First, the Establishment of Some Costco Cred
Our family lives at Costco. To prove it, I downloaded some statistics on our Costco usage over the past 6 months.
The first chart is a histogram of days between Costco visits over the past 6 months. The mode is 1. The average is 1.98, meaning that we’re there every other day on average.
We drop some serious money there. The next chart is a histogram of our daily spending there. The mode is around $1 since we often take our kids on a (0.4 mile) walk to the food court for a one-on-one date. The max budget for a date is $1.50, though my wife violates this rule with the occasional berry sundae which costs $1.65. I’m much more stringent on enforcement of the $1.50 threshold and instead stick to the $1.35 traditional frozen yogurt, $1.50 hot dog and soda, or $1 churro. Yes, I love my kids who choose the cheapest option the most. But the below chart is definitive proof that you can indeed leave Costco without spending more than $100 (with the caveat that you visit the store every other day).
In my final attempt to establish some Costco cred, I present to you several pictures of me sporting Costco’s (now defunct 😞) Kirkland signature court classic tennis shoes. For the uninformed, these were a staple of Costcos around the world for at least a decade and a half, costing only $11.99 in the early years and $13.99 in the later years. To illustrate how sad I am that Costco stopped carrying these shoes, I used the first emoji of my life; maybe I should have used the crying sad emoji to connote extreme sadness? Going back around two decades, here are some of the places that those court classics tennis shoes have taken me. The first two photos are places I mentioned in the previous post where Mrs. Frugal Professor may dump my cremated ashes in the event of an untimely death. The other options provided were dumpster or toilet.
Mount Timpanogos at 11,752 ft. Perhaps my favorite place on Earth. Been on top about 5 times if I remember correctly.
Angel’s Landing in Zion’s National Park at sunrise. Perhaps my favorite place on Earth. Been on top about 4 times if I remember correctly.
Havasupai Indian Reservation (Havasu Falls) with Mrs Frugal Professor during our dating days. This is a pretty incredible place as well. Been there once and would like to go back.
On top of the world, Mt Pilchuck, WA.
One more disclaimer
With the prolonged (and completely unnecessary) attempt to establish some Costco cred out of the way, there is one more thing I’d like to say.
Suffice it to say, I’d prefer our family to spend $0 at all stores, including Costco. But the 5 needy children we have demand to be fed and clothed.
Paying $0 on clothing by getting it for free from friends & family is optimal. For much of our lives we’ve had friends & family with older kids who, when their kids outgrow their clothes, would dump them to us for free. We’ve done the same for other families. It’s a virtuous circle. Unfortunately I have yet to find such an agreement for people giving our family free food, though the sample people at Costco come close.
So Tip#0: try to spend as close to zero as possible.
Tip #1: Look for stuff ending in 97
This is stuff they are trying to get rid of. I’m guessing it’s something like 30-70% off normal (good) Costco prices. When stuff like this pops up that our kids will eventually use, we’ll buy it for our kids, even if we’re a year or two away from needing it.
On a whim, we bought this raspberry chia seed dark chocolate tonight for $2.97 to take to a party. It sounds horrifying, but why not take a gamble on it if it’s only $2.97? It turned out to be pretty good. We may have fooled our friends into thinking that we like them more than $3 worth had we not proudly advertised the purchase price. Similarly, I bought some chocolate caramel macadamia nut clusters the other week for $3.97 to leave in the break room at work. Our fridge is full of $1.97 48-oz greek yogurts right now (a departure from the home made variety we normally do). So the 97 thing is a good deal.
Food goes on sale when it doesn’t sell or is close to expiration. Clothing goes on sale as it doesn’t sell or as the appropriate season ends. The best time to buy winter gear is as winter is ending. The best time to buy summer gear is as summer is ending.
For the life of me I can’t figure out why these 97 sales aren’t better advertised. I think the point of marking these products down is to move the product faster, but if that’s the case why don’t they more clearly advertise the sale? Beats me.
Tip #2: Look for stuff ending in 00
This is a bit harder to come by than the ubiquitous 97. Prior to the below products being priced at 00, they would have gone to some higher 97 price point. For a poorly selling product initially priced at $19.99, it may first go to $14.97, then $12.97, then $10.00, then finally $7.00.
Yes, we bought the scarf & sheets.
Tip #3: Sales/Coupons
This is much more obvious. Look for the advertised sales/coupons. They’re usually decent. In fact, the coupon price of most items is similar to the first round of $X.97 pricing.
We snagged some nice bike helmets today on sale.
Tip #4: Use the Right Credit Card at Costco
We have the Costco credit card and it’s garbage (4% Costco gas, 3% restaurant & travel, 2% Costco, 1% everywhere else).
We get 5.25% cash back at Costco (warehouse, gas, food court) as documented here: https://frugalprofessor.com/best-credit-card-rewards-strategy-2019-edition/
Wrapping it up
So the above is what our family has learned after shopping Costco every other day for the past long while. The optimal amount of money to spend at Costco is $0, but when nakedness and hunger compel us to spend more than $0, we try to do our best to minimize our Costco spend. We don’t impulsively buy everything on coupon/sale (the weird yet good chocolate today being a slight exception), but rather buy stuff that we’ll need and use.