There’s nothing frugal about a $10 bag of chocolate chips

I spent last Friday injecting some cash into the local economy. It had been several months since we went to Costco and the pantry was looking a little bare. We had paid full price — twice! — for individual rolls of paper towels at the local supermarket. So after dinner at the King of Prussia Legal Sea Foods, we hit the King of Prussia Costco with each parent pushing a separate cart. We filled them both (minus the volume consumed by the three children stashed in the carts). We felt like good, frugal shoppers the whole time and walked out paying several hundred dollars. What happened?

The psychology seems to be that Costco has a halo over it. Prices are, generally, lower. You can buy these microwave single-serving mac-n-cheese cups that my 2-year-old is obsessed with for $9.75 for 12. The best sale my local grocery store has ever had is 10 for $10 — and usually they’re more like $1.29 each. Four Costco cheese pizzas are $9.99, whereas a DiGiorno pizza (slightly bigger, but still) is more like $7 for one. But, of course, you’re buying in incredible bulk. And because there’s a halo over everything, you buy stuff you don’t need because it’s all so cheap! Why ask tough questions about whether you really need something if it’s all so cheap! Surely we’ll use that gigantic bag of chocolate chips eventually, right?

Which is why I now have a gigantic $9.99 bag of chocolate chips in my freezer. We did not need all these chocolate chips in our lives. It’s hard to save money by spending money. Whether you’re at Costco or not.

What attempt to be smart with money has landed you with the biggest bill?

Photo of Costco shopping carts courtesy flickr user Anthony Albright

10 thoughts on “There’s nothing frugal about a $10 bag of chocolate chips

  1. And that, precisely, is why we cancelled our Costco membership a few years ago! We couldn’t get out of there for less than $150 and it was always stuff we didn’t really NEED.

    Turns out their bulk vitamins (our dogs get lots of fish oil and glucosamine) aren’t any cheaper than the big containers at Target, we like the Target brand diapers and wipes better and they don’t sell the dog food or big sized soy milk that we consume the most.

    So we’d settle for things that weren’t what we wanted, and often were more expensive (they sold soymilk in 32-oz containers, but we can buy it at Trader Joe’s in 64oz for much cheaper.)

    And of course we’d end up with tons more of xyz than we’d ever be able to use. Not to mention the nearest Costco has horrible parking issues. I was glad to get rid of it.

    I’m on the fence about whether Amazon Prime has been smart, or totally bad for us. On one hand, it saves us shopping trips for 1-2 things here and there. OTOH it makes it so easy to buy things at 2am, and not do too much comparison shopping.

    1. @ARC- I view the lack of comparison shopping as a plus — you can easily waste an hour comparison shopping. With Amazon prime you just buy from Amazon. It may not be the absolute cheapest, but at least you’re not wasting time too.

      1. That is a great way to rationalize it 😉 But honestly, I think we have saved more buying big ticket electronics on Amazon, to cover the $1-2 more we might spend on personal care or food items, so it probably is a wash. And also then we don’t have to get in the car and go somewhere during store hours.

  2. Costco is literally our closest shopping option. (Target and Whole Foods share the same center 1.3 miles from our house, but Costco is closest.) So thankfully, a trip to Costco has lost a lot of it’s “stock-up now” luster. If we need to run and get something that’s cheaper/better/whatever from Costco, we just go and get that item. There’s no where cheaper to get hamburger buns and if aren’t going to grill for a crowd, they turn into circle sandwiches for the kids. But- there’s no way I’ll buy goldfish crackers there again since they take up way too much pantry space for the savings. I think I now go shopping once a week and hit a regularish rotation of Costco, Trader Joes, and our local Persian market. But–if I remember correctly, those are Ghirardelli chocolate chocolate chips in those Costco bags, so that sounds like a handful from the freezer might translate to treating yourself and spending money wisely 🙂

  3. @Laura – not related to this post, but I was wondering your take on this article, if you’ve seen it: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/business/straightening-out-the-work-life-balance.html?pagewanted=1&_r=3

    I hate the opening few paragraphs of this article so much. Sorry, folks, but missing your child’s daycare pickup is not the same thing as missing your yoga class! Maybe we should all work on being a bit more compassionate and helpful when others need us. Who knows, you might actually get the same thing in return when you need it (and inevitably you will). And then you’ll have not only a toned body but also a well-exercised soul…

    Sorry, I felt the need to rant there! (I’ll admit the article did make some good points toward the end but I just hated the opening hook…)

    1. @Rinna- I thought it was an interesting article. I understand the thinking that everyone should have flexibility and companies don’t want to make value judgments, but I do think you’re right that missing day care pick-up and yoga class aren’t the same.

    2. Ick – that article made my skin crawl. It’s not a coworker’s “fault” they have a flexible schedule, it’s management’s issue to make sure the work is distributed fairly and/or people are compensated appropriately for their extra contributions. It should never be “I have to pick up the slack for my coworker”.

      I do wonder how much of this is just bitter people grumbling rather than taking the flexibility for themselves as needed.

      for the record, I’m more of a “reason doesn’t matter” person. Work just needs to know I’m not there, and manager or I need to cover accordingly.

      1. @ARC – I think there is definitely some bitterness, and many people like to make larger social points out of one person being inconsiderate. Pick up the slack twice for a disorganized parent and boom! All parents are selfish people freeloading on the childless. I know from time logs that very, very few people actually work 70 hours a week, so right away, I’m inclined to take the opening anecdote with a grain of salt. We are talking entrepreneurs, consultants, i-bankers, etc. The time logs max out between 60-65 hours per week. I’m not saying it never happens, but I’m also well attuned to the broad, non-factual complaint.

  4. Costco seems like it might work best for those with large families, lots of space, AND the time/desire to make good use of all that stuff–a lot of conditions to meet!

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