kids’ kayak for $80!
Check out all these pool deals on Amazon or at Sam’s Club.
8. Coupons might be a no, but go ahead and redeem Ibotta offers.
You can definitely get cash back when you redeem Ibotta offers. Just upload your Sam’s receipt to the Ibotta app to earn cash back on select products. This works because Ibotta offers aren’t coupons that require action at checkout. You use your receipt to redeem an offer, so Sam’s Club doesn’t really care.
9. Get free samples at the Freeosk machine.
Scan your membership card at the Freeosk machine, or use the Freeosk app to receive free samples during your visit. I’ve gotten samples for Gain, All, Halls, and Ensueño brand items in the past.
10. Only get a Sam’s Club credit card for 5% back on gas or if you spend $1,500 or more a year.
The Sam’s Club Mastercard has no annual fee, and basic Club members earn 3% cash back. If you spend $1,500 a year at Sam’s Club, you’ll receive $45 back in cash rewards, which covers the cost of your annual membership.
Sam’s Club Plus members pay $100 per year but get 5% cash back. You’d need to spend $2,000 per year at Sam’s club to cover your membership fee.
Plus, all members get 5% cash back at Sam’s Club gas stations.
If you don’t spend that much money at Sam’s Club in a year or you don’t use Sam’s Club gas, don’t bother with the credit card.
11. Generally, prices end in “8.”
This can be a full, regular price, or it can be a regular price plus a savings promotion, like $10 off.
12. Clearance prices end in “1.”
Tags that end in one penny, such as $0.91 or $0.71, indicate clearance items.
13. Predict markdowns when you know Sam’s Club pricing codes.
While the timing of markdowns is random, paying attention to the pricing structure can help you spot deals that aren’t advertised.
You can determine stock for an item and whether it will go on sale by looking for letters N, A, C, O, S on the price tag.
- N stands for “never out,” meaning it’s always in stock and won’t be on sale.
- A stands for “available,” which means the store has a lot in stock, but a markdown in the future is likely.
- C stands for “canceled,” so the item isn’t going to be restocked, and the store wants it off the shelves.
- O stands for “orderable,” often seen with limited-time-only items.
- S stands for “seasonal.”
14. Markdowns are better in the warehouse than at SamsClub.com.
Markdowns vary by location and depend on how much inventory a particular location has to move. Seasonal markdowns happen when the new season’s merchandise arrives in store. Often, markdowns aren’t available at SamsClub.com, only in stores.
For example, a Penelope Mack Girls Sundress is $14.98 at SamsClub.com, but it’s only $7.98 in store.
15. Save up to 25% when you buy discounted gift cards in the store.
You need to pay attention when Sam’s Club sells a gift card to a third-party store or restaurant.
The best deals are two $25 gift cards for $37.50 (25% off). This is the most you can save on a discounted gift card at Sam’s Club.
Discounted gift cards are available for loads of restaurants and more. Here are some examples:
- $50 MovieTickets.com Gift Card, Only $37.50 (These may not be available yet, but keep your eyes open!)
- Build-A-Bear Workshop $50 Gift Card, Only $38
- Fast Food Gift Cards, Starting at $28.98
16. Skip the checkout lines by using Scan & Go.
Sam’s Club has a huge leg up on Costco here, because you can avoid the dreaded checkout line when you use the Sam’s Club Scan & Go app to check yourself out.
Just scan the barcodes of your items and pay through the app. Then you show your digital receipt to the Sam’s Club associate at the exit door. (Costco, please take note.)
17. In a Members Mark vs. Kirkland showdown, Sam’s can hold its own.
Member’s Mark is Sam’s Club’s store brand. Kind of like Costco’s Kirkland store brand.
Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re actually saving money on store brands, so I did a quick comparison of a few items and found out Member’s Mark is legit. Check it out:
- Sam’s Club: Member’s Mark baby formula, 48 ounces, reg. price $20.98, or $0.44 per ounce
- Costco: Kirkland Signature ProCare Non-GMO Infant Formula, 42 ounces, reg. price 19.49, or $0.46 per ounce
- Walmart: Parent’s Choice Advantage Non-GMO Infant Formula Milk-Based Powder with Iron, 36 ounces, reg. price $19.98, or $0.56 per ounce
- Target: Up&Up Infant Non-GMO Formula with Iron Powder, 35 ounces, reg. price $19.99, or $0.57 per ounce
- Sam’s Club: Member’s Mark Cage Free Large Brown Eggs, 24 count, reg. price $3.58, or $1.79 per dozen
- Walmart: Marketside Large Cage Free Brown Eggs, 12 count, reg. price $2.48 per dozen
- Target: Good & Gather Cage-Free Fresh Grade A Large Brown Eggs, 12 count, reg. price $2.69 per dozen
- Costco: Kirkland Cage-Free Large Brown Eggs, 24 count, reg. price $5.99, or $3.00 per dozen
18. Frozen salmon, frozen berries, maxi pads, and dog food are among the best things to buy at Sam’s.
It’s a random list, but your grocery budget will thank you when you get these best things to buy at Sam’s Club.
Even when compared to Costco, Walmart, and Target, items like salmon, berries, Always brand maxi pads, and Member’s Mark dog food come out cheaper at Sam’s Club. Dog food, for example, is 68% cheaper at Sam’s versus Costco’s Kirkland brand.
19. Sam’s Club tires are cheaper than Costco.
Go ahead and buy your tires at Sam’s Club. Comparing Michelin Defender T+H across four stores, I found Sam’s Club came out cheapest at $651.96 for a set of four tires. These prices don’t include installation (another $20), just the tires themselves.
