Okay, that’s not true. The best part about Costco is their good prices. The next best thing about Costco is their giant, forgiving parking spaces.
I’ve noticed an interesting thing at the Costco near me, though. Dragging their husbands/boyfriends to the warehouse seems to be a special type of torture enjoyed by the women in the area. Men shopping there alone look pretty happy. Boys 12 and under look pretty happy. Men over 70 eagerly wait in the sample lines. But men in the 13-to-70 range shopping alongside their wives/girlfriends (and sometimes a pack of kids) appear to be experiencing a completely new level of human misery with each “Oh! Look at those lawn chairs/batteries/500-pack of chips!”
I have to say, I can relate to it. The rush of freedom one feels leaving Costco (after being waylaid by the employee checking receipts at the door) is the closest thing to getting out of prison I can imagine without actually being incarcerated.
I’m not sure why the experience feels so trying. It should feel like a luxury: spending an hour wandering up and down aisles filled hundreds of tons of merchandise while employees wait at the end of each aisle, offering snacks. But instead, the aisles seem to stretch for miles, and you feel like you’ve survived the Oregon Trail by the time you reach mega-packs of paper towels at the back of the store. The little stands sampling lasagna and chips with guac become lane-blocking snarls of shoppers and carts, jostling to get their snacks.
Sometimes I leave Costco thinking, “Screw the annual membership I just renewed 2 months ago. I’m never coming back here.” But then I run out of organic Pop Tarts or peanut butter, and I’m back at it the next week.
I’ve come up with some pointers for as close to a painless Costco trip as possible:
- Make sure Costco is actually saving you money!
This is a little bit of a pain, but you only have to do it once and it’s totally worthwhile. You need to start your relationship with Costco by making sure it will actually save you money. Do they carry the things you actually eat? And are the prices per ounce/unit on those items ACTUALLY cheaper than wherever you do the rest of your grocery shopping? This is sort of a set-it-and-forget-it system – just compare prices on the items you buy the most. Costco prices do seem to fluctuate some, but it shouldn’t matter too much if you can confirm that you’re saving money in the long run. Don’t forget to subtract your Costco membership from your savings – the membership should do more than just pay for itself, otherwise there is no point in trying to figure out how to store that 20lb bag of rice.
- Don’t buy things you can’t use
For me, this is fresh produce because the quantities are too great for two people to eat before it spoils. I buy lots of canned/jar goods, paper products, pasta etc. and store it in the extra space we created in the kitchen by getting rid of the dishwasher. Meat and frozen fruits and veggies go into the chest freezer.
- Bring your own bags
Unless you like having your groceries haphazardly thrown into beaten up cardboard boxes that will fall apart in the parking lot, bring your own grocery bags. I bought one of the Costco insulated cooler bags, too, and it’s worked well for getting things home without melting.
- Don’t go during the busiest times
“The busiest times” probably varies based on store. You can use Google Maps to try to guess when that is.
I’ve found that going around 5 or 6 PM on a week night is less busy than a Sunday afternoon, which is a guaranteed cluster. Bonus: times with less foot traffic usually warrant less people handing out food samples, creating less end-of-aisle congestion. I could care less about eating a single bite of microwaved taco casserole while shopping.
- Don’t shop when hungry
This is true of all grocery shopping, but even more true at Costco. There’s no option to buy a single granola bar to eat in the car, so you’ll end up with a box of 28 if you get snackish mid-trip. Either that, or you’ll end up waiting in the bread lines -er- sample lines.
- Pay attention
There’s a lot going on at Costco, between the sample people, an employee restocking with a forklift, a kid having a mid-aisle meltdown, and a miserable line of people staying after checkout to eat food court pizza. Have your membership card ready when you enter the building. Plan your shopping so you’re not making endless circles to get everything on your list. And don’t forget to keep your receipt handy after checkout, otherwise you’ll have to fumble to find it when staff detains you at the exit. The people behind you will hate you forever, and you’ll know it.
And, if you’re dragging your significant other to Costco against their will, please stop it. Their could of misery is getting in the way of my efficient shopping trips.