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Avoiding the Costco yearly fee and other tips?

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A segment on GMA this morning said that if you buy a gift card through a friend to you can shop at Costco using that card without paying the yearly membership ... one of the two reasons I refuse to shop at Costco.

Paying a store for the priviledge to shop annoys me to no end.

The other tip was anything ending in 97 cents was a clearance item and as low as the price will get.

The other reason is I don't shop there is that my household has never exceeded two and Costco and two people is like an Easter ham ... too, too much for two.

That being said, my three stepchildren are moving in next year, so I might re-think Costo if I have eliminated my two barriers to shopping there

I know there are a gazillion endless threads about Costco favorites ... but here's the real question ... do you REALLY do major food shopping there. I'm a extreme bargain shopper at food markets ... what food products are so great that you buy them every week.

I mean ... all politics aside ... I can get milk at Wal-mart for $2.20 a gallon and right now I have coupons for 40 cents off. Another store had a sale for the large Quaker Oats at $1.50 and I had a coupon for $1.00 off.

Also there is a super bargain market near me, Grocery Outlet where I can fill in the blanks with major deals ... $1.49 for 32 ouncesof Lascco herring in sour cream recently ... Yoplai, Oskos, Brown Cow, etc yogurt for 25 to 33 cents each ... Haagen Daaz for $1.49.

Is Costco worth my time and for what?

Also is there anything there that is so mind-blowing delicious that I can't get it easily elsewhere?

  1. Depends on what your time is worth going to all those other places. You can do better on food items by smart shopping elsewhere.

    1. Not every store is meant for every person. Nobody HAS to shop at Costco but a great many choose to do so because there is value in shopping there. We've been members for years and shop regularly (nearly every week). We've gone from being a family of four to a family of two and continue to find value in the relationship. As far as the "giant drum of mayonnaise" concept of warehouse stores goes, that's no longer the case. Yes, there are still certain items in #10 cans, but not many. And their #10can of San Marzano tomatoes is cheaper than the "large" can at other grocery stores. Most products are regular-sized but come in multi-packs (e.g. box of 3 frozen pizzas, 2-pack of olives in jars). We also entertain a lot and Costco is invaluable for summer barbecues. We've purchased tires for our cars there for years, also at great savings. We've rented cars with the Costco discount. As for sharing memberships, my older son and his college roommate shared a membership for a couple of years while at school. You don't need to have the same last name on your cards, 2 friends can always share a membership. And if 2 kids on a college budget found value at Costco, then pretty much anyone can.

      As far as the fee goes, that's how Costco stays in business. 2/3 of their profits come from fees. We have Executive membership which gives us 2% back on all our purchases. We've come out even or ahead on fees for every year we've been members.

      1. We belong to BJ's and I find that shopping the sales at other grocery stores is a better deal than shopping at Costco or BJ's. Sure it's good in a pinch but when I have to buy three items at a time it isn't, especially when I know that item goes on sale cheaper someplace else fairly regularly.
        Whenever we go, we make a list of what we need and stick to that list, if not we could wander the aisles all day and spend way too much money on things other than food.

        1. I shop at costco mainly because of their cheese,naked juice and organic carrot juice. There is only two of us and we have been shopping at costco for years. I just bought a delicious aged gruyere for only $10.99/lb and I make sure to stock up on this. Also they have chanterelle mushrooms for only $9/lb. Even Eric Ripert admitted there are some good stuff at Costco.

          1. Jfood has been a member of Costco, Price Club or BJ for >15 years, so yes he thinks it is worth the fee. But if you are planning on using the store please join versus scamming the system with the "my friend bought me this gift card," not cool.

            Jfood buys (food related only since the Mods normally request this).

            salad mixes, tomatoes, diet coke (although that will stop soon), bottled poland spring water, pelligrino, frosted flakes, laughing cow cheese, snacks for adult parties, some cheeses, coffee, tea, splenda, dishwasher detergent, dish detergent, kitchen paper towels, G2, barilla pasta, onions, chicken stock, salmon. He shies away from the shell fish that comes from Viet Nam as well as the ground beef that seems to have water injected into it. The pepperoni pizza is enormous for $10 and can probably feed your kids.

            Only you can decide the opportunity cost of your time.

            27 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              They just started stocking a mascarpone based salmon spread that's pretty damn good.

              1. re: ferret

                jfood tasted theother smoked fish spreads they had a few weeks ago and they were pretty good as well. Unfortunately they made the mistake of giving samples on triscuits which were way too salty.

                1. re: jfood

                  To the OP: sounds like you're dedicated enough to hunt down the best deals in town, and so you should.

                  As to food items which are available at Costco and nowhere else, 2 words: prime steaks!

                  As an illustration (personal results may vary), a few years ago, they had absolutely fabulous cara cara oranges... $4 for an 8lb bag I think. Whole foods had poorer quality ones for $1.50 for EACH ORANGE!! Other stores had them for as low as $0.50 per orange, but the quality didn;t even come close.

                  But nobody can force you to do anything... especially if you have such strong feelings against the place... may be better for your peace of mind to shop elsewhere.

                  1. re: caliking

                    Yeah, I was hoping that with more people in the house I might look at Costco differently or since I've been out of the loop so long that there might be amazing stuff there I could use.

                    I know about the steaks, but I don't eat beef often. I'm in the middle of fruit wonderland where I can buy good quality cara caras for 69 cents lb in season. The current post "Meyer Lemons - 20 for $7.00 at Costco" to me is jaw dropping because that is really, really expensive for Meyers in the SF Bay Area.

                    At one time I felt strongly against TJ. My big problem there is getting attached to items that get discontinued. However, reading Chowhound posts I got some insight into TJ that I didn't have before and have come to value it.

                    I was hoping to get that from this thread but the digressions unfortunatley that isn't happening.

                    1. re: rworange

                      I can say as a 2 party household with 2 cars, that the gasoline alone is worth the membership not to mention tires that no one could beat them on price, also an HP printer, Dell laptop that Dell was even higher priced on. I haven't even mentioned food yet. Lastly, cash back if you use their AMEX card.

                      1. re: rworange

                        As people tend to say here, ya gotta do your research. Here's a place to start. (Yes, it's long but ya gotta walk the walk!)

