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How We Make A Costco Membership Worth It For A 2-Person Household

As a newlywed couple living 22 miles from the nearest Costco, my husband and I weren’t about to cough up $60 for a Costco membership despite the allure of lower prices on groceries and gas. But when my mother-in-law generously gifted us the money to pay for the membership, we figured we had nothing to lose.

Once we drove out to Costco and got our membership set up, I realized there were some downsides. We didn’t have to pay for our membership, but we feel obliged to use it. But to use the membership to our advantage, we had to figure out some solutions to a few problems.

For one thing, the nearest Costco is about 25 minutes away from us — if there’s no traffic. Considering that a local grocery store chain, Whole Foods, and Target are all just minutes away from our apartment, it seems like overkill to drive all the way out the suburbs just to save a few cents.

Another problem that soon became evident was that Costco’s draw is buying in bulk at cheaper prices, but as a two-person family, we don’t *need* to buy in bulk. My husband is great at budgeting and figuring out exactly how much food we need to buy for meals, but still, buying four months’ worth of quinoa is hard to stomach at the cash register.

The final blow was learning that Costco only accepts Visa credit cards in store. This means that I can’t earn points on my MasterCard credit card when we buy hundreds of dollars of groceries at Costco. Because we’re saving up for a honeymoon and trying to pay off credit card debt, getting those extra points on my credit card is too important to overlook.

Luckily, after two trips, we figured out some ways to make Costco work for us.

1. Do a walk-through before shopping.

My husband has developed an extensive spreadsheet of groceries we need, so he has a pretty good idea of how much our staple grocery items cost. Before we shopped at Costco, he first walked through the store and wrote down the quantities and prices of various items. Then he compared Costco’s prices to our usual grocery stores and figured out what we should be buying at Costco and what was actually cheaper elsewhere.

2. Go to Costco less often.

We decided to only go to Costco once or twice a month. It doesn’t make sense to drive for an hour just to get eggs for a few cents cheaper; it does make sense, though, to stock up on groceries we need for the month and then stick to our normal grocery stores for items like milk, eggs, and fresh fruit.

3. Pick the right time and day.

We are also more strategic about the day and time that we go to Costco. It doesn’t make sense to go to Costco during rush hour — it’ll take us too long to drive there and back. It’s also stressful to go on weekend afternoons, because the lines are longer, and I honestly can’t deal with being surrounded by so many people. We try to go before the afternoon rush on Sundays or in the mornings during the week (yay flexible work hours!) to minimize our time driving and waiting in line.

4. Figure out when perishable food is delivered to the store.

We found out the hard way that by the time Sunday rolls around at our Costco, the fruits and vegetables are on their way to the dumpsters. The bananas and salad we bought on Sunday went bad in a week (they lasted twice as long when we bought them on a weekday), costing us money and time, because we had to go to another grocery store and pick up more. Figure out when fresh food is delivered to your Costco, and avoid buying perishables if the food looks like it’s near death.

5. Stay strong against impulse buys.

Just because the Costco sheet cakes are super good and relatively cheap does NOT mean you should buy one just because. (Wow, do I miss college life.) As with any other store, we’ve learned not to be tempted by the siren songs of Costco’s low, low prices.

6. Buy Costco gift cards online.

By far the best Costco hack we’ve figured out is a way around its Visa only policy. If you buy Costco gift cards online, you can pay for the purchase with any major credit card. This means I can buy the Costco gift card on my MasterCard, get the points, and then use the Costco cards in store.

*****

The bottom line? If we hadn’t gotten the Costco membership as a gift, I doubt it would have been worth the $60 a year for a two-person household. But we’re figuring out how to make the most of the opportunity.

Carolina is a copy editor by day and a freelance editor by night. She also writes book reviews about whatever she’s reading. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Image via Unsplash

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  • Ella

    Loved seeing a Costco article because I think I’ve exhausted all my real life friends with my Costco discussions. Thank goodness for the Internet!

    We are also a two person household and my partner gets a Costco membership through work for free so we have had similar problems making sure the perk of a membership works out to a net gain for us.

    My favorite uses of the membership are protein bars, butter (inordinately expensive in Canada compared to the US), toilet paper, Advil, meat to divvy up and freeze and treats like cases of sparkling water.

    Hot tip for times of tragedy: Going to Costco is a great thing to offer when someone is planning a funeral and needs photos printed, kleenex and food for a crowd!

    P.S. In Canada you can only use Mastercard at Costcos!

    P.P.S. It might be worth checking out the expiry dates on eggs compared to your consumption. Eggs stay fresh in the fridge a lot longer than produce or dairy!

    • Holly Trantham

      Always love seeing your comments Ella 🙂 Cases of sparkling water is a great tip — la croix is so much more expensive where I live now than my last neighborhood and it’s such a bummer.

    • jdub

      Yes, this!! I am also a member of a 2-person household, and my mum gives her supplementary Executive Membership card to me. I think the only things I’ve ever gone to Costco for are the prescriptions (significantly cheaper than ANYWHERE, but you actually don’t need to be a member to use the pharmacy!), and dog beds when ours wear out… so not very often.

