I’ve been banned from going to Costco

Since going part-time, I have taken a step back to look at my spending habits over the past 10 years.  Since I reduced my salary by 22%, and gained some much needed time to think, I decided to take a critical look at my expenses.   I thought I knew what all my hard earned dollars were being spent, but I was wrong.  My wife and I discovered a serious budget leak…I spent a large chunk of it in the bottomless pit known as Costco and now I have been banned.

I started with very little

When we first start our medical careers we usually start with very little. For me, that included a futon couch, an old projection television, and furniture that I would be embarrassed to donate to Goodwill.  So when I moved to my first home, the moving company assumed I was some random guy leaving an apartment filled with random stuff.   Believe it or not, I still managed to fill a small semi with stuff (first warning sign).  When we arrived at my new home, our movers exclaimed: “What is that you said you do?”  I moved from a two bedroom apartment into a 4,000 sq ft newly built home.  My stuff looked out of place in the background of shiny new wood floors and granite (another big warning sign).   Once unpacked, my belongings barely filled the house and it looked empty.

Never buy a home in the first year

I violated my first rule right out of the gate.  To be fair, the advice I give to all graduating resident continues to be:  Never buy a home your first year on the job.  I wished I would have listened to my own advice.  I purchased a new home due to a raging hot real estate market and rental market in the mid 2000s.   We struggled to find an apartment or home to rent and were lured to purchase a home from some savvy real estate agents and sales teams.  The home builder gave us what appeared to be an amazing offer:   $5000 down to hold and customize a mostly built spec.  They also didn’t waste any time finding a banker for me willing to mortgage the whole thing.  Needless to say, I got suckered in, and in doing so, along with the home came a giant leak in the budget.

New Home

My wife, 10-year-old daughter and newly born son moved into what seemed to be a giant home.  Most of the house was empty and felt very different from the cramped apartment where we were all on top of each other.   None of the furniture matched in any kind of meaningful way and looked dumpy in our nice new home.  Still, it felt like a dream.  I negotiated a very nice job with a good salary and signing bonus, so I never felt pressured in terms of cash flow but I also still had credit card and student loan debt.  Unfortunately, I owned a new home and every time I looked around the house I had constant reminders how dumpy my stuff looked and how I wanted to fill up my house with nice things. I had created the ultimate “want-generator”.

Homes do not come decorated

We moved into a brand new home that had nothing. sometimes when you buy home the previous owners will leave blinds curtains other things that you would not take for granted, for example, a toilet paper holder or a towel holder. We had none of that and the first 3 months we lived in our home, and our windows were graced with temporary paper accordion blinds. I was okay with the paper blinds but as you can imagine my wife was not.  From that point forward we started beginning of our shopping spree to not only give our house the basic necessities but to create a beautiful home.  One of the first items we needed was a bed.  At the time we had a double size bed that barely fit in our apartment and looked tiny in our brand new home.  Also, my wife wanted to be able to have extra space on the bed for our new child.  I remember in the past purchasing a bed from Costco with my father, so my wife and I decided to visit.  Walking into Costco and looking at all the furniture and other home goods, it was easy to imagine all those items in my new home!  Instead of purchasing a bed we decided to become members and so the leak began. 

What can you buy at Costco?…Everything! Herein lies the problem…

If I were to guess, it seems like you can almost buy anything from Costco (if you haven’t already, watch the movie Idiocracy!). It started with the toilet paper roll and towel hardware and almost never ended from that point forward.  We have purchased vacation packages, patio furniture, landscaping shrubbery, living room furniture, desks, cabinets, chairs, major appliances, mirrors, snorkeling gear, swing sets, and the basement full of toys which have long since been donated to my church.   Let’s not forget about the electronics, because it seems like that is all Costco has – an abundance of electronics!  I have purchased no less than 8 televisions, 3 computers, four iPads, 10 hard drives, 5 cameras and countless other small gadgets.  Once our house was completely filled with all the trappings of a fine home, you would think I would no longer need to buy anything else.  However, we also like to purchase food from Costco.  On the surface, it seems to make sound financial sense.  You can buy a 30 lb bag of rice at a fraction of what it would cost at a traditional grocery store.  The same holds true for many bulk items available at Costco.  For me, the real problem is the dopamine rush that I receive when I stroll through the aisles of shiny new objects.

Beware of the “Costco Creep”

My wife and I begin to notice a pattern.  Every time she would go to Costco she would return with a car full of groceries. The average bill for these groceries was somewhere between three to four hundred dollars.   Since we had small children and a large family the food almost never went to waste except on rare occasions.  Assuming we ate all the food, we got decent value for our dollar without having to travel all over town using an extreme coupon strategy.  Sometimes my wife would ask me to go to Costco to buy food.  I have a much larger vehicle and as a result, not only would I come home with food, but also would come home with “other items”.  When we started looking back at our bills it was hard to determine which Costco payment was for food and which was for non-grocery items.  What was clear though, was when I went to Costco the bill was substantially higher than when my wife went.  Once I came to terms with this I realized the other items came from my dopamine infused addiction to Costco.  Fortunately, my wife has now forbidden me to go and it is becoming very clear, very quickly that we are going to save a substantial amount of money.  How much money?  On average I would go to Costco once a month, and assuming I spent $300 more than my wife would if she had picked up the groceries, I was wasting $3,600 a year on stuff that I didn’t need.  Multiply that by 10 years it easily adds up to over $36,000!  This is what I now refer to as the Costco creep, and a decade’s worth of our budget data shows that it has been the single most preventable leak in our budget!

I Save 36,000/yr not going to Costco

I still love Costco, and while I’m sad that I can’t go anymore, my budget is glad to take a break from it.  My wife and I debate on the value associated with membership, but we (she) will continue to shop there for now.  Clearly, the main problem all started with the lifestyle creep of owning a new home and not showing restraint to fill the new home.  But going forward, I will sleep much better at night knowing that $36,000 will go towards my early retirement and not to a “want-generating” store pretending to be a grocery store.  Don’t even get me started on the free samples…. 

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3 thoughts on “I’ve been banned from going to Costco

  1. Well said Doc! I feel like there’s many people that fall prey to the “Costco Creep”. Costco even makes this part of their business strategy. They call it “the treasure hunt”.

    The low food costs bring in the customers, but it’s the “treasures” where the profit lies. Human behavior being what it is, we jump at scarcity…. even when it’s artificially created.

    Funny semi-related story — I happen to know someone that was actually banned by the Costco corporation. To make a long story short, he took issue with their receipt scanning procedure as you leave the store. Costco now refuses to give him a membership for life.

  2. Great post. I find the same thing when I go to Costco. Recently I found out I can no longer order online from Costco because my membership expired 2 years ago and I haven’t yet renewed it (because I also get “sucked in” when I physically go there). But after attempting to make 4 online orders from Costco, with each being cancelled 24-48 hours after I placed the order, I have decided to avoid Costco altogether!

    1. It is a silly article but makes a powerful point. Stores like Costco use sophisticated tactics like reciprocity and scarcity to trick people into buying crap they don’t need. To teach them a lesson I propose the following. I know they have a very generous return policy. What if I returned every I purchased over the years that wasn’t consumable? I would make a small fortune, and then maybe I will be banished for life!?

      Thanks for the comments! I can’t wait until the PHP conference!


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