I celebrated Presidents Day through a number of non-work activities, including a trip to my local Costco. On a day where we celebrate famous (and infamous) American leadership through the years, the most patriotic thing to do (aside from buying an on-sale mattress) may be going to Costco. I am a Costco fan. I’m not a Costco fanatic, but I respect those who are. My friend Amy says she likes a trip to Costco more than a day at Disneyland. Fighting words to some (my wife Jill included), but I like it.
I considered this week’s trip a win. I’ve called Costco “The $300 Store” for years – though it’s probably the $400 store now with inflation – but I got out this time for “just” $236. And nothing I bought was an impulse buy. Well, I did buy something unplanned – refrigerated tomato soup for $12 (call me crazy!) – but that’s it!
Here’s the thing. I am a highly informed grocery shopper. I actually enjoy grocery shopping. I look forward to reading the grocery mailers that come to my mailbox each Thursday. I know the brands I like. I know the prices I expect. I know the layout of the stores where I shop. And I know what to stock up on when there is a great deal. With that in mind, here are the things I purchase at Costco that make the $60 membership worth it for me:
- Tires. I know. Not a grocery item. But they are a great deal, and they only sell high quality brands.
- Rental Cars. Another non-grocery item. I get all of my rental cars through Costco. Again, spectacular deals and easy shopping.
- Appliances. (I will get to groceries, I promise!) Over the years, when I’ve needed a new washer/dryer/dishwasher/fridge, I’ve gone to Costco. The prices are great, they do a beautiful job of delivery and installation, and the return policy is unbeatable.
- Rao’s Tomato Sauce. I have recipes, but I can’t make it much better without a lot of work.
- Pesto Sauce. This one I do prefer making from scratch (it’s a little less salty), but the stuff they sell at Costco is awesome.
- Frozen Atlantic Salmon. It makes a mid-week meal so easy, and again, it’s good stuff.
- Frozen Spinach-Mozzarella Ravioli. Another long time mid-week staple in our house.
- Other small items: Cholula, olive oil, chili garlic sauce, nuts, Halloween candy, eggs ($6 for two dozen in this shopping trip – half the price I would’ve paid at a regular grocery store!), Cheerios (plain), wine, and meats for the bbq.
Costco is a great deal, as long as you don’t get tempted by the items that sparkle and shine. That being said, there have been blips of weaknesses. Jill remembers a time when she and then 10-year-old Ryan went on a Costco run. They pushed the cart into the store and within five minutes, had a giant stuffed dog (at least she did not buy the Costco bear) and a cashmere sweater in the cart, well before they even got close to anything on the list. While I’m on a mission when I go to Costco, Jill is more of a browser on a fascinating exploratory journey. Journeying through Costco is dangerous and potentially expensive. (In Jill’s defense, that sweater was her favorite sweater for over a decade, and the dog was a 15-year favorite of Ryan, Dawson, and our last dog, Penny.)
There’s also the huge rotisserie chicken that is still just $4.99. “You’d think a chicken’s life would be worth more than that,” quipped Ryan one time. It is, Ryan. It’s worth much more, and they make you walk through the whole store to get it. That’s why you have to be strong. Stay focused. If you’re not, then you walk in for the chicken, and exit with a dog and a sweater.
Costco is passionate about its leading items. The chicken is one of those, and the $1.50 hot dog and soft drink combo is another. That price has not change since Costco started in 1985. Prices have increased 280% since then, so it would make sense if today’s price was a still-bargain $4.20. Dude! But not at Costco. Year after year, the price remains $1.50. In fact, when the current CEO was reported to be considering a price increase, the founder of the company reportedly said, “If you raise the price of the effing hot dog, I will kill you.” I’m sure he meant that in a loving and non-violent way, but you can see an unwavering commitment to core values there.
When I’m walking into a Costco, I’m always struck by the people coming out of the store with two huge TVs, and grocery carts overflowing with excitement and goodness. It seems like every cart looks like the Holderness family video (pretty darn funny, and sadly accurate.) I get a bit of ‘purchase envy,’ as I know my cart will be nowhere near as exciting as that one. (See non-exciting list above.) And my mind tells me that kind of cart, resembling Santa’s overflowing bag, is what most people are walking out with. But it turns out the average Costco purchase is just nine items and roughly $114. So, on my most recent trip, I actually doubled the purchases of the average shopper. Maybe I am more normal than it seems. At least in that regard.
Costco stores are big (90 houses like mine would fit into a typical Costco), clean, well-stocked, well-organized, and staffed by employees who tend to keep working there for years. Trader Joe’s (another store I know and love) employees seem a little more relaxed, but both score high on the employee retention scale.
And what does all of this fascination with Costco say about America? We like getting a good deal. We like knowing that we are being treated fairly. We like being in places where employees are treated well. My friend Dawnalyn says that for the person looking beyond the list, every trip seems like spinning the lottery wheel. They have short time deals that are gone once they sell out. So many Americans love playing the lottery and Costco trips can satisfy that craving. Finally, we buy way too much stuff that we don’t really need.
As for my take on Disneyland vs. Costco, I’m on the fence. The lines are shorter at Costco and I get more for my money. And it is organized like a theme park . . . But if you haven’t seen Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars Land) or Radiator Springs in Cars Land, you are missing out. And, since I know Jill reads this, it is super clear to me . . . Disneyland is way better! (But the hot dogs are WAY more expensive.)
