Joshua and I have enjoyed discussing this question which was left in a comment yesterday:
I've been reading your blog for a few years so I know you are a frugal shopper and homemaker. Do you find you get a good price on the items at Costco? We shop there, too and have noticed our grocery bill rising and I'm trying to figure out if it is because of the items that we buy there or elsewhere (usually Walmart). We aren't able to get everything we need at Costco and find some of their things to be more expensive than Walmart.
The short answer to "Is Costco frugal?" would be... it depends! :)
What you purchase, how far you have to drive, how large your family is -- these are a few of the things that determine whether Costco is saving you money or costing you more.
I do feel that we get a good price on the things we buy at Costco. However, not everything there is a good deal, of course.
Here are some of my favorite frugal deals at Costco:
Romaine lettuce, organic carrots, spinach
Bananas, apples (some kinds), pears
Frozen strawberries, blueberries, organic veggies (green beans, peas, and corn)
Butter, plain yogurt, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese
Pinto beans, 50# bags of bread or all-purpose flour
Mission tortilla chips, corn tortillas, Rotisserie chicken (pick out a big one; they're all $4.99!)
Bottled water ($0.09 per bottle, which is a good deal if you use bottled water; we drink Berkey water though), some spices, vanilla extract
Why we do most of our grocery shopping at Costco (at least for now):
We go through a lot of food. Our boys eat a lot, we have dinner guests almost weekly, and we pack lunches or eat at home for all our meals. (Or church potlucks.)
Costco is 3 miles from our house.
This year's Costco membership was a gift from Joshua's parents. (They know I'm crazy about Costco!)
With 4 children ages 6 and under, I don't like to shop at more places than necessary, and weekly sale-shopping involves more than 1 stop. We go to Wal-mart/Target/Fred Meyer type stores about 3-4 times a year, and I've found that those types of places are my weak spot when it comes to spending more on stuff we wouldn't normally buy, including food.
Food also happens to be sort of a hobby for us. Joshua enjoys creating cheesecakes and loves to grill. I love baking bread and trying new things. We both appreciate the quality of the foods we buy at Costco. I realize that I am not "saving" any money when I spend $5 on Costco's organic frozen green beans vs. buying canned green beans from Aldi, or generic frozen green beans on sale. We just enjoy them a lot more. (Maybe that's why we go through so many vegetables!) :)
The dangers of shopping at Costco:
Buying in bulk can mean that, while you're getting a better price on something that would normally be expensive, you don't ration it (since you have such a large quantity) and end up using more of an expensive item.
I've seen this in our household with getting the 1/2-gallon cartons of heavy cream. Great cream, great price -- but instead of having whipped cream as a rare treat, we use it much more freely. It's nice to be able to serve whipped cream generously, especially to guests, but we probably don't actually save money on a luxury like whipped cream.
One remedy is to ration bulk purchases. Know how long the item needs to last. (Write it on the box/container, if necessary!) Freeze what you won't be able to easily use up fresh, to make things last longer. The 5-pound bag of shredded cheese looks like more when it's divided into 3 portions, and two are put in the freezer for next week or the week after.
Costco carries non-food items, which in my book are usually non-essentials. If you let yourself wander into the center section, be careful! I am really good about not buying other "stuff" at Costco and sticking to just food, but it can be tempting.
Carter's kids outfits for $6.49?! That's a good price on quality CUTE clothing but my kids have never had a need that GoodWill or hand-me-downs couldn't meet. I stay away from GoodWill for the most part, too, since if I can't think of true NEEDS to look for there, I am probably wasting my time, money, and filling our house that much fuller.
After years of shopping and eating from Aldi's, moving away from Aldi's and moving on to Costco shopping and eating has made us notice the quality differences. We're not "brand snobs" but we are somewhat "quality snobs" now. This could be hazardous if we ever move away from Costco, but, I imagine we would make the adjustment back.
What do you think? Is Costco (or Sam's Club or BJ's) frugal, or not?
You can also see photos and price break-downs of several Costco shopping trips for our family:
Costco shopping week 4 -- $118
Costco groceries (week 5) -- $88
Week 6 -- Costco -- $150