We’ve been Costco members for a while and really enjoy the store for essentials and unfortunately, non-essentials. I’ve written about the great Costco debate which included the pros and cons of the store. Some of the high points are the competitive prices, quality, samples and the best in the biz return policy. Like anything, there are drawbacks as well, specifically the membership fees and the lure of the deals which can result in spending more money than you planned.
Even as a relatively frugal person, I have a weakness for a good deal. A good deal to me is a quality product at a price that is lower than market value – which is what Costco’s business model is built upon. While I may succumb to a random good deal at Costco, I’m slowly improving on tempering my “buy the deal” urges.
So the argument remains that people simply spend too much at Costco to really save money and that you’re better off buying smaller portions at other discount stores that don’t require a membership. I must admit that it’s a little too easy to fork out $100+ at the check out, but here are some money saving tips that have worked for us to minimize our Costco bill.
Make a List
The number one strategy for taking advantage of good prices but sticking to the essentials is to make a list. Costco generally has the same item day after day with very little changes in price (besides the seasonal section). The regular essentials we buy from Costco generally costs less than other retail outlets and can really make a difference in savings if you do it right. The list will also create a “mission” around the shopping trip and ultimately reduce browsing.
Know the Store
Along the same lines of making a list to prevent browsing, it’s important to get to know a general layout of the store and where they keep the essentials. Low margin meats and milk are strategically located in the back of the store to tempt consumers with other items first. From there, create the list in the order that you would naturally walk through the store.
Set a Time Limit
Another tip to reduce browsing is to set a time limit for your shopping trip. What we typically do is visit Costco about an hour before closing on the weekends. This is around supper hour, so there are less people, and there’s a sense of urgency while shopping.
Eat Dinner First
I’ve written about this savings tip before – always eat before you go out shopping. When grocery shopping, we are more inclined to buy more (junk) on an empty stomach, especially with Costco having so many “prepared” food items on display. Not only do we spend around 10%-15% more when grocery shopping hungry, we tend to load up on unhealthy items.
Split the Food
Even though we like to keep our expenses in check, one thing that we don’t skimp on is good food. We find that the meats at Costco are high quality and at a very reasonable price per kilogram. The only issue is that all the food is in bulk, and if you don’t plan it properly can result in a lot of wastage. An easy solution is to split the food into portions and freeze it. For example, we buy the giant packages of chicken thighs or ground beef and use zip lock freezer bags to divide the food into appropriate supper sized portions for the family.
Use Cash not Plastic
This is a trick that works at just about any retail outlet. We all know how easy it is to swipe a credit/debit card when paying the cashier and not even thinking twice about it. Why not simply bring enough cash to pay for whatever is on your shopping list? Nothing quite like the motivation to avoid the embarrassment of not having enough money at the check out.
Do you shop at Costco? If so, what are some of your strategies to prevent blowing the budget there?