Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Is Costco worth its new membership fee?

It’s official: Costco is raising its membership fee to sixty bucks. Well…they were pushing it when they jacked up their fee the last time. IMHO, $60 is a little much.

This very afternoon I went over there to buy gas and pick up some pork and chicken to make dog food. And I found myself questioning: why am I paying to shop here?

The Visa card I got to finesse Costco’s changeover to Obnoxious Citibank doesn’t give a kickback on gasoline. The new non-Costco, no-annual-fee AMEX card does — 3 percent. But you can’t use it at Costco, obviously. So I might as well buy gas at the QT up the road, instead of driving all the way down to Spectral Mall — the AMEX kickback would cut the cost to about what Costco is charging. Maybe less, even.

I’m finding that I’m spending an enormous amount less in Costco these days. Without the frequent Costco trips — and despite shopping a lot at Whole Foods, AJ’s, and Safeway — the AMEX bill was only $396. Haven’t seen the Visa bill yet, but estimate it’ll be around $400, too. That’s a total of $800, which is $200 to $400 less than I’ve been in the habit of spending per month. That is such a huge saving that it about covers the cost of the dreadful car payment.

So…why AM I paying to shop there, and is it worth it?

  1. They have a great selection of electronics and a generous return policy.
  2. Speaking of returns, except for electronics, they’ll take almost anything back and give you a full refund.
  3. They carry good quality pork and chicken in bulk, at excellent prices — well below what I can get for comparable stuff in grocery stores, and in large enough quantities that a single package will make a week’s worth of dog food.
  4. I love their blue jeans.
  5. They have the cheapest propane in town.
  6. You can’t beat their tire shop. Discount Tire used to be competitive, but it’s not anymore.
  7. It’s hard to beat their price on chlorine tablets.
  8. They sell Campari tomatoes (the only fresh tomatoes in US markets that taste like real tomatoes, IMHO), and they sell them in large quantities.
  9. Their maple syrup is cheaper than anyone else’s.
  10. Their pecans and walnuts come in giant packages, and they’re fresher than anyone else’s.
  11. It’s hard to find the “Tuscan” blend of  frozen mixed veggies that have no garlic or onion in them (dog food, again).
  12. Prices on wine, beer, and hard liquor are excellent.

Worth it? Worth it? Hmmm…

Electronics: how often do you buy electronics, really? I’ve bought one (1) printer in the past four or five years. Costco doesn’t carry Macs (though I’m exasperated enough with Wyrd for Mac just now that I probably will replace the MacBook with a PC). Moot that, then.

Dog food: that IS big. It’s virtually impossible to buy human-grade meats in bulk anywhere else in town, certainly not for the prices Costco charges. I could switch the dogs over to commercial dog food. That would relieve me of hassle and expense…and it would shorten the dogs’ lives.

Blue  jeans: you can order Gloria Vanderbilts from Amazon.

Propane: it would take you the better part of your lifetime to make up one annual $60 membership on the amount you save on refilling at Costco rather than at U-Haul. And U-Haul is right around the corner, not halfway to freaking Anthem!

Chlorine: ditto. Leslie’s doesn’t charge that much more for a gigantic pail of chlorine tabs.

Tires: that’s big. Very, very big. Their warrantee is excellent, their service can’t be beat, and their costs are…within reason. I’ve gotten some excellent deals on Costco tires over the years.

Campari tomatoes: Safeway carries them. Just buy two or three containers at once.

Pecans and walnuts: big, very big. I love nuts, and I do not enjoy them stale. The only other place you can get them in quantities as large as Costco sells is at Trader Joe’s, and Trader’s bulk pecans and walnuts are usually stale.

Tuscan-style mixed veggies: available at Fry’s and Walmart.

Maple syrup: you can’t afford to buy it anywhere else. But it is, after all, a form of sugar. Although it’s one of the best sources of calcium around, one could probably do without it. Should probably do without it.

Booze: Total Wine charges the same and has a larger selection. And they have sommeliers who will steer you to the best of all possible $9 wines.

So we have the dog meat, the delicious (fresh!!) nuts in bulk, the tires, and the maple syrup. And the fact that by and large the produce they carry is superior to many grocery stores’ offerings.

