Big Box Shopping

by Sheri Radford

Friends can't understand why my husband and I have a Costco membership. "But you don't have kids!" they exclaim. Or "Think of the membership fee!" Or (my personal favorite) "There's nowhere to store the huge sizes they sell!"

I want to set the record straight. A membership at Costco, Price Club, or any similar big box store can be worth it, even for singles and couples.

My husband and I live in a trendy loft in a trendy part of downtown Vancouver, BC. Being so trendy has its price. The only supermarkets close to us are upscale supermarket boutiques that carry "necessities," such as bread flown in from Paris fresh this morning and tiny $40 bottles of extra virgin olive oil.

We go to Costco once every six to eight weeks and stock up. We fill our freezer with inexpensive meat and cheese, fill our pantry (every home should have one) with non-perishables, and fill our fridge with everything else. If you visit our home right after a Costco trip, you might find flats of tinned goods hidden under the living room couch or boxes of kitty litter tucked into the corner, unable to fit on a shelf anywhere. We supplement our Costco trips with small weekly trips to the boutique stores for fresh fruit and vegetables.

Let me counter some of the common objections that singles and couples have to big box shopping.

1. I could never use up the big sizes or vast quantities.

If it's something that doesn't go bad, what does it matter if it takes you a year to use it up? (I can't understand people who buy toilet paper in 2-or 4-packs. You're going to need it eventually! I always buy toilet paper in the largest packages I can find.) In my pantry right now, I have a flat of orange juice, a flat of canned tomatoes, several 24-packs of toilet paper, extra bags of pasta and rice, and much more.

Some items that you think go bad can actually be frozen. We buy huge blocks of cheese at Costco, shred them, separate them into several small baggies, and store them in the freezer. They're incredibly handy to use in baking, on pizzas, etc. and they can be stored for months.

Alternately, you can share with a shopping partner. My husband and I don't own a car so we rely on friends to drive us to Costco. Then we split large items in half with the friend and share the cost.

2. I don't have the storage room.

Do you have room under your bed? Under the living room couch? At the bottom of your closet? In your garage? In a spare bedroom? What's to stop you from storing extra paper towels or shampoo in any of those places? I'm amazed at people who store clothes they haven't worn for eight years, five-year-old magazines, and 49 pairs of shoes, but can't find room for a flat of canned beans purchased on sale.

3. It's not worth the membership fee.

I've done my price comparisons and I can say with confidence that Costco beats the prices of any supermarket near us, hands down, even with the membership fee factored in. Plus with Costco, my husband and I shop far less frequently, which drastically cuts down on impulse shopping at the cash register.

4. I don't have a freezer.

Buy one. I don't care if you live in an apartment the size of a postage stamp. Buy a freezer. One of the first things my husband and I bought when we moved in together was a small freezer. We've always been renters so we've never had the space for a large chest freezer, but we've always managed to find room for our small upright freezer. It costs us very little to run each month in terms of electricity and I can't even begin to add up how many hundreds (probably thousands) of dollars it has saved us over the years. It's incredibly handy to have chicken, ground beef, shredded cheese, and frozen lasagnas always on hand. We never worry if unexpected guests drop by and decide to stay for a weekend.

5. I eat out so often that I don't need much food at home.

Now that's the biggest money-waster of them all. Perhaps you would enjoy eating at home more if you always had ingredients on hand to make delicious, nutritious meals. Plus you'd save money. And who's to say that you'd just buy food at big box stores? I also purchase shampoo, vitamins, contact lens solution, garbage bags, cat food, batteries, and printer cartridges at Costco (after doing price comparisons, of course). Plus for car owners, the big box stores carry oil, windshield wiper fluid, etc.

One unexpected benefit of doing almost all my shopping at one store is that it's very easy to keep track of expenditures. I have just one (very long) receipt to file away.

Give your nearest big box store a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Take the Next Step

  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Once you trim the grocery budget, don't waste that extra money! Consider opening a savings account to start an emergency fund or save for some other financial goal.
  • Continue to look for new ways to trim food costs. Visit our food & groceries section each week to get tips for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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