Saturday, April 9, 2011

Costco Analysis and Tips

Briefly, here is my warehouse shopping biography.

Oh, about 7, 8, 9 years ago, we were Sam's Club members when we lived in Minnesota.  Because we had little ones in diapers, that comprised most of our bill.  We bought toilet paper, paper towels, etc., as well...however, we never paid much attention to price.  Stupidly, we assumed if we were buying more, it was costing us less.  Eventually we gave up the membership, because we were spending too much, and we were also preparing to move to Iowa.

The next several years passed in relative peace.

Sometime in October of last year, I got the warehouse bug again.  Probably because I was tired of seeing Costco every time I went to a big-city shopping mall and probably because I'd picked up the book Fix, Freeze, Feast.  Things had changed now, our diaper-clad children were now voracious eaters, and so it seemed like as good a time as any to join.

This time around though, things are different.  I've not gone ape crazy, buying every cool thing I see.  I've also done more with price checking and comparing.  Let me tell you, there are good deals to be had at warehouses, but there are also an equal amount of items you're better off just buying at home.

While I'm not the warehouse shopping expert (yet), here's some comparisons from my most recent shopping trip (yesterday).

Many of these probably even out once I figure in gas and driving costs (Costco is about an hour from my home).  So yeah, maybe I should buy my Fage at home...but, I cannot find the 35 oz container size anywhere around here.  *That* is worth the trip.  The pretzels, though, are subject to negotiation - if I come across them on sale around here, I'll buy the big bags and divvy them up myself.

However, items 3 through 6 are interesting.  Sixteen ounces of baby spinach in a nice reusable plastic container at almost half the cost of Walmart's going rate!?  Yes, please!  Of course, if you dislike raw baby spinach leaves, you may not find this discount as exciting as I do.  However, I stretch my salad lettuce with a couple of handfuls of spinach (not to mention a handful of good nutrients).  I also use spinach in my wraps, soups, quiches, etc.  So, yeah, a good deal for our family.  The red grapefruit cups were on sale at Costco this week, and probably something I would not normally buy.  But, I had one this morning, sprinkled with a bit of Truvia, and was quite pleased with the result.  It's funny that despite the "sale price" of $1.00 at Walmart, I still got the better deal at Costco.  The vanilla thing is just staggering.  I do a fair amount of baking, and I don't think I will ever buy vanilla at the grocery store again.  Ever.  The olives were for my mom (she and my dad eat them like jackals) and again, a much, much better deal at Costco.  In fact, the Walmart price I quote above was for the store brand (Great Value)...that was the absolute lowest cost.

Paper plates, though, I could also just suck up and buy here in town.  Yeah, it's nice having 276 paper plates at my disposal, but honestly, I could buy three packages at 3.86 each, have 300 plates, and still spend less than I did at Costco.  Ah, well, you live, you learn.

In the six months I've been a warehouse shopper, here's a couple of things I've learned:

1.  Take any and all previous grocery receipts with you.  Jot down quantities.  Then you'll have something to compare as opposed to trying to remember how much toilet paper is.

2.  Steer clear of the specialty foods (unless it's special occasion).  Yes, the lobster ravioli looks pretty cool, but really, do you need it?

3.  Be reasonable and be realistic.  I almost splurged yesterday on avocados, but then I remembered that I don't use them much anyway, and honestly, they'd probably go bad at the bottom of my crisper.

Hopefully, this list grows.


  1. I make my own vanilla using vanilla beans soaked in vodka. It takes about 2 or 3 months for the alcohol to extract the vanilla from the beans, but it is worth it to get this pure vanilla extract. Also, it is extremely cheap.

  2. Martha: How long with the vanilla last, then? Indefinitely?