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/359092

                2. re: jfood

                  >> But if you are planning on using the store please join versus scamming the system with the "my friend bought me this gift card," not cool.

                  I guess you should take that up with Good Morning America where I got the tip
                  http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/ConsumerNew...

                  "If you want to avoid paying the $40 or $50 annual fee, pay a friend to buy you a warehouse club gift card. Then you can shop to the card limit without paying any surcharges"

                  1. re: rworange

                    Great idea RW, jfood wished he would have thought of that. So he took your advice and posted the following on the comment part of the link you provided.

                    "All I can say is how despicable. How deep into the gutter does ABC wish to go in its presentations on GMA. The idea that GMA is giving advice on how to scam the system on avoiding fees that businesses charge is disgusting. Are you next planning on give advice to avoid taxes? Costco has established a for-members model. Your description on using a friend to gain entrance to avoid the membership fee that others have paid is in a similar vein to advising on insider trading…hey who gets hurt? Well as a person who has paid his membership fee annually for years that answer is I have been hurt as well as every other member who has paid. Why should I wait in line behind a scam artist? Why should I potentially not be able to purchase an item because it is sold out because some low-life used their friend to circumvent the internal business model? Ideas like this should never be espoused on a reputable show and you have dragged yourself through the gutter and into the sewer by describing a means to get something for nothing. I can’t wait to see your piece on how to steal cable signals.

                    Bad, bad job ABC and GMA. "

                    1. re: jfood

                      Thanks for taking the high road, jfood. I think it's pretty astounding that they took their huge audience and taught them how to bilk an organization. Costco seems to have an excellent business model including treating their employees well. Wretched to teach people how to cheat.

                      1. re: jfood

                        If you really want to shop at Costco and don't want to pay the high membership fee, ask your friend to add you to their card and pay them the extra member fee. That isn't scamming as it is a Costco offer. I had a second person on my card who no longer lives in my house and who never goes to Costco on their own. I will change over the extra card to whichever of my friends wants to pay half my card. I don't thnk I end up saving much money at Costco during the year with the cost of the card but I do enjoy it as entertainment and I also do find some things that aren't available elsewhere or are much better quality for the price.

                        1. re: susanl143

                          The Card is for a "household" not a friend. This allows two members of a single household to each have a card in their wallet so they can shop independently. It is NOT a 2-1 deal.

                          From the Costco Website:

                          "Gold Star Membership

                          Gold Star Membership is available for individuals who do not qualify for a Business Membership. The Gold Star Membership is $50 per year, which includes one household card per primary add on. See the membership counter at your warehouse for additional information, or call us at 1-800-774-2678."

                          Hope that clears the confusion.

                          1. re: jfood

                            Jfood, Costco allows the purchase of another card(s) that is beyond the complimentary family member card. For a $25.00 fee per card (annual), I have added my adult children to my and my wife's membership.
                            I'm pretty sure that's what susanl is talking about as she references a card fee.

                            1. re: hannaone

                              H

                              Not according to Costco.

                              The Gold and Executive cards allow for 2 cards within a household. There is no ability to add a 3rd or non-household person to the card (Jfood wishes there was a way). On the Business card you can add people for a $40 annual fee for an additional 2 cards. Someone goofed when they added your children.

                              And the use of the word "split" leads jfood to a different conclusion on S's post, plus you are supposed to bring proof of residency when the second card is issued so the "same household" requirement is met.

                              1. re: jfood

                                j,

                                I'm a business member with an executive bump....I have my primary executive card with a free spouse card, a business card anyone can use and an additional eight family and friends who have cards off of my membership. I believe it's four additional paid fees and four free spouse cards, for a total of 11 cards. It's been that way since I joined way back in 1994.

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  Yup for a business card you can include numerous employees and the annual fee for each of them should be $40 that entitles them to the same 2/household cards.

                                  If you start with a Gold Membership (non-Business) you do nat have the same privileges of extra non-household members, onlythe Business card does.

                                  Sorry for the confusion.

                                2. re: jfood

                                  That might be what I'm thinking of as my membership is business/executive. And I misprinted - the additional card fee on my last statement was $35.00 for the additional cards.

                                  1. re: hannaone

                                    When jfood's mm had a card at Price Club the annual fee for her and jfood on her small business' membership was $25 back in the 70's. You should expect to see the $35 go to $40 on the next renewal.

                        2. re: rworange

                          In the greater sceme of things, Costco probably views the gift cards as a way to get new faces into the store. And at that point, said new faces will discover that the store has enough to offer that they'll convert a decent percentage of the new faces into paying members. The GMA approach also requires an extra step on the shopper's part and the shopper may decide their time and effort are better spent just going ahead and buying a membership.

                          I'm sure that the company isn't thrilled that GMA is encouraging it as a workaround to member fees, but if it really wanted to stop it, it could simply change the rules and say that future gift card users do pay a surcharge if they aren't a member if they feel like the membership conversion rate from the GCs falls to an unacceptable level.

                          1. re: beachmouse

                            Exactly, beachmouse

                            Costco displays this policy clearly on its webstie. It is at the top of the info about the Cash Card
                            http://www.costco.com
                            http://www.costco.com/Browse/ProductS... card&Mo=2&cm_re=1_en-_-Top_Left_Nav-_-Top_search&lang=en-US&Nr=P_CatalogName:BC&Sp=S&N=5000043&whse=BC&Dx=mode+matchallpartial&Ntk=Text_Search&Dr=P_CatalogName:BC&Ne=4000000&D=cash card&Ntt=cash card&No=1&Ntx=mode+matchallpartial&Nty=1&topnav=&s=1

                            "You must be a Costco member to purchase or reload Costco Cash Cards. Members and non-members may use the cash cards to shop in the warehouse or online. Costco Cash balances may be used toward membership or merchandise. "

                            There are certain sections Costco has determined it is ok for them to allow non member to participate such as the pharmacy.

                            Back to my original usefulness to me query. I was amused to see a casket section A family member died recently and I did some comparison funeral shopping. Turns out I can even get the same cost for caskets locally. It was on the husband's side and not someone I knew that well which is why I was emotionally able to be the shopper.