Here’s more about how to save on tires.
20. Members can get free generics at the pharmacy.
If you have a Plus membership, you can get these 10 generic medications for free:
- Vitamin D2 50,000 IU
Also, look for pet medication at the Sam’s Club pharmacy, along with discounts on pet insurance.
21. Get 50 free 4×6 photos when you open a Sam’s Club photo account.
Order photo prints from the Sam’s Club Photo Center, and you can get items shipped to your house. Most photo centers are going online, but the free shipping offers help soften the blow. Sam’s offers free shipping with no minimum spend needed.
22. Score a whole pair of eyeglasses for as low as $48 at the optical center.
A complete pair of glasses including frames, lenses, and anti-glare starts at $59 and then you can get an additional 20% off if you’re a Plus member using Sam’s Club optical.
As far as eye exams go, some Sam’s Clubs don’t offer them, so check with your local store. But if your Sam’s offers it, expect to pay about $65 for a regular eye exam and $100 for a contact lens eye exam.
23. Once you’re ready to plan a vacation, check out Sam’s Club travel deals.
Too soon? Eventually, travel will be a normal thing in our lives again. When you’re ready to get on a plane or walk into a theme park again, you can find a Sam’s Club travel deal for almost anything. Here are common savings in each category:
- Car rentals: Get 25% off car rentals nationwide
- Events (sporting, concerts, etc.): Get up to 50% off tickets to special events.
- Ski resorts: Get up to 50% off ski resorts in Colorado, Massachusetts, Utah, and more.
- Movies: Get up to 55% off movie tickets.
- Theme Parks: These offers rotate, but right now you can get $80 off Disney World tickets and 40% off LEGOLAND tickets.
24. Get a COVID-19 vaccine whether you’re a Sam’s Club member or not.
Anyone who is eligible can get the COVID-19 vaccine at Sam’s Club for free. Check with your state’s COVID-19 vaccine guidelines to find out more information about eligibility and timing.
25. All members can use Sam’s Club curbside pickup for free right now.
For an unspecified limited time, Club and Plus members can get free Sam’s Club curbside pickup. (This is usually only free for Plus members.)
26. Prices for Sam’s Club delivery are inflated by up to 25%.
Sam’s Club delivery uses Instacart to get your groceries to you on the same day you place an order. In some cases, they can get it to you in under an hour. (Even if you’re not a club member.) Of course, you’ll pay more as a non-member, because Instacart inflates prices to cover their costs. If you are a member, enter your member ID number during checkout to pay lower prices.
Here are delivery fees for shopping Sam’s Club through Instacart:
- $8.99 on orders $35 or more
- $12.99 on orders under $35
- $10.99 for one-hour delivery on orders $35 or more
- $14.99 for one-hour delivery on orders under $35
27. Military? Student? Get a free Sam’s gift card.
Sam’s Club offers perks for military and students. If you’re former or active duty military, or a student, you can present identification (military or student) for a $10 Sam’s gift card when you sign up for a membership.
If you’re military, you can also get this perk when you renew. Unfortunately, for college students, it’s a one-time deal.
28. Sam’s Club is closed on Thanksgiving but offers 10 days of Black Friday deals anyway.
Sure, you can’t go into a Sam’s Club warehouse on Thanksgiving, but based on what I saw in 2020, who needs to? Sam’s offered savings from Nov. 20 – 29. Most of Sam’s deals were available online with the best deals in categories like toys and electronics. Sam’s Club Plus members got access to free shipping, but regular Club members didn’t, consistent with Sam’s Plus membership offerings.
Here’s a snippet of what I saw in 2020:
- Kids holiday pajamas: $6.98 (reg. $10.98)
- KidCraft dollhouse: $99.98 (reg. $149.98)
- Member’s Mark Kitchen Playcenter: $79.98 (reg. $99.98)
- Nintendo Switch bundle: $339.98 (only $10 off but the name of the game is finding one in stock!)
- FitBit Charge: $89.99 (reg. $139.88)
Bookmark Sam’s Club Black Friday Deals so you’re ready when the holidays roll in.
29. Save up to 60% with “Shocking Values” at SamsClub.com.
“Shocking” feels like an oversell to me, but I’ll take any discount I can get. Watch for Shocking Values on SamsClub.com. New deals are added daily between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. CT.
Deals usually last four days or until they’re gone. Sign up for Sam’s Club email alerts to find out when to pull the trigger on these.
Here are a few deals I’ve seen in the past:
- BareMinerals Dew Mist Setting Spray, 3.4 fluid ounces, (reg. $27.98), $19.48
- Bel Air Theater Recliner, (reg. $589), $499
30. Buy electronics from SamsClub.com when you see “Tech Savings” boxes.
When shopping at SamsClub.com, keep an eye out for those little blue rectangles that say Tech Savings. These are temporary price reductions, and they only last a few days.
SamsClub.com has a dedicated page for these deals. For example:
- Swann 1080p Powered Wi-Fi Outdoor Security Camera with Secure Cloud Storage, 3 pack (reg. $239), $179
- Samsung Galaxy Buds+ (reg. $139.98), $99.98
31. Sam’s Club return policy is generous like Costco’s.
You don’t need a receipt to make a return, and most items can be returned for an indefinite amount of time. But you do need your order number.
Sure, Sam’s won’t let you return anything and everything. Contacts, eyeglasses, alcohol, cigarettes, and gift cards are a few items in the “non-returnable” category. I recommend that you return your items inside a warehouse instead of shipping them back to Sam’s Club so you can avoid paying shipping, which Sam’s won’t reimburse.
Check out Sam’s Club return policy for more details.