Get a Good Deal at Costco Without Overspending

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I don’t know about you, but I really STRUGGLE not to overspend when I go to Costco.  Some of my friends just think it’s a joke – they call it the “Hundred Dollar Store”.  But for me, it was a lot worse than that.  My record was nearly $500 in ONE TRIP – one EPIC Costco trip!!  And that was just groceries and things – no furniture, gift cards, tires, or whatever.

How to Get a Good Deal at Costco

Costco is a Minefield for Impulse Shoppers

When you have a problem with impulse spending like I do, a store like Costco is literally a minefield for overspending.  I had to actually give up my membership for a couple of years, it had gotten that bad.  People would literally gasp when they’d hear I didn’t have a Costco membership, which I thought was kind of weird.  It’s not a hospital or something – it’s a freaking grocery store!

But I’ll bet a lot of you have had that nasty feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get to that cash register and realize you’ve blown your entire budget on a giganto cart full of STUFF that you don’t really need.  It’s AWFUL, isn’t it??

For someone with a habit of impulsive spending, that place is literally a minefield.  I’m always shocked when I see people walking out of there with only one or two things.  That simply would not be possible for people like us.  When I find things I want, I generally BUY them, regardless if I can afford them or not.  And at Costco, I WANT everything!  It’s like a trigger for me.

  • I definitely want the books and DVD’s
  • I always want the muffins – yum!
  • I want the huge packs of meat – my family loves meat and lots of it
  • The fruits and vegetables – let’s just say it, they are pretty awesome!
  • I totally want the snacks and they have a LOT of them
  • I especially want the clothes – I LOVE clothes.

Ways to Manage Your Costco Spending Habit

Fortunately, I’ve learned some lessons that help me Costco shop without going TOO crazy.  A lot of it is just awareness.  Have a list and set a budget.  One easy rule of thumb is to figure $15 for each item.  So if you are getting ten items – budget $150 bucks.  Bring along a calculator and add it up as you go.  Or better yet, bring a kid and let them work on their math skills.  That’s what I used to do with my kids!

Another awesome tactic is to think like a marketer.  I’ve read some fascinating books on how stores use psychology to manipulate us.  For example: The best deals are at the BACK of the store for a reason.  And the shiny, big ticket items are right when you walk in to make sure EVERY shopper sees them.  The warehouse decor is designed to make you think that EVERYTHING is a great deal.  But you know what?  Some things are and some things aren’t.  Especially if you are buying larger quantities than you can use up.

But do your research and take advantage of the things that ARE a great deal.  The gas, the rotisserie chickens, the diapers and optometry/prescription items – those all have some good bargains to take advantage of.  IF you actually need them and in a reasonable quantity.

One study had a fascinating fact:  If you buy a HUGE package of something, whether it is laundry soap, candy, chicken cutlets, or fruit, you will go through it FASTER than you would if you’d bought a normal-sized package.  Something in our brains just wants it GONE, so we consume it much quicker.  You can trick your brain by keeping the large package in a closet and parceling it out in a smaller container.  So really think about that when comparing the Costco sized product with the normal-sized products.

Another marketing trick – Costco deliberately places items in unexpected, confusing locations.  It’s like an expensive, mildly exciting treasure hunt across the aisles to find what you need. And by the end of your excursion, Costco has tricked you into hitting almost every square inch of the store.  And I’ll give it to them, they’ve done their best to make sure shopping there is FUN and interesting.  Whenever I walk into a Sam’s Club, or other warehouse store, I notice immediately how BORING it is.

Here’s my solution to sidestep this marketing trick.  I tend to avoid entire sections of the store.  I move quickly through the electronics and gift cards and I avoid the clothes, books, and household items altogether.  The more aisles you go through the more things you’ll be tempted to buy.  Then, before you get to the checkout, stop and take a breath.  Look through everything in your cart carefully.  See if there are 2 or 3 items you might want to reconsider.

Hopefully, these tips will help you with your Costco spending.

Overshopping Issues – Understand Your Shopping Triggers

Let’s talk for a minute about compulsive shopping behaviors.  This is a huge problem for so many people.  We all have different triggers.  Some people can’t bring chocolate or potato chips into their houses because they will just eat it all.  These are notorious trigger foods.  I’m fine with food, but I’m like that with discount stores like Costco or The Dollar Store.  I can’t always tell the difference between CHEAP and FREE.

I know a lot of women who think of Target as a sort of adult playground.  Shopping shouldn’t be a source of entertainment or fulfillment just because you are bored or unhappy.  Especially if you have a limited budget.  That way lies serious debt that is absolutely no fun, and problems within your family.