                            1. re: rworange

                              When my dad died in 2005, the Costco casket ended up being $200 less than the Funeral Home price. But membership and delivery had to be within the same state (some sort of fine print/law) and it wasn't worth dragging my mom down to Costco to get her a membership in the middle of all of what was going on.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Federal law they must allow the general public access to use the pharmacy, not a policy.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  "There are certain sections Costco has determined it is ok for them to allow non member to participate such as the pharmacy. "

                                  WRONG>>>Costco didn't decide this, the state licensing authorities did. In Connecticut, the state licensed departments: Pharmacy, Liquor, Optical, Hearing Aids, MUST be open to the general public.

                                  However, there are pricing adavantages to memebers, even in these departments. Costco gives an additional discount on prescriptions to its memberss who do not have Rx insurance. Two years ago, our greyhound was dying of kidney disease. The generic drugs she needed were $97 at Walgreen's and $9 at Costco. The pharmacy counter assisant asked me if Bailey has Rx insurance when I went to pick up the drugs. I replied no, and was given a special discount card to cover Costco Members without RX insurance. This brought the cost down to $7.34.

                                  I do not have Rx insurance at this time. I still use the extra discount card.

                                  I also buy my eyeglasses at Costco. I wear progressive bifocals and can get a complete pair with frame for $139. The cheapest I can find them elsewhere is $289.

                                  This alone makes membership worthwile, nevermind the actual food and other shopping.

                                2. re: beachmouse

                                  BM

                                  Here are the words from the GMA wesite,

                                  "If you want to avoid paying the $40 or $50 annual fee, pay a friend to buy you a warehouse club gift card. Then you can shop to the card limit without paying any surcharges."

                                  This is basically espousing unethical behavior with the use of the word "avoid".

                                  Your idea of the surcharge for non-members is a very good one and already used by their on-line division. The other point is that the "gift card user" cannot use the card for multiple scamming entrances. If they have a card they cannot buy $100 of items, use the card for $1 and pay cash for the other $99 therefore giving them additional antrances. the card has to be fully used before cash is accepted.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    On top of that, they're implicitly encouraging mooching off your friend, who is paying the membership fee. Should your friend have to shoulder the burden of your desire to shop at a wholesale club without paying dues? The idea of paying your friend doesn't really make it any better, just more awkward.
                                    If a friend made a habit of asking this of me, I'd make a habit of not answering their phone calls and e-mails.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      You can avoid income taxes by donating money to charity. You can avoid auto accidents by driving carefully. You can avoid insufferable conversations by not inviting boors to your parties. Are all of these behaviors unethical because you're "avoiding" something?

                                      Costco has a policy in place. It publicizes that policy. Some people will take advantage of it, others won't. If it isn't helping Costco accomplish its business goals, the policy will change. I don't see an ethical issue, any more than I see an ethical issue with people making a meal of the sample cart offerings. It may be crass, but it's not unethical.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        If Costco wants to close that particular loophole they will. Taking advantage of the rules, whether they are Costco's, the IRS or the airline you fly is consumer smarts.

                                        I recall when one of the early airline mile cards offered said miles for the purchase of traveler's checks. Some smart people realized they could buy them and deposit them into their bank and then pay off their credit card bill - and get a whole lot of free airline tickets in the process. Smart consumers. The credit card company then closed that particular loophole after they realized what they had created.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          as they say there is a difference between the letter and the spirit of the law.

                                3. Don’t bother. I doubt anything has changed since you were last there, temporary gift card membership notwithstanding.

                                  1. Well my boys will only drink the milk from Costco...we used to just do sams milk but they changed it.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: LaLa

                                      Do you know if it regional like TJ or Walmart?

                                      TJ uses local dairies and as far as Wal-Mart I live in California and the stores I shop all have the milk marked as "California milk" ... which is why the coupon discount works.

                                    2. just to give you an idea, a few of the items i spotted today that wowed me (i bought some, but not all of them):
                                      - Maranatha Natural Almond Butter - 26-oz jar for $5.99 (a 16-oz jar is typically 2X that in grocery stores)
                                      - 1 pound of fresh chanterelles for $8.99
                                      - 1-pound clamshell of organic baby lettuce for $3.79
                                      - 18-count large organic eggs for $4.29
                                      - 5 lbs of Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour for $5.99 (a *one* pound bag costs that much in regular stores)

                                      and i just can't give up my tried & true favorites that got me hooked on Costco in the first place:
                                      - 36-roll Kirkland Bath Tissue for $17.99 - best toilet paper ever
                                      - 100-count Japanese green tea bags for $12.79 - my favorite green tea, i have a cup every morning

                                      like i (and others) said earlier, for some of us it does make sense...it just may not for you.

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                        Yours has GF flour? My goodness, I am jealous. I am increasingly impressed with Costco lately for all the healthy and enviro-conscious products they've got. Yeah, it's still a huge American footprint on the earth, but so much better than the alternative!

                                        I forgot about the almond butter. That is an awesome price and now I can justify almond butter GF cookies!

                                        1. re: Vetter

                                          yeah, i was shocked to see it there! they also had their own organic PB (i need to get some feedback on it before i buy), and organic chicken broth, and so many other things i really wouldn't expect to find there. this is NOT the Costco i remember from the early days.

                                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                            I use the organic chic broth all the time, it's excellent. I see it in the regular mega-marts for $6. for 1 carton, at Costco you get 6 cartons for $10. I've also tasted their organic PB, what you'd expect, real tasty.

                                            1. re: cstr

                                              ooh, thanks for the info on the PB! working my way through a jar from TJ's right now, but i'll grab some at Costco when it's done.

                                            2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                              I've tried a lot of peanut butter, including the major brands, TJs, Whole Foods, etc.

                                              Kirkland Organic Creamy PB is hands down my favorite. No added sweeteners, just a deep and rich peanut flavor. Now if they only carried some crunchy, I'd be set.

                                              The Almond Butter, as others have pointed out, is an incredible value.

                                              1. re: carfreeinla

                                                The cookies? Google the Gluten Free Girl and almond butter cookies, and I think it'll pop right up. YUM. You really have to watch them while they bake, though.

