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Pros and Cons of Costco

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pros and cons of Costco

I don’t miss the packed parking lot at all.

We canceled our Costco membership a few months ago and I don’t miss Costco at all. Costco is great if you have a big family and can save by buying bulk. We joined Costco last year after baby RB40 was born so we could buy Kirkland brand formula. Mrs. RB40’s cousin recommended it and it is much more affordable than brand names like Enfamil or Similac.  Now that he is happily drinking whole milk, we don’t have a compelling reason to shop at Costco anymore.

If you are not in the US, you might not know what Costco is, so here is a short intro. Costco is a membership only warehouse store that sells all kinds of consumer products such as TVs, clothes, food, wine, and much more. Costco usually has lower prices than other stores, but most of their products are sold in bulk. So instead of buying a small carton of Cheerios, you have to buy a giant 2.5 lb box. You also have to be a member who paid a membership fee to shop at Costco.

Overall, I like Costco, but I just don’t want to pay for the privilege of shopping there. We also don’t consume enough stuff to justify being a member. Usually I bought 3 big cans of Kirkland formula and that’s about it. Then I’d have to stand in a long line just to get checked out. Our family is small and our condo cupboards are full, so we don’t purchase much of anything anymore except to replace consumables.

Here are some pros and cons of being a Costco member.

Pros

Great prices – If you have 3 teenagers, then I think a Costco executive  membership would be very worthwhile.

Great frozen food section – I really like the frozen food section at Costco. The food tastes great and they have a big variety. If I didn’t cook, then I probably would buy a ton of frozen food from Costco. We don’t really eat frozen food so we didn’t take advantage of this section much.

Sample carts – How do I know that the frozen food tastes good? The tasting carts are always out and I’m always up for a free taste. It’s a lot of fun to try all the various food samples, especially ones I hadn’t tried before. Stop by all the carts a few times and you don’t even have to buy lunch!

Costco Coupons – The Costco coupon books are pretty good. It’s an easy way to find good deals. I liked to browse the coupon book and buy a few things that were on sale that month.

Gas – Costco gasoline is usually 5-10 cents cheaper than other gas station. This is probably the only thing I remotely miss about being a Costco member. I can just go there and don’t have to worry about finding the cheapest gas station.

Cons

Too busy – They are always always super busy there. The parking lot is always packed, the lines are long, and there are tons of people in the store. We don’t like to be crowded or pushed by a gigantic cart when we’re browsing new merchandise.

Groceries – We still need to go to the supermarket for groceries. The grocery items at Costco are just too big. I liked the 3 liter olive oil because we can slowly use it, but the 5 lb bag of broccoli is too big for us. Anything that can go bad will go bad because we can’t use it up.  Even if we made meals in large quantities, we have no way to store the leftovers in our small fridge. The price at Costco is good, but often you can buy a generic brand for less at the grocery store. If you like brand names, then Costco is a good deal.

Membership – Yeap, I don’t like paying membership fees. The executive membership is $110 (you get 2% back) and the regular membership cost $55 in 2012. I think Costco would do a lot better if they don’t have a membership fee, but what do I know.

Storage space – We simply do not have room to store more stuff. We live in a <1,000 square feet condo and storage space is a luxury that we don’t have. If we had a garage, maybe I would be more receptive to buying bulk.

All in all, Costco does not make sense for us. It was great to try them for a year because we needed theKirklandbaby formula. Now that baby RB40 is drinking organic whole milk, we don’t need to go there anymore. It took a lot of time to stop by Costco as well as the grocery store and I’m glad to have that time back.

What about you? Are you a member and if so do you like Costco? 


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{ 50 comments… add one }
  • Joel July 11, 2012, 5:22 am

    I don’t belong to Costco, but I do belong to BJ’s which is similar. Overall I would say we do about half of our shopping there. The normal items we get there are things like TP, tissues, paper towels, paper plates, deodorant, toothpaste, ketchup (usually 3 bottles per pack), cereal, shaving blades/gel. It was mighty expensive buying large packs at first, but it is quite nice to only buy most of those things every few months and the cost per item drops quite a bit for most of those categories. This has caused our weekly grocery bills to drop in half since we only usually buy things that spoil at the grocery store now.

    We did start taking advantage of their frozen section once we got a small chest freezer. So now we do buy the multi-pound bags of frozen vegetables as well.

    • retirebyforty July 11, 2012, 9:52 am

      We got paper products from Costco too and that works pretty well. We just don’t have enough storage space for other big bulk items though. Our freezer is tiny so that doesn’t help either. I’m glad it’s working out for you though.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor July 11, 2012, 6:18 am

    Life’s too short for Costco. 🙂 I value my time too much to exchange it for the madness there.

