12 Times a Costco Membership Won't Pay Off

Believe it or not, buying in bulk isn't always cheaper. These situations might stop you from getting the most mileage out of a Costco membership.

By Brooke Nelson, The Family Handyman

You only feed one or two people

Bigger is not necessarily better—especially when it comes to grocery shopping. While buying in bulk is a no-brainer for families, 'if you are single and live alone, a Costco membership is not likely to save you money,' says Steven Millstein, editor of CreditRepairExpert. One or two people won't consume nearly enough food and daily essentials to make the annual membership fee worth it. Millstein suggests splitting a membership with friends and going in on bulk purchases together, instead.

You live far away from a store

Costco memberships can cost anywhere between $60 to $120 a year. With that kind of price tag, 'if you don't live close enough to a Costco store to shop there at least monthly, you may not save enough over the course of a year to make up the expense of the membership,' according to Annemarie Rossi, blogger at Real Food Real Deals and author of Conquering Your Kitchen. Your money—and your time—might be better spent at other discount supermarkets closer to where you live, such as Aldi or Trader Joe's.

You buy lots of perishable goods

Non-perishable items are less expensive when bought in bulk, Millstein notes. But if your fridge is chock-full of fresh fruits and veggies, a Costco membership might not offer the biggest bang for your buck. 'If you won't be able to eat everything in a large package before it reaches its expiration date, you'll end up throwing some of the food away,' Rossi says. In the long run, those large tubs of strawberries can get costly if they regularly end up in the trash. 

You have coupons for another store

At Costco, the bargains you see are what you get; in other words, the store doesn't accept coupons from outside vendors. But some items, like shampoo and toothpaste, could actually be cheaper at places that accept manufacturers' coupons, according to Rossi. The alternative: shop sales at big box stores like Target or Walmart. By 'comparing (and matching) prices and using coupons or opting for generic brands, you can often find similar deals…without the annual membership fees,' says Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert.

You live in a small space

City-dwellers, think twice before stuffing your small apartment with family-sized rolls of toilet paper, especially if you share square footage with several people. 'If you don't have a lot of extra space to store bulk items, shopping at Costco is not likely to pay off,' Millstein says. Stick to smaller, more frequent purchases of the basics—trust us, your roommates will thank you.

You don't have a car

Before you commit to an annual Costco membership, do the math. Will the money you save by shopping there outweigh the cost of membership? For most people, 'in order to save enough money to make the membership cost effective, you will need to do most, if not all of your shopping at Costco,' Millstein says. And if you don't have a car, paying for an Uber each time can quickly cut into your overall savings. Share a membership with a friend who you can hitch a ride with, or shop at stores that aren't so out of the way.

You have a busy lifestyle

Let's face it: Saving money on groceries isn't everyone's first priority. 'Sometimes convenience plays a part in shopping needs,' Woroch says. That said, 'if you live a busy lifestyle, you might not have the time to take advantage of the savings offered by a Costco membership,' according to Millstein. 'In order to make shopping at Costco cost-effective, you will need time for planning, budgeting, and price comparison.' For those with more time to shop around for deals, joining Costco might have more value, he says.

You eat out for most meals

Regularly grabbing drinks with friends or picking up takeout after work means fewer trips to the grocery store. In that case, a Costco membership might not make sense for you. Though the cost-per-unit of bulk items are tempting, Costco's annual fee won't pay off if you aren't stocking up regularly. 'Even though you may have saved money on the price per unit, you'll end up spending less and wasting less by buying a smaller package at another store,' Rossi says.

You are an impulse shopper

If you often go to Costco for two items and leave with ten, you're not alone. Everything is just so cheap! However, this bad habit can break the bank if you're not careful. 'You need to shop with a plan' at Costco, Woroch says. 'Otherwise, it's easy to get overwhelmed and tempted to give in to all the deals.' Shoppers who are prone to impulse purchases should consider steering clear of a membership. 

You joined a food delivery service

More and more people are making the switch to online grocery-delivery services, and you may be one of them. Turns out, several of these services will allow you to buy Costco products directly from their websites with the click of your mouse. Instacart and Google Express offer free delivery on big box orders over a certain amount—no membership required. The only downside? The prices online might not match what you find at the brick-and-mortar warehouse.

You travel frequently

If your job keeps you on-the-go, a Costco membership might not be worthwhile (or wallet-friendly!) for you. You not only run the risk of wasting fresh foods when they spoil, but you also won't have the time to make frequent trips. 'That's why it's important to really consider everything you're buying, who will eat it/use it and if it makes sense,' Woroch says.

You need specialty products

Most Costco members head to a store when they need to stock up on diapers and dish soap. But the truth is, not everything is cheapest at Costco. When it comes to specialty items like patio furniture or clothing, you might be better off taking your money elsewhere. Woroch recommends shopping at discount stores like TJ Maxx and HomeGoods for the best deals.


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Finance Magazine: 12 Times a Costco Membership Won't Pay Off
12 Times a Costco Membership Won't Pay Off
Believe it or not, buying in bulk isn't always cheaper. These situations might stop you from getting the most mileage out of a Costco membership.
Finance Magazine
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