Is a Costco Membership Worth It?

I recently renewed my Costco membership a few months ago and admittedly, I have yet to go to to Costco and take that picture that gets forever emblazoned onto the Costco membership card.  I’m not sure what’s stopping me.  Maybe it’s because I don’t need 5kg of ground beef anymore now that I’m not cooking for a high-metabolic needs guy anymore.  Maybe I can’t bother with the line ups.  Maybe I can’t fathom spending $75+ every time I go to Costco.  Or maybe I just don’t have enough will power to just hit up the sample ladies at Costco to try the food samples but NOT buy the food.

Whatever it is, this got me to ponder whether a Costco gold star membership for $55 is worth it.

To figure out whether a Costco membership can really pull its weight, I am going to list the pros and cons of shopping at Costco.

Costco Pros

  • Is a costco membership worth it?The quality of food is really high.  I find their meats really nice and of good quality, the prewashed salads seem to last forever (much longer than Loblaw’s Superstore), and they have a great variety of different foods
  • The free sample tasting kiosks.  ’nuff said.
  • You can buy in bulk and separate them into individual portions and freeze them in your chest freezer.  And voila, you have your own grocery store whenever you need frozen meats
  • Their return policy is ridiculously amazing (especially for big purchases like electronics)
  • Delicious cheap hot dogs!
  • You get to feel elitist when you walk through the the doors and they check for your membership card (hey, if you’re into feeling like a VIP, Costco is where it’s at!  At least for the first 10 seconds when  you walk through their doors)
  • They have good prices on a lot of things that are delicious and super expensive elsewhere.  Some examples are cheeses (Balderson cheddar, asiago cheese) and Mary’s organic crackers (that stuff is like crack for me, so expensive elsewhere but you can get a large box for the same price as a small box elsewhere)
  • Their pharmacy usually have lower dispensing fees than other pharmacies
  • Their photo prints are of high quality and are consistently economically priced
  • Lots of good “pot luck” type foods/ platters that you can easily grab (for a reasonable price) to bring to your gatherings

Costco Cons

  • The line ups.  Sometimes the line ups (especially on the weekends) at Costco are long enough to drive me to want to put a gun to my head.
  • They only accept American Express or Cash or Debit (which will- if you’re a credit card points addict like me- make you sign up for an American Express card that you will seldom use)
  • You really can’t walk out of there without spending at least $75 to $100 (unless you are really disciplined)
  • Annual membership fee of $55 (usually there are perks like a $10 gift card or free Cineplex movie tickets when you first sign up, but these wonderful perks don’t exist when you renew your membership in subsequent years)
  • Sometimes the prices aren’t really THAT great.  For example, buying Costco toilet paper can cost more than buying toilet paper that is on sale at the local grocery store chain.
  • Food wastage!  I admittedly still have a tub of hummus that has been sitting in my freezer for about 11 months.  I hope it’s still good.  I think this is probably the biggest deterrent of going to Costco, especially if you live alone or if you don’t typically eat like a horse.

At the end of the day, if I had a family to feed I think a Costco membership will be a no brainer.  But if you live alone or you don’t consume very much, or if you live a ways away from a Costco, it might be a more difficult choice.  It all boils down to if you value high quality foods (because Costco is hands down super high quality) and a good return policy on big ticket purchases.

I still have yet to get to a Costco, but I’m pretty confident that I will be able to visit Costco before my membership ends to stock up on meat and cheese and Mary’s organic gluten-free crackers.

Readers, do you think Costco is worth it or not?

About

Young is a writer and former owner of Young and Thrifty and the main "twitter' behind Young and Thrifty's twitter account. She lives in Vancouver, BC and enjoys long walks on the beach, spending time with her anxious dog, and finding good deals. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

57 Responses to Is a Costco Membership Worth It?

  1. Don’t forget their gas. Often times it is 4-5 cents/L cheaper than Superstore and if you use your Costco Amex you can get 2% cash back as well. Great bargain.

  2. It’s worth it with discipline. (And children at home in diapers).

    Some of the quality of food items they have is VERY hard to beat.

