The Benefits of Shopping at Costco and Other Warehouse Clubs

When we moved into our new house, we bought a Costco membership. We had a membership several years ago, but we let it lapse. We didn’t live very close to Costco, and I didn’t make the drive out to Costco enough to make membership worth it. But now we’re a few miles from Costco, and since gas prices at Costco are 25 cents less a gallon than any other gas station around here, I knew a membership would be worth it for the gas alone.

Benefits

But, as I discovered last week, cheap gas isn’t the only benefit to shopping at warehouse stores.

Tuesday morning I broke from my usual grocery shopping routine. Instead of doing all of my shopping at Food 4 Less or Winco, I decided to see what Costco had to offer. I was in for a pleasant surprise.

I stopped by the produce section first. I was thrilled to see that they offered a pretty good selection of organic produce. I usually buy my produce at the local farmer’s market, but most of the farmer’s markets around here have closed down for the winter. So I picked up a big bag of organic apples for 49 cents a pound.

In addition, I picked up a bag of 6 romaine hearts for $2.99. Now we can have salads with our dinner all week, and still have enough lettuce left over for sandwiches! I also saw great deals on carrots, grapes, and avocados, but I didn’t need any, so I passed.

My other great finds were a big bag of meatballs, a box of lightly breaded fish fillets, a big bag of frozen raviolis, and a huge stack of tortillas.

Finding the deals on convenience foods isn’t the big benefit, though. The big benefit is that I now have easy-to-fix staples on hand for those nights I don’t feel like cooking. The possibilities are endless: spaghetti and meatballs, meatball sandwiches, fish fillets, fish tacos, raviolis….

I also have plenty of quick meals on hand for unexpected company. Having people over more frequently is one of my goals, now that we live in a house big enough to actually sit more than 4 people.

One additional benefit to buying in bulk was brought to my attention by Jennae at Green Your Decor. Bulk items use less packaging, and so you’re doing the environment a favor by not buying small packages.

Drawbacks

However, there are drawbacks to shopping at warehouse stores.

You have to be incredibly disciplined in order to keep your spending within your budget. There are lots of temptations at Costco. Books, clothes, household items, electronics. It helps to have a list of things you need, so if you see a deal you can buy it. But if you don’t need it, don’t buy! A deal isn’t a deal if you don’t need the item!

My big weakness is books, so I try to avoid the book aisle at all costs. And if I’ve already spent my “house” budget for the month, I avoid the household aisles as well.

One of my goals in 2009 is to make a price book, so I can compare the cost of various items between regular grocery stores, discount grocery stores, and Costco. But for now I’m content to buy convenience foods in bulk. It’s probably not the best deal, compared to making dinner from scratch, but it’s sure helping me fight the temptation to have my husband grab dinner on the way home!

Other opinions on Costco include:

Do you shop at warehouse stores? What are your favorite buys?

Photo by greenwenvy08.



Author

By , on Nov 10, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{29 Comments}

  1. We had discontinued using a warehouse club because we could get better prices with grocery store sales. However, when we moved to another part of the country, we joined a warehouse club because I wasn’t able to find deals on certain grocery items like I used to and I needed consistent prices that were relatively low. Another advantage is that our credit union has a very limited debit card network, so I need to purchase everything with cash on hand (their ATM network is pretty good). That removes the temptation to overspend.

  2. jillbilly:

    We love the chicken pot pie from Costco – one huge pie recently fed 10 family members, with seconds for some! We first got our membership here in Chicago 12 years ago, when we bought our first freezer. We were astonished at the quality of the meat and baked goods. On our first trip, we bought a 25-lb sack of long-grain rice, which we put into a 5-gallon bucket. We still haven’t used up that rice! We figured that the savings on that first trip paid for the membership.

  3. I also love the warehouse store. Unfortunately, it’s a drive to get there–so when times are really tight, I can’t always make it there. Here’s my 2 cents:

    - Gas is usually cheaper there–but it’s useful to see if a local grocery store is having gas specials, too. Our local Price Chopper store is having a gas special–10 cents off per gallon per $50 in groceries purchased. That brings the price of gas–for me–cheaper at their participating gas station than at BJ’s.

