joining the club

When my brother and his wife had their third baby, my other brother and his wife bought them a Costco membership as a baby gift. My brother, the one that got the new baby and the membership and who happens to live right down the road, said he’d let me know the next time he planned to shop there and I could go along and check it out.

I had been to Costco once before, maybe five or six years ago, and I hated it. Hated, hated, hated. It was so hideously monstrous and boxy and everything came in such huge quantities. It seemed like the perfect feeding ground for hoards of gluttonous Americans. I refused to have anything to do with the place.

But then. But then.

Saturday came and my brother and I zipped across town to the club. We had an hour. The store was packed. There were snacks everywhere. I had sixty dollars in my wallet. I spent twice that. I walked out of there high as a kite. I couldn’t stop grinning.

I’m not sure what won me over. The prices were great, yes, but it was more than that. Maybe it’s the stage of life we’re at? A two-container package of peanut butter or five pounds of dried cranberries doesn’t feel excessive: it feels practical. The Kirkland brand is good quality and therefore trustworthy. The store doesn’t carry everything, so, crazy as it sounds, it feels like there’s a limit to the excess. Furthermore, I’ve heard that Costco treats their employees respectfully. And then there’s the wine and cheese, happy sigh.

So anyway, all this conspired together to make me reconsider my anti-Costco stance. And then I started with the interviews. I hit up every single person I ran into with a list of questions:

Do you have a costco membership? 
Is it worth it? 
Should I get one?
What do you buy there?

I was on a mission. All that was missing from my barrage was the microphone and tape recorder.

And then two people—two very frugal shoppers, I might add—said that they have a Costco membership because of the eye contacts. A membership costs 55 dollars and they save that much when they get a one-year supply of contacts. That purchase right there pays for the membership. And keeping in mind that, as Margo’s father-in-law saysit’s only a savings if you were already going to buy it, there was my ticket.

Up until that point my husband was snooty about my new love affair. But once I explained the contact situation (he’s the one who has them), he perked right up.

So one evening we went to Costco and got ourselves a membership.

That night, after we tucked in the children (two of which were screaming because a pre-bedtime shopping trip is A Major Stupid Parent Move) and moved the cheeses, spinach, black olives, butter, almonds, farro, etc from the boxes to cupboard and fridge, my husband and I ripped open a giant bag of chips and I posted this update on Facebook: Got a membership to Costco this evening. Now I’m struggling with feelings of disloyalty to our local grocery store. But man, these Kirkland Krinkle Cut chips (munchmunchmunch) are GOOD. And then I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning to a whole string of comments. Apparently, a Costco membership is the hip thing to have! Tons of respectable folks are card carrying and proud of it. It’s a model organization, they say. My intellectual and politically correct sis-in-law (whose British accent makes her sound even smarter) wrote, They pay their employees a living wage, offer healthcare and the CEO only makes a small multiple of the lowest paid employee. Whenever we move back, it will be one of my first stops. Munch away, sister!

So guys, I’m sold. I’m still a little wary—don’t want to buy things we don’t need, let food go to waste, or start over-stocking—but I think we made a good choice.

Your turn! [She jams the microphone in her reader’s face and cocks her head expectantly.] Do you shop Costco? Why? Why not? What are your favorite Costco standbys? 

P.S. We ended up getting the executive ($110) membership. It wasn’t what we were planning, but I’m not willing to call it a mistake, at least not yet. I had talked with a friend who has an exec membership and she declared it pays for itself through the money back program. Plus, the guy at the desk said that if we don’t get the money back, they’ll refund it. Sounds win-win to me. (Or maybe I’ve been snookered?)

P.P.S. This is not a sponsored post, but if Costco wants to give me some grass fed beef, mango salsa, and a large hunk of cheese, I won’t say no… Costco? Costco?

This same time, years previous: fun and fiasco, in which it all falls to pieces, my little boy, and mint wedding cake.


  • Lily

    We are a household of 2 adults and one infant and we love it (although, we are blessed to not have to pay for our membership as my dad includes us on his business account). The products are high-quality, returns are actually hassle-free (if Costco carries what we want/need we buy it there for precisely this reason – especially for small appliances and the like), they source from local producers when possible, and they treat their employees fairly.

