My grandfather loved discount membership clubs. He loved finding a good deal, and I think he'd admit he probably loved a free food sample even more. I like to think I follow in my grandfather's footsteps when I hunt for a good deal. But using a Costco membership to save money has never quite worked out for my family.
Don't get me wrong. Costco memberships can be a great way for people to save money. This is especially true for shoppers who use the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi to earn 2% cash back on Costco purchases.
But there are three reasons why a Costco membership didn't work out for us.
1. My family doesn't buy in bulk
Many people swear by buying in bulk, but it didn't work for my family. We could never get the hang of buying large quantities of household goods. They just filled up our cabinets and took up space on our shelves.
We have two kids, and even our family of four couldn't get through the items we bought in bulk fast enough. Sure, those massive bottles of mouthwash gave us an endless supply of fresh breath, but they were far more than we needed.
We learned that our family prefers shorter, more efficient trips to the grocery store rather than big trips for bulk items. We were still running out to the grocery store even after our Costco trips, which made the membership seem unnecessary.
If we ever need to buy something in bulk, we use our Amazon Prime membership to easily order it online from Amazon's Subscribe & Save service. And since we have a Prime Visa, we get cash back for our online purchases already.
2. We're not very brand-loyal
Costco offers most of the same brands you'll find at any grocery, in addition to its own Kirkland brand. This works well if you have specific preferences for what snacks you like or which brand of butter you want.
But our family isn't especially brand loyal — except for my kid's very specific frozen pizza preferences — and we've found that discount grocery store Aldi has better deals on the food we buy.
Aldi doesn't offer the same brands found in most grocery stores, including Costco. This may be a deal breaker for some shoppers, but we don't mind the rotating brand names as long as the prices are low.
3. Costco was too busy for us
Costco has nearly 125 million members, and they keep many Costco stores very busy. We regularly fought lots of traffic and a full parking lot at our Costco, making the
grocery runs more stressful than needed.
Personally, I view grocery store shopping more like a supply run in a zombie apocalypse than as a casual outing. My goal is to get in and out as fast as possible. Costco's busy atmosphere, large sections, and massive parking lots don't match my shopping strategy.
The packed parking lots also caused us not to use a key Costco membership benefit: discount gas. Where I live, Costco gas is $0.29 cheaper per gallon than the average gas station, according to data from GasBuddy.
But the long gas lines at our Costco kept us from using the membership benefit, so the low prices never really paid off for us.
I'm willing to try a Costco membership again sometime
I haven't completely written off signing up for a Costco membership in the future. But if my family does get it again, I think we'll be more strategic about finding the best products to buy at Costco. Either that, or I'll follow in my grandfather's footsteps more closely and just take advantage of those free samples.
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The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.Citigroup is an advertising partner of The Ascent, a Motley Fool company. John Mackey, former CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Chris Neiger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Amazon.com, Costco Wholesale, and Visa. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.