Last month, I had to renew our Costco membership. This year, an Executive Membership came to $115.50 after taxes. The cheque they sent me in February for last year’s purchases? $123.00. Considering a basic Costco membership comes to close to $60.00, not only did I “save” $60, Costco “paid” me $63.00 for shopping there last year.
Even if you deduct the cost of the whole membership, I still “earned” $7.50 shopping at Costco. But here’s the question: is shopping at Costco really a good deal? Is my membership worth the money?
I don’t keep a grocery price book – I probably should, but the fact is, we buy the same staples over and over, and I know their price ranges in my head. Costco provides me the best daily value on a significant number of products (even before my 2% cash back from my membership):
- Contact lenses – my brand of contacts go on sale once a year, I can buy 1 years worth for the same price as 9 months worth from Walmart. Estimated savings: $140 per year.
- Peanut butter/Almond Butter – my family goes through 4-6 kilograms of peanut butter a month. I use a jar of almond butter every 2 months. The Costco regular price is $2-$3 per 2 kilo jar less than any grocery store near me. Once in a rare while I can find a sale for the same price or a few cents less than Costco, but not often. As for the almond butter, Costco’s price is less than half of any other store I shop at. Estimated savings: $70 per year.
- Olive oil – I can buy a 2L bottle for $11. The same size bottle costs me $20 anywhere else. I use at least 2 per year, often more. Estimated savings: $18 per year.
- Organic spinach – I can buy a big bin of organic spinach for $3.49 at Costco. The same size bag of non-organic spinach is $4.99 at the grocery store. I buy 2 per month on average. Estimated savings: $36 per year.
- White flour – I bake a lot. A 10 kg bag of flour at Costco averages $2-$3 per bag less than any other store (of their cheapest brand, even on sale). I go through 3-4 per year. Estimated savings: $8 per year.
- Frozen fruit – we eat a lot of berries. I can get a 2kg bag of blueberries or mixed berries for $2-$4 less per bag. We eat 2-3 bags per month, every month. Estimated savings: $96 per year.
- Bananas – bananas run about $.20 per pound less at Costco. It’s not much, but it adds up. Estimated savings: $15 pr year (~6 pounds per month).
- Nuts – raw almonds, walnuts, mixed nuts. I eat a lot of nuts, probably about 2kg a month. I can save $3-$10 per 2 kg bag, depending on what kind I’m buying. Estimated savings: $60 per year.
- Whole wheat spaghetti – I save about $3 per 2 kg every time I buy it, which is 2-3 times per year. Estimated savings: $7 per year.
- Clif bars/granola bars – I buy my Clif bars, organic granola bars, etc. in bulk at Costco. Compared to individual bar pricing I save at least $6-$12 per box (depending on the kind and quantity). I buy a box every 2 months or so. Estimated savings: $50 per year.
I also buy a lot of my meat, milk, cereal, spices and other produce at Costco. Their prices are competitive or better, and the quality is good.
However, there are lots of things I don’t buy at Costco, because I can find better prices for them elsewhere. These include:
- Eggs – Unless you buy the 5 dozen flat, I can get a much better price on eggs at most of my local grocery stores.
- Butter – I can almost always find it on sale for $.20 to $.70 less per pound than Costco sells it for.
- Cheese – Again, unless Costco has it on sale (which is rare), I can almost always find it cheaper elsewhere.
- Pasta sauce – I buy whatever kind is on sale, and can always find some on sale elsewhere.
- Laundry soap – this is for two reasons – Costco doesn’t carry the hypo-allergenic kind we need, and I can usually find smaller bottles of it on sale once or twice a year at Walmart.
So for me, feeding a family of 5, my Costco membership more than pays for itself. But it only works for me because I pay attention to what is a good deal and what isn’t, and I try to avoid buying a lot of processed junk food! Your mileage may vary – what is worth it for me may not be for you.