    - I love to buy natural peanut butter at the warehouse store. It’s in jumbo jars and at a much better price. Plus it has a long shelf-life, so I don’t have to go into PB overload to use it up before it goes bad, which is sometimes the case with other things bought in bulk.

    - Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are a real deal. Okay–sometimes I can buy a family pack locally at $1.99 a pound on sale, but at just over $2/pound at BJ’s, they’re wrapped 2 breasts per package within that giant pack. That saves me having to re-package the breasts myself (there are only 2 of us in my household, so 2/bag is what I’d do anyway), and of course I’m saved the price of the freezer bags, too.

    - My warehouse club has, by far, the BEST price for lamb around. A boneless leg of lamb is under $5/pound.

  4. Ooooh! I love Costco too. Since you live on west coast, like me, do you have a Winco? They have some great buys too. When I did my price book, Costco and Winco were cheapest for me. Check it out. I discovered them when my hubby was out of work just shy of a year. I love books too. I just see them at Costco and then request them from the library…much cheaper though you do have to wait. Also love the free food from the carts. Lunch at Cafe a’Costo….yum!

  5. Lynnae:

    I do have a Winco, though it’s not as close, now that we moved. We have a Food 4 Less that’s a bit closer, though I haven’t compared to see whether Food 4 Less or Winco is significantly less than the other. Another reason to make a pricebook.

  6. barb:

    I’m a single person who loves Costco. I don’t have health insurance & take several medications, so the Pharmacy is a wonderful deal. You actually don’t have to have a membership to use the pharmacy, but if you are a member, they have special prices on prescriptions which I recently found out about. I am saving twice the cost of the membership on prescriptions alone per year as opposed to Walmart pharmacy. Love it!

  7. Jessica:

    One of our favorite buys at Costco is the Torilla Encrusted Tilapia. It comes in a turquoise box in the frozen foods section. It’s tasty, fairly healthy, great for a quick dinner and a super price – I believe it’s between $9 and $10 for a box with six fillets. That’s three easy dinners for my husband and me. Check it out!

  8. marci:

    Funny – I just let my Costco card expire last month…. but not before I had a $400 spending spree and bought everything I’d need for the year in the way of laundry soap and D/W soap, and canned goods, etc.

    While I enjoy Costco very much, the closest one is 85 miles away in Albany… so I wasn’t getting to go often enough to make it pay.

    My plan for now is to send a list with my sis-in-law or son, who both have a card still. And then in a year, without paying the membership, I’ll get a new membership – thereby saving a year’s fee.

  9. Rae:

    Its like your on the same frugal wave length as me. I just got a costco card yesterday. We needed tp and I was sick of going to the store every week to overspend on TP. I also started a cleaning biz and I like the “car detail towels” they have there. I did drop back to the produce section and got 2 items that we needed. I do agree with the discipline of not buying on impulse. I walked down every isle to compare prices for the next time its time to shop though.

  10. I love costco…they just put one in near us finally. But when we were in Arizona I bought quite a bit of snacky items there.

  11. Michelle H.:

    Hi Lynnae,
    We don’t have a Costco nearby but we do shop at Sam’s quite a bit. I think the two are fairly comparable.
    I made a pricebook last year and it has saved us a lot of money so far. It’s easier to do if you keep all your receipts for a month or two. I find I can save at Sam’s on laundry detergent, OTC medicine, cheese (big savings here), tires, gas, and some clothing is cheaper at the end of the season. Most of the canned goods I can get cheaper at WM or at our local grocery when on sale.
    Blessings!

  12. Lynnae:

    I bought those car detail towels too. We really needed a BUNCH of rags for cleaning up this house. It really was overkill, but now I can keep cleaning rags in both bathrooms and the laundry room.

    I normally just cut up old towels, but before we moved, but we didn’t have enough old towels to cut up.

  13. I agree about all the temptations at Costco! I don’t have a membership now, but I used to and it was very hard not to get those deals!

    I love frozen meatballs and try to have them on hand all the time.

  14. Lynnae, I’m glad that you’ve discovered the benefits of shopping at warehouses. We actually have memberships to Costco and Sam’s Club, and we shop at both stores regularly.