    • retirebyforty July 11, 2012, 9:53 am

      That’s what I dislike the most about Costco. It just took a lot of time to go through the place.

  • 20's Finances July 11, 2012, 6:59 am

    WHHATTT!? You just insulted Costco? haha. In all seriousness though, we love it. We don’t buy groceries there, but we are able to get affordable soy milk, drugs (the legal kind), soap, shampoo, and the basic condiments. There are items that are not better deals, but if you know what you are looking for, it is well worth the membership fee.

    • retirebyforty July 11, 2012, 9:53 am

      I got vitamins there too, but I think Target has comparable products. 🙂

  • Money Beagle July 11, 2012, 7:11 am

    We are Costco members and I feel it’s worth it. My wife does all her photo printing there, and they are dirt cheap compared to others. For grocery items, I find that their prices on bananas, coffee, canned mushrooms, parmasan cheese, rice, graham crackers, granola bars, and a few other items that we buy regularly are well below what we can typically find otherwise. We go to the store in the middle of the week during the evening and the lines and crowds are much lighter than the weekends. We also buy a few other items regularly like cat litter and such, and they also have a coupon book where we use at least 1-2 coupons per monthly trip on items that we would buy anyways. All told, I haven’t calculated the cost, but I know that we save several hundred dollars per year there even with the membership cost included.

    On a side note, we bought Kirkland formula for our first, but they actually raised the price (via changing the packaging size) between the time we had our first and second, and as a result, they were basically the same price as Target’s UP & UP brand, so we switched to that for our second since we have a Target right across the street from our neighborhood.

    • retirebyforty July 11, 2012, 9:55 am

      I’m glad that Costco is working for you. You have a bigger family so you buy a lot more food than we do. I like the coupon book too, it’s very convenient. I like Target, it’s a bit easier than Costco and less busy.

  • Mr. Everyday Dollar July 11, 2012, 7:25 am

    I have only been to Costco once or twice in my life and for the reasons you outline in your “Cons” would be the reasons I would not shop there. Additionally, I would have to drive way out to the suburbia big box wasteland where the Costco is located.

    The local food cooperative where I shop has a lot of bulk items – flour, quinoa, oats, olive oil, maple syrup, shampoo. I take advantage of the bulk items because 1) they are cheaper than the prepackaged counterparts and 2) by re-using containers I don’t put additional waste into our landfills.

    Mr. Everyday Dollar

    • retirebyforty July 11, 2012, 9:57 am

      We had to drive about 10 miles to Costco too. I like the bulk food bins at my grocery store. It’s easy to buy flour and other items, but some stuff do get stale in those big bins.

  • Linda July 11, 2012, 8:10 am

    Ugh! I don’t miss Costco one bit, either. My sister talked me into getting a membership. She has two kids and, at the time, the teenage boy worked his way through *a lot* of food every day. So it certainly made sense to her.

    For me, though, it did not. My (now ex-) husband and I had no kids so we were just feeding and caring for ourselves. Yeah it was great to buy bulk TP and tissues at first, but then it became just another store I “had to” visit. If I had TP on my grocery list, I felt like I had to go to Costco to buy it. (Otherwise: why maintain my membership?) So there was a special trip to Costco that “had to” take place, and it was nowhere near where I usually shop for groceries. Inevitably the husband wanted to pick up some other junky snack or piece of equipment that we really didn’t need, so we ended up with more stuff in the basement.

    After a couple years I dropped the Costco membership and have not been tempted to join again. Besides the inconvenience of the trip, there were the long lines on weekends or prime shopping days, and if I did have time to go during a weeknight it was still a hassle. Those stores are so huge and the things that people by the most like TP are always kept in the back. Nope, not going back!

    • retirebyforty July 11, 2012, 9:59 am

      It was fun to be a member for a year, but I’m glad I don’t have to go there again. It just doesn’t make sense for us.
      Heh heh, thanks for your response.

  • I am not a member for the same reasons. It just doesn’t make sense for my girlfriend and I when we live in a 1200 sq ft townhouse with a small kitchen.

  • jefferson July 11, 2012, 2:06 pm

    we had a costco membership for years but cancelled it a while back.. there were a few grocery items there that we fell in love with us, and i think that we mainly kept renewing our membership for those items..

    but then a few of my family members started developing food sensitivities and Costco didn’t really have much to offer in that regard.

    we really don’t miss it, to be honest. i never liked shopping inside of a giant warehouse.

