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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