Is it worth paying for a Costco membership? That’s a question I’ve heard asked a lot in the personal finance sphere, and it’s one I mulled over for quite a while myself.
I grew up watching my mother shop and cook for five people (um yes, my parents are Costco members), and I’ll be the first to admit that it took me a very long time to figure out how to grocery shop and cook for one after I graduated from dorm life to apartment life. As part of that transition, I suspected I was going to have to say goodbye to Costco for the foreseeable future, plus there wasn’t one close enough to me to justify going anyway.
But that changed when one did open in DC and my roommate and I decided we’d go in for a cheap lunch one Saturday morning. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went while we were waiting in line to order our hot dogs, but we were running low on olive oil at that point and were talking about how it was probably much cheaper at Costco. We walked out with a membership and a container of olive oil.
My August spending report included the membership renewal fee, so yep, I still think it’s worth it. As a single person (who is also splitting the fridge/freezer/pantry space with a roommate), there’s only so much I can buy at Costco, and I certainly don’t buy everything every time. But I’ve been surprised at how much it does make sense for me to buy at Costco, so I’m here to say it’s not just for families!
Here’s a look at what I buy:
- Olive oil: so useful for cooking, so much cheaper in bulk! Because I could never go through an entire bottle on my own, my roommate and I split this
- Minced garlic: ditto to the above, plus life is too short to have to chop up multiple cloves when making a big batch of something!
- Eggs: I can go through quite a few eggs and the dozen and a half at Costco is sometimes cheaper than the dozen at the grocery store
- Oatmeal: I bought it once and now I’ve got a lifetime supply
- Frozen berries: I consume a lot of smoothies, so these are a must
- Peanut butter: I eat PB&J on days I don’t have any leftovers to bring to work for lunch, plus I put peanut butter in my smoothies
- Quinoa: I can get rice pretty cheaply at the grocery store (although I should see if I can get a reasonably small bag of rice at Costco), but this is by far a better place to get this pantry staple
- Carrots: even as a single person, a huge bag of baby carrots is easy to use up, especially since carrots tend to last a while in the fridge. I bring them to work for lunch, but also now that it’s fall and not so damn hot, I’ll be roasting them and throwing them into soups
- Chicken: I buy the big bag of frozen chicken tenderloins, mostly because I hardly eat meat when I’m cooking for myself and also hate cleaning up the mess from raw meat (huzzah for frozen raw meat!). This makes it easy to buy chicken fairly cheaply but not have to use it up at once—it’ll take me months sometimes to go through that much chicken. It also doesn’t take that much longer to heat up in the skillet than non-frozen chicken does
- Chia seeds: I did think about putting this in the staples, but technically it’s a nonessential splurge! Good for smoothies and for making chia seed pudding, which I go through phases of being obsessed with. A bag lasts me approximately forever
- Nuts: so, so much cheaper than buying multiple little bags at the grocery store. I’ve got almonds and walnuts on hand at the moment, and if I have the freezer space I freeze most of the bag so it doesn’t get stale
- Dried fruit: add in some M&Ms and nuts and you’ve got instant homemade trail mix! I also occasionally will put some Crasins in if I’m making overnight oats for breakfast
- Spinach: this is better when my roommate wants to split it because one can’t really use up a whole 2.5 pounds of spinach on their own (or can stuff it into their half of the freezer). I end up freezing most of this for smoothies
- Fresh mozzarella: it’s hard to resist in summer (mmmm, Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes!), especially when a double-pack costs the same as one mozzarella log in your specialty cheese section at the grocery store
- Potstickers: an emergency/laziness meal option
- Turkey bacon: every now and then I’ll get fancy and up my weekday scrambled eggs breakfast game by adding a strip or two of bacon. Unlike regular bacon there’s so much less mess to clean up after! Lest you think I’m so bacon-obsessed that I go to Costco to get my hands on a four-pack (I mean, I love bacon but that’s a lot at once), let me tell you that the extra packs survive being thrown in the freezer just fine!
- Frozen pizza: a box of 4 cheese pizzas is $10. I cannot tell you the number of times a Costco frozen pizza has been my emergency dinner when I’ve come home super late and needed food two hours ago. Good for Friday nights, shitty days, and days I’m just too damn lazy to make something. Sometimes I eat a whole pizza in a sitting (has anyone realized yet that I really love food and am capable of putting away quite a bit of it?), sometimes I only eat half so it stretches for two meals. Either way it’s so worth the money spent. I ALWAYS dedicate valuable freezer space to these
- Dishwashing pods: these go on sale frequently enough and a container lasts long enough that I haven’t yet had to pay full price
- Toilet paper: self-explanatory
- Allergy meds: a 365-day supply of the Kirkland brand of Zyrtec costs something close to $10 when it’s on sale. Worth it, since at some point during college I realized that the seasonal allergies I thought I’d grown out of were back with a vengeance now that I was living in DC
- Contact solution: I wait until this goes on sale to buy it, but even at full price it’s so much cheaper than buying two bottles elsewhere. And sadly I can’t get around having crappy eyes/needing contact solution so I will always use up the two bottles
- Glasses: I just bought a pair of glasses at Costco and was really surprised by the variety of frames available and how generally cheap they are. They still cost me $200 (thank goodness for my FSA card, especially since my insurance’s website steered me wrong about Costco being in network…), but considering how insanely expensive glasses can be, that’s not bad
If you’re really on your frugal game, you’ll forgo the cost of a membership altogether and pay someone with a membership to buy you a Costco gift card. Then you can just waltz right in and bulk shop to your heart’s content. I don’t know anyone else with a membership in town, and forking over a lot of money at once to have my parents buy me multiple gift cards each time I see them sounds like a pain in the ass, so I continue to take the non-frugal route of buying a membership.
So far I’ve been able to split the cost with my roommate, which definitely makes the price of membership more affordable. The main reason I don’t bother with the hassle of finding gift cards when I need to replenish my Costco supplies? Gas. The gas savings alone around here are more than worth the price of admission.
Agree or disagree that a membership is worth paying for? Anything you can’t live without that’s not on my list?