These stores very effectively sell the cachet of belonging to a special club and having access to something that non-members supposedly do not. Nobody seems to notice the irony and contradiction in “paying to save”.
Marketing doesn’t get much more effective or powerful than that.
Mind you, I was taken in by the hype as much as anyone when Costco first came on the scene.
And I did it with 4 small children in tow! So I was really a glutton for punishment.
But it soon became clear to me that I was not saving any money at all. In fact I noticed that my weekly grocery bill actually went up. And that was on top of the annual membership fee.
Yes, I saved on the per-gallon price of milk, and the occasional box of diapers I bought (even though I used mostly cloth ones with my 4 children, I did need disposables for when we were out and about, or traveling), but I ended up spending those small savings and even more elsewhere on food and other products.
So I broke my Costco habit cold turkey and stopped making the extra trip to the store. I was glad for the extra time and restored savings, and haven’t looked back since. You might find it’s a good idea to do that, too.
Let me explain what I mean.
Chances are the cart of someone who is shopping at Costco is full of things that end up costing the consumer far more than a trip to the local grocery store would. Here's what I'm betting you'd find:
The shopping cart contains many unplanned purchases.
Costco and the other box stores have excellent marketing departments that are very, very good at their job.
These places are huge, and temptations can be found in every single aisle, from luscious, gourmet desserts and restaurant-style entrees, to clothing, to electronics, to lawn furniture --- just to name a few. It's a veritable smorgasbord of goods, and few shoppers are able to consistently resist the enticement to fill their huge carts to the brim with all those attractively displayed wares.
These prepared foods are much more expensive than anything you would cook on your own and, as with all processed and restaurant foods, there are all kinds of hidden fats, sugars, and sodium in these meals that can wreak havoc on any attempt to maintain a healthy diet.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the people I know whose cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer are full of these types of heavily processed foodstuffs are also the ones who struggle most with their weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
Besides the unplanned food purchases, there are also the non-food impulse items that people pick up along their shopping route through the store.
Household gadgets, clothing, even television sets and other electronics, all end up in those huge grocery carts when the original purpose of the trip may have been to pick up a cake for a birthday party and maybe some milk.
That’s the brilliant marketing I mentioned earlier. This is a good time to reiterate very firmly that if you don’t need it to begin with, then you’re not saving any money by buying it.
None. At. All.
No matter how cheap something appears to be, an impulse purchase costs you money and doesn’t save you a dime.
As I mention frequently, brand names are almost always more expensive than generic or store brands. And products that are labeled as premium are never the most economical option available and serve only to scale up tastes and expectations so that you’re dissatisfied with more run-of-the-mill choices.
If you're serious about saving money, these kinds of products simply have no place on your weekly menu. They're fine for special occasions, but acquiring a regular taste for them will soon lead to budget creep and spiraling expenditures.
And even if they are somewhat cheaper, the yearly fee means that you’d have to buy a whole lot of it over 12 months to pay yourself back the cost of the membership.
The cart is full of super sized packages and portions that lead to waste.
The big box stores specialize in over-sized portions and quantities of food.
A case in point here is fruit. Typically the fruit you find at Costco is mega-sized. It may look beautiful, but it represents waste because each piece is much larger than portion size. As a teacher, I cannot begin to tell you how much of this over-sized produce ends up in the trash at school.
So even if it's cheaper by the pound, which is hardly a given, the per portion price is much higher than what you can find in bagged fruit in your local grocery store.
I strongly recommend that shoppers stick to those smaller sizes so readily available in their local grocery store and avoid the impressive, but wasteful fruit at Costco.
There are countless other examples throughout the Costco aisles where the product is simply too large for most households to consume without waste.
Again, those goods might be fine for the special occasion, but as part of regular shopping trips, the costs will add up substantially.
So here's what I've discovered: I can easily and painlessly achieve my goal of spending in the range of $25-$35 per person each week by sticking to local stores.
And I’m willing to bet that most people can do the same. So, go ahead and give it a try. Break your Costco habit, save yourself the extra trip and the annual fee, and get back some time and sanity in the bargain.