I remember my first voyage to Costco, I had to drive 25 minutes to a suburb, and then spend what felt like another 25 minutes in the lot looking for parking, to do my Costco shopping so it was a "once every 6 weeks" type of adventure. I recall being sensory overloaded with the quantity of goods, and remember they don't even sell wine here, but the deals were too good to pass up, we paid for our membership in diaper savings alone for the first two years. After daughter was out of diapers though things changed and I recall on more than one occasion wondering if it was worth the annual membership fee plus gas plus parking lot frustration . Then in 2006 everything changed when Costco opened their first ever Canadian "urban" location, not only was the store located in the downtown area, right beside a skytrain station but it marked a departure from the products in the suburban stores. The "urban" Costco stocked a wide range of organics, a vastly expanded produce section, many more upscale food items, a broad selection of good quality frozen foods and a huge section of deli foods and HRMs (home ready meals) to cater to the condo living locals. Along with the improved product line was the fact that it was now only a seven minute drive and a had MASSIVE underground parking garage that was not free but was very reasonable.
So I reupped and now I can't imagine groceries without Costco, the store is so convenient that I usually shop there every couple of weeks. Still there are pitfalls, first there is the size of packaging it's large so fresh produce is often not a good idea for a small family but there are some go-to items even in that category. You also have to be careful about impulse buying, especially when you see great prices and then 2 months later are still trying to eat your way through the 7 kilo box of cookies, just kidding (I think) and the lineups at the cash register can be brutal. I've often advocated an Costco "express" line, less than $250 worth of goods, but I don't see it happening any time soon. To me though the benefits outweigh the pitfalls, especially if you can avoid the pitfalls, and one of the biggest benefits is the quality of goods. Costco does not stock crap, their house brand Kirkland Signature is always top quality, believe me I would never have let inferior nappies touch my daughter's butt, so you can shop with confidence. They constantly upgrade their product line and the non House Brand staples they sell are always from top suppliers, though I have heard complaints that their potato chips are stale but I've never bought them so I don't know.
Price wise you have to know your pricing, it's not always the cheapest though generally it will be, and you don't have to hunt for sales, if you want baby back ribs, and there are going to be 6-8 for dinner then just go and buy a slab. Costco is a better value for larger households but even with just two of us there are certain items that I will likely always buy at Costco, these are staple items that are always much less at Costco, they are the items that pay for the membership so here is my:
"Costco Essentials List"
- Butter, Costco sells butter for roughly 60% of regular chain grocery price, apparently all dairy but we use very little milk/cream so it's not worth it for us
- Cheese, again it's not close roughly 60-70% of RCG (regular chain grocery) with a broad selection and excellent quality, I'm not talking about picking up your post dinner cheese plate stuff here, leave that to "Les Amis", but for sandwich cheese, Balderson's cheddar and good quality Romano for pasta etc. the big box can't be beat
- Olive Oil - Kirkland Signature Organic EVOO is just great olive oil at a price that is 30-40% less than anything comparable on the market
- Frozen fruit, both regular and organic, great for when I feel up to smoothies plus excellent for baking
- Frozen fish, we eat fish generally twice a week, Costco carries a broad selection of frozen wild fish, often line caught, at prices that are cheaper than anyone else. I currently have Yellowfin Tuna and Barramundi in my freezer that I would not generally be able to afford.
- Cucumbers, 3 pack of English cukes so not unmanageable, always good quality at a regular price that pretty much is the same as RCG sale price
- Peanut Butter, okay it's a big package, 2*1kg jars, but it's all natural, unsalted and organic plus we eat lots of Peanut Butter and the price is less than 1/2 of what you would pay for a similar product.
- Nutella - daughter's one true love. Again mere mortals might find the package size daunting but it's a laugher for us and 1/2 price
- "Happy Planet" Smoothies - it's a convenience factor, we could, and do, make our own but some mornings having an organic smoothie in a bottle in the fridge is just good sense, and 2*1L for $7 is too good to pass up
- Stuffed Pasta, they stock a wide variety, it's all good, much of it is organic and it's 1/2 the price of anywhere else plus the selection is better. I just bring home the massive package and parcel it out into one meal portion sizes and freeze them.
- Brita water filters - 25-30% cheaper than anywhere else
- Stoned Wheat thins - again, not for everyone 'cause it's a huge package but we eat lots and they are 1/2 RCG price
- Bacon - again, big package but c'mon ............ it's BACON
- Rotisserie Chicken - like the smoothie it's a bit of a cheat but the Costco birds are big, perfectly cooked and much cheaper than anywhere else. Particularly in winter I will grab one bring it home and strip the meat, having the roast chicken for one meal with enough left for at least one more meal plus a couple of sandwiches plus the carcass for stock. Once again it's real value is the quality, not just the price.
Plus don't get me started on the electronics prices, thankfully I can't afford any new toys so I don't even wander down that aisle anymore. Anyway, leave me a comment on what your Costco essentials are, maybe I need to expand my list.