I come from a proud line of Costco shoppers. My father knows most of the cashiers at his local warehouse by first name. When I accompany him there during visits home, he claps backs and greets the staff like a Tammany Hall mayor, all the while whispering conspiratorially to me, “She recently split up with her baby-daddy,” or “Next week he’s getting hernia surgery.” Costco membership is my version of the Corleone family inheritance.
Bloggers from the venerable Mr. Money Mustache to Tawcan have evaluated whether the cost of membership is outweighed by the savings, and concluded with an enthusiastic yes. While Justin at Root of Good took exception with their findings, at our spending level with an executive membership that refunds 2% cash back at year end, I remain a believer. You can take my executive membership card when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
Like my 10 year old daughter who has begun to answer questions from the teacher on behalf of her best friend, Costco and I have unhealthy codependency issues. When a product I rely on is discontinued at the warehouse, I stand helpless and slack-jawed beside my grocery cart, a baby bird waiting for a regurgitated worm that fails to appear.
When this happened for my favorite frozen black bean chipotle burger patties, a mainstay of my lunches at home, I accepted the unfairness of the universe and let it go, repeatedly chanting the “Serenity now!” mantra I’d learned from George Costanza’s dad. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks later Costco stopped carrying the Charmin Ultra Soft to which my delicate parts have grown accustomed. This was going to be a problem.
My tush is my temple. I began buying my own toilet paper in college, when I noted that the stuff my frosh dorm offered was interchangeable with the coarse grade paper we’d used for sanding projects in high school woodshop. Despite my frugal inclinations and upbringing, toilet paper is the one area where I have never skimped.
My TP rating system is simple and universally understood. From worst to best quality, there is university housing (still contains splinters), airport institutional (one ply, tears as you pull it), Greek youth hostel (tensile strength of a 90 year old’s skin), and my beloved Charmin Ultra Soft.
I have zero brand loyalty when it comes to breakfast cereal, bath products, or clothing labels. I will abandon any price increase and go for the best value every time. But Charmin Ultra Soft, like a cowboy on Brokeback Mountain, I can’t quit you.
When Charmin went MIA at Costco it happened to be the worst possible time: we were hosting Thanksgiving, where ten fiber-loving people sleep under one roof for several days. With our TP supply at DEFCON 1 and no Charmin in sight, I took a risk and restocked with Kirkland (the Costco house brand) and crossed my fingers. Why not just shell out for Charmin at the local grocery store? Because my family’s version of the vow of omerta translates to “Never pay retail.”
There are shortcuts that your guests notice, leading to public humiliation. Then there are shortcuts that your guests never detect, but you notice, and they lead to private shame. The latter was my experience with the Great TP famine of 2017.
Costco is stocking Charmin once again. I’ve filled more closets with extra TP than your dad's prepper cousin who lives in an underground bunker in Idaho. Still, I remain haunted by my private shame. It hurts to admit it, but for a guy who considers himself frugal but principled, I went cheap. Never again.
Financial Literacy for The Newly Minted Physician