Costco Membership – Is it Worth It?

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Costco Membership - Is It Worth The Cost

This is one of the top five questions I’m asked at couponing classes… “Is a Costco or Sam’s Club membership worth it?”

My answer, “Depends.”

(I know. So committal right?)

Fact: I am a card-carrying Costco member and have been for eight years.

Another Fact: The days of Costco employees knowing my name, my kid’s names, and our favorite kind of cereal are over.

Final Fact: Prior to couponing I was spending between $300 – $350 per month at Costco, now we are lucky if we spend $75.00.

It isn’t that I don’t enjoy shopping at Costco, I do.

I love their extra big carts, parking spaces, and samples around every aisle. However, 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.

I’ve known many readers, who after a year of couponing, have let their warehouse memberships expire because they could no longer justify the $50 per year membership cost. The reason they couldn’t justify the cost – the items bought for their family were usually cheaper at a regular grocery store on sale after using a coupon.

So what does that say about me and my Costco Card carrying ways? It says there are enough things our family purchases at Costco to make the membership worth the expense. (Here is a Costco Price List to help you out.)

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.

In an effort to help you evaluate if you should keep or get a Costco Membership, here are some general pros and cons about Costco.

Costco Pros

1. Gas. If you Costco sells gasoline, you will pay between 3 and 5 cents less per gallon than other local gas stations.

2. Organic items. Costco has one of the largest and least expensive selection of organic veggies, meats, flour, staples, etc.

3. Costco’s Kirklands Brand rocks. Outside of the Aldi Brand, this is my favorite store brand. I’ve never been disappointed, ever.

4. Other stuff. The majority of purchases I make at Costco in a year aren’t for groceries, but for other stuff. Dishes, suitcases, frames, presents, clothes, appliances, towels, bikes, etc. If you watch your prices, you will find Costco has amazing deals on the “other” stuff in your life.

5. Costco Coupons. Costco comes out with a coupon book about every 45 days. Using these coupons can mean a major savings and tip the scale to being cheaper than the local grocery store on sale with a coupon.

6. The in-store restaurant. Where else can you get a HUGE piece of pizza and a soda for under $4.00? It’s a great place to grab a quick and cheap lunch with the kiddos.

Costco Cons

1. Distortion. Because everything is a bulk buy, the prices are increased dramatically. Seeing increased prices can lead to distortion. All of the sudden a 24-pack of Dannon Activia Yogurt for $8.26 looks like a bargain when you were just looking at a $40.00 package of steaks. You need to know your prices so you don’t believe something is a deal, when it really isn’t. Because I can get these Costco Deals or these Target Deals for the same $18.00.

2. Waste. Will items be used before the expiration date? This is easier to do with a 5lb bag of walnuts than a 5lb bag of carrots.

3. Samples. Jelly Bellies are good. So is Havarti cheese. And cherry pie. And if they are too good, they can end up in a cart and destroy a budget. Let the kiddos have the samples and keep the cart moving.

4. Other stuff. I know. I said this was a pro. But it can also be a con. If you are an impulse buyer, Costco can turn into the black hole. Believe me – I walked in for milk and carrots and ended up with $250 in wine glasses and Mikasa dishes.

Here is a list of the 15 Items to Buy at Costco and a list of the 15 Items Not To Buy at Costco (because they are cheaper at the grocery store).

What about you? Do you have a Costco Membership? Have you let one expire? Chime in via the comments. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. Rebekah says

    I have had my costco membership for over 12 years and LOVE it. Prescriptions are cheap (although you don’t need a membership for that). Love getting a full salmon flank there for $20 that feeds 12 people. Great electronics, too…we bought 2 TVs there in the past few years and a laptop. And cheap photo processing.

  2. Elizabeth says

    We love the milk, butter, and eggs at Costco. I also purchase meat there and cut it up and freeze it in the deep freezer downstairs. Their organic whole fryer/roaster chickens are a much better deal than Price Chopper and you can buy a pork tenderloin, cut it into chops, and freeze it for much less than other grocery stores. . .and the quality is better. The nuts are great (compare in price to normal grocery or Trader Joe’s for almonds, walnuts, and pecans) We stay away from pretty much everything else unless planning a party. The bagels (Einstein Bros brand) aren’t cheaper but they are awfully yummy. I don’t like Hen House bagels or the ones you typically find in the refrigerator section.
    Some people love Costco cakes but I don’t think they’re anything special:) And the Kirkland ice cream is the only store brand thing I’ve purchased that I thought wasn’t great or better than brand name.