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16 thoughts on “Honoring our Presidents (and America) at Costco”
For several years (decades ago now) I said I could not afford to save as much as I would at Costco. It turns out I was correct. There are backpackers who worry that they may “need” something they don’t pack – almost never true beyond the Ten Essentials Plus One. I do have a friend who lives by the saying: “If Costco doesn’t have it I don’t need it.” Sorry it took so long to get there.
Rosemary and I braved the storm yesterday and I managed to dodge the at least acceptable looking $300 (!!!!) kayak including paddle and car carrier and the ubiquitous $100 surfboards. In our trip we somehow survived the experience of being in the worst place in the world to lose our shopping list. Even then AND with our Costco credit card refund the tab was “only” a little over $300. It does everything right as nearly as I can tell – I’ve chatted with employees a number of times and they seem to be treated well and the place treats us well. I rent all our cars through Costco, etc. It’s the Eddie Bauer/Patagonia/LLBean of mass retail. As for eating at Disneyland – I took a hungry girl there – ONCE.
Thanks as always for sharing portions of your life. Best to you and your family.
Hi Bill – Thanks for reading and for your insights. It’s the rare person who actually acts on the realization that they cannot afford to save so much money. I’m not one of them. Thanks for making the $300 store stereoytype even more of a reality. Really good stuff.
My family booked a Cabo vacation through Costco Travel this past summer. I was a bit hesitant to vacation in Mexico, but having Costco affiliated with the resort made me think, “Costco wouldn’t put me in danger.” I was correct. We had the time of our lives.
In addition, for booking our vacation through Costco, we received $500 in Costco credit. We informed our four children that it was a Costco Christmas. They each would receive $150 ( we pitched in a little) to spent at the warehouse giant. It was the memory of the season. A couple present highlights were – an electric toothbrush, a massage machine, a Pendleton blanket, and a four pack of Mentos gum. However, the multitude of options overwhelmed one of my daughters and she still has $130 in credit.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and recommendations. I now know where I will purchase my next set of tires.
Costco credit is always a good thing to have. I do trust Costco. I’ve seen their vacation packages but never done one. Maybe I’ll look again. Their return policy is amazing. (I have friends who worked in the returns department – they had stories to tell!) Thanks for reading and for your comments.
Costco is great. And considering I’m occasionally the recipient of some of your food purchases in the form of a delicious meal, please keep on shopping there.
Our Costco impulse buys:
we were at Costco to buy produce and somehow bought a Vitamix blender.
Also, on one trip the cart with all the warm bread was just rolling out of the kitchen. We finished an entire loaf of bread on our way home – a 10 minute trip.
But Mike, you know what I’m going to say about Disneyland: No thanks. I can wait all day in line at the Post Office for free.
I bet you still have that mixer. And on the bread debacle, I have never eaten a whole loaf on the way home. But rarely does a loaf of french bread make it back to our house without one of the ends being mysteriously absent. And yes, I knew what you were going to say before you said it. Yet I still laughed.
Missed ya at the pool this AM….it was WET!
Been on a 8 day Death Valley Outback trip….got out and home thru ice and snow out of valley surrounded by mountains. (Hot springs…..secret) 44th year for me! Rejuvenated!
You won’t find me at our pool on weekends – but I was there on Friday in the pouring rain. If I recall correctly, Coach Keith called us a bunch of lunatics for showing up. Pretty accurate assessment of our gang in the pool. Welcome back, and see you next week.
Costco is my place for paper towels, TP, croissants, bacon. And never on a weekend or around holiday. Just after the lunch hour, but we’ll before school and work lets out. Kinda of the same if I have to go to Disneyland. But than what I spend at Costco is about the same as a ticket to Disneyland.
That’s a solid list. One of the things that I almost put in the blog was that during my 8-month stint of not working, I was able to go to Costco on weekdays. They had a COVID-friendly policy in that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Costco shoppers 60 and older could enter the store 1 hour before they officially opened. I was fired up! Then when I turned 60, I learned that they had ended that policy. I guess just the hope of it made me a little happier, but it was never to be. Thanks for reading.
Hey Brother! A great read and very timely. Tracee and I have a Costco membership, as we have been driving by the new Costco here in West Little Rock for months. We do need a new dishwasher. Really just want one that’s in stock, works , reasonably priced, and not a hassle to buy and get installed. A home warranty is a must. It’s Sunday and now we have a mission!!! Might even grab a rotisserie chicken and a hot dog:) Much love to you and Jill.
Thanks, Pat! I think you may be better off ordering the dishwasher online (costco.com), but the problem is, the online chicken and hot dog options are quite limited. Love to you and Tracee.
Mike, By your list I see you are a COSTCO vet. Me too….. although it’s also Thomas English muffins, lamb chops, frozen stuff, wine (Kirkland Malbec) and whenever Kirkland Nicorettes are on sale. And a hot dog. They need to bring the chopped onions back.
Totally agree on the chopped onion front. Your list is outstanding! Thanks for reading!
Funny, Mike. (Miss your humor.)
On my way to Costco Tracy.
Dog food. Steaks for Janet. Bullie sticks for Donner.
No sparkles or glitter.
Saving that for Disneyland.
Perfect response. Their steaks are outstanding! What I did not say is that, at least for now, the Disneyland Turkey Leg is one of my favorites, and it’s almost as big as the Costco Rotisserie Chicken!
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