If you're given $100 to go grocery shopping, you can normally get quite a large number of items. Of course it all depends on what you need for your shopping list, as a bag of chicken or other high priced item can take away part of your budget, but usually those are balanced out by smaller priced items.
A loaf of bread. Some cups of yogurt. Cheese. Lunch meat, whatever you will, you can generally get a pretty good number of items at Costco.
Not so much at Costco.
I love Costco. We've been members at Costco for many years and I truly believe that in spite of the $55 membership fee, we still come away saving money throughout the year.
Still, I've learned that there's practically nothing in the store that we normally buy that is less than $10. Understanding this has helped me reset my expectations.
We always make a list for Costco, and inevitably, we'd have what appeared to be a short list, and think that it would mean a small total, but would end up getting ‘surprised' when 12 or 15 items cost between $150 and $200.
It was then that I realized that very few items we buy are below $10 and learned to reset my expectations accordingly.
Now, if I have a shopping list of 10 items, I know that I'm good for at least $100. In the grocery store, 10 items can result in a bill of $25.
Granted, at Costco you're getting a lot more than you would at the grocery store. Your 16 oz bottle of ketchup for $1.49 at the grocery store turns into three 48 oz bottles at Costco for $9. It still saves you money in terms of unit price, but the overall impact from a cash flow perspective can be jarring.
Budgeting. Creating a budget is key. As I mentioned above, when I make a list, I ballpark around $10 per item, usually a bit more, depending on the list. There are still some items we can get for under $10, like a four-pack box of graham crackers or a container of feta cheese, but those are always offset by higher priced items, like 1120 baby wipes for $25.
Reality. We very rarely fall into the trap of wasting food from Costco. Even though we get larger quantities, we tend to buy stuff that:
- we know we will use because it's part of our everyday usage
- lasts a long time
- have ideas in mind for items that we haven't purchased before.
Many people fall into the trap of buying something because it looks good, but when they get home, they don't have a use for it. So, they stick it on a shelf or in the freezer and there it sits until it gets pushed to the back of the shelf and is discovered way after it's no longer useful. We make sure that we have plans for whatever it is we buy. In fact, new items often generate excitement because we're looking forward to trying something new for the first time.
Rotation. We have a shelf in the basement that's a secondary pantry. Most of our dry foods from Costco go on this shelf. I do a couple of things here that ensures that we use all of our stuff:
- Old before new. If we have something that we're buying more of, I'll put the newer stuff in back to make sure that the older stuff doesn't expire
- Re-organize while putting away. When I put away our stuff from Costco, I'll reorganize the shelves. I'll slide things around to make room for new items. I'll pull stuff that got shoved underneath something else back to the front. I basically come away knowing everything that's on the shelf, and if it's an item that has sort of been forgotten, the process of putting new stuff away gives me a reminder to take a look at the items and make note of what we have to use.
Costco and other warehouse stores can be a great source of savings, but only if you make sure you use what you buy, and also have a realistic expectation going in. I'd have to think that the two biggest reason people end up quitting is because they end up wasting money or because they deem it ‘too expensive'.
Both of these can be properly managed with the tips I've lain out above.
Readers, what tips do you have to share for successful Costco shopping trips?