                                              2. re: Vetter

                                                There was an article in the Costco magazine a few years ago that said Costco didn't use to publicize organic products - thought it would turn off some customers, for whatever reason. Even some stuff that was organic was not labeled as such. I guess their calculations have changed, because I see organic products, and prominently labeled as such, all the time in there now.

                                              3. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                when did you see the chanterelles at Costco? I've been looking for them, and I saw them in WFM for $30/lb, but I wasn't spending that much!

                                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                                  I saw them at a Minneapolis area Costco last weekend.

                                                  1. re: puddin head

                                                    thanks.. i'm in nyc... so not much help but at least i know they exist in costco!

                                              4. Really? I have a two person household and I really get a lot out of Costco. That said, I won't shop at Walmart. At least Costco pays a mostly-living wage with benefits. Here are some of the cheap things that I know do work out to buy at Costco: organic butter, nuts, organic sugar, quinoa, Tillamook cheddar, peppercorns, natural PB, eco-friendlier dishwasher detergent, everyday olive oil...and the cheerios my sweetie lives off of.

                                                I pay a bit extra for an executive business membership (think that's what it's called) and I actually spend enough to justify the investment for the 2% back.

                                                1. Somehow my prior response appears to have not posted. Sorry if this is duplicative.

                                                  I let my Costco membership lapse, so you can probably figure out that I found things not to like about the place. Erratic availability, crowds, long lines, etc. But there are plenty of things to like, too. The gas prices are the cheapest in town. In NorCal, a half-gallon of half-and-half (or Beefeater) is available at a price that can't be beat. And where else are you going to find a tray of top-quality imported prosciutto for $15 or so? Others have given additional good examples of very competitive costs.

                                                  Then there's the fact that Costco treats its employees well and is a pretty good corporate citizen. I'd certainly prefer to spend a dollar there than at Wal-Mart. Where they also have the "police state" exit monitors with their markers.

                                                  If you've got some freezer and pantry space to spare, you can easily pay for your membership just with the rebate they offer. But for me it wasn't worth the hassle. Your mileage may vary.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                    rw, if you lived in Merced, as I now do, and liked to eat seafood now and then, I think you'd change your mind.

                                                    For years I refused to go to Costco and didn't want hubby to join, even though I knew their prices on some things (tires, for one), beat everyone in town. I hated the entire concept and thought it encouraged over-consuption. I will never forget going into Costco with a friend who was a member because he 'just wanted to pick up some batteries' (one of their nicely discounted items, btw) and seeing him come out 45 minutes later, $125 poorer....

                                                    Then I moved to Merced. The seafood at Costco in Merced (including fresh halibut, fresh wild salmon in season, and decent frozen scallops) is the best in town. period. by far. In fact, is the best within a forty five minute drive. It only took one visit (hubby begging and dragging me and me figuring that since I dragged him to Merced, it was the least I could do, once. once.) to make me a convert. For a two person household.

                                                    Sigh, of course I realize this may say much more about the other stores in my town then it does about Costco. We have nothing even remotely comparable to a Berkeley Bowl, (well, other than a small but friendly Farmer's Market, which I visit twice per week for produce) within fifty miles of us.

                                                    and yes, there are certain items I buy there every visit as part of my regular grocery shopping, even though we also have a Grocery Outlet here in Merced. We don't go every week, we go about once a month, and besides the seafood it is the staples that make it so worthwhile. Garbanzo beans (yes, they are a staple in my house), tomato paste, canned tomatos, that type of thing. NOT the heavily discounted gourmet items that didnt move that are so much fun to find at GO. They also always have Orowheat bread (no hfcs) at $2.50 a loaf, minimum purchase two. It freezes beautifully so I usually buy two to four loaves a trip, use it for work lunches with Columbo salami, also very low in price. And their lamb chops are delicious and always heavily discounted; I generally buy a bunch and freeze them. Tasty frozen Indian TV dinners (hey, it is a way to get quality vegetarian meals cheap for days when I don't feel like cooking); good pasta. Cleaning stuff in bulk: dish soap for example: it is just as easy to refill the small container from the large one stashed away, as it is to buy it more often.

                                                    Yes, I am an unexpected convert.

                                                    By the way, you asked about good tasting stuff to get at Costco. I haven't checked yet to see if the Merced store has it, but my SIL brought chocolate covered pomegranite seeds in a large bag, purchased at Costco, to Thanksgiving dinner. They were a big hit. I will be looking for them on my next trip.

                                                    However, I am also scratching my head about one thing: If my local Costco transfers items from one cart to another, I've never noticed. To the contrary: I believe heavy items stay in the cart, and they use one of those portable scanner devices to get the cost. Just like my local Raley's. They also don't necessarily use bags, which I like: they will give you a box if you ask for it: otherwise stuff just stays in cart and goes into your car.

                                                    I think; I will have to pay close attention next time, but don't see how I could miss this.

                                                    I do find the folks checking receipts to be mildly annoying,mostly because I like to put my receipts into my wallet so I don't lose them for later budgeting reconciliation. However, it is a small price to pay for being able to enjoy halibut (my traditional dinner the night of a Costco run) now and then, without having to make a three hour trip to the City...

                                                    1. re: susancinsf

                                                      Excellent post ... and excellent price for Orowheat. Even GO sells it for more than that ... much more. Chocolate covered pommegranate seeds sound wonderful. I have read that Costco sells those dried persimmons also, but don't know what the price is.

                                                      Yes, I know from having lived in the burbs in SoCal for a while it isn't easy in some locations to find good grub and Costco would have a place.

                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                        The Orowheat at Costco is not only priced at what sales prices would be at most supermarkets, and the loaves are substantially larger (longer) than the norm. You can also mix and match with almost all the variety that Orowheat offers....I love Costco and I think the variety in what they offer has gotten substantially better over the years. My favorite single item by far is the romaine lettuce. I can get 6 crisp fresh heads for 2.99.

                                                  2. "one of the two reasons I refuse to shop at Costco. Paying a store for the priviledge to shop annoys me to no end."

