I’ve wanted a Costco membership ever since I moved out to the suburbs, but it always seemed like such an extravagant expense. Why would I spend $55 (or more) annually for the privilege of shopping somewhere, especially when buying in bulk for two people seems a little ridiculous in the first place?
Luckily, as I’ve been exploring the world of personal finance – especially as it relates to being frugal and saving more than the “typical” 10% of your income – I came across more and more people who said a Costco membership is definitely a good purchase if you’re looking to reduce your spending on groceries.
I even asked r/frugal, one of my current favourite subreddits, what they thought about Costco memberships. Were they worth it? I knew this community would give it to me straight – they’re not exactly known for pulling punches when someone’s spending money they shouldn’t be.
Here are the best things they brought up to help me figure out whether a Costco membership was the right choice for us, and if it was, which level of membership would be best.
How close is your nearest Costco?
This one is pretty straightforward. When you factor in how much it’ll cost you in time and money to get to one, is it worth it? Will you go enough to reap the savings?
On both counts, our answer is yes. Our nearest Costco is only a 7 minute drive away, or about 4.6km. I’m also a big fan of preparing meals ahead of time on the weekends, so buying in bulk every month or so and spending a few hours preparing meals to freeze is right up my alley. With monthly, convenient trips, this is a no-brainer in favour of getting a membership.
Will you be able to stick to a shopping list?
This seems simple enough, but walking in to Costco without a plan can be the kiss of death to frugality and your budget, which everyone on the thread was quick to point out. Luckily, they also shared some strategies to help stick to the plan, like…
- Only taking in cash, so you have a set limit on what you can buy
- Not taking a cart so you can only buy what you can carry
- Sharing the list with a shopping partner so you can hold each other accountable
Personally, after I make a list and make sure I have enough money in my chequing account, I have one other trick to make sure I don’t walk out of there having spent way more than necessary.
If I see something that seems like a great deal or that we could really use, I can buy it – but only if I make another trip to Costco. That means I either have to get all the way home, unpack the car and then go straight back, or remember that we need it the next time I’m going to Costco.
Most likely, it just won’t make the list next time, and I won’t buy it.
So on the whole, this is another question that lands in favour of us getting a Costco membership.
What kind of items will you usually buy?
Everything at Costco is pretty good value for your money, but there are certain items that came up again and again in the discussion thread. If any of these are regular items for you, they alone might be worth it over the course of a year.
- Gas (if your Costco has a gas station, that is)
- Canned goods
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Over-the-counter drugs like Benadryl
- All things meant for the four-eyed, i.e. glasses and contact lens solution
- Any carb that keeps well in a pantry (pasta and oats especially)
Our Costco doesn’t have a gas station, but otherwise, we are a meat-and-cheese eating, olive-oil-and-balsamic-vinegar-loving, canned-goods-using, four-eyed, carb-eating pair that has some pretty crazy seasonal allergies, so it looks good for us. No need for diapers or formula, but you can only need so many consumer goods at once, right?
Beyond all that, there was one standout that no one mentioned though, that saved us almost the cost of a membership in the span of one visit.
We’ve been feeding our freeloader roommate, Jacob the Dog, a brand of dog-food called Go! that we get at our local PetValu store since we got him almost a year ago. We didn’t do a ton of research before choosing it, but it seemed like a reputable
source of food, and the vet didn’t have anything negative to say about it, so we went ahead and kept buying it every month, at an approximate monthly cost of $80 after tax.
That’s a pretty big line item in our monthly budget, so I sat down to do some research. I’m committed to making sure Jacob is healthy and happy, so I’m not willing to feed him just anything, but maybe there was a comparable brand I could find that would be a good substitute.
It turns out, Kirkland, Costco’s store brand, has a really well respected dog food. How well respected? Well, the Go! brand gets an outstanding 5 stars on DogFoodAdvisor.com, but Kirkland scores a very respectable 4 stars, earning it a spot on the Best Dry Dog Foods list and a “highly recommended.”
And it’s $34 for a much larger bag that should last us almost a month and a half.
That’s a whopping $46 savings on our very first trip to Costco. We’re going to see how Jacob adjusts to the food, because of course his health is our top priority, but if he does well on this food we’ve just saved an estimated $552 on his annual costs – and that’s on the conservative side, because the Kirkland bags of food are bigger.
How many people are you buying for?
While some people spoke from experience that it wasn’t worth it for just one person to have a Costco membership, others offered solutions or examples of situations that made it a great option for single people.
If you’re single and want to make the most of your membership, the lucky thing is that you can bring in two guests using just one membership. That means you can bring two other single friends with you, split the cost of transportation, and share the cost of big bulk items that you divide up amongst yourselves after the trip. You won’t need to store or waste as much of the bulk items, but you still score a great deal.
The only caveat before you go all in on the guest strategy is to make sure you know what Costco’s restrictions are on guests in your area. Some people mentioned that guests might be restricted in terms of how they can pay, versus all of the options available to members.
So if you’re single, it might still be a good option! For anyone buying for a household of more than one, and especially for anyone buying for a household including the best freeloader roommate ever, everyone said it’s beyond worth it. So that’s another big “yes” to membership for us.
How much will you spend in a typical year?
If you’re still on board and none of the above questions have entirely ruled out a Costco membership for you (which, if they have, I’m curious about why you’re still reading this?) then the last thing to think about is what kind of membership is right for you: Gold Star or Executive Gold Star.
This all boils down to how much you’re going to spend per year.
Beyond the other benefits of an executive membership, it also gives you 2% cash back on all of your purchases at the end of the year. Costco mails you a cheque for your total cashback, and if you spend $2750 in a year, your cashback will be equivalent to the $55 difference between a regular membership and the executive membership. Anything more than that level of spending – which breaks down to $230 a month – and you’ll be saving money in the long run by going with the executive membership, without even factoring in the other benefits.
Some of the examples people gave in the comments of my reddit post included buying appliances or other big electronics at Costco. If you know you’ll need one of them in the next year, that might bump you close to the break-even point on an executive membership right away.
At this stage, our goal is to spend under $150 at Costco monthly to reduce the amount we spend on staples like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, meat and cheese, canned goods and dog food. So we’re well under the amount that would make an executive membership make sense. That’s why this morning, as of this morning, I am a card-carrying Costco member!
So what about you – will you take the plunge and get a membership? Have you found a membership helpful in the past? Let me know in the comments!