    Milk and cream prices are consistently 25-35% lower than Loblaws, SuperCentre, No-Frills. (At least where I live)

    Ingredients for baking (Like AP flour) is 1/2 the cost of supermarket flour. (Yes, you have to deal with a 20kg sack… I use it in about 2 months, so I break even on flour alone.)

    Some of the cheese prices are fantastic. For my family it makes the difference between enjoying cheese and having none.

  3. The closest one to me is 45 minutes away, so that’s the reason I’ve never even considered it. Interesting fact that they don’t take visa/discover/mastercard, I didn’t know that. I also thought it was weird when I learned (standing at the register) that Sam’s Club doesn’t take Visa.

  4. It really doesn’t take much for the membership to pay for itself. But – the cons you list can be turned into a set of rules for saving at Costco, eg know how much of a perishable you’ll eat before it spoils, know the unit price for items you buy, etc.
    I have no idea what ground coffee costs by the can. Because there are no standard sizes any more. I do know the price per pound when they have coffee in their coupon book – $2.50 per pound. I stock up on that sale and that alone comes close to paying for my membership. This months coupon book has $10 off TurboTax, already cheaper than at the office supply stores.
    The key thing, I’d say, is to avoid the huge containers of junk food, even at the great prices, do you really need 10 lbs of goldfish crackers? But the 3lbs of mixed nuts? Great for a party.

  5. I spend about $350 a month at Costco, so I hope it’s worth it :)

    Seriously though, some of the items can’t be matched in terms of price or quality. That’s where we get our bread, meat, dairy, cereal, peanut butter, coffee, spices, and much more.

    Saturday afternoons there suck, and I hate that they only take AMEX…but those are the only cons I can think of.

  6. My first comment is for those who use it mostly for the cheap dispensing fees in the pharmacy. You don’t need to have a membership (at least that’s true here in Canada) to use the pharmacy. Just tell them at the door that you’re just here for the pharmacy.

    We’re a couple and Costco is definitely worth it for us. You do need to know your prices (there are many grocery items won’t buy at Costco because I can get them much cheaper on sale with coupons). There are some products I will buy if I can’t find them on sale elsewhere. And there are some products that are always cheapest at Costco–you just have to know what the good prices are for things you buy. Toys, books, magazines, electronics, office supplies, etc. are usually great deals. We usually pay for the membership on those items alone. And the only place I’d buy meat when we have company is at Costco. I’ve been disappointed by grocery store meat too many times to trust it for company.

  7. The Costco membership is definitely worth it; and go for the executive membership right off the bat – the extra money you get back from doubling the cash-back (Amex cash-back plus Costco cash-back) more than pays for the membership fee – it’s basically free.

    And just for the steaks I will never give-up my Costco membership! We’ve bought grocery store and even local butcher steaks when we didn’t have any Costco ones left in the freezer. It’s just not worth it!!! Once you’ve had a Costco steak there’s no comparison – even restaurant steaks have trouble competing with what I can cook up at home.

    And if you stick their house brand, Kirkland, as much as possible there’s huge savings. I recenly compared coffee prices (ground and grains where a grinder was available) and it’s pointless to go anywhere else there’s at least 50% off.

    • @schultzer- yeah kirkland stuff is pretty amazing. Their steaks do look really good and they don’t look like they turn brown very quickly lol!

      • Hmmm, do you think they might be using more preservatives? Perhaps carcinogens? Just a thought… Same goes for salads and fresh fruits… Who knows, I could be wrong too…

  8. For me it’s not worth it. True the prices are “good” but rarely better than sales at grocery stores. But grocery stores you have to go to many stores and also different weeks.. where Costco you pay a low price all the time in one place.
    I only buy stuff that never gets at a discount in stores, I ask my parents to buy it because the $55 would not cover the savings.. Things like pine nuts and parmesan brick are at the lowest price possible at Costco.
    For everything else, I prefer to buy when it’s cheaper in other grocery stores.