  3. Alicia Brown says

    I have struggled with this myself. As a Costco card memeber for 4 years, my husband and I recently decided not to renew out membership when it was up last month (we had the $100 executive card). I thought about perhaps shelling out the $50 for a regular membership, but then my husband reminded me that the reason we upgraded was because so much money was spent there (the Executive card earns you cash back). I had the problem of going in for milk and diapers and coming out with $150 worth of stuff! I will definately miss the kids clothing prices and all the toys at Christmas time are fantastic prices! I have to say that so far it has been hard not being able to go to Costco. Especially when all my friends ask if I have seen the latest furniture in the warehouse! Or I am craving a Polish sausage and a fountain coke! But I think, for the most part, it will save us money in the end!

  4. caroline says

    We *just* got a Costco membership as a gift from my mom. Otherwise, we could not have justified the cost at this time. Since joining last month, we have shopped there 3 times. I believe our total out of pocket is around $85 so far, but this is because we are very, very focused on getting specific items (and knowing when the grocery store is better). I also think we’ve saved AT LEAST $20-30 so far over the cost of the same quantities elsewhere, and most of what we’ve purchased is stuff that we can use over a long period, like vanilla, yeast, parchment paper, garbage bags, etc.

    To me, this means that renewing our membership might be worth it 11 months from now — but let’s see how I feel then. Also, I know this is Friday’s topic, but I have gained a lot by following Mara’s list:

    • caroline says

      To be honest, part of our restraint at Costco comes from knowing that it’s just two miles from our home. We can go there whenever we need something. There’s no need to buy everything *right*now.*

  5. Alicia Brown says

    I forgot to also say that since moving further away from a Costco, the gas used does not justify the savings. If they open one closer, we may definately reconsider!

  6. Kathy Barnes says

    I have yet to figure out why these type of warehouses charge a membership fee. I also don’t like feeling like I stole something between the checkout and the exit door, so they have to check my receipt to be sure I paid for everything. I do like the quality of some of their items and the fact that I can’t find some of those items anywhere else. I don’t feel like having a family of 2 that I get my money’s worth though. I only keep my membership because it is tied to my American Express card that charges $50 fee and throws in the Costco for free. Last but not least I feel like a little girl when I push there carts. I am only 5’2″ and I feel like Edith Ann pushing the cart!!
    I usually just go there when I am bored and I usually find something to bring home with me. I think we should all boycott warehouse membership fees!!

    • Margaret Grote says

      They check to make sure you got everything because it’s easy to do. They have caught me leaving something behind twice! Very greatful they caught me :)

  7. michele says

    #1 Most of their bread products are soy – free
    #2 I make back my membership each year on our fam’s milk purchases.
    #3 their pre-cooked bacon is way cheaper
    #4 they don’t usually sell “junk” that falls apart lie walmart and target

    • Margaret Grote says

      I completely agree! We go through 4 gallons of milk a week so that by itself makes up for the fee. I love their frozen organic broccoli. It’s one of the dirty dozen that I never have to worry about because it’s always there. We eat it atleast 4 times a week so we need that! I also like there organic ground beef prices.

  8. KCatty says

    My annual savings on OTC allergy medicine alone pays for my membership and I’m shopping for just me. I’ll save my specific list for your Friday post, but if you’re trying to eat healthy, Costco can provide big weekly savings over what you would pay in the store. Add that to the superior quality of many of their items and the random other things I purchase there and I easily cover my executive membership costs and then some. Recently, got several pairs of Skechers Shape-ups running shoes for $19.99/pair that were selling everywhere else, including Amazon, for $100+ (and I along with several family members were in the market for new running shoes/sneakers).

    Looking forward to Friday’s post to see what people find to be bargains!

  9. MicheleB says

    We have had a membership to Costco or Sam’s for years. We’ve settled on Costco for the last several years and upgraded to the executive membership almost a year ago. We haven’t figured out how much cash back we’ve gotten on the executive but I think we have easily saved $100 over the course of a year. We buy milk, shredded cheese (which I put into quart freezer bags and freeze) and meat. We haven’t been able to find steaks of the same quality for such a great price anywhere. We are careful about what we buy there but have found great deals on electronics, video games and movies. If you are smart and research the prices you can score some great deals there. We also use the coupon booklet that they send out.