    Buying in bulk CAN be a savings if done right. Buying food in large bulk, then separating the contents into smaller packages or freezer bags according to the meal plan, can do a lot to reduce the overall grocery bill.

    Not splitting up the food this way can create problems, especially since some kids and/or spouses may see lots of food and find themselves eating a lot more due to the temptation of having so much to choose from.

    Having an extra freezer out of sight and out of mind definitely helps too.

  15. Jeff C:

    In my area I find the warehouse stores not to be the best priced on just about anything. I live in southeastern MA. And I refuse to may for a membership. It amazes me when I see people coming out of those stores with piles of stuff they could have gotten cheaper elsewhere. Admittedly I do shop stuff to death for the best price.

  16. I used to be BAD about the books at Costco. I’d routinely pick up at least one or two. But now that I’m using my library regularly, I browse the book table for book titles–if I see an interesting one, I’ll write it down and then go put it on hold at the library. That way, when I’ve finished the book in a few days, I can return it and I’m no longer out the $8 or $9!

  17. A money saver I found at Sams was cloth napkins. I bought a few packs and have not been buying papertowels or paper napkins since then. I think just cutting those two items off my grocery list will save about 200 per year–so that’s pretty cool. I also get socks at Sams.

  18. Ashley @ Wide Open Wallet:

    I adore Costco!! Yesterday, we went there for peanut butter and spent $200. We bought a Christmas Tree though. I broke our tree last year and they had a 7.5 foot prelit tree for $150. Same or better quality than what I had seen at Lowes. But Lowes was charging $300. And I found a 2 pack of nice big wood cutting boards for $10. I had been looking at those at another store and they wanted $20 just for one. How could I pass that up?

  19. Catherine:

    Our Costco is located in a shopping center where I do a lot of my other shopping. So, on a day when I’m running errands at lunch time, I’ll stop by Costco to see if they have a lot of samples available. Sometimes there are enough samples to fill me up, and other days I grab a hot dog and a soda for $1.50 on my way out. It’s a very inexpensive way to “treat” yourself. :-)

  20. Lynnae:

    I’m in Oregon. The apples I found were the regular red apples. I was surprised they were organic at that price, but they were.

    And my mom and her boyfriend regularly eat at Costco for a cheap date. They love the hot dogs, too. :)

  21. Bellen:

    Where do you live? I was just at the Costco in Brandon Fl (just south of Tampa) and the cheapest apples we found were $.99 per pound. The six pack of romaine was $3.99. We do buy cases of corn and green beans, about $.30 cheaper per can than WalMart. Same for baked beans, lemon juice, ketchup, etc.

    To make a price book – start with your Costco receipt. As you shop elsewhere add those prices. It doesn’t take very long that way. It has been a real eye-opener for me, the BOGO deals at our local Publix that I always thought were a great deal, aren’t always.

  22. I’ve used Sams club for years. In Wisconsin and Fargo I never had a problem. Since moving south however I find that things sometimes aren’t so fresh. Also since I’ve been using Grocery Game more and more I find I go to Sams less and less. Sams is similar to costco. I still have a ‘short list’ things I prefer to buy at Sams but most things I am finding I can literally get for less when I use GG. I now hit Sams about everyother month as opposed to twice a month before GG.

  23. Caveman:

    Oddly enough, my weakness is office supplies. I have to constantly remind myself that, no, I don’t need another 100 ct box of ink pens. It’s a strange affliction. :)

    While I don’t care much for the WalMart stores near me, I love our Sam’s Club. We save so much there!

  24. The thing that worries me with Costco is freshness. But then that’s probably because the people I know who served me non-fresh food from Costco probably bought it a while back and had it sitting around. Not Costco’s decision.

    It’s not right for our 2-person family and there isn’t one very close either. But it looks like quite a useful store.

  25. I second the idea of a price book. It’s one of those things I always intend to do, but never get around to. I find myself wandering the aisles of Costco comparing unit costs and then wondering, “Is this really a good deal? Is the smaller packaging at Walmart cheaper, or can I use a coupon a Kroger and get the same item much cheaper?”

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