I Finally Tried Costco and Discovered Why Everybody Loves Shopping There

It finally happened. The beloved Costco moved into our community. I’ve heard about great deals to be had at Costco and how well it treats its employees, but I’ve never lived close enough to actually buy a Costco membership. In fact, I’ve never even been inside of one until now. Here’s how my family’s first shopping experience went at America’s favorite wholesale club.

First impression

Costco storefront with a pickup truck parked

Nothing says America like bulk shopping and pickup trucks. | The Cheat Sheet

People aren’t kidding when they say everything is bigger at Costco. The parking lot easily had over 100 cars, but because of its sheer size it felt relatively empty. There was another structure on the far side of the lot that resembled a gas station, but I couldn’t really confirm due to the lack of binoculars or 20/20 vision.

We made our way to the front door through the sea of pickup trucks and SUVs. After all, it takes a big vehicle to haul around enough toilet paper for a doomsday bunker. Before we entered the building, we couldn’t help but notice sign-up tables for Costco’s Anywhere Visa Card. We have plenty of credit cards already, so we continued to make our way to the left, toward the membership desk. The anticipation kept building.

Next: I officially join 88 million other shoppers.

Costco membership card pickup

Costco membership desk

The Costco membership desk has an ad for Costco’s Anywhere Visa Card next to the memberships and on every computer. | The Cheat Sheet

We already paid for a Gold Star membership online, so we just had to pick up the cards. Why would we buy a membership before visiting the store? First, it saves time, which is vital when you have a 2-year-old in tow. Second, Costco offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee on memberships. It will refund your membership fee in full at any time if you’re dissatisfied.

We received our cards without issue but not before we were informed about the option to upgrade to Costco’s Executive Membership. I began to realize just how good this company might be at selling stuff and why more than 88 million people are Costco members. My son started fussing. He doesn’t care much for upselling either.

Next: I find almost anything you can think of at Costco.

The treasure hunt begins

Inside Costco

Consumerism overload | The Cheat Sheet

With our Gold Star Costco cards in hand, we started our journey by entering the right side of the store. The warehouse is designed like this, which is smart from a business point of view. Research finds shoppers tend to look left then right when entering a store, and then proceed to shop in a counter-clockwise motion. Right away, I noticed the store is brightly lit, clean, packed with goods (especially electronics), and even sports some local team coolers.

We made our way around the electronics display to find yet another table for Costco’s Anywhere Visa Card. The free coolers were on display. Damn, these people are good. That was three credit card pitches before my son could point out the car-sized rubber duck hanging from the ceiling.

Next: I didn’t realize Costco had so many home improvement items.

You can buy anything

Home improvement goods at Costco

You never know what you might find down a Costco aisle. | The Cheat Sheet

No, really, you can buy anything at Costco. Our stroll down the home improvement aisles uncovered everything from kitchen sinks and garbage disposals to chandeliers and toilets. It was like I discovered Home Depot’s and Lowe’s secret lovechild. We continued to move counter-clockwise and soon came across the alcohol section, another part of Costco I had previously heard about.

Costco is apparently known for its great deals on alcohol, including Kirkland Signature Vodka. It’s been compared to Grey Goose because the two reportedly share the same water source and use 100% French wheat, but Costco’s version costs less than half. In some taste tests, Costco’s vodka outperformed Grey Goose. Interestingly, the beer was not located anywhere close to this section. We later found it clear across the store, another clever strategy to get shoppers to go on a treasure hunt.

Did you know?

If you live in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Texas, or Vermont you don’t need a Costco membership to buy alcohol, due to state laws.

Next: The No. 1 reason we joined Costco


Costco's fresh produce refrigeration section

So fresh you can see your breath | The Cheat Sheet

I must admit: Food is the real reason we joined Costco. Our grocery bill is one of our biggest monthly expenses. Our goal was to find enough savings on food items to pay for our membership and then some over the course of a year. Considering how our first trip went, I think we’ll accomplish this after our next trip.

The first amazing find was Costco’s walk-in refrigerator fresh produce section. It’s exactly what is sounds like. There was a section of fresh produce in a very cold room. I could literally see my breath. This is definitely the place to come for carrots. A 5-pound bag of baby carrots was only $5.49, while a 10-pound bag of full-size carrots was only $6.99. There was a variety of other fruits and vegetables available, too, including corn on the cob, organic apple slices, and veggie trays.

We continued to move toward the back where more fruits and vegetables were located, along with the meat and bakery section. And we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of organic options. We came across organic veggie burgers, but our most exciting find was organic turkey breast. They had 20-ounce packages for only $10.89. We bought six. Don’t judge. We deep freeze.

