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One customer's love-hate relationship with Costco

A shopper shares the details of his tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship with Costco

Retailers often wonder what their customers think about their one store. Here, one shopper gives an insider's perspective into how it feels to be a parent navigating through Costco.

Family experts will tell you that stable relationships are the key to a happy and healthy home life.

And that is why I’m ashamed to admit I’m stuck in a rocky relationship with a long-time partner. Her name is Costco and we’ve had sort of a Ross-and-Rachel thing going on for the better part of a decade. The relationship is tumultuous and some nasty things are said. I will swear off Costco for the rest of my life, but a few months later I find myself aimlessly wandering the store muttering, “Awwww… I can’t stay mad at you,” while gently caressing a 200-pack of nut-free granola bars.

Right now, I’m back on again with Costco, but that’s subject to change at a moment’s notice. In many ways, going to Costco is like taking a trip to Disney. It’s impossible to spend less than $200 and the whole experience often leaves you feeling dizzy.

Sometimes I will look inside my cart and say to myself, “OK, I did well here. There are only 12 items in the cart.” And then the cashier rings up my total and says, “That will be $224.75 please.”

Everybody tries to play it cool when they hear the final damage of their Costco bill, but it’s usually ridiculous. And you feel like that person at the exit—who checks your receipt—is there to just actually just make fun of you. “OK sir, I see your tiny little receipt here with 12 items… is actually for more than $200. I just think it’s hilarious and I also want to make sure you’re not trying to sneak an extra pot roast out of here.”

We started going to Costco when our kids were really little. I think our rationale was something along the lines of, “Let’s buy 1,000 Kirkland-brand diapers because it’s cheaper than buying 750 Pampers. Trust me, I did the math.” But we broke off relations with Costco after we discovered our kids would be ready to move up to the next size of diapers before we were actually finished the previous box. And by box, I mean large crate. And by large crate, I actually mean an old railway box car.

We also had problems because we would buy a massive box of cookies, fruit cups or pudding—only to have the kids turn their nose up at them after eating a couple of packages. This would drive me to frustration, forcing me to say things like, “I swear to God, nobody is getting another treat in this house until those 73 cups of tapioca pudding are gone.” The reject Costco items usually end up in our basement as part of our “Emergency Preparedness Kit”—where heaven forbid an earthquake should strike and we are forced to eat peach slices in a can for six weeks before rescuers can find us.

We started going back to Costco a couple of years ago, when we needed to pack lunches for the kids every day at school. The price on deli meats were so good, I said, “Nitrates be damned…we’re stocking up on salami.” I now purchase Bear Paws at a fraction of the price that the suckers are paying at the grocery store—even though the savings are likely countered by increased dental bills. And our youngest daughter loves Kraft Dinner and they sell these amazing 40-packs of single-serve Kraft Dinners that are perfect for young kids, college students or people with low expectations.

I’ve also found that Costco is a great place to buy gifts for other kids. If you are anything like us, your child is probably invited to an average of 2.5 birthday parties a month—even though you’ve never heard of most of these kids. And that means buying a ridiculous amount of $15-20 birthday gifts for kids named Hayden, Braden and Jaden who you will likely never speak to in your life. But Costco has an amazing selection of gifts in that “We-don’t-really-care-about-your-kid-but-we-feel-obligated-to-buy-him-something”-price range.

The only thing you have to be careful about is that sometimes the gifts or certain items at Costco just simply vanish. If you see a bunch of Dora the Explorer books for $7.99, you better purchase them right away. Don’t say to yourself, “I’ll keep that in mind for next time.” Trust me, there won’t be a next time. When you come back a week later, that Dora book has vanished and no store employee will know what you are talking about. There’s a portal to another dimension at Costco where items just disappear from one day to the next and nobody ever speaks about them again. So if you see something you like, make sure you put it into your cart.

The nice thing about Costco is that it’s not too painful to shop there with your kids. Our girls are 10 and seven now and they absolutely love the samples all over the store. Our 10-year-old will eat anything from a sample person—and then she’ll want to buy the product, just because she tried it. “Dad, can we get the quinoa crackers with seaweed?” And I’ll foolishly pick up a giant box, knowing it’s destined for the “Emergency Preparedness Kit” in our basement.

As you can see, I’ve just talked myself back into going to Costco. But we both know this relationship is tenuous and could end at any moment.

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