NNNY-Day 19: ‘Costcology’, otherwise known as Bulk Buy Madness

Because a girl can never have enough boots

Sucked in! Even knowing the tactics of  bulk buy stores, I still manage to walk out with heaps of items I can’t seem to get enough of or simply can’t live without. And I’m not alone. If you google Costco, the first line of most every article and blog post is how people go in with lists and good intentions, but leave with a lawnmower.

Because it's there and I MUST have it

Because it’s there and I MUST have it

Then there are plenty of pieces that offer tips on getting out of Costco without overspending: “pay cash”, suggests (Frugual Rules) or do a “dry run” first (shopping without your wallet) works for Plunged in Debt.

I’ve tried all those in the past, but with my NNNY experiment I’ve come across some interesting insights as to how bulk buy stores get you to buy in the first place; and to quote the iconic action figure, GI Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.”

Some of these were rather obvious like offering samples or featuring items at the end of the aisles. That’s grocery store marketing 101.

Then there are other tactics that seem a bit sneakier….or brilliant depending on how you look at.

The Treasure Hunt

Yes, Treasure Hunt is exactly what it is called, according to former Costco CEO, Jim Senegal in an interview with The Motley Fool. It trades on the excitement of the hunt and the anticipation of the reward. It all starts before you even get into the three-acre warehouse, beginning with the quest for a parking spot then a game of dodge the trolley. It’s the equivalent of riding through the dark forest only to emerge for another challenge; this time, it’s the gauntlet of prams, carts and the minions lined up for that $2 hot dog/coke combo.

Finally, after reaching the castle doors and presenting a golden ticket (i.e.Costco membership card) to the gate keeper, adventurers are permitted through and greeted with a vast amount of (21st century) riches. Literally. Like big screen TVs and Tag Heuer watches.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail

In accordance with Costco-logy (i.e. bulk buy mind games), those high ticket items are supposed to leave you in a state of blissful adoration thinking, “wow, they have everything here”. They don’t actually, but that’s another part of the story.

Continuing on our journey, we now enter the enchanted maze – or so it is meant to feel.

  • High walls – *tick*
  • Unmarked paths – *tick*
  • Random impediments – *tick*
  • Vanishing guides – *tick*

But that’s where the trimmed hedge vision ends. Now we’re on to the bedlam of plunder.

  • Pandemonium – *tick*
  • Charging horses (trolleys/carts) – *tick*
  • Diversionary tactics – *tick*
  • Treasure hoarding – *tick*
  • Rule of Scarcity -*tick*
  • Laden horses (trolleys/carts) – *tick*

Pretty sneaky, eh?

Here today, gone tomorrow

My favourite chapter in Costco-ology  is on scarcity or the Oh-my-heavens-what-if-it’s-not-there-tomorrow mentality. (This is the main thing that Jim Senegal was referring to about the treasure hunt)

Nothing says Buy Me Now like ‘Limited Stock’. So while 75% of the  items are constant (i.e. tuna fish, nappies, Red Vines..) it’s that 25% that warrant the hunt. It’s the $24.99 Calvin Klein jeans that may be replaced by $29.99 Ben Sherman dress shirts the following week. Both phenomenal bargains – but only if you catch them in time.

Membership card or cult status?

Like country club parking permits sitting ‘casually’ on the dashboard, I’ve seen the Costco card ‘casually’ peeking out from the card holder in wallets. It’s as if they’re seeking some conspiratorial nod from another brother (sister) in bulk-buying; a fellowship reserved for the devoutly frugal.

Visions of dungeons and candelabras aside (though you can probably get those there) it’s the membership cost (~$45 – $100) that offsets the mark-ups. And in Costco-logy, that expense makes people feel the need to ‘get the most out of their membership.’ Essentially buying more to save more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though as it also means you may consider some of their other non-traditional offerings like tire service, kitchen renovations and prescription glasses.

There’s tons of other stuff, but we’ll save that for the next novella. In the meantime…

How to tame the beast that is Costco

The Virgin Voyage – if it’s your first time to this warehouse wonderland, just go with it. Buy that 25-pack of toothbrushes or the pallet of Pop Tarts – just don’t beat yourself up over the final tally and chalk it down to lessons learned. Embrace the thrill of the chase so that you are prepared to fight it next time. Lose the battle but win the war.

Palett o' Pop-Tarts

Pallet o’ Pop-Tarts

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want – Go in with your list but make sure it includes your local grocery store price. Sometimes you’re better off buying things from the shops.

Too much of a good thing – Needless to say, always ask yourself if you really need that much or even whether you have enough pantry space to store the surplus.

Way too much of a good thing – If it’s there, you’ll eat it. If you have a lot, you’ll use a lot. Conversely, if you have less, you’ll use less. Remember how you managed to ration out your face wash till you got to the shop? If you were ok doing that, then you’re saving money, but if you prefer squeaky clean and skimping on suds is akin to mud on a white carpet, well then yeah, you may want to go for bulk.

Patience is a virtue – The crowds are gonna suck. The innate concept of order is checked at the door. People will stop right in front of you. And heavens forbid there’s a sample station up ahead – just know there’s going to a traffic jam and bi-pass it via the pet food aisle.

Now, go forth and conquer.


  • Black Nike running shorts: $17.99
  • Black capri pants: $14.99
  • Black Nike running shirt: $9.99
  • Cool towels (as in they go in the refrigerator and then around your neck to keep you cool): $24.50

NNNY – Day 17

17 JANUARY 2014 

No. of new items

No. of used items

Cost of new items

Cost of used items

Exempts amount

Matching amount

Evaded amount


 4  $67.47  $217.35  $67.47  $1

TOTALS: To date

 9  $370.17  $302.70  $67.47  $1

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