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Would I Save Money to Shop at Costco?

I found out recently — thanks to our friends Ryan and Melissa — that our kids LOVE seaweed (go figure!). We were having a picnic together and their family had brought tuna salad with seaweed. They offered some to our kids and they tried it and fell in love.

And then they promptly begged us to buy some. Jesse looked at Whole Foods to buy it and it was some ridiculous price per package. So Melissa offered to pick some up for us at Costco.

You guys! This entire HUGE package of 10 packages of organic seaweed (each package has 5 servings) was $8.99!!!!

Help Me Out! I Want Your Honest Opinion!

I’ve always said that a Costco membership just wasn’t worth it for our family because I could beat almost all of the prices by shopping markdowns, coupons, and deals.

But I’m wondering if now that my kids are older and we eat somewhat differently (and a lot more!) than we did five years ago, if I should re-think that stance.

So I’d love to hear some honest feedback on this from you all. Do you think a Costco membership is something I should consider? Do you feel like you can often beat the prices I pay for things by shopping at Costco? I’d love for you to give me your honest thoughts and input.

By the way, you should know that we don’t have a Costco nearby our house (I actually don’t even know where the Costco is here!), so it would mean a little out-of-the-way trip to shop there. But if you think I could spend our $70 per week more wisely by shopping at Costco, I’d love to hear. Convince me!

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107 Comments

  • Sarah Pinault says:

    We have a Sam’s membership, because it’s closer than Costco. The membership cost is made up in savings on what we spend on blocks of cheese alone ($2 cheaper a block than I can usually buy). And so everything else is a win. I also picked up five packages of swim diapers for .88 a few years back and only now need swim diapers again. The occasional clearance item will always make it a win.

    • Brenda says:

      This doesn’t necessarily answer your question, Crystal, but I have to add that I’m a Sam’s Club fan, too. I’ve recently had both Sam’s Club and Costco memberships.
      Because I have a business membership, I can get in Sam’s at 7 a.m. on weekdays and Saturdays. Doors open for those with a regular membership at 10 a.m. on weekdays, just like at Costco. I can check out through an app on my phone. Or I can use their Click ‘n Pull service and have the items waiting for me after choosing them online. The last straw for me with Costco was when they weren’t open at all on all three summer holidays. Sam’s Club is open on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, but they close early. Any chance there is a Sam’s Club closer to you than a Costco?

  • K says:

    Seaweed…with brown rice and avocado are a standard fave in our family! My only Costco input….anyone can get costco products via instacart (maybe does not help with money saving as much).

    • Katrina says:

      I have the executive membership which is $120 a year. I Do share the membership with my daughter so everything we both purchase gets credited to our membership. At the end of the year a check is sent to us and it usually covers the cost of the membership. So it works out for us. The only down side is it’s in my name and daughter’s name so husbands can’t just run in. Your $70 a week would probably not do well there. You would have to change your shopping stragedy.

  • Jessica says:

    We just finished our first year of membership at Costco after friends raving about it. I joined with a Groupon deal, so that made it cheaper to upgrade to the executive membership. Because of the guarantee, we decided to try it. After a year, our 2% bonus check did not pay enough for the upgrade, so they refunded the difference. I decided to get a Gold (regular) membership when I renewed because the rewards on the Costco credit card add up for us. (4% on gas and restaurants, 2% at Costco, etc). Here’s what I learned:
    1. I also made a price list and compared it to Aldi where I do most of my shopping, and a local grocery store where I shop the loss leaders. Most of the items I routinely buy are more expensive at Costco, but there are a few things I can only get at Costco or are cheaper.
    2. It’s hard to leave Costco without spending $100 because of buying in bulk. You can buy just 10 items and be over.
    3. Unlike many other commenters, the gas at our Costco is the SAME PRICE as about 6 gas stations that surround it (I live in WI). Thus the gas savings aren’t there for me. YMMV. However, when we travel, we use GasBuddy to find Costco stations to fill up, which does help. And with the Costco credit card you always get 4% at ALL gas stations. So most of our credit card reward is from gas we are already buying.
    4. We often get a large pizza from the food court for dinner, $10 and feeds our family of 8 without leftovers. This is also an economical choice on road trips.
    5. Their sheet cakes are THE BEST!!! $18.99 for a HUGE cake, decorated to order by the next day, filled with 2 lbs of cheesecake mousse. This is a WAY better deal than local bakeries or the grocery store. It’s really good. And I’m not a cake person.
    6. They always have free samples, sometimes enough for a light lunch!
    Because of these reasons, we decided to try just the Gold membership this year and then reevaluate.
    I will say I don’t like that the rewards from the executive membership and the credit card can only be used at Costco. So if you cancel your membership, you forfeit those rewards. The credit card reward always goes out around February, so I’d suggest having your membership year coincide closely with that. Ours is in August, so if we decide not to rejoin, we will have to stop using the credit card months beforehand in order to not forfeit those rewards.