                                                    Unfortunately for you that happens to be the Costco business model. Membership fees are their built in profit margin they get from you up front to be able to be in business. Yes, membership fees go to their bottom line as "profits". For that membership they're able to offer many items at razor thin margins. Yes, you're going to find some things at a local market or somewhere else cheaper, no one denies that. Their Kirkland products meet or exceed most name brand products for quality, satisfaction and value. Sure you can shop off a gift card without a membership, but there are many more money saving opportunities available to those who are members. In a thread that was deleted you mentioned "mail in rebates", my recent experience is they may have eliminated "mail in rebates", but give "instant rebates"...you buy the item you get the rebate right off your bill at the register. Their return policy is unmatched by any store I know of and your refund of a 364 day membership anywhere else would be unheard of. People including myself have bought products which have broken or failed after a year or two when past their manufacturers warranty and have received full refunds (most electronics are now only returnable for a refund up to 90 days). They do everything they can to make sure members get the most from their Costco membership, they have to otherwise people wouldn't renew them.

                                                    $50 a year for a membership= $4.17/month. You can't save that every month at Costco you aren't as good a shopper as you claim. You'd save that on 10 gallons of gas a week. Use the Costco American Express card and you get a 3% rebate on all the gas you buy. No annual fee on that Costco American Express card...who knows maybe they're going to charge the general public an annual membership fee to have the American Express card.

                                                    I see way more satisfied Costco members on the CH boards than disatisfied ones.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: monku

                                                      The point about mail in rebates was that a certain profit comes from people who don't use their cards. Here's the GMA story which goes into non-food ways to save at warehouse stores.
                                                      http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/ConsumerNew...

                                                      Thanks to all who contributed food related buys. Right now it doesn't seem that Costco food-wise will give me any advantage. The items that are exceptional such as the steaks, are the ones I don't buy. For the others it seems I can get better deals at other local stores.

                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                        Businesses make a "profit" is that a bad thing?

                                                        There's nothing that prevents someone from not using their membership. I don't think anyone buys a Costco membership and doesn't use it. Does the insurance company make money if you don't make a claim.

                                                        You obviously had some "advantage" to using your "free" membership 364 days.

                                                        "Also is there anything there that is so mind-blowing delicious that I can't get it easily elsewhere?"
                                                        There are numerous "food" items you won't find anywhere else, but are you willing to pay the price? Fresh white truffles $399 from the Piedmont region of Italy.
                                                        http://www.costco.com/Common/Category...

                                                        1. re: monku

                                                          Like I said, the items that are special I don't buy. I'm in the 10% of the population that can't detect truffles ... nothing, nada. Since I didn't buy a thing despite a number of trips during my membership I don't see the advantage other than getting my money back. I'm all for profit. I just know stores where I don't have to pay extra to keep them profitable. Thank you for the link. That confirmed there's really nothing I want there.

                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                            I know you have made up your mind RW, but I'd thought I'd mention something other people have not specifically said. I also am a big bargain hunter, fell in love with GO from chowhound, but I find Costco a great value. However I have a small list of things I always buy, and rarely deviate from that list unless I am having a party or there are good coupons. Yes Costco does coupons, and they can be a very good value especially on non food items that I then only need to buy a few times a year rather then every few weeks.

                                                            In terms of food we generally only get sliced cheese ($3 a pound, have never seen it that cheap for sliced) , coffee (also around $3-$4 a pound, its no gourmet coffee, but some stores have roasters and it is excellent for your morning cup), bread but only because the only whole wheat bread husband will eat is milton's which is half the price of anywhere else, and beer which pays for our membership all on it's own.

                                                            Lately I have been hooked on their Chinese chicken salad kits which are $10 without lettuce, I buy cheap cabbage and make lunch for an entire week for me.

                                                            It does not seem like a lot of things to go to one store for but we make a fun family trip out of it, have samples and eat lunch for cheap after. Especially once you have three hungry teens in your house I would give it another shot, I shop like you do but I really feel like we get our value out of costco. Last note I always check GO and other ads first. There are weeks when I just can't find something on sale so I buy it at costco, things like nuts, salad, and lunch meat fall into this category

                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                              Could you elaborate on those stores, like Costco, where you don't have to pay extra to keep them profitable? I haven't found any in my liftime, as most build it into their price structure.

                                                              1. re: cstr

                                                                Pretty much every store and market.

                                                                i just shop well and the things I see at Costco are not going to cut my personal costs. I don't shop often at places like Safeway or Whole Foods but even they have their megabargains at times. Lucky this week has good-tasting navel oranges for 39 cents a pound. Raleys had exxcellent blackberries for $1 6oz last week. I got some delicious Bear Creek comice pears (home of Harry & David) from Whole Foods for 99 cents lb a few weeks back.

                                                                For gourmet items I'd rather patronize small local shops.The variety is greater, quality is better and I can buy just the amount I want.

                                                                I'm more into farms and farmers markets for produce. Fresher, cheaper, larger variety and more fun.

                                                                Discount markets and pharmacies provide most of my staple groceries. With coupons recently I loaded up on Puffs tissues for 25 cents a box. Got 4 megarolls of Scott towels (4 rolls = 12 regular rolls) for $2.50.

                                                                There are small markets I drive by that have fantastic bargains one of which where I have bought tomatoes for 10 cents lb, pineapples for 98 cents each, organic fennel for 10 cents a bunch.

                                                                I just wanted to see if it would be worthwhile for me to include Costco into my rotation.

                                                                One might say that is too difficult, but I have all the markets bookmarked and take a half an hour ever week to check the ads. So given I stock up on sales, it is pretty much a matter of visiting about two markets a week. Farms and farmers markets I just consider recreation ... and they have the lovliestt samples.

                                                      2. We're especially partial to their babyback ribs and their whole, boneless pork shoulders. Also the large bags of spinach.

                                                        1. I am a thrifty shopper out of necessity. There are just 2 in my household, but we usually maintain a membership to a big box something-or-other every year. (Usually it's Sam's- cheaper annual membership than Costco and closer to home, but I've done Costco too).
                                                          Why? The savings in toilet paper and gas alone usually pay for it before the year is out.

