Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A year of Costco

Matt and I have shared a Costco membership longer than we've been married, and every year -- after rolling my eyes during what feel like excruciatingly long visits to a store than reeks of mass consumerism and a parking lot full of people who cannot drive -- I wonder, "Is it worth it?"

So, during 2010 I saved all receipts from our Costco trips, which tallied up to an underwhelming 15 visits where we spent $1,699.64. Three of these trips were for special occasions (Foxfield, Matt's 30th birthday party, New Year's Eve entertaining) and a couple trips involved some out-of-pocket teacher expenses, but the majority of the Costco spending this year was for our daily at-home consumption.

Now, back to the question, "Is it worth it?", especially after factoring in the $50 annual membership fee.

The short answer: Yes. We buy enough items that collectively save us way more than $50 per year and therefore justify the membership fee.

The longer answer, one detailed Excel spreadsheet later:

The savings afforded on the purchase of the Izze 12 bottle variety pack during its brief stint at our local Costco is enough to validate our membership. At 99 cents per bottle, it's the cheapest deal around.

Speaking of good deals, the 3M Filtrete Ultra Allergen filters we buy at Costco average a little over $13 per filter, also making them cheaper than any deal I can find online.

Our most often purchased item? Coming in at 18 bottles, I give you wine. Apparently this should not be a surprising statistic, as Costco is the largest wine distributor in the world. I can't say we got any incredible wine deals, seeing as we almost always buy $10 bottles (or cheaper) no matter where we buy them, but it feels more legitimate buying wine in bulk at Costco.

More than anything, the Costco experiment has been a small window into how we lived our life this past year. Most notably:
  • Matt eats a lot of dried fruit (15 bags). I eat a lot of kettle corn (4 enormous bags, but Costco only started carrying it mid-year).
  • We also eat a lot of apples, but we only buy them at Costco when they carry organic gala apples. 2010 was the year of organic apples.
  • Matt has always been a big cereal consumer, but this year I vowed to eat healthy cereal with milk every day at home before work (as opposed to digging into a Ziploc bag of dried cereal on the way to work). This move resulted in Kashi cereal being our third-most-often-purchased item behind wine and dried fruit.
  • Once Costco started carrying organic chicken breast halfway through the year, our intake of chicken skyrocketed. Additionally, once we got wise to the fact that uncooked frozen shrimp at Costco is significantly cheaper than uncooked frozen shrimp at Wegmans, we bought many bulk bags of Costco shrimp. Overall, 2010 was the year of more meat in our diet, mostly because I thought Matt's semi-vegetarian ways of 2009 were not sufficient for my protein intake.
  • This year we've done a better job stocking up on compact fluorescent light bulbs and making our own vinegar-based cleaning products.
  • We buy toilet paper three times as often as we buy paper towels. As much as I'd like to in theory, I don't know that I can ever completely break my paper towel habit.
  • We should have bought toothpaste yesterday during our final Costco trip of the year, but one Costco-sized pack of toothpaste can last a family of two almost exactly one year.
  • We did not make a single major purchase at Costco this year. No electronics, no furniture, no vacuum cleaners or small appliances. This was the year of the European vacation and few additional purchases.
As much as I hate the mild headache that I get every time Matt suggests it's time for a Costco run, I recognize that smarter daily spending habits on even the seemingly smallest items has been one reason we've been able to triple our monthly savings over the last two years.

So, if you're debating whether a Costco (or Sam's or BJ's) membership is worth it in 2011, you could break out a spreadsheet and get to work, or you could take my word for it.


  1. Great post! Being that Amber and I (and soon to be baby) are stuck in Philly these days and hate driving out of or back into the city, where most Philly traffic lives, we haven't made it out to our nearest Costco equivalent. We have, however, started to enjoy the benefits of our free Amazon Prime memberships (yay, .edu email addresses). With their subscription services and free shipping you get discounts on things that you order frequently. So all of our Powerbars, granola, Kashi come at a steep discount (15% off the Amazon Price), and there's no waste since we know we will be using them. In addition, when we need other essentials (TP, paper towels, cleaning supplies) that we can benefit from buying in bulk, it's available and with free shipping. While the discounts might not beat Costco's, the free convenience of not having to go to the store certainly can't be beat. Just sit at home and wait for UPS to deliver the goods.

    Hope all is well. Cheers.


  2. Good post, its always nice to see the deals on things I may miss. I will have to check out the filters! Thanks!

  3. I love Costco! Well, except for the parking lot and the craziness...but I schedule my trips in order to avoid the crazies. Bright and early Saturday/Sunday mornings or after work on a Wednesday (we're in the Bible Belt...Wednesday evenings are for church!)

    We rack up really good deals too, but this year I think I may save our receipts too and see how we fair there. We have the Executive membership and always at least make back the cost of the membership. (It helps that we share an account with my husband's mom.) :)

  4. Wow - that is really impressive. A spreadsheet and all! Now I am wishing I would have done that. I know that we probably spend at least double that amount and a few years ago while at Costco they had their little handy gun thing that tells them if we purchased the executive membership then we would have more than paid for the membership and got more money back. So we decided to do it...and each year we get approximately $200 back from Costco. We are more than two people in our house though. You encouraged me to say my receipts to see where I am Costco trending! Good post!