5 Frugal Rules You Must Follow When Shopping at Costco
Everything is cheaper at Costco, right? Not so fast! For a frugalist, Costco and its warehouse membership club brethren can be very appealing. So much so, in fact, that Costco has become the fourth largest retailer in the U.S. and eighth in the world. After all, who doesn't see the bargain provided in buying a 50-pack of veggie burgers or a 120 oz. jar of spaghetti sauce?
Costco can provide some cost-saving values, but it can also be a money pit if you are not careful. Here are five rules to adhere to when shopping at the wholesale retail giant.
1. Make a List of Everything That You Typically Need From the Grocer
Do this before you ever set foot in a Costco. Costco has a way of luring you into buying things that you normally don't buy. If something does not make your list, there's a good chance that you should not buy it at Costco. At the same time, you won't find 75% of the stuff you might typically buy elsewhere, so don't rely on Costco for your entire grocery buying experience. (See also: 9 Things That Are Worth Buying at Costco)
2. Compare Apples to Apples
For units of identical size, figure out the per unit price of the things that you normally buy and what their typical weight per unit is. Usually you'll have to buy packs of six, eight, or more units of something that you'd buy one of elsewhere. This makes comparing easy if you just do some simple math.
What's harder is comparing identical items that come in different size units. Find out the price per ounce of the item from Costco and compare it to the price per ounce of the same thing elsewhere. Go with the retailer that's cheaper, except when you'd have to buy more of a perishable item than you could ever use by the time the use by date passes.
3. Stay Out of the Center of the Store
The center of Costco typically features clothing, books, DVDs, and snack foods that are generally not that much cheaper or more appealing than deals from other retailers.
4. Try the Samples...If You Dare
Costco typically offers up several sample stations. Usually, the food and drink at these stations is not the healthiest. As in most grocery stores, it's offered up by friendly older women, and it's hard to say no to them when they ask you how many bags of cheddar popcorn you need. So if you grab a sample, get the heck out of there...fast.
5. Make Planned Trips Every Other Month or More
If you are buying things in bulk that get you a nice discount, you usually don't need to re-stock them for a few months. There's nothing wrong with that! Resist the urge to go back more frequently when you really don't need to, because you most likely will get tempted by electronics or some of the other cool things you probably don't need.
If you're a regular at Costco, you may also want to check out the Costco American Express card, which offers extended warranties, up to 5% cash back, and some other nice benefits — there is no annual fee with your Costco membership, and it's the only card you can actually swipe at Costco.