                                                          I am an equal opportunity bargain-hunter- I have cards for all the main chain groceries, shop at TJ's, Fresh n Easy, Food-4-Less (sounds like your Grocery Outlet), even WalMart and Big Lots sometimes -oh, and the occasional Farmer's Market (but in Vegas those are slim pickins compared to the bounty I used to be able to take advantage of while living in upstate NY. I didn't know how spoiled I was back then!)

                                                          I don't usually buy my weekly groceries at The Big Box. I usually shop at smaller stores for that.
                                                          But I hit up The Box about once a month (gas stops not included) to restock major staples - flour, rice/beans, hunks of cheese, any produce that keeps well or I use repetitively in cooking (crushed tomatoes, berries, bags of potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, oranges) and I also prepare for any entertaining I plan to do (paper goods, alchohol and mixers, meat for grilling. etc.)
                                                          A few times a year I go there for household cleaners, dishwasher pellets, vitamins, shampoo, soap, etc.- and very occasionally, we buy tires, electronics, jewelry, or eyeglasses, at which point the membership usually pays for itself on the spot.
                                                          I try to avoid most of the seasonal "specialty items", the bakery department, any overly processed crap, any produce packaged in a bunch so large that I know it'll go bad before I can use it, and getting snookered into buying pallets full of cubic feet of mass when I only really need one small box or can. I keep "budget creep" down by making a list before I go and sticking to it. (*cough*except when I fail my save vs. sample ladies.*cough*)

                                                          It's been worth it to us- and I define "worth it" as "The membership has paid for itself this year and I have saved more money on top of that."

                                                          As for the membership, I don't think of it as "paying the store for the privilege to shop" but rather, "paying a wholesale buyer's club to use their economies of scale I don't otherwise have access to as an individual civilian". A normal (free to walk in) store charges me only *retail* prices, because I'm the last step in the consumer process. At The Box, I could score a wholesale or close-to-wholesale deal. In theory, the reason I'm paying a fee is to move one step up the supply chain.

                                                          Thus, my general rule of thumb is I don't buy it at The Box if I can get it cheaper by myself in the retail world. But normal grocery stores don't let you have access to near-wholesale prices on toilet paper, gas, & tires. So I look at those things as my "true savings", and treat the food buys as occasional savings gravy, if that makes any sense.

                                                          9 Replies
                                                          1. re: tastyvegas

                                                            Not out of malice by any stretch, but why must we hammer down the OP and make him/her see our point of view? The OP obviously has an opinion, and a system that apparently works well for his/her situation (heck, I wish I could be as organized).

                                                            Costco does not seem to be his/her cup of tea, so why harp on?

                                                            And I don't think anyone is scamming the system much with the gift card ploy... if it was such a big deal that loophole would have been closed long ago.

                                                            1. re: caliking

                                                              Wow, I didn't sense that tastyvegas was doing that at all. Just giving his/her reasons for being a member.

                                                              And I really, really envy rworange''s location in the SF Bay Area. I live four hours from their and the difference is HUGE.

                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                I was not singling anyone out - I am also guilty of the same crime :)... just making a general comment.

                                                                1. re: caliking

                                                                  No worries, no malice taken- but to answer your query- why add another comment to this thread? Because the OP...posted it. And is/was in search of an answer.
                                                                  And we see that the OP was looking to be sort of "convinced" by starting this thread, to wit: "Yeah, I was hoping that with more people in the house I might look at Costco differently or since I've been out of the loop so long that there might be amazing stuff there I could use. ...At one time I felt strongly against TJ... However, reading Chowhound posts I got some insight into TJ that I didn't have before and have come to value it.
                                                                  I was hoping to get that from this thread..."
                                                                  Later, we see that the OP has made up his/her mind based on food-centric criteria (as is only fair, this being a chowhound board): "Thanks to all who contributed food related buys. Right now it doesn't seem that Costco food-wise will give me any advantage."

                                                                  However, I value The Box not as much for the food as much as for the essential household needs- items which still make a membership "of value", and an area of discussion on which the other posters in this thread touched only lightly (again, this being a foodie board). Also, the OP seems to have a certain strong feeling about membership fees, and I didn't see anyone explaining the fees in terms of economic benefit to the member, only economic benefit to the store. Therefore, I felt I still had something of value to contribute to the OP's thought process, since everyone is entitled to change their mind when presented with new information. (I also thought not only of the OP, but of other Chowhounds who might have clicked on this thread just to read along because they're in the process of making up their minds, and want to see what value is in it for them.)

                                                                  The OP asks, Is a membership "worth it"? My tiny 2-person household says yes, though maybe not on the criteria the OP was looking for. But IMHO, it would be of even more value if 3 teens suddenly moved in. I might actually start buying a lot more food there, if I shopped for a family of 5. So I felt compelled to say, 'hey look, it may be "worth it" for these reasons you might not have even thought of, AND it might be even more value, food-wise, later on.'

                                                                  If they still say, "mmmmm, nah." Then, hey, cool, no skin off our collective pro-Box noses. I'm not trying to hammer anyone into seeing it my way, just sharing what I know. Which is, after all, the ostensible point of this forum. *shrug*

                                                                  1. re: tastyvegas

                                                                    The OP said they had a membership for 364 days and could not find one item to purchase and that s/he is a bargain shopper. I don't see why after a year s/he even thought to ask about it instead of during that year, after maybe the second visit of walking through the cavernous aisles and not finding one thing s/he thought was a good deal.

                                                                    That being said, the primary question was if we did our primary shopping there and I dont think anyone does, but it is part of my rotation and the membership fee is made up when I save $45 over what I would have paid on the outside. That happens pretty easily and even quicker if I were to factor in my time and cost of driving to various stores each week to pick up the sale items. If I were to factor in three stepchildren added to the home, one stop would take precedence over limited quantities of sale items in regular grocery stores.

                                                                    1. re: tastyvegas

                                                                      Hi tastyvegas, I thought yours was one of the better posts in this thread and one of the few that wasn't hammering a point of view and gave me good things to think about since you shop pretty much the same way I do.

                                                                      So much so I finally got curious about the gas situation to check it out. At the Richmond CA Costco regular was $2.79 and premium was $3.01. The gas station near my home was selling regular for $2.79 and premium for $2.98. So much for that.