    • Wlel they meat is good but nothing that great. They have cheap filet mignon although not triple A but much better than the ones wrapped in plastic they sell at the grocery stores when they are on sale.
      We sitll get the same quality at lower price when we wait for a discount at a local supermarket here in Montreal. So yes it’s a good price, all the time, but nothing special.

  9. I had a Costco membership for a year, but decided it’s not really worth until I move, there’s not enough space!

    If you need a large number of stamps, Costco is one of the few places where they are a bit cheaper than the post office.

  10. I had a Costco membership and I let it expire. I found that Target had similar prices and thought it did not matter. Particularly when Target offered a 5% rebate credit/debit card. I rejoined Costco for one reason, gasoline! The 3% rebate pays for the membership by itself and more. Gas prices are almost always below market prices by at least $.10. There are a few other things I buy there is an advantage.

    • @krantcents- We’re getting a target soon here in Vancouver! I’m quite excited. We don’t have Costco gas here in BC (or at least vancouver) but that would be awesome if we did.

  11. Best thing at Costco are those pork tenderloins, the one that weighs 5 or 6 pounds. From there you can cut it your self and get 30 3/4 inch pork chops for $18-$20. I usually go on a weekday so I don’t have to deal with all of the traffic because it does get crazy on weekends. I go once a month with the roommates and drop $200 and that pays for most of our meat. Definitely worth it.

    • We used to have a card, (it was supplied with work, but rolled back during the 08 cut backs); however, I must agree with you and the pork tenderloins!! when we had the whole family living at home (there were 6 of us) you could not beat a costco membership for groceries. now that it is just two of us it isn’t worth it. we don’t need the bulk sizes. a large family would be nuts if they don’t use costco. keeping in mind close to store to make it worth it.

        • Yes we have a chest freezer in the barn, (it’s half full of garden grown veggies)… the only prob is/was the sizes of things, per case lot is great if you live in a house with tons of room for storage. We have a super small farmhouse with no storage room. Trust me if I could swing it we probally would have a card. Then it comes to the 1/2 hour drive while the closest store is 10 minutes away.

          Another way to look at buying into the card is this,,,

          $55 a year. If you go to the store once a month it costs you $4.58 to use the store. In reality you never save anything for this is a sales ploy. The price is the price no matter how you slice it.

    • Mmmmmm, pork chops!

      Actually we just buy the regular package of pork chops and I slice them in half. They’re still thicker than regular pork chops but definitely more edible.

  12. It’s definitely worth it for us. We buy mostly items that can stock in our pantry (very little fresh stuff) so that we don’t have wasted food. We do use what we buy.

    Costco also has coupons so that we can save even more money off their regular prices. For example, I buy cat litter there, and even without a coupon it’s still $2 cheaper per bag than I’ve found anywhere else. With a coupon that jumps to $5 per bag of savings. Considering I have two cats and go through quite a few bags, I’m probably saving half of my membership fee right there!

  13. I have a label maker.

    It was a gift from my Aunt Trina, who has no costco in her home-town.

    My mum takes her to our local costco when she comes to visit, and she goes bananas.

    The last time she came to visit, after the costco trip, I found her and my mum in a state of what I can only call retail-hangover. Aunt Trina had purchased so many items that were such good deals! One of these was the label maker. She was looking at it like it was a disappointing one night stand.

    I told her how cool it was and she looked at me with unmixed disgust. “No one needs a label maker” she growled, pushing the offending object further away from herself.

    She took it with her when she went home – but what do you think her wedding gift to my husband and I was?

    I love my label maker.

    But I’m never getting a costco membership. ;)

    (disclaimer: I’m mostly vegan and live 4 blocks from an all-year farmers market, so I’m fully aware I’m a special case when considering the possible benefits of costco)

  14. I have a few friends with a membership who either invite me to come along when they go or they’ll pick up what I need and I write a check. They had a $4 off coupon for ciobani last time I went! No membership required :)

  15. We don’t have a costco membership, but we do have a BJs membership. Bf swears by it for the tires alone. Apparently they are much cheaper and the warranty is much better than buying elsewhere. We also find that the cheese and deli meats are good values. Their eyeglasses are also a good deal from what I hear (I’ve never bought them there myself).

