5 Ways I Waste Money at Costco

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  • A Costco membership is only worth it if you don't spend more than necessary.
  • Utilizing Costco discounts on things like landscaping equipment and new or used vehicles can make a Costco membership worth more than how much it costs.

The trick is to shop smart, particularly when you're paying for the privilege.

No one is immune to financial foibles, mistakes so embarrassing that we want to keep them to ourselves. But where’s the fun in that? We learn from our own mistakes, and if we're wise, we learn from the mistakes of others. Feel free to consider my trips to Costco a cautionary tale, a diary of all the things you don't want to do wrong.

A quick confession

I have a love/hate relationship with Costco. From the moment I enter the store, there's a fear of missing out, a sense that I need to see every single thing on display. I'd like to blame it on Costco for being stocked to the rafters, but the truth is, the problem appears to be me. If I'm going to continue shopping at Costco, I have to get rid of these five money-wasting habits.

1. I suddenly believe that I must buy in bulk

The moment I walk into Costco I began acting as though I'm buying for 10 people, when in fact, it's just my husband and me. Twelve cans of soup? Hey, I'll fill the pantry. A pallet of toilet paper? Sign me up.

I think it's because I am so overwhelmed with all there is to see and examine. Every single time I'm in Costco I tell myself that if I stock up (as in, really stock up), I won't have to return for a month or two.

One of the things on my to-do list today is to check the expiration dates on everything I have sitting in the pantry. The thing about buying 12 cans of soup is that we might open two or three of them, but the rest remain neatly organized on pantry shelves. Given the rising price of groceries, it makes zero sense to throw any out.

Everything I buy and don't end up using before it expires represents money wasted.

2. I get lazy

I'm not sure what it is about big box stores, but I tend to lose my critical thinking skills after about an hour of walking around, looking at toys, t-shirts, kids clothing, and 25-pound bags of avocados (okay, this last one is an exaggeration).

Let's say I need a bag of limes. I can tell you which grocery stores around us tend to have the lowest prices on produce. The same can't be said of Costco. I rarely compare its prices against any other retailers, and frankly, I'm not sure why. It's easier for me to assume I'm getting a good deal than to comparison shop.

I waste money by not taking the time to comparison shop.

3. I rarely eat before shopping

I have a bad habit of hitting the ground running each day, and rarely eat until my body reminds me that I'm ignoring a basic human need. And though I can't tell you why, I tend to hit Costco around 11 a.m. By the time I've examined pots and pans and color-changing kitty litter (even though I don't have a cat), and picked up fresh flowers, I'm typically starving.

That's about the time I pick up dark chocolate-covered pretzels, mini eclairs, a huge chunk of cheese, and all kinds of other delicious treats I really could live without.

I'm trying to do better about not shopping while hungry, but it's a work in progress. In the meantime, I know I'm wasting money on things I don't need, just because I'm too hungry to be rational.

4. I try to justify paying a membership fee

Everything, from paying an annual membership fee to having someone check my Costco card at checkout is designed to make me feel like I'm part of something special. It's no accident.

I've often wondered if some of my Costco purchases were made to justify the fact that I'm paying to shop there. Do I really need that mini-trampoline or am I buying it because I'm "part of the club?"

Spending money to justify spending money is a ridiculous practice -- and a waste of money.

5. I fail to save money where I can

I somehow forget all about Costco when I buy a car or fill that car with gasoline. If I wanted to buy a new kitchen sink or create a customized closet, I'd never think to check a big box store. And when I needed a wheelchair for my mother, Costco did not spring to mind. And yet, the retailer offers each of these at a discount. Heck, the store even hooks members up with less-expensive caskets and urns.

Failing to take advantage of special discounts offered through Costco is another way I waste money.

The thing about personal finances is that we all learn as we go. My ultimate goal is to enjoy a trip to Costco without regretting a single purchase. Once that's been accomplished, I'm sure I can find a better use for the savings, like investing in a new CD.

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