Why Stores Like Costco Make Us Overspend — and What to Do About It

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Read this if you’re constantly going overboard when you visit Costco.

key points

  • Costco’s affordable price point is appealing to consumers.
  • Seasonal products also make impulse buys more tempting.
  • Shopping with cash, making a list, and avoiding food samples can help keep you from overspending at Costco.

I shop at Costco on a regular basis, and much of the time, I do a decent job of sticking to my grocery list so I can keep my credit card tab to a minimum. But I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been known to go overboard in the course of my Costco shopping.

And I’m not alone. Whenever I mention the word Costco in conversation, I’ll often hear stories of how a friend or neighbor busted their budget and spent way more than anticipated.

But why is that the case? What is it about Costco that makes it so darn easy to overspend?

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A winning combination — for Costco

There are a few things Costco does right that tempt consumers to spend more than they should. First, the warehouse club giant does a great job of keeping its prices reasonable. And so it’s easy to make the case to spend an extra $8 here or $12 there when you’re getting a massive haul of chips, dip, or whatever item you decide to purchase on a whim.

Costco also does a good job of tempting customers by offering up samples of newer items (or sometimes, classic items). So say you’re walking around your local Costco and your stomach is growingling. You might stop at a food station and sample Costco’s latest hard cheese. If it’s delicious, there’s a good chance you’ll throw a $14 block into your shopping cart without putting much thought into it.

Plus, Costco tends to rotate its product line seasonally. And so if you see something in the store that’s not on your list, you may be tempted to buy it anyway for fear that if you wait, you’ll miss out on the chance to purchase it altogether.

How to spend less at Costco

If money has gotten tight these days (which, let’s face it, is the case for many people), then it’s important to do what you can to keep your Costco spending in check. And one important thing to do in that regard is make a list. The simple act of writing things down and telling yourself you’ll stick to those items could help train your brain to avoid unplanned purchases.

Another option is to shop at Costco with cash, not credit cards. If you don’t bring a lot of extra cash, you’ll have to stick to your list because you won’t have the option to buy more items.

Finally, if you really need to stick to a budget, avoid sampling food while shopping at Costco so you’re not tempted with new items. And also, eat before you go there. Or, if you don’t have time, grab a $1.50 hot dog and soda so you can do your shopping with a clear head — and without a roaring stomach. At that price point, it’s comparable to what you’d spend to make lunch in your own kitchen.

Although I do my best to limit my spending at Costco, sometimes I buy extra things. But I’ve gotten better about not going overboard at Costco, and it’s definitely helped keep my grocery bills more manageable.

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