Sunday, February 17, 2013


I went to Costco this morning and dealt with it like an old pro.

If you've never shopped Costco before, I wouldn't advise just showing up there some Saturday afternoon saying "Oh, I wonder what this place is?" then walking inside. That's a recipe for spending all your money and dying an early death, run down by frenzied Costco Saturday shoppers who look like they've just eaten their young, and ground to bits beneath the wheels of their 8-foot-long shopping carts.

1. When you go to Costco, you need to go with a list.

And you need to stick to it, and avoid impulse buying, otherwise you'll spend yourself silly. Supermarket prices are inflated because they charge what I think of as a "convenience tax." For the convenience of being able to buy a small (8 oz.) can of Bush's baked beans, you pay twice as much per bean as when you buy a case of big cans at a big-box store. Costco and the other big-box outlets deal in bulk -- Costco especially. That means each individual item is expensive, 'cause you're buyin a lot of it.

2. They don't let just anybody in there.

You have to be a member. The $55 annual fee to belong to "the club" is a major source of revenue for the company enabling it to keep prices and profit margins very low.

3. You really can save a lot of money this way.

How much? Depends on what you're buying. The best deal I've found so far, and for something that's big in my life, is coffee. Costco sells a 3-pound can of house brand (Kirkland) Columbian, ground fine in the Starbucks manner, for $9.99. That works out to $3.33 per lb. of good coffee -- a price no supermarket "deal" could come close to.

Going by a median supermarket "deal" price of $6.99 for 12 ozs. of the same thing, and doing the arithmetic, I save ten bucks every time I buy coffee at Costco, and at a can every other month, or six a year, what I save on coffee alone more than pays my yearly membership dues.

4. Local company, gets along well with its work force

Although it has over 200 stores nationwide and has expanded overseas, Costco remains a local business headquartered in Issaquah, WA. it's always had a reputation for offering fair compensation to its workers, who remained characteristically quiet during WalMart's recent labor troubles.

No one has yet put two and two together in the matter of WalMart's recent steep drops in sales and revenue coinciding with worker unrest in the chain. The thing is, if you're the big box in a community, and you don't treat your workers right, you dig up your own roots. Those workers are the family and friends of people throughout the community, and if the community turns on you, where will you go?

Costco, though it truly is a big-box warehouse store, still has something of a northwest cache, like Starbutts. What Wal-Mart has I'm not quite sure, but don't think they do cache in Arkansas.

5. It's a pain to go there.

Nobody's kidding anybody. This is a bunch of people crowded into a warehouse, all with the same purpose, to lay in some supplies and save a few bucks. That's why it's best to go at an early hour, on a day other than Saturday.

If you plan ahead, and know what you need for the long run, this is doable once or twice a month. Nobody ever tries to sell us on the glamour of the Costco shopping experience.

So, long story condensed: went to Costco, picked up coffee, tuna, eggs, and a cooked chicken for which I have extensive plans. But that's another story.

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