    • retirebyforty July 11, 2012, 4:32 pm

      I really like some items too, but they are not worth our time. We just seem so busy these days and any time we can get back is a good thing. Haha, I don’t like shopping inside a giant warehouse either.

  • krantcents July 11, 2012, 2:35 pm

    I cancelled and rejoined a few years ago. The savings alone on gas alone pays for my membership. We are now a family of two and only buy 12-18 items from Costco. I buy most of our household stuff at Target. Their prices are as good as Costco.

    • retirebyforty July 11, 2012, 4:33 pm

      You must drive a lot. I suppose that must be true because you’re in Southern CA.

  • Romeo July 11, 2012, 4:16 pm

    If it didn’t have the membership fee it would surely be busier, right? I bought my Sam’s club membership last year and haven’t been there again yet. Shameful.

    • retirebyforty July 11, 2012, 4:33 pm

      Heheh, sorry about that. I think you can get your money back if you just drop by and cancel.

  • Aloysa @My Broken Coin July 11, 2012, 7:10 pm

    We stopped shopping in Costco a long time ago. It’s only two of us and buying in bulk doesn’t make sense for us. And I agree, Costco is always sooo busy. I just don’t have that much patience anymore.

  • Financial Samurai July 11, 2012, 10:40 pm

    Man I can’t stand costco. Makes you want to buy more than you need. Parking lot is ridiculous too!

  • Roshawn @ Watson Inc July 12, 2012, 5:44 am

    I’m surprised by some of the Costco hate in comments. I personally have nothing against them although I don’t have a membership. We have a Sam’s Club membership, and that’s enough. I deliberately shop during nonpeak times. I do agree it helps when your family is larger, but I don’t regret having a membership even though our family is small. Cheers

    • retirebyforty July 12, 2012, 12:51 pm

      Heh heh, it’s ok. We can complain a little bit right? 🙂

  • Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter July 12, 2012, 8:38 am

    We are members of costco but we don’t do the bulk of our shopping there. We only go there for certain items. I find we do the majority of our shopping other places. It is great certain items though and they have a great return policy.

    • retirebyforty July 12, 2012, 12:52 pm

      They do have a few nice things.

  • Lisa @ Thriftability July 12, 2012, 8:52 am

    We don’t have a Costco, but do have a Sam’s Club. I carry a business account, and am able to enjoy the earlier opening time by being a business member. I save my trip to Sam’s Club for the larger staple items – pasta, meat that I intend to portion out and freeze, bulk-packaged items and multi-packs. While I’m there, I have a specific list of perishables that I know are cheapest at Sam’s Club: Celery, Milk, Half & Half, Mixed green salad, shredded cheese, and coffee beans (store brand are “fresh” not all dried out!) I agree: the samples there are a fun part, and you’re also right about how crowded the warehouse stores get. Good comparisons in your pros/cons list!

    • retirebyforty July 12, 2012, 12:53 pm

      It sounds like the Sam’s Club works out well for you. That’s great to hear.

  • DaveL July 12, 2012, 12:12 pm

    I agree with you, I think they would make a lot more money if they allowed everyone to shop there. $55 dollars to discourage people from shopping there just seems like a small amount of added income for them and a bigger reason to consumers who arnt sure if its worth it.

    I personally have never shopped at Costco but we have a Sam’s Club where I live and although its convenient at times (very few times) its not worth paying the fees just for a slight savings and buying in bulk. There has been many times when compared to Wal-mart or Wegmans you’re actually paying more at Sam’s Club…I have no clue how that makes sense.

    It’s perfect for small businesses and large families but since you have a small family and dont need baby food anymore It doesn’t seem worth it.

    • retirebyforty July 12, 2012, 12:54 pm

      Aren’t they the same thing? Same company?
      I guess they don’t want to grow too much so they are keeping the membership system.

      • DaveL July 15, 2012, 6:59 pm

        Yup, same company but I guess they are trying to only “perceive” that their customers are saving money buy buying bulk. I like companies who are honest, focusing on customer service and quality not deception…

  • Little House July 12, 2012, 5:55 pm

    I used to be a Costco member, but it was too much of a hassle for just a two person family. I let it expire a few years ago and haven’t missed it since.

    • retirebyforty July 12, 2012, 11:28 pm

      It’s just another extra hassle to deal with. 🙂

  • Joe July 12, 2012, 10:07 pm

    My partner’s mom is a Costco member, as is my brother. They seem to think that their membership pays for itself. I’ve compared prices, and by shopping on sale/with coupons, I’ve definitely beaten the per-sheet price on toilet paper. There are savings to be found I’m sure, but the allure of Costco isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. I should really start going on Sundays for the deliciousness, however.

