My Love/Hate Relationship with Costco

Ready for Costco - with my list!
Never go to Costco without a list!

I love Costco. I hate Costco. I love Costco. I hate…ok, where was I?

It is hard to shop at Costco and be frugal. You really have to use all of your “money-managing-super-powers” to stay within your budget and get in and out of the store in a short period of time. For me, more time spent inside Costco generally equates to more money being spent on items that aren’t necessary.

The second you walk into Costco, you are greeted with bright, shiny new electronic gadgets. I look at those cameras and tvs and think oh, yes, we need that 52″ tv and yet we hardly even watch tv! Any Costco I’ve ever been to puts those electronics right there at the door trying to entice you to stray from your list and splurge. Be strong, be strong!

Costco also makes me nuts by charging for the privilege to shop there. This really bothers me and yet there I am elbowing a poor old lady out of the way, trying to get the last pot-sticker from one of the sample people.

At Costco, everything is big. The parking lot, the cars in the parking lot, the carts, the packaging, the bags of potato chips, the hot dogs. Everything. If you want just one of something, you’re out of luck.

So, what do I buy at Costco? The things our family needs. Contact lenses, toilet paper, tissues, coffee, vitamins, sugar, peanut butter, vanilla ice cream (yes, ice cream qualifies as a “need”) brown rice and whole wheat pasta. Our Costco is carrying more and more organic items and I love that!

You need a strategy for shopping at Costco if you want to get in and out quickly and not break the bank. My strategy? I stay out of the middle section. The middle is where you find things you “want” like clothing, videos, and books. This section is my time and money waster. Admittedly, I do sometimes venture into the middle section but I’ll call it by saying out loud, “I’m going into the middle” and tell my husband to just say “no” to whatever I have in my hands when I emerge. He refuses to even go into the middle section.  He really has money-managing-super-powers!

How to shop frugally at Costco:

  1. Put your head down and ignore all electronics as you enter the store.  Don’t even stop.
  2. Stay out of the middle section – think of hugging the perimeter
  3. Buy only items you need and what you will use
  4. Use Costco’s coupons they mail and clip after reviewing #3 above
  5. Use a list and stick to it – here is mine and I’m sharing  Costco Shopping List
  6. Time it right – leave the kids at home, arrive when the store opens and eat prior to shopping

And so, my struggle continues, love it, hate it.  If I accidentally run into you during my next visit to Costco, I apologize.  You’ll recognize me as the crazed women running with her head down, list in hand and shopping cart at break-neck speed.

What is your shopping strategy at Costco or other warehouse stores? Do you use a list and stick to it? Do you venture into the middle section?

Go Gingham related links:

Grocery shopping from the bulk bins and food storage containers
Reusing glass jars and how to get them ready for re-use
Frugal grocery shopping – without coupons!
Pantry basics for the home cook – what’s in my pantry
Refrigerator basics for the home cook – what’s in my refrigerator
New to cooking at home? Fear not!
How we keep food waste to a minimum
Confessions of a leftover food lover – that would be me!

10 thoughts on “My Love/Hate Relationship with Costco

  1. Excellent post! I love/hate Costco too and the people lining up for treats really send me over the edge. You can be the crazed woman with her head down and I’ll be the one with judgement written all over my face. Hey, maybe we should go together…


  2. I don’t shop Costco. That’s not to say I don’t purchase some items there, but here’s how I do it: I let other people buy them for me.

    We all know the “You can’t get out of Costco for under a hundred dollars” axiom. We also know plenty of other people that shop at Costco, so give them your list and let them buy your stuff. My neighbors know to ask me if there’s anything I need when *they* go. There are two things I ask for: graham crackers (every 7 months) and band-aids (every 7 years).