    • Shannon says:

      Jessica- you don’t have to use the rewards at Costco… you can take the check to customer service and they will give you cash instead.

    • Debbie says:

      That’s interesting about the gas. We also live in Wisconsin and we definitely save on gas at Costco. At least 15-20 cents cheaper per gallon than every other station in the area. I’ve never found it cheaper. We’re in the Milwaukee suburbs.

      • Sara says:

        Our Costco, for the last year or two, gives us back 25 cents (of store credit) for every dollar spent on gas. (So for gas at $3 a gallon, I am saving 75 cents per gallon.) On the bottom of the receipt, it will print out the savings. Bring that in the store, and the cashier will deduct that amount off the total bill. With just that promotion alone, it pays for us to have a membership just for the gas 🙂

    • Carrie says:

      You can cash out rewards checks at the membership desk. We have done it before

  • Kelly Hess says:

    Every family is different so I think you need to try it for yourselves for a year. For our family of 5 it works because it is close so we save a lot just on gas alone. Plus if you are making major purchases such as electronics, tires, etc, it is definitely worth it. We have the executive membership so we always get at least double back and then about the same amount because we use the credit card.

  • NICOLE NAWROCKI says:

    Simple Truth @ Kroger has it and my kids love it. 1.00 pack all the time and this last week they had 2.00 of 10 packs so it was 8.00 for 10 🙂

  • Lee Anne says:

    I definitely think a Costco membership is worth it.
    There are products that will save you a lot of money. They have large size pure maple syrup and honey that are way less than any of the grocery stores.
    I live in the Nashville area (Cool Springs is close to me). Their milk prices are much less. Grocery prices have been running $2.69-2.99 per gallon. Costco was $1.89 last time I went.
    Their gas is much less as well. It has been running 50 cents less a gallon.
    I also love their Kirkland Signature brand products. They are high quality. Some even better than the national brands. I especially love their garbage bags, paper towels, detergent and baby wipes.
    They run sales every month on select products, so, if you plan around that, you can stock up on your favorites when they are even lower prices.
    I also love Costco Travel. The have really good discounts on rental cars and it always includes a second driver free.
    There is so much good about Costco. They are a great company. They treat their employees well. They have excellent return policies.
    I have never regretted having a membership there.

  • Emily says:

    One trick I learned is that even if you don’t have a Costco card, you can still shop there with a Costco gift card; give a friend or family member with a membership a couple hundred dollars and they can fill a card for you and then you can shop whenever you want (until your card runs out! they are picky that you can’t over-spend you gift card if you don’t have a membership!) I did this for the last six months and it allowed me to “shop” for a few months to see if I wanted a Costco membership and if it would save us money. (And yes, it does save us money in some areas; they run great monthly specials and also have great prices on dairy and fruit/veggies for our area.)

  • Misty says:

    If you buy Costco gas alone, you could probably pay for your membership. OR if you buy one large ticket item, i.e. grill, canopy, furniture, that will also more than pay for a membership. We go there every other week for basics, flour, milk, nitrate free bacon, tortillas, chips, and rotisserie chicken (better than anywhere else).

  • Leslie says:

    Just to mention the rotisserie chicken….they are huge and not fed with any hormones. The ones at the grocery store look sick, and they cost more.
    I also like all the GF products at Costco that are way better priced than anywhere else.