    • retirebyforty July 12, 2012, 11:30 pm

      Talk about TP… Kirkland TP is terrible. It’s like those cheapo TP we got in school and now we have a huge box to go through…

  • Mr.Thrifty July 13, 2012, 7:15 am

    When we lived close to Costco, the gas discount more than paid for the $55 fee. At $1 per fill discount, and roughly 75 fill ups per year, we saved $20 on gas alone.

    We moved and would have had to drive 10 minutes to get the gas, so we let our membership expire. Without the gas, for us it wouldn’t have been thrifty. Not only is it the case of having so many bulk items, they have so many items in general that you have to walk by to get to the essentials. We like to shop at grocery stores for groceries as it keeps temptation and impulse buying to a minimum.

    • retirebyforty July 13, 2012, 8:48 am

      Wow, that’s a lot of gasoline. We have to drive 15 minutes to Costco so the gas saving wouldn’t pay for the membership. Also we only fill up about twice a month. It is very tempting in Costco. I always spent more than I planned. 🙂

  • A girl in... July 13, 2012, 9:03 am

    I love Costco but had to give up the membership as well because beyond the cheaper fuel, it was too easy to leave with a full cart of stuff. And let’s face it, that pack of eighteen muffins may have looked good in the store, but it’ll take ages to finish and would most likely go to waste.

    Instead, I now try to ride my bike to the neighborhood grocery store, making several trips a week (since my bike’s basket can’t hold too many groceries). I’m able to save money and fit in a little exercise as well.

    • retirebyforty July 13, 2012, 7:58 pm

      Hahaha, that’s true and those carts are huge! I can’t believe people fill up those huge carts like that.

  • John July 13, 2012, 2:26 pm

    I’ve been a Costco member for 1.5 years and probably won’t renew in 6 months. Initially the cash back savings and reduced costs seemed worth it. But I lose so much time parking and then shopping. I can’t even get gas cause the lines are ridiculous. There are many benefits, but like you said they usually come when you’re buying for teenagers or a big family.

    • retirebyforty July 13, 2012, 7:59 pm

      The time wasted is the worst problem for me too. We are super busy already and don’t have any time to waste…

  • Frank R July 14, 2012, 12:53 pm

    My wife and I own our own small business and as a result, we can take time off during mid-week and often avoid any traffic relating to shopping. Same goes for not having to deal with rush hour as we can adjust our times.

    Wtih only one teen left in the family – and off to college in 1 year, it may not be worth the membership once we are “empty nesters” but it has been useful, especially for small business owners (which is who they cater to by the way) as we can get office supplies and home supplies in one single trip.

    • retirebyforty July 15, 2012, 9:36 pm

      Thanks for sharing the small business owner’s point of view. If I have a business that can use the bulk items, I think Costco would be a great fit.

  • Walt July 14, 2012, 4:27 pm

    We have a Sam’s Club membership but honestly I don’t know if it pays or not. It’s about the same distance to Sam’s or the grocery store. All our paper products and a lot of produce (grapes, cherries, oranges, blueberries) comes from there.

    The bag of frozen blueberries is $14 at the grocery, $9 at Sam’s. I eat those on oatmeal every morning so that may almost be enough to break even. I like a lot of berries with my oatmeal.

    • retirebyforty July 15, 2012, 9:37 pm

      I love berries with my oatmeal too!

  • Melinda July 15, 2012, 2:02 pm

    I live in a 1,000 sq ft apt by myself. The storage here is abundant w/2 large walk-in closets & 2 wall to wall closets. I consider myself to be a Costcoholic. Costco is less than 2 miles from me, which is great.

    Most don’t realize the true value of a Costco Executive Membership, so let me explain how it works. You get 2% get back at the end of the year in the form of a gift certificate, but you can add another family member where you will also receive 2% from their purchases. My sister-in-law is on my card, so I benefit from her purchases. You can get a Costco American Express Card, so there’s another 2% with that card no matter if you use it outside of Costco. My suggestion is instead of adding a spouse to your membership, add a family member that doesn’t live with you who will use the card, then you’ll benefit even more. You can receive up to $750 back yearly.

    The best time to shop at Costco is in the late evening after 7 PM, as those who head there after work have left the store. It’s the least crowded crowded time or get there when the store opens its doors in the mornings. The check out lines will be less crowded except if you’re checking out at closing time. The Costco store I shop at, the lines move move pretty fast as they always have extras on hand with scanners in their hand ringing up your basket for you plus they have helpers boxing up your items.