    The other bulk items I purchase at Cash and Carry (known as Smart and Final in some areas). There is no membership fee to shop there. All they sell is food, janitorial and restaurant supply. No big screen TV’s or DVD’s. There, I get toilet paper, sugar, flour, bacon ends and pieces (for cooking when you don’t need *great* bacon), parmesan cheese, molasses, Torani syrup (for sodas you can control the sugar content of), pasta, rice and beans (canned). I get the industrial size can of beans, use what I need, and freeze the rest in small containers. You don’t have to buy industrial sizes either, they offer “normal” sizes of most products as well. It is a much more sane shopping experience than Costco.

    For other frugal purchases, I get bread at the Franz bakery outlet, and maple syrup (Grade B) from Azure Standard. I have a great co-worker that gives me free eggs.

    With veggies from my CSA and meat from local ranchers and 4-H kids, I’m all set! Where I “splurge” is on organic milk from my local independent grocer, and organic veggies (in the off season) from the neighborhood organic store.


  3. Liana, thanks for your comment. I love to shop at Cash and Carry as well (and they do take credit card). You’ll have to stay tuned so you can stop buying canned beans. Do not fear the dried bean! I love your frugal ways. My brother married a wise woman.


  4. Sara,

    Good stuff!!! I really appreciated the “stay out of the middle” the one other “unknown” bit I would add for all Costco shoppers to know is how much is it per ounce? In many cases Costco – as you put it so well- is more expensive than the grocery store.

    The other notation – that not many know – is that when Costco posts an * in the pricing badge above the goods where the price is – this is their CLOSEOUT indicator soooo if you and your family like – better buy extra – once it is gone it is closed out and many times these items are placed on the endcaps (ends of aiseles) to draw attention to them. These * can be found throughout the store, in all “categories”.

    I would love to get your take on how to shop at Ikea – I have only been once and it was daunting !!!! I felt like like a lab rat!!!

    Thanks again,
    Purchasing Manager by trade – Mom at heart!!!


    1. Thanks for the comment, Lora! At Ikea, I like to arrive at 9:30am for the .99 breakfast and free coffee (the coffee is free before the store opens). Then, I proceed directly downstairs to the marketplace and skip the upstairs. If you must go upstairs, don’t be like Dorothy and follow the markings on the ground, look up to see the secret-short-cuts from one area to the next. You can by-pass all of the lab rat experience this way and simply go to where you wish. Of course, stores would like us to get lost and lose track of time but frugal shoppers are too smart for these tactics!


  5. Sara, I love your blog and your comments about Costco. Over the weekend I went with a friend and had a list of 5 items. That’s exactly what I came home with, though I was seriously tempted by their mega size of batteries (as a single person, they would probably expire before I could use them, though!) and the nifty Bissel vacuum with a rewind cord, HEPA filter, and bagless for $100 – the canister I use has a too short wand and my back aches each time I use it! Good comments about staying out of the middle: they put a lot of temptations there. As far as their prices, Winco is sometimes cheaper for food and you don’t have to purchase mega sizes. The most important thing I’ve learned about being frugal? Know prices, know nutrition, know quality!


  6. Elizabeth, agreed! I, too, am a Winco shopper. Their prices on bulk foods can’t be beat! Thanks for your comment.


  7. Sarah — I love/hate Costco too…and rarely stepped into one until I merged families, and now have 4 teens in the house. My Costco strategy is to buy the “necessaries” to have on hand and hopefully never run out of: toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, canned cat food, AA batteries, concentrated orange juice, and the jumbo bag of Nestle Chocolate Chips (ok, I buy ramen noodles there, even though I know they are not very nutritional, but they seem to do the trick on the cheap to filling boys up). These are all things that can get used up pretty quickly in our house and I like knowing I always have a stash so we don’t panic. I like the avoid the middle section — especially the books…although I love the books.


  8. Years ago you and I talked about our favorite Costco items, you sent me your Costco favorites list, I edited it for our family and refer to it before every Costco trip. I am NOT much of a Costco shopper, I think I shop there 4-6 times per year, unfortunately I need to make a trip out there, a dreaded place this time of year!


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