  16. I haven’t done this in a while so I don’t know if it’s still possible, but I used to get a member to refill a gift card for me. They let you shop there with a gc, no membership required. Yes, I’m that cheap!

      • @BB – Thats true! Just talking to the girlfriend and her trick is for someone to buy 5 – $10 gift cards. That will be good for 5 visits to Costco! No membership required and good for a while!

        • Does she know they’re reloadable? I would normally get my friend to put $50-$100 on, but I guess if you go with the smaller denominations it’s a way to control the spending. Now that I think of it, I have about $20 left on my card. Woohoo, it’s Christmas again!

  17. Cost is definitely high quality at a value. One of the American channels aired how Costco operates and about their Ceo, Google it, it validates the general consensus here. They test each and every products at their Seattle hq before putting on the shelves. Other stores can’t deliver products at these unbelievable price. Bought Heys 3pcs luggage for $170. No one can’t beat that.

    If you spend $400/mon at cost you should get the Exclusive membership and get2% back.

  18. I get the executive membership. Costs ~$100. But if you don’t save enough annually to cover the cost of the executive membership, you can approach the membership desk & they will refund the difference from the 2%. My in-laws use this every year to get a free membership as they never buy enough to make the executive membership cost effective. They don’t advertise this widely…

    For me, milk was a $1 cheaper at costco. We buy at least 1-2 every week… so save right there the costs of the membership. It is now only $0.60 cheaper than the supermarket. However, between buying bread, milk & the staples, we buy enough to get a check with our executive membership that pays for the cost of the membership the following year and then some… Trick is to be religious about only getting the essentials…

    And I would join solely for their return policy. It is gold & we have abused it at times to get & try out things we would otherwise not buy…

  19. We’re considering dropping our membership, or at a minimum dropping down to the least expensive. It’s a half hour drive, savings are dubious, no gas, and I’m not a fan of the crowds and the criminal bag search at the exit.

  20. Get some friends or extended family together, and figure out what you all need, and split up the multiple packaging – and the cost. For instance – I use olive oil, but I don’t need an entire gallon of it, so some others take the extra bottle(s). I’m left with one, pay for one, and the others chip in their costs. Or, a variety pack of canned soup – if you only like one type, someone else could use the rest.

    It’s a little more work to split everything up, and works best with things that are single packages bundled together, but it’s great for people who don’t really need or can’t store a huge amount.

  21. You’ve forgotten another Costco cons: very limited choice of brands and brands which they ha are usually not the cheapest ones.
    Even for a family is very hard to justify large bulk packages, you have to be very disciplined in meal planning to use everything. You’ve suggested toilet paper as an example of item which is cheaper elsewhere, but in my experience any grocery, cleaning or (especially) electronics item can be obtained somewhere on sale for a lower price.
    Gas mentioned in previous posts is a great bonus, but very few locations in GTA have a gas station.
    So my answer to question whether Costco is worth their membership is a big NO.

  22. If you don’t want to pay with AMEX at the warehouse, you can use your favorite cashback/travel card (ie Capital One Aspire Travel World) to buy a CostCo cash card from costco.ca.

    Also, if you decide a Gold membership is worth the cost, you might as well go for Executive, since there’s really no down side. Lots of extra discounts and if your 2% cash back doesn’t cover the difference in membership price, their customer service department will.

    • That is a weird circumstance Murray. The sad thing is that if they put up English signs they’d probably lose customers because of that too… As someone of French heritage but who identifies as Canadian (definitely not as “French”) I’m afraid I don’t understand the passion in the language debate…

      • Interestingly enough Kyle, a year ago when I first wrote to Costco regarding the signs I asked them to post bilingual signs in Ottawa as well as there is a significant % of French speakers in Ottawa. It is simply courtesy. Everyone understands the prices and people will shop at Costco as long as their prices are lower and the quality is there! While we will not be members our daughters (in Ottawa) can pick up the few things that we need. :)

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