One of my dear friends wrote a blog post this morning about Costco. I started replying, but once my husband commented, "What are you doing? Writing a book?" I decided to write my own post. :)
Costco is my most favoritest store on earth :) My first experience was in 1984, when they opened their second store in Portland, Oregon, and until the past couple of years, I have been a steady and faithful member and shopper. It is only because of moving FAR from any C. that keeps me away now.
I remember the first time my sister and I went to do the grocery shopping alone, and when we got to the checkout we said, "Yeah! We can spend $200, too!" That was kind of the family joke about how much my mom always spent. That was probably a fair estimate of how much I spent regularly once I had my own family, but it wasn't weekly.
I usually lived at least an hour away from Costco, so it was usually a once-a-month shopping trip, and we mostly stuck to the basic necessities. But, like you, I know we succumbed frequently to something new or different.
I don't have records anymore of how much I spent there, but I do know that in later years especially, I definitely saved money by shopping there. I had a couple "tricks" that helped me in that area.
First, I made a spreadsheet of all the grocery/household items that I normally keep on hand, and had columns for each store where I would normally shop. I could then "fill in the blank" with the price at each location, either price per container, or per ounce/pound, etc. I carried this master list with me at all times! I could then compare prices at Costco with the regular prices in other stores to know if I was really getting a savings, as well as compare sales prices in the grocery store with C's basic price. To this day I have a really hard time buying things like cheese in a grocery store, because I know it's about twice the price that C has.
My other "trick" was to have a basic shopping list made out, that would cover our usual meals and keep us stocked up on all the stuff I needed on hand to change the menu occasionally. It was for a month, and right before my shopping trip I could see how many whole chickens, bags of potatoes, #10 cans of green beans, olives, mushrooms, and tomatoes I needed, as well as the rest. I had it divided into sections: baking needs (flour, sugar, spices, etc.), freezer, refrigerator, non-food (tp, pt, zip-lock bags, BATTERIES, etc), well, you understand. I could then double check my cupboards for the essentials and make sure I bought them when I needed them, and where I knew I was saving money.
I also could hand out part of my list to the boys and send them to a section of the store with a cart and have them help with shopping. Having extra hands does help :) They knew we'd usually pick at least one thing to buy extra, whether it was something new to try, or an old favorite.
Costco's Food Court was also frequented by our family. We could feed everyone for much less than two of us at a nice restaurant, and everyone liked it. I once tried to estimate how many Costco hot dogs I've eaten in my lifetime. I figured that I ate probably an average of one per month, for 20+ years. I'll let you do the math :)
A few years ago I needed to purchase new glasses. I checked the prices for exams, frames, and lenses at several locations, and even if I included the membership price as part of the cost for my glasses, it was still cheaper to go to Costco.
I have had probably hundreds (if not more) photos printed there, as well, and I don't remember a single complaint. Once I finally joined the digital photo world, I loved that I could upload my photos at home, crop them or add borders or whatnot, and have my order ready at whatever store I would be at next.
The customer service is also wonderful, and I would compare it to that of Fred Meyer (where I worked for several years) and Nordstrom (where I shopped occasionally - from the clearance racks, naturally).
Costco is not only a wonderful place to shop, but it is also a great place to work. No, I was never an official employee of Costco, but I worked at nearly all the stores in Oregon, as well as a couple in Washington, while working for different companies who were Special Event vendors. I got to know some of the employees at a few of the stores, and it was always a pleasure to return a few months later for another Road Show. My favorite stores were Hillsboro (the biggest Costco in the world!), Vancouver, and Clackamas (although, I always had a lot of jewelry stolen there).
If I lived near a Costco, and if I had money to spend :) I would definitely have a membership again.
Oh, and I didn't always spend $200 each time I shopped. On at least one occasion I went in needing bananas and that is the only thing I came out with. A whopping $0.97 spent. I think that must be a record.