                                                                      I shop Food-4-Less also which is good for certain produce specials, regular toilet paper sales and sometimes jaw-dropping markdowns ... it was where I got that 25 cent Puffs tissue. This week the produce special is three mangos for a buck.

                                                                      Grocery Outlet is a whole different thing though. If you can believe it on the weeks when GO is really hot, a stop at Food-4-Less makes me shake my head at the high prices.

                                                                      Food-4-Less is your basic grocery staples. No surprises there. GO is like TJ's, BevMo, Costco and Wal-Mart had a menage a quatre and this was the child of that orgy.

                                                                      So there are gourmet items like smoked wild salmon from Alasaka for $4.99 for 8 oz. Boursin is 99 cents. Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee Chardonnay Champagne for $3.99 with it usually selling for $8.99 at the main stream markets. Like TJ, the selection is interesting, there are items rarely seen at other stores, lots of organics. The store relies mostly on overruns so you can't rely on anything being there. We usually keep a monthly thread on the deals. Here's November to give you an idea
                                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/663939

                                                                      I know I'm living in an extraodinary area for produce. Today I did my shopping at an outstanding store called Berkeley Bowl where I bought raspberries for $1.29, large zucchini for 39 cents lb, Fuyu persimmons for 49 cents a lb, Beauregard yams for 29 cents lb.

                                                                      Cara caras are still on the high side since it is early in the season so the orange I bought was 87 cents at $1.69 lb. And Meyer lemons are pricy starting at $1.59 with some gorgeous ones with bright fresh leaves still attached for $2.29 lb. I was tempted to see how many pounds were equal to 20 that Costco is selling for $7.

                                                                      But the Bowl isn't just cheap, it's about variety. There are literaly currently over 25 varieties of apples. There are all sorts of lemons including pink lemons. So my splurge was heirloom pink and purple potatoes for $3.29 lb and some hoshigaki at $22 lb. The latter are to persimmons as true kobe is to beef.

                                                                      "Hoshigaki are made from whole Hachiya persimmons, meticulously peeled, that dangle from a pole for a month to dry. While drying, they are gingerly massaged every few days to redistribute the fruit's sugars and bring them to the surface in a delicate white bloom."

                                                                      As to driving around to take advantage of bargains and wasting gas, not really. My destination was Berkeley Bowl. On the drive home, on my route, I stopped at Lucky to both pay my insurance and pick up the 39 cent naval oranges. I drove by the market that has the extrodinary deals like tomatoes for 10 cents lb and checked out the signs driving by ... no deals today. I made a pit stop at FoodMax which competes with other stores price-wise ... their oranges were 38 cents a pound, blackberries were 97 cents and fresh blueberries $1.99.

                                                                      Had I really wanted on the way down I could have stopped at Food-4-Less and a farmers market without wasting one more drop of gas than just driving to the Berkeley Bowl.

                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                        RW

                                                                        You and jfood have significant differences of opinions but this is OUTSTANDING research (jfood is a data junkie) to the point of publishable.

                                                                        You should contact a local paper and see if you might get some space to do this weekly to help people in your area save some money in these times.

                                                                        Nice job on this.

                                                                          1. re: fern

                                                                            thx f...jfood remembers those threads. he withhold opinion now as he did then.

                                                            2. Hi rworange,

                                                              I think if I were in your shoes (location!) and had your shopping skills, I'd skip Costco for now. Living in midwestern suburbia, we don't have great produce, no cheese stores, and even the nearest Trader Joe's is 3 towns away. I like Costco meat, nuts, wine deals sometimes, flowers, cheese, produce, and more. It's all a little bit nicer than our other grocery store chains offer. We don't have great markets around, so for us, it's nice. The way that you can shop, though, and the things and bargains you can get far surpass anything around here. I remember your amazing posts where you calculated your eating costs weekly and don't think you'll do any better at Costco. Now, if the things you buy begin to change with the kids around, you might revisit it.

                                                              By the way, your menu posts I referred to taught me alot. For one thing, as silly as it sounds, I remember thinking, "Oh! I can fry up one or two slices of bacon for flavoring instead of the whole package!" We had a large family and I did everything in large quantities for years. That's just wasteful these days! I needed my eyes opened and you did it. Thank you! Come to think of it, I should go read those again.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: fern

                                                                Thanks for the compliment, fern. Bacon freezes beautifully too.

                                                              2. I'd like to believe that the free food samples alone are worth the membership fee alone. You can save big time on tires, prescriptions, among other items.

                                                                9 Replies
                                                                1. re: NewDude

                                                                  According to the website, you don't need a membership to use the pharmacy.

                                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                                    You're correct, also for the food court. BTW - boursin for .99?? better check the expiration date.

                                                                  2. re: NewDude

                                                                    How much free food sampling are you doing that it pays for your membership??

                                                                    DT

                                                                    1. re: Davwud

                                                                      Overzealous samplers (not meaning you NewDude) are the one thing I dislike about Costco. I wish they would put a "food sample court" on one side of the store so the whole herd could feed in one place.

                                                                      1. re: Samalicious

                                                                        Couldn't agree more. The free sampling drives me crazy. Last time I was at Costco, there was a huge crowd around the sample table, making it almost impossible to shop in that area. People were pushing and shoving for a sample of strawberry Yoplait. Really, who doesn't know what strawberry yogurt tastes like?

                                                                        1. re: Azizeh

                                                                          i so, so agree! one of the reasons i pay extra for the executive membership is that the sample stands aren't in full swing by the time executive hours are over....
                                                                          trying to weave my cart through the throngs of sample-hounds is so frustrating. people are clueless to their surroundings when they are waiting impatiently for a tiny pleated paper cup of granola..carts abandoned in mid-aisle, etc. i've often thought exactly what you said, samalicious, and i suggest a caged area like the one where they keep the cigarettes--chainlink fence them in and let us shop!

                                                                          1. re: chez cherie

                                                                            Do what I sometimes do with those abandoned carts: push them around to the next aisle, out of sight.