It’s smart though to have an awareness of what your triggers are.  I’ve definitely struggled with mine my whole life.  Every time, every store, I’m fighting for control of my spending.  Maybe you have this issue as well.  If you are serious about saving some money, and managing an overshopping issue, I have a couple of strategies that might help you:

Paying with Cash

This one is super effective.  When you have a possibility that you might be embarrassed at the cash register by not having enough money.  Check out my post about why paying with cash hurts.

Phone a Friend

One thing that did work for me was to get a friend as an accountability partner.  I have a friend who is a money blogger.  I would ask her to hold me accountable before a shopping trip.  Yes, it’s embarrassing, BUT it really made me so mindful of my spending.  It’s like with Weight Watchers and the food diaries.  When someone is going to KNOW, it makes a difference.

Stay Out of the Stores

This one is my best strategy and I’ve been using it for the last decade.  Most of the time, I just give my husband or son a list and just stay the heck out of the stores.  That’s hard for some women because it’s a control thing.  A man definitely doesn’t shop like a woman.  I don’t always get exactly the things I want, or they don’t shop for good prices.  But they definitely spend LESS than I would. Yep, it’s a tough-love strategy, but we would be in thousands of dollars of debt otherwise.

Or I buy stuff online.  For some reason, I usually can control the overspending when I’m online.  Weird, huh?  I’ve got much more control that way regardless if it’s Costco or the grocery store.

What strategy works for you to get your spending under control?  Are you aware of your red flag spending situations?

Here are some other posts you may enjoy:

Teach Your Teen to be a Smart Shopper

Why You Need to Control Your Fast Food Spending

10 Secrets of Women Who Always Have Money


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  1. Have to admit, I love Costco. I’m not much of a spender by nature, but Costco always seems to have some good deals. At the same time, I will say that if you keep going every week, some of the “excitement” starts to wear off, and then it becomes more of a grocery/supply store. Besides, once you fill the freezer, you can’t fill it a second time!

    1. I don’t think I can afford to go regularly! I’d be in the poor house… But I do need to do a better on grocery shopping. I purchased a grocery shopping E-book from one of my blogger friends (about two weeks ago) and I haven’t even had time to read it! But I’m going to get better at it. I hope so any way!

  2. Ok going to admit it here…. I grew up living very close to my grandparents that raised 12 children during WWII in London. She saved everything that could be reused, NOT A HOARDER….. She was frugal, and she always had a stocked full pantry. Butter was always on hand. Why you ask, because that woman worked her ass off and did I mention she raised 12 kids during a ration WWII!!!!!!

    So I kind of lived that with her. We will NEVER run out of butter 🙂 My shopping list is in my head and I shop at Woodman’s, Look it up you will die!!!!!! I spend around 250 to 300 every two weeks and that stocks the freezer and pantry as well as the bathrooms with soaps and what not…..

    This past month I didn’t shop for four weeks, and it proved to me that our house can sustain us for a full month!!!!


    PS I can’t go into Target…..


    1. Wow Ray, that is an AMAZING story. I just can’t wrap my head around raising 12 children during the difficult time of WWII London. I’ve been learning about that recently and it was an incredibly difficult period. I can see why that would turn her into a very resourceful person. I think I need to hit a happy balance between too much shopping and not enough money. I keep reading all these stories about all my frugal friends who can live on $50-$75 a week and I need to realize, I am my mother’s daughter – ha! I am smart about money in some respects, but I don’t think anyone will ever call me FRUGAL. I like to splurge too much and if it results in a $400 Costco bill once in a while, I just have to plan for that.

  3. Yep…I know what you mean. We go to Costco every week and are always on the lookout for something new or we wind up with something we didn’t go in there for, especially when all the food samples are out. Stopping by from SITS Saturday Sharefest.

    1. I would think being a food blogger, you would be even WORSE than me. I’m not a big foodie, so I don’t care all that much about this kind of food or that kind. When you are tuned into food like that, I’ll bet its like Willy Wonka’s Candyland for you!

    1. Yeah, I do love the place. Sometimes I want to just sneak in there and grab a few packs of those muffins. But, if we’re going to stay out of the poor house, I gotta give it up! Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Yes, that’s the main reason why I shared that post. It is embarassing for a finance blogger to admit that I don’t have full control of my money, but I think it might help people to look at their own spending in a different way and see that we always have the choice to avoid the store altogether. I have some SAHM friends who are always talking about their Target addiction, but I don’t think it ever occurs to them to just not go. It’s like their form of entertainment or something!

  4. You are totally speaking my language! I have both a Sam’s and a Costco membership…but I have to totally limit when I go there and how much money I spend because I go crazy too! I love getting good food for a good deal!

    1. Glad it’s not just me who struggles with this. I was pretty embarrassed and mad at myself for going so overboard. On the other hand, I’ve really enjoyed having a nice selection of food in the house. I think I don’t do the shopping thing well in general. Need to improve on it!

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