Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Costco: friend or foe ?

I remember the first time.  
"You've never heard of Costco?" Woody exclaimed as it finally dawned on him that I had been living among primitives (in France). "Come."
The carts were gigantic! Everything was several times larger than normal! Had I shrunk? I felt like Jack in the house of the giant! "
Oh, my God!" I yelled. "Are those marinated artichoke hearts?" 
"Yes," he smiled. "A gallon for $7.95. Would you like some?"
"But," I stuttered, "how is that possible? In Paris an itsdy bitsy microscopic plastic container of these would cost as much." 
"Welcome," Woody said, "to Costco."

At home, I discovered that the jar was not only humungous and inexpensive, it was also quite excellent. I also learned that no human being on earth can eat a gallon of artichoke hearts without some annoying health complications. Thus was I introduced to the paradox of Costco.

 Like the atom, it can be a force for good or for evil. It's all in what you do with it.
And who you are.
Some people, nice, kind, decent citizens, should not be let within a mile of Costco. Why? Because they cannot control their bargain buying instinct. "Twenty packs of bathroom towels! they'll yell. Ten pound tubs of chicken salad!"
The  first  key to success: chose your Costco buyer. Who is the most goal oriented, disciplined person in your entourage? Yes, that's the one. He/she goes; the others stay at home.
Second: always work from a written list. Insist on phone confirmation for any change. Cooler heads will prevail. ("That's wonderful, honey. But what are we going to do with fifty chicken wings?")
Third, learn to spot consistent value. For example, certain fruits and vegetables of excellent quality regularly cost less at Costco. It doesn't matter why. For big savings, take advantage of this.
Fourth, especially in the refrigerated perishable section, practice asking yourself the question, do we really want to eat all that in the next three days?
Fifth, never, EVER send your designated shopper off to do battle hungry. Or angry. Or overly sad. After all, they're only human.

Advanced Costco shopping techniques

Buying in quantity saves money on three conditions:

1) you don't let it rot;

2) you don't feel obliged to eat too much just to get rid of it; and—of course—

3) the price really is cheaper (check, don't trust the store).

Vegetables famously don't keep, so you'll lose money if you buy them in quantity unless you are really making preserves or feeding a lot of people. Meats, on the other hand, freeze well. Chicken breasts and the fleshy part of pork ribs, especially. 

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