Thursday, July 5, 2012

Should You Be a Costco Shopper?

toilet paper at Costco

Today I took a field trip to Costco. I'd never been to a Costco before, and I felt it was time to see what all the fuss was about. I walked past the furniture, cell phones, and such; what I was curious about were the food items and the household goods like toilet paper.

And I can certainly see the appeal of shopping at Coastco. If you're shopping for a party — or if you have a large household, lots of storage, or both — Costco might make sense for you.

paper towels at Costco

But if you're someone like me — with a small household and modest storage — you'll need to be really careful in your shopping, or you're likely to wind up with items desperately in search of a place to be stashed away. Where would I put all those paper towels? Or all that toilet paper?

watermelon at Costco

While there were some things that came in reasonable quantities that could work for anyone — a single watermelon, individual bottles of wine — I was amazed at how many things only came in large sizes. And it wasn't just the packages of TP and paper towels.

packages of sausage at Costco

Tastes of various types of Aidells sausage were being handed out, and they were pretty good. But the packages at Costco each had 15 sausages; unless I was having a party, I'd never want to buy a package of 15. My local grocery has packages of 4; that's going to work much better for me. Yes, I could freeze them, as the salesman pointed out when I complained about the package size — but I have very limited freezer space, and I don't want to use that space for 11 sausages, all the same variety.

large bottle of steak sauce at Costco

And why would I ever need a 33-oz bottle of steak sauce?

2-pack of aluminum foil at Costco

Even aluminum foil came in a 2-pack. I never need more than one roll of aluminum foil at a time.

About the only thing I'd want to buy in Costco-sized quantities is bottled water, which I need as an earthquake supply.

Now, I'm using Costco here just as an example — you can just as easily overstock at any other warehouse store, or even at a sale at a regular grocery store. Saving money (and saving on trips) by buying in volume can be great — but only if you're buying stuff you'll really use, and if you won't be tripping over the stuff for the next six months.


Joy Perkins said...

Too true Jerry - I often ask clients to quit buying large amounts. Something like printer ink that has expired (but was lost at the back of the shelf) soon wipes out your savings. In large garages we can set up a Coscto area with visible storage but not all homes have that much space.

Sara said...

I use Costco when I can store things (like a large shampoo in the shower) or divide multiples w/ friends...everything can be broken down into small containers, bottles, bags, etc. It makes shopping there very eco-friendly, and fun-and it's a company thats stands by its products, takes ANYTHING back, and is incredibly good to its employees.
Needless to say, I am an enthusiastic customer.

Julie Bestry said...

I like the idea of a Costco or Sam's, but as you note, it makes no sense for me, an apartment-dwelling singleton. But I must say, I love the idea of being able to buy paper towels only a few times a year; if I had a basement or garage storage area, I'd be thrilled at not having to shop for non-perishables all the time.

Jeri Dansky said...

Joy, this post was inspired when I saw yet another client with no storage space for all the stuff he'd bought at Costco, or on sale. And you make the good point that, unlike paper towels, some of that stuff might expire before you ever get to using it.

Sara, good point about splitting things with friends! And while I like supporting smaller, local markets — I'm lucky to have some in town — I do appreciate that Costco treats its employees (and its customers) well; that matters a lot to me. If I were to shop at a warehouse store, Costco would probably be the one.

Julie, I don't mind at all picking up a roll of paper towels along with my other groceries. But that's me.

Louise said...

I miss our Costco membership for a handful of items: I like the Kirkland brand toilet paper, the wine prices are good, and the quality of the meat is excellent. They often have types and cuts of meat (like lamb, or prime rib) that are hard to find elsewhere.

However, buying in bulk makes no sense while we live in the RV. We may re-join when we move onto the boat and need to provision for longer passages. We'll have a large freezer then, and will want to stock up on items that are difficult to get outside the US. In the meantime, we gladly accept invitations from friends to join them on Costco runs, then split up some large packages of meat!

Jeri Dansky said...

Louise, you just reminded me: I've indirectly been a Costco shopper, because I've bought a huge box of Kirkland clear trash bags — twice. The first time, friends picked it up for me at Costco. The second time, years later when the first box ran out, I found a box for sale online.

But it makes me smile to imagine you stuffing some of the huge packages I saw at Costco into your space in Odyssey.

Janet Barclay said...

We were Costco members when we were a family of four and living in a house with plenty of storage, but even then, we found the biggest savings were on non-grocery items, such as books, CDs and electronics. Many grocery stores offer "club packs" at similar savings to what you can get at Costco. Now that we are empty nesters and live in an apartment, although from time to time we think about going back, it just doesn't seem practical.

Claire Josefine said...

Yep... I've referred to the phenomenon as The Curse of Costco for years now. :-) And yet, even being an almost-rabid advocate of shopping locally and organically (which to me means sustainably, too; I had an ag prof who used to spout that "organic is just a set of rules," meaning that it is possible to grow organically and still not grow sustainably, but that's a different conversation), I have a Costco membership. I buy very little there. More often, I walk through the aisles feeling as though I've been dropped into some sort of alternate universe, wondering how our society ever got to such a state, thinking "this is how we grow and distribute our food? With so much packaging and in such inhuman quantities?"

So why do I have a Costco membership? Well, here in Eureka, where gas is routinely the most expensive in the contiguous U.S., Costco is equally routinely 10 to 15 cents/gallon less expensive than any other station in the county. Add my 4% AmEx discount to that, and suddenly I'm saving a healthy chunk.

Jeri Dansky said...

Claire, if there's one person I'd never expect to see shopping at Costco, it's you. But for gas? Sure, that makes a lot of sense.

Naturally Ideal said...

We are a family of 6. I shop at Costco every other week, and the food (and the toilet rolls) run out very fast. But I do prefer to get fruit and vegetables in smaller quantities or they go off.

I save a lot on frozen fruit as I make a huge smoothie every morning that is big enough for everyone to have a glass.

Jeri Dansky said...

Tina, thanks for commenting! It sounds like you're the kind of person who SHOULD be a Costco shopper; it meets your needs. And you're being discriminating about it, buying only the things that make sense for your family.

Michael Tannery said...

I've been a Costco member for over a decade, since I moved to the U.S. We buy everything from pet supplies, office furniture and supplies, house furnishings, media, summer stuff, and toiletries and kitchen supplies. I'm most especially fond of Costco around the holidays where you can buy gift baskets and treats much cheaper than at the retail stores.