Is a Costco Membership Really Worth the Price?

Costco

There are pros and cons to a Costco membership. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Shopping at a warehouse store, such as Costco, can feel like a magical treasure hunt. The entire store is yours for the picking, and all you can see are aisles of your favorite products — in supersize. It can be hard to resist purchasing everything in sight. It’s a shopper’s dream. Or is it? Could there be some drawbacks to applying for a warehouse store membership?

If you’re trying to save money, your friends and family might have told you one of the best ways to do  so is to join a warehouse club, such as Costco or Sam’s Club. In some ways they might be right, but in other ways they’re very wrong.

Although there are great deals at Costco, it depends a lot on the items you buy and your living situation. That’s why it’s important to take a hard look at your individual circumstances before following the herd and getting a shiny, new membership card. Is a Costco membership really worth the price? Let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons to help you decide.

Pro: Access to services

a doctor holding a tablet

The store offers vision care. | iStock.com

Costco offers members access to an array of helpful services that you probably didn’t think you could get from a warehouse store. For example, members can get deals on auto insurance, homeowners insurance, and travel packages. Costco also offers access to vision care, banking services, and health and life insurance. If you’re looking to purchase a home, Costco provides assistance with acquiring a mortgage and refinancing an existing mortgage.

Next: Be careful what you buy and how much of it.

Con: Not enough space

Mother and daughter shopping for groceries

Don’t buy in bulk if you don’t have storage space. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Where are you going to put everything you buy? Sometimes it can be difficult to get everything to fit inside of your home, let alone your car for the ride home. If you don’t have adequate storage space, buying in bulk will just cause another problem: clutter. Think about where you’re going to store your items before going on a major bulk shopping spree. There’s nothing worse than having to apologize to guests because you have several boxes of bulk items on your couch.

Next: Deals on everything from gift cards to vacations. 

Pro: Deals

group of men enjoying drinks

You can get discounted restaurant gift cards at Costco. | iStock.com/ monkeybusinessimages

You can get great deals at Costco on items you might not be able to get discounted as easily at other retailers. For example, Costco offers deals on vacations, gift cards, and even caskets. Some of the featured vacation deals are all-inclusive packages, $499 and under deals, and 3% cash back rewards for Costco Visa holders. If you and your family frequently eat out, Costco restaurant gift cards offer great savings. Gift cards are available for restaurants, such as California Pizza Kitchen, Shogun Restaurant, and Baja Fresh. Gift cards for restaurants are 20% to 30% off the regular price.

Con: Overspending

hand taking money out of wallet

Single people or small families don’t need bulk items. | iStock.com/dolgachov

If you don’t have a big family, Costco is not such a lifesaver. It can actually cause you to spend more than you need. So, if you live alone, a Costco membership doesn’t make much sense. How long is it going to take you to go through 10 boxes of cereal or a 15-pack of facial tissue? If you live in a household with few people, it’s best to just buy what you need.

Pro: Fewer shopping trips

woman with cellphone shopping

Buying in bulk means fewer trips and knowing what you have at home. | iStock.com/Koji_Ishii

Making several trips to the store is a time waster and a potential budget buster. When you need to shop for a group of people, it’s likely you have limited time and money, so every trip counts. It’s much more cost-effective to buy in bulk than to purchase individual items. Also, when you frequently purchase individual items, you run the risk of purchasing something you already have at home. You’re basically set on autopilot when you shop frequently, so it’s just natural to pick up what you always buy during your shopping trips. You can save on transportation costs and reduce the chances of buying the same items when you purchase a larger quantity.

Con: Waste

cracked egg shells and veggies

Consider whether you can finish bulk food items. | iStock.com

With all the great deals, it can be tempting to let your eyes do the shopping. However, if you buy a food item in bulk and don’t use all of it in time, you’ll be stuck with a lot of expired food. If there’s no way you could possibly finish all of the items you purchase, you’re better off buying in smaller quantities. Instead of throwing away what you don’t use, keep an eye on the expiration date, and donate any unused portions.

Pro: Big savings for big families

family

Costco could be essential for a large family. | iStock.com

If you have a big family, Costco is a lifesaver every time. Living with several people means you’ll likely run out of toothpaste and other essentials when you really need them. When you shop in bulk, however, you’re less likely to have to reach for the paper towels — or worse, coffee filters — when you run out of toilet paper. Purchasing large amounts just makes for a happier family when you’re well stocked with everything you need.

Con: Unused membership

woman with shopping list

Will you actually use the membership? | iStock.com/tanialerro

Just like a gym membership, it can be easy to let your Costco membership go unused. Perhaps you’re just too tired to be bothered with crying babies and impatient shoppers pushing ahead of you. Or you might reason it’s easier to just pop into your local grocery store to buy a few items. Remember a warehouse store membership is only worth it if you’re going to use it. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money.

Next: Alternatives to shopping at Costco.

 Alternatives to Costco

Man shopping in supermarket

Take other store options into consideration, too. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Only you can determine whether a Costco membership makes sense. Costco offers memberships for as low as $60 per year (Gold Star Membership and Business Membership), while the Executive Membership is $120 per year and offers additional perks, such as an annual 2% reward on qualified Costco purchases, additional discounts at Costco Services, and extra benefits on Costco Travel products. Take stock of the pros and cons, and then figure out whether a membership aligns with your financial goals and budget. Here are three alternatives to consider.

Amazon Prime

  • Annual membership: $99
  • Features: Although Amazon Prime is different from traditional warehouse stores in that it is only online, it still offers notable deals. Some features include free two-day shipping, free same-day delivery to certain ZIP codes, free e-books, and one free add-on membership.

BJ’s

  • Annual membership: $50
  • Features: Members can get deals on home improvement, eye care, and extended warranties. There are also reduced prices on gas and BJ’s store brands. Online shoppers can also take advantage of online instant coupons.

Sam’s Club

  • Annual membership: $45
  • Features: Members can save time by ordering items online and picking up their purchases at a local Sam’s Club. You can also upgrade your membership to take advantage of early shopping hours, additional product protection, and exclusive pharmacy savings.

Follow Sheiresa on Twitter @SheiresaNgo.

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