Is Shopping At Costco Really Saving You Money?

Hi, my name is Nelson, and I have a problem. I am addicted to going to Costco.

My Costco addiction is a relatively new thing. I spent almost a year between mid-2014 and mid-2015 living in South Korea, one of Costco’s newest expansion locations. Costco was the only place to find reasonably priced American products, so once per month or so the wife and I would take the bus out to our city’s only location, load up a cart, and then try (badly) to tell various Korean taxi drivers how to get us and our haul of groceries home.

The best part of Korean Costco? They had the exact same hot dogs as Costcos in North America. You don’t know how good a hot dog tastes when you’ve been eating nothing buy kimchi and weird flavored meat.

Now that we’re back in Canada, we’ve continued our Costco obsession. We continue to shop there because we like the prices, the service, the free samples, and the relatively easy access to our nearest location.

But are we really saving money by shopping there? I’m not sure. Here’s why I have my doubts.

The membership fee

From a business standpoint, charging people to get into your store is a terrific idea. Kudos to Costco for figuring out a way to make this happen. When you get $55 worth of pure profit before somebody even comes in the store, you’re definitely doing something right.

Charging for membership also all but ensures the company has created loyal shoppers. When you pay to join a store, you’re going to make sure you go often to justify the cost of membership. Costco does other things to make sure customers show up regularly too like the cheap snack bar, in-store unadvertised specials, and gasoline for approximately $0.10 per liter cheaper than competitors.

People who buy all of their groceries at Costco can easily justify paying a membership fee. People who only shop there occasionally are likely paying more for their groceries once we factor in the cost of the membership.

Overconsumption

Like most of you, I enjoy bacon. But I’m lazy, so I don’t want to make it whenever I want to add it to my baked potato, pasta, or sandwich. This is why bacon bits are quite possibly mankind’s greatest innovation.

My local Costco sells a big bag of 100% real bacon bits for $12.99 (if my memory serves me right). This bag has 567 grams of some of the most delicious bacon bits I have ever tasted. It gets opened approximately three hours after I get home from the store and gets used at least once a week thereafter.

I’ve bought three bags of these, and the same thing happens. I get about three quarters through and then the bacon bits at the bottom of the bag start growing mold. I don’t want to risk getting sick, so I throw the rest of the bag out.

It’s not just bacon bits. We intentionally don’t buy much produce at Costco because we know that even though we might be getting a good price on five pounds of lettuce, there’s no way just the two of us will eat all of it before it goes bad.

We tend to focus on buying things like toilet paper, dish soap, and other non-perishables at Costco. That way, we don’t have to worry about stuff going rotten before we can use it all up. You’re not saving money if you’re throwing stuff out.

Watch the sales

After carefully comparing prices at Costco versus more traditional competition, here’s what I’ve noticed. Costco definitely has better regular prices on just about everything in the store when compared to Wal-Mart, Loblaws, or other value-based grocery chains. You do tend to get a good deal if you shop in bulk.

But if you shop sale items at other stores you can do just as good — if not a little better — going around to other stores and buying up their loss leaders, the ultra-cheap stuff on the front cover of the flyer.

And remember, you won’t have to pay a $55 membership fee to do that. You will need to do a little extra driving, so factor that into your decision.

Conclusion

Costco is a great place to shop; I’m not about to stop going there anytime soon. I like the selection, the prices, the new items every time I go, and those delicious hot dogs. But I need to remember that I’m not necessarily saving money by shopping there.

It’s 2016; Just Cut Cable Already

disconnectA few years ago, I was a staunch supporter in cable TV.

I viewed it as cheap entertainment. For $60 per month, I had access to all the sports, news, and educational programs my heart desired. My problem flipping through the channels wasn’t finding something to watch; it was narrowing down my choices from the ten things that looked interesting.

Back then, I would even go as far as telling people they could pry my TV remote out of my cold, dead hands. I had no intention of ever giving up my shows.

Fast forward a few years, and it’s amazing how my attitude has changed. I haven’t had cable for nearly two years now, and I don’t miss it for a second. I can still watch all the shows I like (even on my TV), and I get the added bonus of doing it on my own schedule. I don’t even know what nights shows air anymore.

Here’s how anyone can cut TV from their lives without missing any of their favorite shows, putting at least $50 per month in their pocket.

The miracle of streaming

Getting a Netflix account is just the beginning.

Netflix has a couple of Canadian competitors, Crave and Shomi. Crave is owned by Bell, which means it offers the ability to stream many CTV-exclusive shows, as well as some of the classics from HBO. If you’re a fan of Corner Gas, South Park, or the Sopranos, Crave is worth your time.

Shomi is a co-venture between Shaw and Rogers. It has plenty of TV series Netflix doesn’t, like Modern Family, Fargo, and American Horror Story. Shomi also has the rights to exclusively show Amazon streaming content in North America.

Each of these services cost $9 per month. If you combine the two with Netflix, you’ll get access to hundreds of different TV shows and thousands of movies, all for the combined cost of about half of the average cable subscription.

There’s one problem with this though, and that is you won’t get new episodes. Each of these streaming sites only offers old episodes, with the exception of Netflix’s unique programming.

The easy way to get around that is to just go to each network’s website and watch stuff on there. Nine times out of ten, it’s sitting there the next morning, waiting for you. Or you can just be patient and wait for the show to end up on one of the streaming services.

How to watch live TV without paying for it

Cable companies are happy to provide streaming services for just about every channel, providing you’re a customer. How can us cable-cutters get around it?

It’s as easy as using somebody else’s streaming service. Just find somebody with cable (giving them something for their trouble, of course), and use their login credentials to use your cable provider’s app. Your parents are the obvious choice, since they barely know what streaming is, never mind how to really use it well. All of Canada’s major cable providers have their own apps, each with the ability to watch up to 80 channels live.

These apps have access to thousands of hours of TV shows you can stream as well. You could easily replace your Netflix subscription with the streaming options offered by your local cable company.

The only catch is you won’t get access to channels unless the account you “borrowed” subscribes to them too. So unless the parents are HBO lovers as well, you’ll have to watch the naughty shows somewhere else.

Sports

I think many people would cut cable if it wasn’t for one thing — live sports.

There are a couple easy ways to watch sports. Some are hard, but don’t cost anything. Others are easy, but cost more.

The easy way is to shell out the $100 to $150 for a league’s all-access pass. This works great if you’re a fan of one particular sport. I’m a baseball nut, so I happily pay $109 per year for MLB.TV. You can easily split the cost of these with a buddy if you want to get the cost down.

If you don’t want to shell out the cash because you’re a more casual sports fan, there are other solutions. These days, a quick search online before a major sporting event will give you a multitude of, uh, somewhat illegal streaming options. I watched a football game via one of these options last month, and it was annoying. The stream kept cutting out, but hey, it was free.

And finally, if you use the apps provided by the TV providers, you can easily watch any live sporting event you want. They’re all on there.

Getting rid of cable doesn’t have to be hard. With a little bit of ingenuity and a blurred line of ethics, watching anything you want for nearly free is easy. Or you could just read a book instead.

 

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