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Should You Join Costco? Only If You Check Off These 2 Boxes

By Daniel B. Kline - Feb 8, 2020 at 2:07PM

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The warehouse club can offer good value, but it can also be a waste of money.

Joining Costco (COST -1.54%) seems like a great deal. You pay $60 a year and get access to low prices, great deals, cheap meals, and so much more.

That's amazing in theory, but joining the warehouse club can also be a bit of a trap. Some people pay their $60 and end up wasting that investment. That seems impossible, but it's easier than you think.

Costco membership isn't for everyone. You should only join the warehouse club chain if you check off these two boxes.

The exterior of a Costco.

Joining Costco is not right for everyone. Image source: Costco.

1. You're willing to be flexible

Costco has a very limited selection. If you need medicine to make your headache feel better, you will be able to get that at a great price per pill. If you want a specific type of Tylenol in only a certain size, then the warehouse club may not be right for you.

To make the most of a Costco membership, it's important to be flexible. You can get a lot of good deals, but that requires making sacrifices. You may have to buy more than you want, accept a generic brand, or get the brand you want but not in the exact packaging or size you are used to.

2. You're actually going to go

This is the most important factor when considering joining Costco. If you don't go to the warehouse chain's clubs, you probably won't get value from your membership.

Yes, Costco does offer online ordering and a variety of delivery options. It's possible to get value from those, but the best deals come from visiting a warehouse and looking around. (There is a limited, somewhat fixed selection of items available for online ordering, compared to the ever-changing values you may find at a physical club).

If you don't visit Costco, you can't take advantage of its inexpensive food court or see what surprising merchandise it's offering. You also miss out on the sort of secret value of joining the chain -- it's fun to shop there even when you don't buy.

It's important to know the type of person you are and factor in how convenient Costco is for you. Do you regularly go out of your way to get a bargain? Are you willing to deal with no-frills shopping?

Be honest with yourself. Don't join if it's going to require changing how you normally act.

Costco isn't right for everyone

I enjoy Costco and currently have a membership. Yet that was a mistake for a variety of reasons. Having a Costco membership made sense when I first joined, but changed circumstances made rejoining after moving from Connecticut to Florida the wrong choice for these reasons:

  • I don't live all that close to any of the warehouse club's locations.
  • I have almost no storage space in my small downtown condo.
  • I get a ton of things delivered through a variety of services.

When my wife and I lived in Connecticut, Costco was less than two miles away. We went almost weekly, sometimes just to look around and maybe have a cheap snack. I thought I would do those things once we moved to Florida, even though it involved a drive, but that proved to not be true.

It was a small change, but it made Costco a bad value for me. Honestly, I should have known that when I rejoined after living in Florida for a few months (having let our initial membership expire). You can figure out whether joining makes sense for you before you pay $60. It may not be easy (being honest with yourself never is), but it's possible.

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