  10. Laura Condon says

    Our first trips at Costco.. Before couponing was usually $200 once or twice a month! Since couponing it’s dropped to about $75 every other month. I am picky on certain items like razor blades & with the Costco coupon it’s more convient to get them there, & the price is cheaper than the everyday grocery store price. Also, certain items like trash bags I feel no need to hunt endlessly for a great deal when the Kirklands large box will last our family 9 months!!! And I will agree will Kelly…the food at the end is great.. Churros are our favorite!!

  11. Cassiopaea says

    I just renewed my membership at Costco for the second year, but switched from the executive to the regular membership. I calculated that what I save on dog food alone in a year with their Kirkland brand pays for the membership! Also, their 1/2 and 1/2 and coffee are the staples that I only buy from Costco.

  12. says

    I would trade my Sam’s membership for a Costco one anyday. I used to love Sam’s Club, before I REALLY learned how to coupon and track sales. The chicken breast is a good, steady price. Sun Fresh will have good sales on it from time to time, but not too often. You can get three large bottles of Vasseline lotion for under $10.00, which is nearly a $5.00 savings if you compare the regular price to Wal-Mart. I get my spices, sugar, flour, pretty much all baking supplies, including olive oil, here. But the price of eggs has gone up. The sales are much cheaper. The butter is decently priced, but it can fluctuate as well. And not enough organic stuff. Obviously it is just a larger version of Wal-Mart.

  13. Elizabeth says

    One of the major perks of one Costco here is they have kosher cheese and meat. That alone saves you tons of money!

  14. Kristine says

    We have a Sam’s membership and only buy certain items here…items that save us money. I take Mucinex year round and the savings on that alone pays for the membership in about 2-3 months. We also buy Organic spinach and bell peppers when they are not on sale at the grocery store. 5 lb blocks of cheese are another deal. We shred them and freeze the bags thus getting rid of the ‘potato starch’ or other coatings name brands use to prevent caking. Sam’s is also the best place for us to get Maple Syrup and Olive Oil. We plan to renew our membership.

  15. nicole says

    well, We are a family that carries Both Costco and Sams membership. YIKES!

    @ sams we buy alot of things that I dont like to always have to find a sale on and hunt a coupon for. 1. We get all of our Milk there, that alone saves us over $100 a year. 2. We buy our allergy meds there. A bottle of 300 sams brand allergy pills is usually around $10. last time I went to walgreens to get their brand I think it was $15 for 50 pills, maybe even more. I have been buying our allergy meds at Sams for at least 5 yrs now. 3. we also buy lettuce there. it is only 2.97 for a 3lb bag of cut romaine. Cheap! 4. pancake mix and Syrup… Did you know you could feed breakfast to 60 hungry girl scouts for only $12 at the last min?? It can be done! Pancake mix is around $6 for a huge bag ( makes like 300 pancakes or something) and Syrup is about the same price for 2 HUGE bottles!

    Now @ costco… Our membership there is more for “fun” we do not do serious shopping there, hardly ever. We buy a few convience things there. And I can honestly say that we do not save more then our membership costs… unless you count what it saves us from eating out. We buy a few different things at costco, And we do try and pick up a few things that they have in the coupon book if it something we regularly use. Our top 2 things to get there are 1. The orange Chicken, My kids love Chinese food, they love this chicken and yes it is expensive, Like $13 for a box of it, BUT we have it over some rice and it saves us from eating out, cause for a Family of 5, We are talking at least $50 to eat out. Our #2 , is BBQ sauce. My kid loves BBQ sauce, he eats it on everything…. So we get the big bottle of Jack Stack’s since is it HFCS free

    I think it is a different justification for every family on why they hold the membership. there are things at both places that I could not imagine getting at the store… that is why we have the membership. I think we have been with sams for nearly 10 years and with costco for almost 3. My family could drop costco if we HAD to, but I dont think we could drop sams… Unless the coupon thing became a full time job for me.

  16. xyz says

    if i spent the same dollar amounts with or without coupons with or without a membership i wouldn’t bother going home because that would be grounds for a divorce….my lifestyle isn’t even in the same book or library(let alone the same page)as any of these readers

  17. Anita says

    I bought my eyeglasses at Costco this year and the lens purchase alone was worth the cost my membership…and then they had some really cute and fashionable frames for the price of what an ugly frame might cost at Walmart! I also share a membership with my mother. I bought it last year and she paid to renew it for the coming year. We look at the coupons each month and then we look at the similar products on the shelves to make sure that the coupon is the best deal, sometimes there’s a comparable product that isn’t advertised but costs less.

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