  • Libby says:

    I was at the local Asian food market today and saw similarly packaged seaweed snacks for $6.87 – even better than Costco. Do you have an Asian market near you?

    • Margaret says:

      I was going to say the same thing about Asian markets. We always buy our rice there (I happen to prefer Asian sticky rice) and things like soy sauce, sesame oil, etc (including seaweed) are always way cheaper there. If you have one nearby, definitely check it out. Ours is a fun experience just because too. The fresh live fish and unusual foods and veggies are fun! Ours is a good size in Houston but I am typically the only Caucasian in there.

    • Laurie says:

      Not necessarily organic, but at small Chinese grocery shops where I am in San Francisco, 6 of those seaweed packs go for like TWO DOLLARS! 8.99 seems way expensive!

  • Kristi says:

    We go to Costco once a month and have our staple items that I know I get a better price than the store at such as eggs, milk, butter, some of their produce, ground turkey, string cheese, coffee. I’ve found several good household items there as well, like a stand up desk that was the BEST price after I had researched for months. I also like to garden and the plants there are good quality. Plus, we really like going to Costco, and you can’t beat the cheap pizza!

  • Susan says:

    Since no one seems to have mentioned it, Costco has a great pharmacy program and you can find over the counter medications in bulk discounts. That area alone has saved us the price of our yearly membership. Depending on what you are buying, you can order some items online and have them delivered if the drive is inconvenient.

    • Lori says:

      I can get a year’s worth of Kirkland brand “Claritin” for about $15.00. Also, great deals on contact lenses, furniture, mattresses, patio furniture, clothing. It’s not all bulk groceries. I easily save enough in a year to pay for the executive membership. The Kirkland brands are excellent. The avocado oil and olive oil are better deals than what I can get at Aldi.

    • Mary H says:

      You do not have to be a Costco member to use the pharmacy (at least not in Washington state). Just tell the person at the door you are going to the pharmacy. The down side is that you can’t buy anything else but for me, being single and living in a small apartment, buying in bulk is just not practical.

    • Mary Jo says:

      I understand you do not need a Costco membership to use their pharmacy. Just tell the people when they ask for a membership card that you are going to the pharmacy. At least that is what I read.

  • michelle says:

    Costco also sells discounted gift cards to restaurants and local attractions. For my sons birthday we bought 100$ gift hard to Buca di Beppo and pod 70$. Just there was already a 30$ saving. Gift cards also make great teacher gifts!
    We don’t buy that much at Costco and this is our first year of having a membership. I go maybe once a month for a couple of things, always check the monthly deals first.

  • Alison says:

    I have a BJ’s membership in NY, and it’s just me and my husband. I like it because the BJ’s near me has a great produce section – the kale and salad greens alone save me around $10 a shopping trip. I’ve also had a lot of luck in their seasonal section – a couple years ago my husband bought a Tommy Bahama beach umbrella on Amazon for like $60 (ugh!)…we wanted a second umbrella (we like to spread out at the beach, and occasionally go with friends) – I found a nicer Tommy Bahama model for $20.

    If you’re patient, you can wait for a Groupon for Costco – they occasionally have deals where you pay $25 for a year membership at Costco (and they usually throw in freebies or gift cards, so the membership ends up being cheaper or even free).

    If you have a friend who has a Costco membership, maybe ask to go shopping with her a couple times? (You can shop under her account if you’re together.) After a couple trips, you’ll have a better idea of the prices and items they offer and if it’s worth it for you. Or, when her renewal comes around, offer to split the memebership and you can always go shopping together. (This would require coordinating schedules, not sure if the 1/2 price savings over a year would be worth it for you.)

  • Cathy says:

    It is just my daughter and I, so I don’t regularly shop at Costco. However, it is totally worth the membership for:
    1. Gas
    2. An outing to window-shop and get free samples
    3. Christmas presents
    4. Parties-food to bring or for hosting
    5. Premade meals in the deli for busy weeks or when you have guests

    And MOST important of all
    6. Costco cakes-we always have one for work parties, too.

    Give it a try!

  • Adrienne says:

    I think that if you love the way you currently shop (e.g. running in during school runs) then Costco is not for you.