Hm.

I wonder if my son and I could split a membership, claiming that we occupy the same household. We do own the house downtown in tandem. That would cut our respective costs to $60 apiece.

He was on my membership when he was a young pup, but now apparently they’re charging him as much as they’re charging me. I’ll have to ask him if he’d like to cancel whatever he’s got and throw in with me to get a cheaper deal.

Otherwise…if not…well… It may be time to say good-bye to Costco.

How much are you willing to pay for the privilege of shopping at Costco?

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Author: funny

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16 Comments

  1. I thought the rise from $50 was uncalled for a few years back.

    We have the Costco Visa credit card and they have the cycle where you get a reward certificate based on your spending (the 1-4%). It comes every February. We’re already a couple of months into a new cycle and have some decent money banked toward next years. The problem is if you quit Costco (at which point your card gets closed), you forefit the amount. So, we’ll probably keep it going through the end of the year and cancel when the current cycle ends.

    We’ll likely switch to Sams. Their fee is $45. It works out that we’d start using them next year, because the one that’s closest to us is pretty much inaccessible this year due to a major road rebuilding project. But once that wraps up in the fall we already have no reason to stay with Costco.

    I already e-mailed them this morning outlining our future plans.

    • That’s interesting. I’ll check into that. There aren’t a lot of Sam’s Clubs in Phoenix — the nearest one to me is a bit of a drive, but no further than the better Costco outlets. The other is halfway to Yuma and in a very bad part of town.

      You may do fine with Citibank’s Visa if you NEVER need any customer service whatsoever. Citibank is the single most customer-unfriendly corporation I’ve ever encountered…and that is goin’ some!

      When you think about it, that’s kind of surprising. Costco’s customer service is always primo. WHY would they do business with an outfit that’s going to treat their customers badly?

      The Costco AMEX card was delivering an annual kickback of $300-plus. I prefer to get the cash rather than a rebate on the monthly bill, which is essentially impossible to keep track of.

      Hmmm… Looks like you can get boneless skinless chicken thighs at Sam’s in 40- to 50-pound packages. Looks like they’re from Tyson, which means a substantial part of the weight is salt water. But that’s also true of Costco’s — you never have to add water to a big pot of Costco pork.

      Forty-five bucks is a helluva lot cheaper than $60.

  2. I look at it from a couple perspectives. Is the increase justified? And is the cost worth it for me?

    Costco last raised the membership fee in 2011. Taking inflation into account, $55 in 2011 is the equivalent of $59 in 2017, which is pretty close to $60. From that perspective I’d say the increase is justified. The other alternative likely would be to cut quality and services.

    The determination of is it worth it for me, is a more complex answer. The basic answer would be to add up the cost of the necessary purchases at Costco and add up how much it would cost to purchase at alternative stores. If Costco is more than $60 less than the alternative, you’re still saving money. Where it becomes more complicated is valuing time. Costco may be a further drive, but what is the time suck involved in having to make multiple stops?

  3. Yeah: it’s true that what goes up must go up again… Money-wise, anyway. If it’s not money you’re earning… 😀

    Costco has been suffering. They blame it on competition from Amazon and are trying to beef up their online offerings. I don’t know: their stores are so mobbed that it’s uncomfortable to shop there, especially on Fridays and on the weekends, so that suggests that even if business is off, they’re not doing too badly for customers. But it does make sense that if profits are off, they have to raise prices somewhere.

    Phoenix has a LOT of Costco outlets. One of them is within walking distance of my son’s house. That store is also pretty much on the way to several other places I shop and to the church, so I can’t bellyache about the drive. Another Costco is in shooting distance of the credit union (which admittedly is an absurd drive from here), and yet a third is in a shopping mall that still has a couple of decent department stores (can you imagine???) and is reasonably close to strip malls that house Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, an Albertson’s, a Whole Foods, a Fry’s, a Target, and a (beloved!) Pier One.

    Sam’s Club, however, WOULD entail an extra drive!

    I’ve learned to be pretty frugal about shopping trips in general, and now go out for groceries and sundries only about once every week or ten days. That also goes a LONG way toward keeping those kinds of bills down.

