I get many emails in my inbox everyday from you – and I’m frequently behind in getting everyone an answer. That being said, there are some questions that come up again and again. So every day through Friday, I’m going to be tackling a different FAQ.
Today’s question: Isn’t Costco a better deal in the long run than coupons?
My short answer: no.
By paying attention to store sales cycles and deals on Amazon, you can almost always best the prices you find at Costco. (And without having to pay a $50 annual fee!)
Some people may guffaw at this, so let me give you a real life example. Diapers. It seems people always think buying diapers at Costco is such a deal. Perhaps it’s because they come in a big box and you have to have an exclusive membership to shop there, so you think you’re getting a killer deal.
So here is Huggies Snug and Dry, Size 4 diapers according to Costco.com (and I know this price is consistent with what I’ve seen in stores before, too).
I decided to compare this to the price on Amazon today (11/3 is the day I wrote this post).
Check it out: the diapers there (same brand, same size 4) are $0.19 each when you join Amazon Mom (free) and sign up for the Subscribe & Save service (which is a no obligation service). Plus, free shipping and no driving or membership fee for you!
I still think this isn’t a stellar deal, because I’ve seen diaper deals at the drugstores for as low as $0.10 a diaper. When you see a deal like that, you stock up. But at least this simple example illustrates that one can best Costco’s prices without too much effort.
But Costco Gives you Coupons!
To clear the matter up, Costco does not accept manufacturer coupons that you clip from the Sunday paper or print from a site like Coupons.com. However, once a quarter they will send a book of manufacturer coupons that you can redeem at their store.
So every now and then, I’ll have someone say “aha! see? Costco does take coupons!”
Hold the phone, Charlie.
Remember that the secret to couponing success is combining coupons on sale items. This means being able to shop around for the best deal to use your coupons on. When Costco issues you coupons for their products, they are controlling the show. They can change the price on those items to compensate for the coupon, should they choose.
Let me say this. I have left stores like Alberstons, Fred Meyer, and WinCo with a cart full of food for $20 or less many a time. I’ve never achieved this on a Costco shopping trip.
Costco is a Marketing Machine
I’ve written this before, and I think it’s worth saying again. Costco knows what they are doing.
Consider this. When you walk into Costco what is the first thing you see? Electronics. Now most of us aren’t going to buy a brand new TV on a whim, but chances are, you’ll take note of those TVs.
And while you don’t have $500 to blow on an unplanned purchase, you’ll next encounter other, much less expensive treats. In fact, the only way you can get to the grocery section is by walking through seasonal, books, toys, clothes, or other such temptations. These may be harder to resist.
So how is one to survive? I do have a few tips.
If you must shop at Costco, have a plan!
I know that in spite of what I say, some of you just like shopping at Costco, and I’m not about to tell you to close your membership. Heck, our family has a membership so you may on rare occasion even see my husband or I in there.
So here is my best advice about shopping Costco and avoiding coming home $200 poorer.
- Shop without a cart. This is perhaps the best advice I can offer. Bigger carts mean more room to put stuff in. Just go in an out for the baby formula or muffins you stopped in for.
- Shop with cash and a plan. Leave the credit card at home!
- Shop with limited time. You don’t want to browse at Costco. That’s like playing with fire. Stop in when you know you only have 20 minutes until your dental appointment. Make trips to Costco quick.
- Watch unit prices. As mentioned above, do break down the unit prices.
- Do not follow the path of the store! Do your best to not follow the path through the store that Costco has cleverly made for you. As soon as you go in, make a beeline for the groceries, avoiding the books, movie, and seasonal sections at all costs. If needed, wear horse blinders.
- Try Cash & Carry. This is a great alternative to Costco, if you have one in your area. They offer many of the same items, prices, and quantities as Costco and without a membership fee. While it is geared for businesses, I’ve confirmed with them that consumers can shop there as well. Please note that you can’t use personal checks there.
You know what I find the most humorous? People often poo-poo couponers for buying 20 cans of soup at a time at the grocery store. This is surely hoarding, right? And yet, another shopper will stock up on 20 cans of the same soup and pay 50% more at Costco, but somehow this is considered smart shopping. This makes no sense to me.
I really think people have been conditioned to think that buying from a club warehouse is automatically a good deal. (Much like folks thinking that shopping on Black Friday means getting the best deal.)
Please don’t hear me say you need to run and cancel your membership post haste. I am saying, make sure to take a good look at what you are spending and saving by shopping there and consider other options as well.
What are your thoughts? Do you have a membership to Costco (or a store like Costco)? If so, what are the best deals for your family? Do you have any other tips on saving money at Costco?