    Our regular purchases: gas, dog and cat food (the Kirkland brand is excellent quality for a really decent price) and kitty litter, paper goods, bananas, frozen fruit, frozen veggies (honestly – at this point it makes a lot more sense for us to buy frozen organic corn from Costco than to try and grow and process enough of our own), and cheese. Less frequently: organic meat, frozen shrimp, nuts, mushrooms, and OTC meds. I also buy wild salmon from them when it's in season to portion and freeze at home. The tank-tops I wear pretty much all the time under everything are from Costco. I don't care for their fluid dairy offerings in our area, but if I lived in the pacific northwest I would – they have a local supplier – which just goes to show that they vary what they carry depending on the market demand and availability of suppliers.

    Between Costco, Trader Joe's, Azure Standard co-op, our local farmers, and our garden it is extremely rare that I go to a "regular" grocery store anymore (however, I will say, we don't have much in the way of locally owned markets in our area that I feel obligated to support).

  • Ann Marie

    Lots of people love Costco, for sure! We are a family of 3, so it's not really necessary for us. We have it b/c hubby's work pays for a membership. I dislike the fact that one has to pay for the privilege of buying! And I've found that most stuff that I buy is not actually cheaper! We like their pizza (cheap eating out!) and they have a good return policy. Otherwise, we could take it or leave it.

  • Harriet

    I love Costco. One of the reason's I'm much happier shopping there than Sam's Club is because Costco actually doesn't carry all the same stuff at all of their stores– they go through great pains to make sure they contract with some local suppliers. (Which is why shopping at a Costco in WI offers a different range of products than one in TX.)

    We buy a lot of dried goods, household good (toilet paper, etc.), plus frozen produce, and the occasional cheese. We only go once a month, and have a standard list of what we get there, otherwise we'd spend everything we have. Be aware of your standard temptations (mine are cheese and pre-marinated fish), but have fun with it. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Seven reasons why I don't shop at Costco:

    1) Originally (when the store first came to our town many years ago) I didn't want to pay for a membership.

    2) I do not like shopping in huge stores: overwhelming space and choices.

    3) I prefer to keep money in the local economy as much as possible.

    4) I prefer to know the sources of my food as much as possible.

    5) I can buy bulk food through a small regional wholesaler, who makes great efforts to source locally AND delivers to my doorstep.

    6) I can buy bulk produce, cheese and meats through my contacts at our farmers market.

    7) I don't necessarily agree with the idea of "lower cost is better". Is the value of the product higher than the price? If so, who is paying that real cost? Whose labor is cheap or free in order to offer lower costs? Are cheap fruits and vegetables grown in monoculture tended by migrant workers with many chemicals applied at great cost to the soil, air, water and honeybees? Yes, Costco pays its employees higher than minimum wage, but what about the companies who produce the stuff that Costco sells?

    – Kris

  • Margo

    I'm afraid I love to make fun of Costco, but I never turn down a chance to ride along on my parents' membership 🙂 Their cheese selection and prices are fantastic. I had no idea they were such a socially responsible company. That piques my interest.
    Oh – and just tonight, a guest was telling me how she gave her teenage grandson a jar of peanut butter and a spoon to carry with him because she couldn't seem to get his ravenous pit filled up! Those growth spurts. . .

  • KTdid

    Ha! Reading this post just post–Costco trip!
    I have been a member for years (and years).
    They treat their employees well (I've often asked the employees!)
    They have lots of organic stuff (I look for it)
    I can use my card to benefit my son and daughter (joint shopping trips, such as we had today)
    I eat all the free samples, (sometimes use it conveniently as a meal!)
    Can't think of any other praises to sing, but–in the case that I do–I'll let you know.

  • Lauralli

    Well, I live in the land of the Waltons (Sam Walton), so no Costco anywhere near us! But, we do have Sam's Club. Which I am a card carrying member of! I do have to drive 40 miles to get there myself, but my husband works near one and gets gas there everyday–yes, everyday! He has about 150 mile commute each day and says you get better mileage with a fuller tank. (It's a science and a game to him to see how many mpg he can get!) So, in gas alone it saves us a ton! Not to mention vitamins & otc meds (allergy stuff), nuts, cheese and too many other things we probably don't need! 🙂 Be careful!

  • Camille

    Yes, I shop at Costco and have done so for years. Your friend is right about the exec membership…they will refund you and it usually pays for itself. Every year we've had the exec membership we've used the rebate cheque (Canadian spelling) to pay the next year's fee. The last few years, it's been completely covered by said rebate. I purchase Tillamook cheese, organic butter, organic whole chickens, etc…etc…there. One thing to note ~ Costco can be very costly if you throw caution to the wind and go in without a list and the exact amount of cash you are willing to part with. It is very liberating to know what you are willing to spend and to play within that limit. In that case, it is a win-win…every single time. However, if you put all the *extras* in your cart (as most people seem to do), it will defeat the purpose of all the savings you would otherwise have had. Self control is key if one is to come out unscathed as a Costco member. I speak from experience (over twenty years of it) in Costco navigation. Enjoy the journey! 🙂

  • Melinda

    We love Costco, and we are a household of two (though we sometimes have my teen-aged step-sons over for visits). We just recently got a Costco very close to us so I stop in frequently during the week, never on the weekends. love their company philosophy and the way they treat their employees. We really don't waste food- there are certain things that we always purchase and use up quickly. There are a few things that would be wasteful for me- I don't think we can use up the big bag of fresh spinach, and I prefer spinach fresh to frozen. But yes, we love Costco.

  • Melissa @ thelittlegrayhouse

    We own a restaurant and I do most of our shopping at Costco. Their prices beat my large wholesale food vendors by quite a bit. We have the executive membership and it pays for itself plus some. For home use I regularly buy bananas, organic coffee, craisins, vanilla, rice, quinoa, chips, cheese, (oh the cheese), wine, clothing, office supplies, laundry detergent, and lots more. The restaurant gets the usual restaurant food and paper stuffs. I do get a laugh at us "typical Americans" in the parking lot on Sunday mornings rushing to our cars, carts piled high with bulk packages. It feels so naughty and so gratifying at the same time.

  • Starr

    We love Costco. Kerrygold butter alone makes our membership worth it. We buy most of our produce in the winter there–the prices are great and the quality is high.

  • FarmersWife

    LOVE Costco! They treat their employees well, products are quality tested, easy returns (for ANY reason!) without a receipt because they can pull your account up and see where you purchased it, the Optical Shop is WONDERFUL–Oh I could go on and on about the greatness of Costco.
    Be sure to get the Costco App for your phone–no more messing with the paper coupons that save you even more money. Just pull up the app and show it to the cashier.

    • Jennifer Jo

      So I got the coupon booklet in the mail—do I have to carry it in with me to redeem the coupons? (I don't have a phone.)

    • Mavis

      If you look closely at the coupons they should say "no coupon needed." They should could off at checkout. At least at our store anyway. Think of the coupon booklet more as a sale flyer. Oh, and their mattress are AWESOME. And the men's socks and white t-shirts as well.

  • momma-lana

    Club memberships have really gotten a bad rap online for way too long. We are empty nesters and are still able to save a ton of money. We try very hard not to go to our store on the weekends because it is just crazy busy but shopping during the week is not too crowded.

  • The Domestic Fringe

    We don't have a Costco nearby or any bulk store really. I'd have to drive about 40 minutes and that's not worth it to me, but my husband is a fan of bulk. I'm not. I'm one of those people who would rather go to market every day. Isn't it crazy how we are wired?

    Hope you enjoy your new membership. I'm sure you'll find tons of great deals!

  • Suburban Correspondent

    Sometimes? I think we're twins. The gasoline savings alone pay for the membership. And it is a well-run company, which means a lot to me.

    Check out the price for rolled oats – cheaper than the military commissary!

    • Jennifer Jo

      You know, I bet your post probably helped to push me towards the club, though I wasn't thinking about that…

      I was noticing those oats!

  • Laura J.

    We're a family of 3, so not everything is practical for us. We use it mostly for paper products, laundry detergent, drinks, and snacks. You can also save a TON on prescription drugs if you need something name brand. I had a specialty prescription once that was over $100 cheaper at Costco than Rite Aid. BUT… I have been known to buy some pretty ridiculous things that I would not have bought if Costco didn't have them (like a HUGE six-person inflatable float that we used exactly one time). But if you can be disciplined, it's a fantastic deal, and you know that you're buying from a great company.

  • Kathy ~ Artful Accents

    I'm right there with you. We are newly inducted Costco members ourselves. And the phrase that I keep using is: "It just makes sense." A house with teenagers and their appetites, a person wearing contacts, and a minivan which uses way too much gas (always get my gas there now and the gas attendants are so chatty)! Yes, Costco just makes sense. Plus there are those yummy torta sandwich rolls that you can't get anywhere else. And then there's the big box of organic Stonyfield smoothies. Oh, and don't forget the big bag of sugar snap peas or avocados. It's all good.

  • Anonymous

    We also have the exec membership, and it has always paid for itself. And if it doesn't, they really will refund your money! One month I realized the same farming organization was featured in both the MEDA newsletter (Mennonite Economic Development Association) and Costco's own magazine as a model business ministering to the immigrant population. Costco was selling the produce they produced.
    The local people there know me and ask where my kids are and there is very little turnover.

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