Monday, April 9

Meditations on a trip to Costco

Since I'm tracking every penny during April, I have been hyper-aware of my spending habits and urges. It really has been a very good exercise for me in many ways that I haven't had a chance to blog about yet but I promise that I will....

I don't have Costco membership myself and a couple months ago I got the idea in my head that it would be a good place to buy myself a PDA. My sister has a membership so I asked her to take me but she had just gone at that time so I resigned myself to waiting. Well, wouldn't you know it, she ended up making her next trip while I was out of town, and I was complaining another anticipated two months of waiting so much that this evening we planned a trip to Costco *just* for me. Aren't I special? :)

Well, the most interesting thing about Costco is that I don't seem to go there to get what I need, I go there to find out what I need. Out of all the items that I left Costco with tonight - and there were many - only two of them, totalling around 5% of my final purchase, were on my list of things I needed before arriving. Two of the larger purchases, the juicer and the cutlery, have been on my radar for some time but not to the point that I was anticipating purchasing them tonight.

To cut to the chase for those who want to know, I spent $240 this evening, and no PDA's were spotted at Costco so the purchase decision for that item never even came up. Here is a breakdown of what I bought for $240:

  • Juicer $45
  • Cutlery $60
  • Box of printer paper $25
  • Laundry detergent $20
  • Greeting cards $10
  • Water $5
  • Recipe book for juicer $12
  • Food items - pickled asparagus, Thai kitchen, applesauce $6+9+8

I realize that this doesn't add up, but I'm going off my memory because I left the receipt at my sister's house. This is also a lesson in how our memory deceives us about spending. I would never be able to make the items that I bought total $240 because my memory appears to come in on the low side on everything. I know people who have had the opposite problem but the point is that we remember things the way we wish they were more than how they actually were.

Scary as it sounds, I think that my visit to Costco can be a metaphor for our consumer culture as a whole. Costco gets me in ways that other advertisers can't because it appeals to my bargain hunter instinct. (Also, I don't watch much TV and I think I miss a lot of marketing that way.) But basically, there are people who are completely dedicated to understanding what it takes to part you from your money and they are very good at their jobs. Wants are created and turned into needs without you even realizing that it is happening. And no one is immune. Even though I like to think I am savvy about this, I still left a large chunk of money behind at the store tonight.

But a healthy dose of awareness can slow this process down, as can avoiding situations that you know are designed to create false needs and direct you to spend your money in ways that you might prefer not to. For myself, I realize that I need to limit my trips to Costco. The fun and adventure of my own special trip came with quite a price tag this time round!

5 comments: said...

Great article! How many times have I spend over $100 at Costco when I "needed" to purchase around $40 worth.


Investoid said...

So true, physical product placement in stores is a carefully thought out science for larger retailers. Ikea is one of the best - you need to traverse their whole store (in a predefined order no less), even if you're there for one specific item.

What kind of PDA are you looking for? I've got an HTC TyTn (Windows Mobile based), and would never go back to having a PDA and phone separately.

the money diva said...

You're getting off easy at $100! My sister figures there is a $200 minimum and I sure proved her point last night...

I don't want to have mobile email so I have resisted a smart phone because they all seem to be packaged with data plans. Otherwise, a PDA/phone combo would be perfect. I'm neutral about Windows/Palm. Either would suit me fine. Please feel free to email me if you have insight into this area.


nancy said...

Living in gastown helps me out. The shops nearby are either kinda ... grim... or the other extreme: crazy-high-priced so even I am not tempted.

Previously, I lived in Kits, with shops every few steps to lure and seduce me.

So for an extreme solution, move somewhere without many shops to tempt! :)

(fyi, I absolutely love living here, despite the lack of tempting shops. Wait a minute. What am I saying. I meant: including the lack of tempting shopts!)

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