It seems as every time I go to Costco it’s exceedingly difficult to shop with a frugal mindset. I love shopping there but it can be hard at times not to overspend. As a frugal shopper I am always on the lookout for deals, and Costco often offers good ones. The problem is that if you don’t go in with a frugal mindset or a list to follow, you find yourself with an increasingly full cart. A trip to Costco can be difficult for those wanting to stay to a budget as so many products are over $10 and thus add up quickly. Not wanting to shop with reckless abandon, I have found time-tested frugal ways to shop at Costco, stay within my budget, and be happy at the same time.
Avoid the Samples
I know, I said it. I love the samples at Costco just like you. The problem with indulging in the samples is they tempt you to buy something you might not have planned for. Being a frugal shopper means knowing that Costco’s samples are best enjoyed in the store. Those serving the samples have numbers to reach and it benefits them if you buy them. If you go shopping when you’re hungry, wait to load up your cart until after you’ve curbed your hunger with samples. With a full stomach and a frugal head, you can get what you came for and not make unplanned purchases.
Buy Per Unit
This is key when shopping at Costco. Everything can seem like a good deal, but is not always the case. If you do your main grocery shopping elsewhere, be frugal by doing some per unit comparison shopping. That’s the easiest way to compare apples to apples, and see if it really is a deal. One example is macaroni and cheese, (which is a staple is our home with our 5 and 3 year old) as the per unit cost is half of what it is at the grocery store.
Mind Your Payment Method
We almost always use cash when shopping at Costco, as opposed to using one of the credit cards they accept. This benefits us in multiple ways as it helps us stay within our budget and we know exactly what we can get. If we do find something we like that is beyond our cash allowance, then it gives us separation which can help us determine if we really need the product in mind. Since our groceries are part of our envelope budgeting, it’s very natural to use cash while shopping at Costco.
Be Frugal-Avoid the Executive Membership
We commonly get the Executive Membership hawked at us when we’re at Costco. With the membership you get a 2% reward back of most of your purchases at the end of the year, and is capped at $750. The cost is an additional $55 in addition to the base $55 membership. This may sound like a good deal, but let’s do the math. You would have to spend about $250 per month to get more money back than what you put in. If you typically do not spend that level at Costco then you’re either losing money as you won’t get the extra $55 back, or have to spend beyond your budget to get it back. If you are going to receive what you gave them or less, you’re just floating Costco a $55 loan at zero interest for a year. That’s like overpaying on your taxes; in either situation, whether it’s Uncle Sam or Costco, it doesn’t add up to give someone sitting on so much money some of yours at no interest.
Ask for Coupons
Frugal shoppers love coupons. It may seem contradictory to Costco’s business model, but they do offer coupons. Many times they’re mailed out to members, but if not ask at the customer service desk and they’ll give them to you if they have any at the time.
The problem with warehouse stores like Costco, is that we shoppers think everything is a deal. But, do you really need a 10 pound drum of pickles? I know I don’t. What comes to my mind is a Seinfeld episode in which Kramer feeds the horse to his handsome cab Beefareeno. In the end, just because we think it’s a good deal doesn’t mean we need that 20 gallon barrel of grape jelly.
Save Your Food
In general you’re not going to find single serving perishable items to buy at Costco. So, my wife and I will buy their ground beef, for example, and cut it up in to one pound cubes and freeze it. This allows us to have single servings and prolong the usability of the product in question, while also allowing us to further stretch our grocery budget.
Shopping at a warehouse store like Costco can be expensive and can bust your budget. But, with a few frugal mindsets you can shop there and still leave happy.
How do you avoid overspending at big box stores like Costco?
Photo courtesy of: Aiminglow