Trader Joe's vs. Costco

After moving to Southern California, I was introduced to this quaint little grocery chain called Trader Joe's. Of course they were bigger than I realized at the time, and are an ever-expanding company, having spread nation-wide by now. But back then, I was a very reluctant follower in the cult of TJ. Their stores are small and always seem packed full of people. The parking lots are never quite big enough, and the whole claustrophobic experience just made me shy away. Also, they were a little more money than my habits of only-buying-sale-items at Ralphs, which was a store a little closer to what I had grown up with.

However, after a few years and marrying a woman who is very pro-Trader Joe's, I am happy to say I have come around. The problem now, though, is that we aren't in Southern California anymore, where there is a store located in between every Starbucks and Coffee Bean. There is only one TJ's to supply the needs of the increasingly popular Charleston area, and so even though the parking lot is bigger here (more space than LA), the store is still quite crowded. It is also across the biggest hill in Charleston (the Cooper River Bridge), and so I am also not keen on driving all the way over it to get some chips and salsa (they have excellent salsa). Because of the distance, when I became the stay-at-home dad again and regained the responsibility of grocery shopping, I have to say I explored more local options to see if I could find better deals closer (you have to take gas into account too, you know).

The catalyst for Costco.

And what did I find after shopping several grocery stores near me? Trader Joe's is cheaper, with higher-quality food, a no-questions asked return policy and happy workers, thereby making it the greatest grocery store available in the US right now. Yeah, that's right: this once reluctant shopper is now singing the praises of the store he so severely avoided.

But what about the title: Trader Joe's vs. Costco? Comparing those is like apples and oranges, right? Maybe not. We recently joined Costco (for the second time) and I, of course, am examining the cost-effectiveness of this mega store. What I am disheartened to find, however, is that maybe this giant isn't saving as much money as advertised...

Katie and I got into juicing back in 2013, when it became popular because of the movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. We actually never saw the movie, but some friends gave us a high recommendation on the benefits of juicing, and so we bought one with a gift card we had. Here's a video of our first time doing it:

Juicing is super healthy, but man, you really obliterate large quantities of fruits and vegetables to gleam only a cupful of juice. This is where Costco comes in. You can get a massive bag of spinach for about $5. A huge bag of carrots for the same. Apples, mangoes, oranges, etc. Buying in bulk is an excellent choice while juicing, and helps keep the cost down. The other noticeable thing about juicing, however, is that it is extremely messy! Cleaning up after juicing burns about enough calories to warrant cheating with some egg nog or a Guinness (or maybe some egg nog-Guinness?) afterwards. As a result, our juicing-life has been pretty spotty.

Recently, however, we got back into it, hence the renewed membership. The thing that I have been noticing about Costco this go around though, is that all this bulk is just making me consume more stuff, which is where my problem lies. I have a massive bottle of scotch, and so of course I pour that extra drink when I want it. Katie went crazy on the snacks when we first got the membership, and so if I'm craving a granola bar -- why not? We have about forty of them stored somewhere. Whilst on the snack topic, the other problem with all these items is that we are creating a huge amount of trash with all the wrappers and boxes and such. The whole thing really just feels kind of wasteful.

But we're saving money, and that's what is important in life, right? (Can you sense my sarcasm?) The kicker of it all, I'm finding, is that even this isn't entirely true! Trader Joe's is so cheap, that things we consume every day (bananas, cereal, granola, wine) are the same price at Costco, if not more expensive! The whole thing has got me questioning whether this membership is worth it at all.

I wanted to share all this because it is in this muddy, every day decision-making that families are built on, rising and falling amongst the corporate hand of mass consumerism. Here we spend our valuable dollars, trying desperately to get ahead while maintaining some degree of normalcy in an ever-fluctuating society. Any little bit of wisdom or insight helps, and though this overly dramatic conclusion may have deterred my credibility with you, hopefully you find this comparison truly useful, and choose to give the mystical land of Trader Joe's a try.