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Costco vs. Sam's Club vs. Walmart: Which Costs Less This December?

The Motley Fool logo The Motley Fool 11/29/2022 Emma Newbery
Grocery store employee ringing up customers © Getty Images Grocery store employee ringing up customers

We often compare prices when buying big-ticket items like electronics or domestic appliances, but it isn't as easy to do when it comes to grocery shopping. For starters, products come in different sized packages, so you need to calculate the per-item cost. Then you need to factor in variables such as the type of apple, whether it's organic, and whether there's an in-store promotion. Plus, some stores charge an annual membership fee, which muddies the water even further.

All the same, it's worth doing. Many Americans have had to dip into their savings this year to pay for essential living costs, which is understandable, but could be difficult to sustain longer term. Given that there was more than 20% difference between the lowest- and highest-price store, switching stores might free up cash for other essential bills.

How Costco, Sam's Club, and Walmart stack up this December

For our Costco versus Sam's Club versus Walmart comparison, we selected some common grocery products and used Instacart (with location set to Los Angeles) to help us compare like with like. On a per-item basis, Sam's Club came out on top, with Walmart second, and Costco trailed in third place.

Here's how the three stores compare:

  • Best for low prices: Sam's Club
  • Best for organic: Costco
  • Best for small households: Walmart

Please note, we used Instacart as a price comparison tool -- not a shopping service. Instacart prices are often significantly higher than what you'll find in store. If you're looking to save money you're better off going to the store yourself. Also, Instacart prices listed below do not include the Costco or Sam's Club membership discounts. This skews the analysis, but it seemed fairer as not everybody has a membership to each store.

Instacart lets non-members shop at both Costco and Sam's Club, but it tacks on a premium. Ridester estimates that Costco prices are about 20% more expensive on Instacart. The Krazy Coupon Lady made a similar estimate for Sam's Club.

Costco prices: Dec. 2022

Costco Item Price Cost per lb / gal / item
Organic Yellow Onions (10 lbs) $11.18 $1.12
Organic Carrots (6 lbs) $4.96 $0.83
Kirkland Signature Extra Large White Eggs, Cage Free (24 eggs) $6.83 $0.28
Kirkland Signature 2% Reduced Fat Milk (2 x 1 gal) $8.43 $4.22
Organic Snacking Apples Gala (3 lbs) $6.83 $2.28
Gold Potatoes (10 lbs) $8.07 $0.81
Organic Royal Traditional Basmati Rice (20 lbs) $32.33 $1.62
Kirkland Signature Fresh Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs $38.32 $4.34
Kirkland Signature Organic Ground Beef, (4 lbs) $31.09 $7.77
Garofalo Organic Spaghetti (8 ct) $15.54 $1.94
Del Monte Whole Kernel Corn (12 x 15.25 oz) $14.29 $1.19
Total $177.87 $26.39
Data source: Instacart (non-member prices). Nov. 29, 2022

Sam's Club prices: Dec. 2022

Sam's Club item Price Cost per lb / gal / item
Yellow Onion Bag (10 lbs) $7.73 $0.77
Organic Whole Carrots (5 lbs) $3.31 $0.66
Member's Mark Grade Aa Cage Free Large Eggs (24 eggs) $6.88 $0.29
Member's Mark 2% Reduced Fat Milk Jug (1 gal) $4.44 $4.44
Gala Apple (5 lbs) $7.64 $1.53
Yellow Potato Bag (10 lbs) $7.07 $0.71
Royal White Basmati Rice (20 lbs) $23.90 $1.20

Member's Mark Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs

(Approx 6.38 lbs)

$21.88 $3.43
Member's Mark 90% Lean 10% Fat Ground Beef (4.5 lbs) $21.76 $4.58
Barilla Elbows/Spaghetti/Penne Pasta Variety Pack (6 x 1 lb) $10.33 $1.72
Del Monte Golden Sweet Whole Kernel Corn (8 x 15.25 oz) $8.95 $1.12
Total $123.89 $20.44
Data source: Instacart (non-member prices). Nov. 29, 2022

Walmart prices: Dec. 2022

Walmart item Price Cost per lb / gal / item
Yellow Onion Bag (3 lbs) $1.66 $0.55
Organic Carrot Bag (2 lbs) $1.96 $0.98
Great Value Cage Free Large AA White Eggs (18 eggs) $5.18 $0.29
Great Value 2% Reduced Fat Milk (1 gal) $3.49 $3.49
Gala Apple Bag (3 lbs) $4.68 $1.56
Organic Yellow Potatoes (3 lbs) $5.48 $1.83
Royal Basmati Rice (5 lbs) $8.98 $1.80
Freshness Guaranteed Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs (approx 3.0 lb) $10.44 $3.48
Beef Chuck, Ground, 80%/20% $4.58 $4.58
Barilla® Classic Blue Box Pasta Spaghetti (2 lbs) $3.18 $1.59
Del Monte Corn, Whole Kernel, Golden Sweet, Value Pack (4 x 15.25 oz) $5.38 $1.35
Total $55.01 $21.49
Data source: Instacart. Nov. 29, 2022

Bottom line

Shopping around is just one of many ways you can save money on your groceries. Others include cutting back on food waste by using or freezing any leftovers, cutting down on meat, or seeking out coupons on regular purchases. That said, switching to a lower-cost store could make a big difference to your bank account balance.

Even so, cost isn't the only factor. For example, each of the stores above have their own credit cards that pay decent rewards on in-store purchases, especially in combination with membership programs. You may find that you get better rewards or a more pleasant shopping experience in a particular store. A lot depends on your household and habits, and being conscious about where you can lower your grocery costs.

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We're firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers. The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.Emma Newbery has positions in Apple. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Apple, Costco Wholesale, Gala, and Walmart Inc. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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