So, for the past few years I've enjoyed a free Costco membership. That is to say, I've been mooching off of my parent's membership. Apparently when you join Costco, you have the option of adding another person on your account, and my parents graciously chose to add me.
It was a good way to try it out, but after a few years, my dad (who is THE most frugal shopper ever) determined that it wasn't worth it and gave up the membership.
So I have a decision to make. Should I cough up the dough for a membership of my own, or just bid adieu to fair Costco?
The truth is, I don't shop at Costco very often. So much of what they carry is problematic for me in one way or another. They carry a lot of pre-packaged foods, which I generally don't eat for both health and allergic reasons.
The produce comes in enormous packages which I find difficult to use before it goes bad - plus, they don't carry much organic produce, and it's all pre-bagged, which means I can't pick and choose to get the very best pieces.
Many of their items are enormous packages of brand name stuff... which is cheaper than buying the brand name stuff at the grocery store, but still more expensive than most grocery store house brands. Wait... I think I feel another soliloquy coming on... "Oh Costco, doff thy brand names!"
But seriously, there are a few things that are cheaper at Costco and which I really enjoy. These include:
Since I paid off my mortgage and have a bit more financial flexibility, I decided that one of the things I wanted to do was to switch to organic meats, both for health reasons and because the animals are generally treated better. None of the grocery stores in my neighborhood carry organic meats, so I have to travel to get them whether it's at Costco or some other store, and Costco seems to have the best prices that I've found. Plus, their meats don't come packaged with Styrofoam, and it works for me to stock up once every month or two.
Frozen Fruit and Veggies.
I consider berries to be one of the greatest treats there is, but they are horribly expensive. However, Costco has giant bags of frozen organic berries at a VERY reasonable price. Plus, they carry frozen organic veggies at a better price than I've found anywhere else. They also have a frozen stir-fry mix which I love because unlike most others I've found, it doesn't contain celery (which I'm violently allergic to.)
Costco has some of the best prices on both cheap and expensive cheeses. They sell a shredded Parmesan/Romano mix that is wonderful, and since CatMan LOVES lasagna, we go through a lot of it. They also have very good prices on regular cheap cheeses.
I don't eat a lot of tuna, mostly because the vast majority of tuna packed in "water" is actually packed in vegetable broth, which contains, you guessed it, celery! However, the Costco house brand tuna is packed in plain water, so it is one of the few brands that I can eat... The only other ones are the sustainable harvested ultra expensive ones that cost around $4 per can. However, the last time I was at Costco, they didn't have any of the house brand tuna, so it may be that they've discontinued it.
This is one of the few places where I am brand-loyal because my Bosch dishwasher really seems to require Finish Powerball Tabs in order to work properly, and Costco has them much cheaper than anyplace else that I've found.
And... that's about it. Although, truth be told, each time I go there intending to buy only things on the above list, I inevitably come home with more stuff, even if it's not any cheaper than buying it at the regular grocery store.
Soooo... maybe I need to do some number crunching.
A general membership costs $55 for a year and an "Executive Membership" costs $110. For my purposes, the main difference between the two is that at the Executive level you get a 2% reward on most purchases (gas doesn't count toward the reward). So... in order for the rewards to cover the cost of the membership you'd have to spend $2750/year.
Holy Moly! That's like $230/month! Even if I did virtually all of my grocery shopping at Costco (which ain't gonna happen), it would be a challenge to spend that much. When I look at my records for the past few years, I seem to average closer to $50/month of Costco purchases - which does include a few non-food items.
But even if your goal with the Executive Membership was just to make up the difference between its cost and the cost of a general membership, you'd still have to spend $1375 over the course of the year to recoup the extra $55 in membership costs. So any way you slice it, I think the Executive Membership is definitely out.
That leaves the general membership. So the question becomes, would I save $55 over the course of one year over grocery store prices? Hmmm... perhaps I should have kept better records.
Well... just for the sake of argument (and easier math) let's be generous and assume that I would spend $1000/year at Costco. That would mean that in order to break even on the membership, I'd have to get prices that were 5.5% cheaper than what I could find at the grocery store.
If I spent $600/year (closer to what I actually have spent there) the prices would need to be 9.1% lower in order to break even. When you factor in the reality that probably at least half of my Costco purchases were made out of convenience rather than because the prices was actually cheaper than buying the item elsewhere, that sorta seems like a tall order to me.
Of course, there are the intangibles to consider. I really, REALLY like those frozen berries, and I'm more apt to treat myself to them if I think the price is reasonable. Plus, having tuna that I can eat is really nice. But maybe it would be more cost effective to just buy expensive organic berries and expensive tuna at the regular grocery store.
Plus... driving out to the nearest Costco is sort of a pain. It's about 12 miles round trip, which I guess isn't too bad, especially if I combine it with another trip, but it's not like I can just walk or bike there like I can with my neighborhood stores. And I'm really not a big fan of driving.
So I suppose if I'm really gonna nit pick the numbers, then I should include about an extra $1.50-$2 per Costco trip for the cost of the gas to get there and back.
But, there is the packaging to consider. Buying in bulk does mean less waste, but in truth, I think the difference ends up being pretty negligible.
But I'm curious to hear what you think about it. Do you have a Costco membership? Do you think it's worth it?