Next: I lose the family and make a journey to no man’s land.

Lost and found

Costco products

Costco’s middle section will test your consumer animal spirit. | The Cheat Sheet

The packaged meats quickly led me to no-man’s land. This is the middle of the store where Costco hopes you’ll wonder off and find something you didn’t realize you had to buy today. It was also the point of my shopping journey where I lost my wife and kid. They trekked on to the left side of Costco, which contained beer, chips, butter, more fruits and vegetables, and plenty of other items.

What did I find in no-man’s land? You name it; Costco had it. I found $1.50 reading glasses appropriately next to magazines, a sofa chaise, a nine-piece dining room table, socks, Calvin Klein underwear, pool toys, and some guy in the process of buying a paddle board. Yes, a paddle board. Somehow, my wallet escaped unharmed. However, it was fun to browse, and I look forward to seeing what Costco rotates into this section as the seasons change.

Next: The biggest wall of toilet paper you’ll find

Toilet paper

Costco toilet paper wall

Behold the great wall of Costco toilet paper. | The Cheat Sheet

I love a good deal on toilet paper. Not only is it a crucial item for any household, but you never have to worry about it expiring. I caught up with my family at what can only be described as the great wall of toilet paper. Coincidentally, another husband was rejoining his wife and kid, too. Did he also make a journey to no-man’s land, I wondered.

Nevertheless, I knew an attractive deal was nearby as I overheard his wife say, “Honey, this is a great deal! This is the good stuff on sale!” My wife confirmed it was a great deal, so we also picked up a package.

Next: Costco even has some health care options.


Costco services

Costco offers a variety of services. | The Cheat Sheet

After picking up some butter and a couple bags of chips that would barely fit into our pantry, we made our way to the front of the warehouse. The end was near but not before I was happy to see Costco offers a pharmacy, an optical center, a hearing aid center, and a photo center. In fact, due to federal law, you don’t need a membership to use its pharmacy. Costco even offers standard immunizations.

Next: The famous food court and perhaps the best hot dog in town

Costco’s famous food court

Costco's famous food court

Look at that beautiful hot dog deal. | The Cheat Sheet

As we were checking out, the food court was staring straight at my stomach. It’s basically entrapment. Costco has the biggest posted menu I’ve ever seen. It’s impossible not to think about the famous Costco hot dog when you’re leaving. It’s front and center. I decided to buy one.

For only $1.50, I got a hot dog that puts most ballpark dogs to shame and a drink with free refills. It’s an unbeatable deal. Costco’s food court also offers everything a hot dog could ask for: onions, ketchup, mustard, deli mustard, and relish.

Next: Costco isn’t done yet trying to sell us stuff.

Hit the road

You can buy tires and vehicles at Costco

Car too small for bulk purchases? Costco has you covered. | The Cheat Sheet

If you doubted how you can buy anything, as we were leaving we passed Costco’s tire center. That’s right. As you’re thinking about getting back to your car, Costco makes sure you know it sells tires, too. On the way out the door, there was an SUV parked on our right. It was apparently also for sale, just in case you bought too much stuff for your little sedan. You can visit CostcoAuto.com to find more information about shopping for vehicles at Costco.

We finally made it back to our car. As we were preparing to leave, we noticed our gas was low. This was a perfect opportunity to find out whether that was indeed a gas station across the parking lot. Our suspicions were correct. We filled up for 10 cents per gallon cheaper than our usual gas station but not before one last pitch. I kid you not. The screen on the gas pump displayed yet another ad for Costco’s credit card. We still had enough credit cards, so we headed home.

Next: Final thoughts

Final thoughts

Here's what we bought at Costco

Our Costco haul | The Cheat Sheet

We spent a good hour walking around Costco seeking out irresistible deals and just taking it all in. In the end, we spent $121.97 on all the items pictured above. It doesn’t look like much, but everything we bought was cheaper than at our usual grocery store, and they’re all items we normally use. No impulse shopping here, except of course for that delicious food court hot dog. Plus, there is another bag of chips behind the one in the picture, totaling 40 ounces of chips for only $3.99.

Overall, we loved the Costco experience. The employees were friendly. The store was clean. We got that exciting sense a good deal was just around the corner waiting to be discovered. The check-out lines moved quickly. On this trip alone, we figured we saved about $40, so the membership will pay for itself and then some fairly quickly.

You definitely have to comparison shop on some of the produce, as items, such as oranges and tomatoes, were cheaper at our normal grocery store. And if you’re an impulse shopper, a warehouse club could be your wallet’s worst nightmare. Shopper beware.

More from Money & Career Cheat Sheet: