Warehouse Membership Worth The Cost?

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on January 18, 2013

Thanks so much to Kelly from Kansas City Mamas for sharing this great post with us. I’m still on “leave,” enjoying my time with new baby and settling into life as a family of 6. I’m so grateful for the help and support of my fellow bloggers during this time! ~Erin

I have a little secret. I love Costco.

I love the big carts, the samples, the organic selection, and the oversize parking spots. (Because I can be parking challenged.)

And a few years ago, I was a CA. (Also known as a Costco addict.)

I would get a high as soon as I flashed my well-used card, walk through every aisle, try different samples, buy something that looked cool, and spend $350.00. (And did I mention the clerks knew me and my kids by name?)

Flash forward a couple of years to when we hit a speed bump (or went into the ditch…whichever analogy you prefer) on our financial highway.

I was forced to really learn about meal planning, strategic shopping, and using coupons.

And then came the shock about my beloved Costco.

I realized I was overpaying on many different items at Costco. And it made me start to wonder, “Should I keep my Costco membership? Is Costco worth it?”

And what I found out was…it depends.

Truth is justifying your Costco membership is about as personal as justifying your every-six-week hair appointment. You don’t need it, you could get along with out it, but you really don’t want to see what that would feel like.

But after mastering my price book and tracking the sales cycle of most items, I’ve found that 80% of groceries, health & beauty, and cleaning supplies sold at Costco can be purchased for less at a regular store on sale with a coupon.

And I’ve known many fellow couponers, who after a year of couponing, have let their warehouse memberships expire because they could no longer justify the $50 per year membership cost.

So what about me? Well, after doing the math, I continue to be a proud Costco Carrying Card Member.

There are enough things our family purchases at Costco to make the membership worth the expense. (In fact I even have a Kansas City Mamas Top 15 Costco Deals and a Items That Aren’t A Deal At Costco list.)

I wish I could say there is a definite Is Costco Worth It? answer, but for each family the answer will be different. My advice, get your price book up to date and track your grocery spending. In about 60-days you will see if the $50 Costco Membership is worth it.

What about you? Do you have a warehouse membership? What things do you like to buy? Could you live without it?

Kelly Snyder is the author of Kansas City Mamas – a website devoted to living well by saving more. She is married to her best friend (Hubs) and is the stay-at-home mama to DS (9) and DD (7). In addition, she believes that life is too short for bad coffee, wine or food (but not necessarily in that order).

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane January 18, 2013 at 6:54 pm

My favorite things at Costco are the tortilla chips, giant cans of sliced olives, cat food, and gasoline. I think those four things alone pay for our Costco membership each year.

My Costco also carries deli sliced Turkey that is free of nitrates/nitrites, which we buy all the time.

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Amy January 18, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I ran the numbers last year. It makes sense for our family, mainly because of milk, eggs, and apples. We go through 3 gallons of milk a week ($1 lower at Costco) and 2-3 dozen eggs per week. So on those milk alone, we save $12 per month.

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kirsten@FarmFreshFeasts January 18, 2013 at 8:20 pm

I love the giant vat of Sabra hummus at Costco. It’s twice the size for $5 compared to $4 at the store. That, and fancy cheese (hunks and slices) keep me heading back.

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bella January 18, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Has to be the Muffins! They alone are worth the membership.

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Lauren January 18, 2013 at 8:41 pm

We have more than saved the price of membership buying rice milk. I have 2 kids that use rice milk instead of regular. It was less than half the price buying a case at Costco. I have noticed though that there are quite a few items the same price or higher than what I usually pay. Definitely have to pay attention!

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Becky L January 19, 2013 at 1:11 am

My husband works close to a Costco so he gets gas there every week and I do when I am up that way. Tortilla chips, hamburger, laundry detergent, butter, eggs, peanut butter, bread, parmesan cheese are items we get frequently through the year. We didn’t upgrade our membership since it wasn’t worth it. I peruse their book section as well and get deals. I do keep track of pricing. Some things are cheaper at the grocery store on sale and if there’s a coupon, than Costco.

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CM124 January 19, 2013 at 2:26 am

Just an FYI – the dog food at Costco is basically the exact same expensive dog food ($40-50 a bag) sold in pet stores. (It’s an expensive brand and high quality) because they buy it in large quantities and rebag it thats why they can sell it cheaper. I was told this by a rep for that particular fancy dog food company. I don’t want to mention names. So it’s a good buy.

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Kelly Hess January 19, 2013 at 8:24 am

I avoided Costco for many years because I thought it was not worth it. Now we have been a member for almost 3 years. Yes, somethings are more expensive, but yes somethings are a lot cheaper!! I have a 6 month old and you cannot beat the price of their formula, $16.79 a for a huge can! Also we always make out on the gas. We drive A LOT and they are consistently $0.20 cheaper. I justify our membership on the gas alone. Pair that with the rebate (we go $85) back this year plus the rebate from their American Express card (we got $125), the membership is so worth it. I use to coupon, but now with 3 kids and a full-time job I do not have the time or energy. Costco works for us and saves us a lot of $$ every year. Plus it is a fun place to shop and eat! I wouldn’t trade my membership for the world right now, for our season of life, it works for us!

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Shirley January 19, 2013 at 11:49 am

We share a membership with my inlays, so that helps the fees. I buy dog food, Columbo sandwich meat, milk is about $1/ gal less, toilet paper because I hate having to check all the time to see if we need it and some cereal. Where I live in CA, it’s almost impossible to find cereal like frosted mini wheats for less than .20/ oz. Baby back ribs are a great buy too. Produce depends on the season.

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Shirley January 19, 2013 at 11:50 am

We share a membership with my inlaws, so that helps the fees. I buy dog food, Columbo sandwich meat, milk is about $1/ gal less, toilet paper because I hate having to check all the time to see if we need it and some cereal. Where I live in CA, it’s almost impossible to find cereal like frosted mini wheats for less than .20/ oz. Baby back ribs are a great buy too. Produce depends on the season.

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Sara K January 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm

We have done the math, and even though our nearest Costco is 1.5 hours away, it is still cheaper for us to pay for the trip, pay for our membership and buy our gas for the car and NUTS (pistachios, almonds, walnuts). The prices for those alone justify our membership. All else is golden, as far as we’re concerned. Pirate’s Booty and Stretch Island Fruit leather have prices that I have yet to see beaten elsewhere.

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Sarah L. January 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm

You really have to do your homework and know your prices. Here in AK, the local grocery stores are most expensive I’ve ever seen. Even after several years, I still have sticker shock at the small, specialty items, such as pimentos or sliced almonds. Add to that the fact that Amazon will not ship much at all for food here and most other retailers charge a 20-40% percent mark-up for postage and handling and Costco starts to look pretty good. Many things are less than the loss leader prices at the grocery stores and even Walmart. But again, you have to know your prices.

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Debbie January 19, 2013 at 6:32 pm

I’m in Canada…we just don’t get the coupons that Americans do…Costco is very much worth it for my family. What I save on 3 – 1.5 kg jars of virgin coconut oil pays for our entire membership. It’s like any store…you have to know if you can get the item cheaper on a loss leader at the local grocery stores. Stagg Chili for example…rarely does the sale price ever match the per can price at my Costco. I can name probably 20 items we regularly buy that I can not match the price at the local grocery store sales.

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Margaret January 22, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I drive past Costco every weekday. I’ve found the savings in gas is significant but the real saver for my hubby and I is the meat. We can buy bulk, separate into recipe portions, season or marinade as applicable, vacuum and freeze. Recently we bought boneless center cut pork chops at $1.29 a pound!

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