Price check: How much can you save on household basics at a Costco?

Are you in den-aisle about how much you're saving? via Brigitte / Flickr

Are you in den-aisle about how much you’re saving? via Brigitte / Flickr

The beauty of living in New York City is having almost anything you need at your fingertips whenever you need. I could take out my phone right now and order bahn mi, batteries and an eighth of sativa delivered to my door. But where cost is concerned, convenience is cruel. We don’t have the sort of expendable income to be throwing away our cash haphazardly.

Since we’re too busy paddle boarding the Gowanus Canal, cuddling kittens and confronting our inner demons to make a career out of extreme couponing or schlepping to the Costco, locating in Sunset Park off the 36th Street R stop, we usually end up shelling out the extra few cents and dollars here and there.

But how much would you actually save by going to Costco? Is it worth the train ride there and back and the membership fee to get those sweet bulk prices? We conducted a comparative shopping test of a grocery store (Key Food), a bodega and Costco, all in Sunset Park. Keep in mind that prices are going to vary depending on your neighborhood, weekly specials and bodega of choice. But if you’ve ever wondered whether you were wasting money buying toilet paper one roll at a time at the corner store, maybe this will help ease your inner Suze Orman.

METHODOLOGY

For the purpose of this experiment, we’ve amortized the cost of a Costco membership — $55/year — over the number of items in each bulk purchase, and added a roundtrip MTA trip ($5.50) to any Costco items — as seen in the parenthetical below. It goes without saying that the more frequently you use your Costco membership, the cheaper these things are in the breakdown. But since we don’t know your roommate situation or how you handle shared items in the household or literally anything else about your life, we’re treating each item as if it were the only thing you bought at Costco that year.

Paper Towels
Bodega: $2/roll
Costco: $30/30 rolls (+ $7.33 subway fare/membership share) = $1.24/roll
Grocery store: $1.29/roll

If you’ve spilled acid or you’re in a rush to mop up after a grisly revenge murder, the bodega might be the closest option — but at $2 per roll, it’s not the cheapest. The grocery chain is better if you have time to walk. Costco’s bulk costs you about $1/roll.

Let’s say you go through two rolls of paper towel per month (and FYI, if you bought Costco’s bulk option you wouldn’t need anymore for the year.) Here’s the savings breakdown for a year’s worth of paper towels, 24 rolls:

Bodega = $48/year
Grocery store: $30.96/year
Costco: $29.86/year

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Don't throw your money down the toilet. via @proteinbiochemist / Flickr

Don’t throw your money down the toilet. via @proteinbiochemist / Flickr

Toilet Paper
Bodega: $1/roll
Grocery store: $1.29/roll
Costco: $30/36 rolls (+$7.02) = $1.02/roll

There are few household items you’ll need more urgently (or ones that will spark more arguments between roommates) than toilet paper. At the bodega, you can pick up a pretty standard roll of Scott toilet paper for a buck. It’s a better deal than the grocery, where a single roll is $1.29, four-pack is $4.79 and an 8-pack is $8.99. With enough prior-planning and upper-body strength, you can take home the best buy, which is 36 rolls of toilet paper for about $30 at Costco. But the bulk savings really aren’t that significant when you add the membership and roundtrip fee it takes to pick it up, so you might be better off grabbing that $1 roll from the bodega.

*Pro tip: Pay attention to the number of sheets-per-roll! This is the no. 1 scam of toilet paper. Settle for no less than 500 sheets per roll if you’re paying more than $1 for it. Opt for 1-ply; if you’re broke, you need a dollar more than you need a soft butt. And Family Dollar, if you’re lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood, offers the best deal in town — eight 1000-sheet rolls for $5.44.

Ground Coffee
Bodega: $4.99/10 oz.  = 0.49 cents / oz.
Grocery store: $4.99/10 oz. = 0.49 cents / oz.
Costco: $12.19/40 oz. (+ $6.87) = 0.47 cents / oz

If toilet paper is the most important item in your apartment, then coffee is a close (and, let’s be real for minute, closely-related) second. For comparison purposes, we chose NYC-favorite (and the Luke Cage barbershop swear jar of choice) Cafe Bustelo. You can pick up a four-pack of 10 oz. of ground Bustelo coffee at Costco and it certainly wouldn’t go to waste, but isn’t that sizable of a savings compared to its bodega and grocery store brethren once you add MTA money.

Let’s say you go through one can of Bustelo every couple of weeks. Here’s the annual breakdown:

Bodega: $129.74/year
Grocery store: $129.74/year
Costco: $122.20/year

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OTC drugs are basically a pantry item. via Hodot Groot / Flickr

OTC drugs are basically a pantry item. via Hodot Groot / Flickr

Advil
Bodega: $5.99/24 tablets = $0.25 / tablet
Grocery store: $5.29/24 tablets = $0.22 / tablet
Costco: $20.79/360 tablets (+$5.65) =  $0.07 / tablet

When those Tuesday night happy hour drinks turn into a Wednesday morning nightmare, you’re going to want to have some Advil on hand. The worst you can do for your wallet is to buy those little one or two pill packs from your bodega, and the worst you can do for your head is rely on a generic brand from CVS. While the 24-tablet bottle at the Key Food is a better option than the bodega, Costco wins out big-time for pill savings on a year’s worth of Advil, even taking into account the subway fare and the possibility that it’s the only thing you bought at Costco that year. If you’re a frequent headache-sufferer/functional alcoholic, this one’s a no-(painful)-brainer.

Eggs
Bodega: $2.50/1 dozen = $0.21/egg
Grocery store: $1.99/1.5 dozen = $0.11/egg
Costco: $4.69/2 dozen (+$7.79) = $0.52/egg

Everyone’s got to eat, and when it comes to nutrient-rich, versatile, cost-effective refrigerator staples you could do worse than the humble egg. A dozen is only $2.50 at the bodega and the not-too-many, not-too-expensive Goldie Locks of egg options was 1.5 dozen at Key Food for $1.99. Eggs aren’t really worth the schlep down to Costco. Even if we hadn’t added the MTA fare and a fraction of the membership to the cost, $4.69/two dozen eggs is still 0.19 cents per egg.

Bobby Hankinson buys groceries wherever will let him pay on his credit card with the lowest minimum. Follow him on Twitter: @bobbyhank.

Want to avoid a Costco membership all together? Read this lifehack on how.