    I love Costco because I can consistently get good prices (not always great, but usually good) on what we eat on a regular basis with only one stop. As a homeschool mom, I use Trader Joe’s and Costco on alternating weeks with occasional trips to Whole Foods or the grocery store to fill in the blanks. I went through seasons (four kids four years and under) where my entire menu was around what I could buy at Costco. I pushed a cart and pulled a cart with my four children strapped in.

    If I had more time than money, and if we didn’t have food restrictions, I’d totally do the coupons. I’d save more money. I don’t have a lot of time to deal with grocery shopping, and family dynamics make it hard to make a bunch of stops.

    So Costco works for us:
    **gas price is always better than most other places and it’s easy to get in and out of
    **I have the store layout memorized. Even when we’re in different cities (I drive past five each week just in my regular comings and goings for things already on our calendar) I can easily find what I need.
    **They have good prices on meats, veggies (watch for spoilage this time of year!) and other staples our family eats regularly
    **Our check more than pays for the membership each year. We usually get a smallish weekly shopping cart alongside the membership payment.
    **When we lived rurally, the gas and other things were always cheaper.

    HTH.

  • Marie says:

    While we do buy food items at Costco, we actually use it to buy our bigger ticket items because Costco has a very liberal return policy. Any problems at all and they take majority of items back without blinking an eye. There are a few items that have limited return, like phones. You can’t return a phone 2 years after you bought it so you can have the cash to buy a newer model. But you could do this with sooooo many other things.

  • Shea says:

    I have had a Costco membership for over 20 years and am always evaluating it. We recently moved to NC from the west. Our Costco was 30 min away. After comparing prices of regular items bought I found that it was a wash. Add in travelling time and gas. The only savings were in brand name vs store brand purchases. I didn’t renew this year and there are only a few times I’ve “missed” it. Trying to leave Costco under $200 a trip (I’d go only once a month) is a challenge. Savings do differ region to region. It really comes down to what will you buy. Does that save money or add frustration because if it’s location? Will Costco cause you to change other financial goals?

    I will say they have a fabulous return policy. Now that alone can be worth it for buying non food items. I returned a vacuum after a year because the hose cracked near an attachment point. No problems. They stand behind quality and customer service.

  • T2Nashville says:

    Crystal – just so you know, the Costco is in Cool Springs on Seaboard Lane (sort of behind where Barnes & Noble is). The Sam’s is on Mallory Lane between Jim ‘n Nick’s and Walmart.

    I don’t have a card for either one. I have a friend who lets me use hers. Saves me money when I need to go (don’t have to pay the membership fee), and helps her out with her rewards. Win-win. I’m single, so I really only need to go occasionally for certain items.

  • Paige says:

    We don’t have gas at our store, just the one on the other side of town (I miss that!) We paid for the membership with milk savings alone since it’s a $1 cheaper a gallon and we go through 2 gallons a week.

  • Christy says:

    We used to live in an area where we had Fred Meyer (which is Kroger), and I would go “treasure hunting” like you do, looking for the WooHoo stickers. I saved SO much money shopping there! But then we moved to the middle of nowhere, where the only normal grocery store is Albertsons, which is CRAZY expensive. So I broke down and joined Costco. Seriously, every time I go there I think how I would NEVER shop there if I had a Kroger store nearby. Kroger is way, way better. The Costco prices for dairy, produce, bread and meat are ok, but not nearly as good as Kroger markdowns or even sales. And you have Aldi too! You live in a grocery store WONDERLAND! I don’t think you’ll save any money at Costco. You should really go into Costco and walk around (which they will let you do), and take your time comparing prices on things you would buy regularly. You’ll definitely have to think of your budget as $280/month rather than $70/week because you’ll go way over $70 every time you go there, just because everything is huge. Check Costco out, but I think you’re better off with Kroger and Aldi.

  • Bethany says:

    I share our executive membership with my sister in law. it pays for itself every time. It’s been 4 years. We love the rotisserie chicken, cereal and toilet paper prices. Their sales on chips and school snacks are good when you see $3 off. We do a big haul before camping and stuff like vbs. We use it for gas also. So it works very well for us. But it is across the street from us so that helps.