      I actually do want to start shopping there more, just for the meat and egg savings alone, but I always go during the horrible mad rushes and it leads to me walking in, then beelining right back out that door.

      GREAT tips though, especially for Canadian members! I’m going to try to start shopping there more come winter 🙂

      • Ella

        We always roll in half an hour before close on a weeknight as we find that’s the most sane hour that fits our work schedules. Also means we have already eaten supper so we can resist the temptation of poutine…most of the time.

  • Court E. Thompson

    The whole article was worth it just for #6. So smart! (Not saying the rest wasn’t worth it…I just really liked that one.)

    • Pretty sure you can buy the gift cards online without a membership in order to gain access to the store without the annual fee… might want to double check me on that first though 😉

  • The gas prices alone make it worth the membership (2-person household here, too).

  • We probably hit Costco once every 6 weeks in our 2 person household. The secret is finding things that freeze well and dividing up the portions. For instance, their pork chops (which are excellent) get divided up into portions for 2 and frozen. We freeze half of the torta rolls package, too. Pantry staples like nuts, maple syrup and natural peanut butter are also favorites. And I always get a rotisserie chicken. At $4.99, it’s a great deal.

    This article has some good pointers for people shopping Costco for 2.
    http://www.thekitchn.com/i-followed-my-mom-around-costco-and-this-is-what-i-learned-222286

    It’s also a lifesaver if you’re hosting an event . We shopped there for my mom’s memorial and you can’t beat the cost for bakery items, sandwiches, etc.

  • Girafe

    The thing with Costco is that it is not always cheaper. Where I live, meat and toilet paper are much cheaper on sale elsewhere, particularly if you buy bone-in and other cheaper cuts of meat. Also, I live in a two person household 50% of the time and the other half my partner’s 4 kids are with us. Feeding 6 people requires a lot of food – but we pride ourselves on keeping the grocery budget as low as possible!

  • We are also a two person family and take full advantage of our Costco membership, so much so that we are actually on their executive membership and always get more than the cost back each year. It is also more out of the way for us but we usually make the trip at least once a month. The things that make the membership the most valuable for us are the deals on tires (much cheaper than anywhere else), gas, and pet food (we have two dogs and two cats and their pet food is good quality and significantly cheaper than other high end brands). We also buy all our plants from there in the Spring and they are great value and quality.

    Meat isn’t always cheaper at Costco but the prices are usually comparable and again, it’s better quality. We always stock up and freeze things which makes for easy dinners.

  • Jack

    2 person household here, in downtown Vancouver and Costco is actually one of the closest grocery stores to us! So we definitely have a membership. We both eat plant based so we go through things like spinach, bananas, almond milk, tofu like CRAZY. We also get our olive oil, balsamic, vegetable broth, peanut butter, almond butter, vanilla extract, apples, lemons, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes there. I think the main reason that it works with us is that we cook at home 99% of the time, and my boyfriend can eat a lot.

  • Is it possible to be part of a 1.5 person household? My boyfriend and I both shop at Costco, but live in separate apartments. So what I buy is mostly just for me, with the occasional something for him 🙂

    We use Costco primarily to buy cases of beer and wine – it is so much cheaper than buying them individually at a regular liquor store! One trip to Costco typically gets us through an entire season.

    I agree with you though, for the rest of our groceries it takes some serious strategy to make Costco worth it. Thanks for the great tips!

  • Miranda Barzey

    Costco is super worth it to me as a single person for a number of reasons:

    1. It’s the closest gas station around for miles. That alone justifies the cost.

    2. The liquor store! It is also the closest liquor store for several miles and has decent prices.

    3. Pharmacy! You don’t actually need a Costco membership to use the pharmacy. This place was a godsend when I was uninsured between jobs. My antidepressant that was $117 at CVS was only $12 at Costco.

    4. Bulk household items. I live with a roommate and we share the cost of certain items like dish soap, paper towels, and detergent. Rather than trying to remember who bought the last time, we go to Costco, load up on bulk house supplies (we luckily have storage for it), and it’s not an issue. Plus my roommate gets the added benefit of buying other staples we don’t share at a discounted price, like toilet paper, granola bars, and spaghetti sauce.

    5. Parties. Costco is great for parties or any other time you need to feed a lot of people.

    It’s not for everyone. I probably wouldn’t have it if it wasn’t right down the road for my house, but it’s worth looking into.

  • LynnP2

    Two person household here. Living in NYC, Costco is definitely cheaper than most grocery stores. We definitely have to be careful of buying more than we can eat, but we get great deals on food we can freeze (meat, frozen fruit for smoothies, big bags of hardy veggies, a big bag of onions I can caramelize and freeze, etc). I’ll also buy eggs – they last about a month and we eat a lot of eggs. If we buy something perishable that we can’t freeze, we focus on eating it every day until it’s gone. I’ve found the only thing that really goes to waste is if we buy snacks or desserts we end up not liking that much. They just sit around until we decide to throw them out, which is a waste of both money and food.