  4. I’m unwilling to pay anything to shop. Sadly Costco may just be “killing the golden goose”. As pointed out in a Fortune article these increases go right to the bottom line…and some(many) may say this corporate greed.
    And speaking of companies that “leave a bit to be desired”. My relationship with Amex is just about done. Recently lost my Amex card and called immediately. No charges were attempted so pretty sure this card is around somewhere. Anyway the CSR tells me…”no worries…send you out a new card right away”…etc. Get an email the next day card is in route….this was over a week ago. I contact Amex yesterday and they say replacement was just sent….not 7 days ago. The gal asked would I like it expedited? I explained it was my understanding it WAS being expedited…After much frustration I sign off and tell the CSR that I will just use my Visa. She seemed unconcerned… All this “non-service” that I pay $95 per year for…..NOT FOR LONG…Gonna work on using my $1700 in “rewards” next few months and bid these folks farewell. I’m thinkin’ Visa Saphire Preferred with the “generous” sign up is the way to go. Gotta share a few years back that my Visa Card stopped working for whatever reason….I reported it and the next day the Fed Ex Dude was standing on my porch WITH my new card from Visa.

    • That’s bad news about the AMEX customer service. I’ve NEVER had a problem with replacing lost cards. They’ll turn it around in a day.

      I probably would try to find an email or snail-mail at AMEX to complain to that CSR’s higher-ups. Unless they’ve cut back employees (could be: losing Costco didn’t do AMEX any good!), there should be no reason for their service to fail like that.

  5. No…Funny…Think it’s a bit too late for Amex and I….There are just too many other as good or better CC offers. I think the same holds for Costco as they seem to “take the customer for granted”. This can come back to bite ya!

  6. I can get the Sapphire Preferred Card with $625 incentive in “rewards” by using it for $4K in the first 3 months. I’m gonna be putting a roof on the Ranch and the materials should come in at right around $4K. Sooo I get the new card take the points buy plane tickets and reap the rewards for a year and decide if it’s worth paying a fee after a year. Undecided whether to close the Amex altogether or changeover with no annual fee. The wife likes the Amex but I’m petty much done.

  7. hmmm, was thinking of joining. Sam’s is closer for me though. In MN booze and Rx does not require a membership. But a friend checked on the price of a very expensive prescription at Sam’s and Costco. Costco was cheapest and had 2 tier pricing, one for members and one without. Of course, the savings on the member price paid for the membership with one refill. This was a cash price and not covered by insurance.

  8. I just don’t do Costco. I have nothing against them, but I simply don’t need the hassle of another place to shop added to my life. I used to have a membership years ago, but it was a pain in the rear to add a trip of Costco to my “to do” list.

  9. Interesting article in the WSJ this week about how well Costco is doing, They aren’t hurting:
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-costco-bucks-the-retail-malaise-1488401251

    I recently signed up for the Costco Citi card. The associate told me that if I had the Executive Gold card, I would have gotten back $95 for 2016. I know that my purchases at Costco have picked up since jan, so I opted for the Exec membership for an addtl $55. I figure if my refund covers the cost of the membership, that’s good enough for me. I, for one, think it’s well-worth the membership expense, especially if you opt for the Exec Gold membership.

    Article about the fee increase: https://www.wsj.com/articles/costco-to-raise-membership-fees-higher-costs-take-toll-on-profit-1488492253
    Interesting to note that Costco is number two in sales, after Walmart.

    • PS: I’ve saved a bundle just by using their Pharmacy. I switched from my local supermarket pharmacy to Costco and we are paying half what were paying previously

  10. The increase is only $10.00, not even a dollar more a month. If you buy enough at Costco(and not too much) so that their $50.00 membership is worth it, probably $60.00 is worth it, too.
    My sister pays for the membership and still doesn’t go. For her, I don’t think it’s worth it.

  11. Just checked. In MN, increase isn’t until June. The membership cashier said either $5 or $10 increase, she wasn’t sure.

    • If it’s $50 now, that would be five bucks. I thought it has been $55, but have to admit to not watching carefully. Now that I find myself shopping there less and less, though, I’m led to look more closely at the matter.

      Five or ten, though: that’s the way they edge it up to some unreasonable amount. You’re like the lobster in a pot of cold water set over the stove…