Warehouse club

It’s been a few years now since my husband and I began talking about relocating to another state. At first, it was only a dream but soon idle chatter turned to serious talk. That developed into a list of “must-haves”—things a new location would have to offer for us to even consider making the leap.

At the top of the list? Weather. Having lived in Southern California for most of our lives, we knew it would be impossible to beat the weather we’d come to love and pretty much taken for granted. Finding the next-best weather was at the top of our must-haves.

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Second on the list: Costco. You think I’m kidding? They don’t call me the Queen of Costco for nothing.

I believe that anyone—a household of one or a big family—can stretch the money by shopping at a discount warehouse club like Costco. But only if you are willing to stick to a very strict list of rules, some of which may be unique to your particular situation.

Shop with cash

Having the complete contents of your checking account, overdraft protection plan and credit-card limit available to you in the form of plastic or a checkbook could easily enable you to pop one of those big-screen TVs into your cart, quite on a whim. Go with cash only and you’ll avoid many temptations.

Shop with a list

Decide what you need before you get there. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it. If that 55-gallon drum of shampoo turns out to be a true need that you simply forgot to put on the list, you can always return to buy it later.

Justify the membership fee

At $50 to $60 a year just for the privilege of membership (depending on the particular club), make sure you will realize net savings in excess of the fee.

Don’t outshop storage space and ability to reasonably consume

If anything will nullify your best intentions, this will be it. No matter how great the bargain, how terrific the deal, if you can’t reasonably use a 50-pound bag of flour or 25 pounds of onions before they spoil, that’s a bad deal. Never buy more than you are sure (not hope, think, or feel) you can use without creating a false need.

Create an appearance of scarcity

Once you get home with cases of this and that—even paper towels or toilet tissue—you’d best find a place to stash your supply or it will disappear faster than Colorado snow on a bright sunny day. Remember this: Out of sight, out of mind.

Divide and conquer

Costco is notorious for its prepared entrees that are made in-store, ready to be baked or finished off at home—to serve 8 to 10. Even though mine is a small household of two, I buy these entrees routinely because they are fabulous and I cannot make them myself for anywhere close to Costco’s price.

 

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Here’s what I do: The minute I get home, I take the time to divide these big entrees into servings for two, transferring them to my vast collection of Snapware containers (equal to or even better than Tupperware, but much cheaper).

Sometimes I freeze the re-portioned servings, but most often simply put them into the refrigerator. Works like a charm.

Recently, I bought a huge container of Ravioli Lasagna with Beef & Pork Bolognese Sauce for $15.49 ($4.49 a pound) at Costco. I divided it into five 2-serving portions. That worked out to about $1.55 per serving. I could have just as easily re-portioned this into single servings, perfect for lunch or dinner.

Last, I use my phone to take a picture of the product label so I’ll know what I bought and how to prepare it.

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Shopping buddy

Worried that even with all of these techniques, you cannot justify warehouse-club-size quantities? Find a friend or neighbor who’s in the same situation so you can split your purchases. You can’t split a membership unless you are in the same household, but you can split the fee. Then one of you can be the designated shopper. Both of you will benefit from the high-quality and low prices you’ll discover at warehouse clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJs.

By the way, our must-have list grew to eight entries. Over a period of two years, we visited many locations and did even more research. Once we narrowed locations to just one (a somewhat rural area in northern Colorado) we made multiple visits hitting every season, in an attempt to head off any major surprises.

As for #1 on the list, we are convinced the weather here must be the world’s best-kept secret with an average of 300 sunny days annually (true!).

And #2? We nailed that, too. Costco is a perfect 1.5 miles from our front door.

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