  • Brian says:

    I would say no. I like Costco for their “fun” finds, but not for saving money. Costco strives to be the cheapest/lb or unit, so their sizes are even bigger than Sam’s club. What this means is that as a general rule, nothing is less than $10-$15. So that means you could by 5-7 items per visit. If you have that willpower, than great…..my family most certainly doesn’t. It’s hard to spend under $200/visit, which is why we didn’t renew. I also hated how large the shopping carts were, and how crowded it gets. After the checkout line, there’s another line just to leave the store. I do love their products and the produce, that they pay their employees well, the great return policy,etc. So if you like to shop for fun, then go for it, but I doubt that most families actually save money overall by having a Costco membership. You’ve got to be incredibly disciplined

  • Amanda says:

    I’m a reluctant Costco shopper. I really dislike just being at Costco, the employees have been rude to me, and ours isn’t conveniently located for us, nor does it have hours that work well for me. My husband often does the Costco trip 🙂

    That said, we used a Groupon deal, tried it, and have kept it. I’d say we go 1 – 2 x/ month. I kept a spreadsheet for the first year to see if we were really saving enough to justify the membership. I may check in again next year and make sure that’s still true.

    For us, the big money savers are in the big blocks of cheese, almonds, walnuts, their rotisserie chicken (it’s the best in town, and $5), Cheerios, spices, yeast, chocolate chips, apple cider in the fall, milk, and eggs. We usually buy produce when we go- it isn’t always a win, but it’s almost never a loss.

    Things I wish were a deal there, but aren’t (for us): yogurt, applesauce, meat, pasta, rice. It depends on what you want and how you shop, of course. I want giant tubs of whole-milk plain yogurt, for instance, not little cups, and they don’t have that at a reasonable price.

    If I had a chest freezer, I’d buy their frozen berries and veggies. I just can’t get those 5lb bags of large-cut veggies in my regular freezer.

    They often have organic pantry items for the same price as I would get conventional pantry items (canned tomatoes or black beans, for example) at a place like Target. That’s not a big sell for me, but may be for some.

    Also, we’ve gotten savings on big ticket items like a vacuum. They had the best price in the first place, and then when it went on sale next month, they gave us $50 off to “price match” their own sale price.

    I *think* you can get a refund of your membership if you go once or twice and don’t think the prices are good enough. I got a friend to let me tag along on her shopping trip once so I could take some notes.

    If I had an Aldi, I wouldn’t bother though. Oh, I wish we had an Aldi. I miss Aldi.

  • Nikki says:

    I LOVE Costco. They have the best prices on sugar, brown sugar, flour, oatmeal, cheese, brown rice, vitamin supplements, OTC allergy meds, dish washing detergent, dish soap, toilet paper, LED light bulbs, yeast, bulk spices, pinto beans and trash bags; at least in my area. Costco also has the best prices for granola bars, Goldfish crackers, and cheese sticks that I buy for my kids’ sack lunches for school. I store the flour and sugar I buy in 5 gallon buckets with gamma seal lids on my pantry floor. Some of the bulk foods I only have to buy once a year.

    Costco has a nice selection of toys and Christmas decorations during November and December better priced than other stores. We bought some of our furniture at Costco. Just the savings of buying one piece of furniture will pay for your membership. Costco has new release books cheaper than the cover price.

    I also sometimes buy the rotisserie chicken for an easy meal. I use the bones to make broth, saving me several dollars if I had bought the same amount in cans. My family likes to stop at the food court before heading to a museum, the zoo, an amusement park, or fair. We can all eat pizza or hot dogs for what it would cost for one of us to eat at one of those places.

    I don’t know if your $70 plan would work at Costco. I spend about $100 for our family of six whenever I go, but overall I save money buying the stuff that is cheaper than the grocery store. I usually make one trip a month. I think it would be worth driving a ways to shop at Costco once a month if you don’t live near one. The employees at my store are always friendly and helpful.

    Costco desserts and paper plates are great if you are having a party or taking something to a potluck type party.