                                                                      2. re: Davwud

                                                                        A lot...if you will eat anything (and go back for seconds), you can easily eat lunch there. Once a week times 52 equals a lot of saved money. :)

                                                                        I find the sample ladies to be hysterical. I don't know where they advertise for this job, but some these women are hardcore. I know they are just following the rules of their company, but still

                                                                        1. re: Jacey

                                                                          On our last Costco run (to pick up a mazillion pounds of dog food for the greyhound adoption kennel), we wheeled the flat-bed down the aisle where they were sampling Sister Shuberts rolls. I saw a young couple shoulder their ways to the front of the suging sample line and heard the sample lady say, "Oh! It's you two again???"

                                                                    2. The ,97 on the price does NOT mean that this is a clearance and as low as tghe price will get. It does mean that the particular item is on the way out. It may be a slow seller, seasonal item or the packaging is being changed.
                                                                      There are clearance items that drop in price, at times you will see a .77 price.......

                                                                      Also, if you aren't sure you want something and there is an asterisk on the price sign, you better grab it. It will not return at that price in the same size packaging or at all. The asterisk means it is a dropped item, no longer orderable by the store.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                                                        Yes, the .97 is just the start of a close out. If it doesn't move fast enough, it will continue to drop to sometimes crazy low prices.

                                                                        1. re: bagelman01

                                                                          Anything ending in 7 is on its way out and been marked down. .97 mark is typically the first down. .77 typically the deepest markdown, sometimes below cost depending on the item.

                                                                          Anything in the upper right corner means no more shipments of the corner. This can be an asterisk, a cross, and a couple other symbols i've since forgotten.

                                                                        2. Chiming in late...when I lived in the Bay Area, the only food items I'd buy at Costco were the cashews and pistachios. They've expanded their baking section greatly and now carry vanilla beans, decent vanilla, organic fair trade unbleached sugar, sea salt, etc. so that would be great if you bake. I find organic (and humanely certified) eggs cheaper at WF than Costco and the milk is the same. Produce is shipped from all over which is what we have to do here but in Ca, the farmers markets were far better. I never compared the prices because I loved the famers markets. Now that we don't have the luxury of food choices that we used to, I buy food there more often.

                                                                          What I got from Costco, more, were the non-food items. You find things you don't expect (great prices on tires, garage doors, etc.). My friend furnished her house, a designer house, from there. The biggest problem I have is I end up spending so much more than planned because of these non-food items (wow, great price for sports bras, I need two packs of them!).

                                                                          12 Replies
                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                            My husband starts to worry if the bag of pistachios gets half empty. He's going there today without me mainly for non-food items but also pistachios. Ooh, and maybe some luscious lamb chops :)

                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                              Costco has me rethinking what I need in the home, too. If I get down to "only" three packages of 6 packs of tp, I feel like I need to do another run there. In the past, I'd never have that much in stock!

                                                                            2. re: chowser

                                                                              I buy lots from the baking aisle in Costco. Flour, sugar, brown sugar, whole wheat flour, craisins, raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, vanilla extract...

                                                                              Sometimes I buy the Duncan Hines brownie mixes or cookie mixes to have on hand. A friend gave me a great tip- cut out the directions from the box and tape to the inside of the cabinet. That way the whole box with only one bag of mix is taking up space in the cabinet.

                                                                              If the quantities are too large, I split with a friend or family member. It doesn't bother me to split up a bag of flour or sugar since I decant them all into large storage containers.

                                                                              1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                I split, too. They have 3 lb bags of Red Star active yeast for something like $2.99. I froze a large amount and shared the rest and it's still cheaper than buying it at a regular grocery store. I easily go through the sugar and brown sugar but have never tried the flour since it comes in huge 25 lb bags. I've yet to buy their spices but they do look tempting. Oh, and they have good every day olive oil at better prices than elsewhere.

                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                  I use their regular olive oil for just plain cooking and like it just fine. Save the really good stuff for things that need it

                                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                                    Is that the Kirkland Tuscan olive oil? I've bought that too, but recently discovered that Fairway's regular olive oil is quite a bit cheaper (for those in NYC) and just as good. I've also bought that yeast.

                                                                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                      No, just the regular. Based on your rec I'll buy it next time If I can't be entombed in your freezer (understand that jfood has first dibs) then just put me in the cold room at Fairway I'll be very happy

                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                        The Colombian coffee (beans) at Costco are quite nice too. When you say "the regular", is that also a Kirkland brand? Oh - and I posted this elsewhere, but last week I found Meyer Lemons at Costco for $7.00 for 20. I know RWOrange has found them cheaper elsewhere, but, in Manhattan, I have sometimes paid that price for 3-4 of them.

                                                                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                          Yes, the "regular" Kirkland brand I saw your Meyer lemon post Bob found then 8 for $3 (no more than that, maybe less) at WF. I saw you gave a lot away. My neighbor brought me about 20 last year from her tree and they lasted just in a paper bag in the fridge for weeks and weeks.

                                                                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                            jfood has been buying the coffee at Costco for years. When they started selling the Kirkland Brand for half the Starbucks he switched.

                                                                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                              I'll have to keep an eye out for meyer lemons. That's the things with Costco--odd things pop up that you don't expect. I found fresh pasta sheets there the other day. I didn't buy them but what an unexpected find.

                                                                                              Their cherries are my guilty pleasure in the summer. I know they're a high pesticide fruit and I like to buy organic in those cases but in the summer, I make trips just to buy both bing and Rainier and I'll confess to finishing the clamshell in 24 hours. I would join Costco just for the cherries.

                                                                                      2. re: chowser

                                                                                        I've seen the flour packed as two 10lb bags- so 20lb total. A 25lb bag would get used in my house... but nowhere to put it all.

                                                                                        The spices that I've bought from them are excellent. They once had some type of sea salt in a metal tin that was good. Only saw it once though...

                                                                                  2. Food related but NOT food, I really love the food storage containers they sell. Their plastic wrap IMO is the best. And the quality of their stainless flatware is good; I've bought several sets. I've bought their sets of nonstick skillets and liked them also. Oh, and their boiled shrimp with cocktail sauce and lemon wedges for $10? I couldn't make it at home for that price and the shrimp are always perfectly cooked.

                                                                                    1. Hi folks,

                                                                                      We think the supply of stuff to talk about on this subject has been pretty well exhausted, so we've gone ahead and locked the thread.