    I enjoy their high quality fresh meats there. What I do is when I get home, say I’m buying a roast, I slice it up and put it in separate ziploc bags, making it easier to cook whatever I need for me. I buy the large bags of fresh vegetables because after all, they are resealable bags. Their gallon of milk is cheaper, too. On the fresh vegetables and fruits often times I have friends who are willing to split the cost of a package with me.

    Need to buy a new car? On the Executive membership you can get 2k knocked off the price plus receive an additional $500 Costco gift card. Costco has a great wine and beer selection plus their housewares, appliances, office and hardware accessories items are tremendous. Last year I was in need of some new flashlights, so I bought a 3pk of technical high intensity flashlights. They were the best flashlights I had ever used. I ended up going back and buying a dozen packages especially after they put out a $3 coupon on them. I used many of them by putting one flaslight in each of the gift baskets I made up. That’s just one example, but there are many other items you can buy in bulk there, spilt up the packages and there you have some great gift baskets when needed.

    Another advantage to the Costco coupon book is you don’t have to tear out the coupon and use it the one time. Once the cashier sees you have the booklet in your hand, he/she can scan any coupon in the book and it will automatically subtract all your coupon items for you. This means you can go back to the store multiple times and buy more of the same products. Watch those coupons for tires and yes, there’s another 2% off tires. Same holds true for eye wear, hearing aids, any type of services they offer, etc. The possibilites are endless. You can also shop Costco online and they have coupon items for the online items, too. I bought my Dyson vaccuum cleaner from Costco online. That was a plus because it was delivered to my door. Sometimes I have ordered things online on a Friday and received it on Monday or Tuesday, so shipping is fast.

    Last be sure and check out the unofficial Costco website. John who runs the website also lives in an apt. He and many others post the truly good deals from Costco at http://www.ilovecostco.com/.

    • retirebyforty July 15, 2012, 9:41 pm

      Oh wow, thanks for the detailed comment. I hope it’s useful for the readers.
      Last year we got about $25 back from Costco and a similar amount from Amex. It’s pretty sad, but we just don’t spend enough money to make it worth it.
      Sometime I forgot the coupon and there are always a book lying around the checkout area. That’s pretty convenient.

  • Jennifer March 8, 2013, 12:02 pm

    I’ve had Costco memberships since the 1980s. Actually, truth be told, I started with Price Club in the ’80s, which merged with Costco. I think I’ve just dated myself…

    Although there’s only two of us, and we live in a condo, I’ve always enjoyed shopping at Costco. There are some years we haven’t bought enough to justify the membership, but other years like 2012, we bought a Miele vacuum for a fraction of the cost elsewhere. Overall it balances out. Some of the items we always stock up on is their septic friendly toilet paper, Nellie’s big bucket laundry detergent, dish and dishwasher detergent, as well as the salt and pepper kettle chips as a special treat. One of the reasons I think shopping at Costco works for us is because I try to do one major shop a month. That way the bulk purchase, including meat, makes more sense. I divide the meat into individual meal portions and then freeze them. Bread and buns end up in the freezer as well. To make our lunch prep easier, and make the deli meats last, we pre-make our buns and sandwiches, and stick them in the freezer. That way in the morning it’s grab and go. So, yes, Costco works for us.

  • davidmichael July 1, 2013, 8:08 am

    I love Costco and we have also been members for a long time, since the 80’s or so. Initially I purchased membership for our business. In retirement I love sampling the goodies, browsing the stuff that we are happy not to buy, and mix with the crowds (not so crowded in Eugene, OR), and take advantage of the sales. One of the key aspects of Costco is that we can return most items for whatever reasons. No questions asked. I even returned an inflatible kayak once after trying it out on the Williamette River and realized it was not for us.

    In fact we only spend about $100 a month there as we are now full time RVers in our second phase of retirement. Stuff like Soy milk, vitamins, some produce, walnuts, coffee, etc. The key question is “How do we pay for the membership?” By the way, this is how Costco makes their profits as prices and profit margins are so low. The membership fee is key to their survival. So, here’s how to share in the abundance of Costco. Enroll in their Amex card program to pay for the annual membership fee. For us, we receive about $350 back a year on all of our purchases using the American Express Card. We also pay the fee for son #1 as a gift for his struggling family. So at the end of the year, we still have a positive cash flow of nearly $200 from Costco.

    • retirebyforty July 1, 2013, 10:43 pm

      Costco is so busy here in Portland metro. I hated going there. We also don’t spend that much money there so the refund isn’t worth it for us. I think Cisco works better for bigger families.

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