    I find it is cheaper to buy some things like peanut butter and yogurt at Kroger when it is on sale. Bread is cheaper at the bread outlet or the store brand from Kroger. Overall I am grateful to live near a Costco and would recommend it to everyone.

  • Laura says:

    You are in the prime season for Costco. Maybe shop with a friend for a while and see if you like it. Okay, you will like it. What’s not to like?! You can see if it is worth your while.

    My son is leaving for college and I am coming to the sad realization that we probably don’t need a Costco membership for food. We still buy tires, produce and other things at Costco, but we will need to see if it still makes sense in this new season.

    • Diane says:

      I have done a price comparison in Southern Cal, and Costo is not cheaper for most items. I can almost always find paper towels, toilet paper, vitamins, milk, meat, eggs, produce, cleaning supplies, gasoline, etc cheaper if I shop sales and look for discounted items.

      We keep our Costco membership for the discount we get on eye glasses. With 5 members of our family wearing glasses, the $55 annual membership is worth it to save on frames and lenses. The last pair of eye glasses we purchased at Costco was $70 (after insurance). The last pair of eye glasses my husband purchased at his eye doctor’s office was $200 (after insurance).

      The other items that are usually cheaper at Costco are cheese, chicken nuggets, nuts, frozen fruit, and spices. But if you are looking to spend just $70 a week by looking for deals, you would probably do better doing what you are already doing and not using Costco.

  • Karyan says:

    When I had littles in diapers, I drove 70 miles to buy diapers from Costco each month because I saved so much money buying them from Costco.
    I would highly recommend Costco! You can return anything for any reason! Costco sells much more than groceries too.
    We have an executive membership which costs $110 (I think?). We get a 2% rebate and have always received a check for at least $110.
    Where we live, these are some of the everyday prices:
    Banana 3lb. 1.44
    6 heads romaine 3.79
    1 lb organic spinach 3.99
    5 lb organic baby carrots 4.99
    Rotisserie chicken 4.99
    10 lb frozen chicken breast 21.99
    4 lb butter 10.99 (it will get lower)
    5 lb frozen blueberries
    2 lb cheddar 4.79
    2 lb mozzeralla 4.19
    72 oz chocolate chips 8.99
    3 lb almond 12.99
    Case of 40 water bottles 2.99

    It might be tricky to stay under $70 a week, especially if you can’t go weekly. It may be worth it to go once a month to stock up on some items.
    Each month, Costco offers great deals with their own coupons. I always buy contigo thermos there for much less than on Amazon!

  • Julie says:

    I got a Costco membership just so I could take my son’s glasses prescription and buy contacts and get glasses for considerably cheaper than his eye docs office.

  • Robert Goodman says:

    For our family of seven who like to eat healthy and keep cost down, I found costco to be mostly things like Oreos, Pizza, Poptarts, (NOT HEALTH FOODs)Additionally I hate the idea of paying a store for the privledge to shop at that store.

  • Kim says:

    I think a membership is a good idea, but there is no way you can stay on a $70/wk budget. Every item is *on average* $10, so that is 7 items. 🙂 That being said, for our family it is a good deal and we easily cover the cost of the executive membership. but, we have 7 small children (oldest is just turning 15) and costco is only 2 miles away. We only have a smallish walmart, a safeway, and a qfc (kroger), and a healthy local store. the deals at the regular stores aren’t worth the time to find them and take the time to go to another store with littles in tow. that’s just our season.

    BUT, I do know, that if there are items you like from Costco, you can have a member-friend get a Costco cash card for you, and you can use it without being a member. SCORE!! That is a win-win i think for your situation!!!

    • Have you been following the Friday-Saturday deals at Kroger? You can get up to 5 of each item each weekend and they’ve been having some GREAT deals! I follow KrogerKrazy.com for the heads up on the best deals.

      Thanks so much for your great input!

  • Sarah says:

    Because of my family’s dietary restrictions, I appreciate Costco. I know that I can always get almonds, almond flour, maple syrup and frozen chicken at cheaper prices than the everyday price at the supermarket. I don’t live in an area with many grocery stores or great coupon deals (we have no Aldi, walmart, etc. for 500+ miles). For feminine hygiene, I have found that Costco is cheaper than sale+coupon at kroger.

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