Costco vs. Boxed vs. Jet
Sorting out my dysfunctional relationship with my money, I embarked on a project that for many people is so basic as to be laughable:
Knowing the price of things.
As obvious as this sounds, such knowledge has eluded my notice or ability to remember, in any meaningful way, the price of the things I buy every day. Except that milk is around $5 and king crab legs are out of the question expensive. (But see? I still don’t know their price.)
Knowing how much things cost is the first step to spending less at the grocery store.
This re-boot started when my husband and I realized that our combined grocery spending was teetering at $1500 a month. Lots of small trips to the corner deli, lots of running out of basics fast. So I started recording the prices of every grocery item I regularly buy in a notebook so that I could note the price differential in the various places that I shop. Astonishing insights emerged. Conversations ensued.
Living in a small apartment and lacking ample storage space, I always felt economies of scale were not for me. Of course, now that my sons are older, my grocery bill has grown faster than an Instagram influencer’s collection of bot followers.
Once you realize something like this, wholesale shopping starts to look like pretty smart. So I began dipping my toes with a few different city-friendly options. With the exception of Amazon Pantry, which I just didn’t think would be worth the membership fee. Here’s what I found…
I started here because for a city-dweller, stores are frightening and delivery is a way of life. The ability to get anything you want delivered is one of the reasons you live in the city. I had been to the Costco in Brooklyn years back and I was still traumatized by the experience.
I placed a few orders from Boxed, which was pretty great for school snacks, mac ‘n cheese… stuff like that and I saw, finally, the beauty of buying in bulk. But now that I was converted, there were so many things I wanted that Boxed just did not have. Basic things like juice boxes. Seriously, Boxed – you probably lost me because of this one thing. So I decided that the time had come for…
I went with my neighbor who has a membership first thing in the morning, and it was better than I remembered. I still had the overwhelming anxiety that I get from a huge store. When you shop in tiny supermarkets long enough, going into a suburban style store fills you with an awe that quickly dries down into a full-blown panic attack. Too many choices – will I spend $500 in this place and come home with nothing but Gold Fish? But I kept to my list and stayed focused.
Yes, as anyone on the internet will tell you, Costco is worth it. I saved money on things I buy a ton of – juice, juice boxes, milk, school snacks, chicken broth, tuna fish… walnuts! Prices are marginally better than Boxed, but of course, you have the rotisserie chicken, the kale salad, not to mention, joy of all joys, Polly-O String Cheese which is mind blowingly cheaper than at my supermarket. A small bag costs almost $7 at my grocery store, but a ginormous bag – literally double the size – costs $8.89 at Costco. Kind of a big deal. Only problem…
Again, limited selection is the enemy to anyone who is remotely picky. Costco has more than Boxed for sure, but the choice is still limited. When it comes to certain things, I just want what I want. I’ll live with a different brand of canned corn, but I’m not really going to deviate when it comes to laundry detergent, bread, cereal, beer, coffee and a bunch of other things. Costco brand everything doesn’t work for me.
This is where Jet.com comes in, which is a pretty good find. You’re not getting those super big bulk discounts, but you will get reasonable prices and fast, free shipping on all the things you can’t get at Costco.
The whole Jet gimmick is that most things you add to your cart bring down the prices of the other things in your cart. Also, the more you buy of something, the cheaper the price becomes (slightly). I literally hoard my peanut butter from Jet – it is a lot cheaper there than anywhere else I have seen. And I get the cereal I can’t get at Costco for cheaper than at my supermarket. Jet.com has a wholesale page, but it doesn’t seem much better than Boxed to me. It actually carries a bunch of Costco brand products.
Meanwhile, no one has been able to replace Chewey.com for pet supplies – it definitely has the best selection and best price on everything. Better than Amazon even.
There is definitely a fortune to be saved by paying attention to grocery shopping. I can see how people get obsessed. When you have a couple of kids, groceries can easily be your biggest monthly expense after bills. But you can shrink it if you get strategic and make a few key adjustments. We’re down to about $1000 a month from $1500, which, for us, is a meaningful improvement. Obviously, we still spend a lot on groceries compared to people who live in other places and we’ll probably never get that much lower.
Running to my corner to pick up a lemon while dinner is literally in the oven — that’s one of the joys and conveniences of city life. Our neighborhood grocers are good people … they know my children’s names and are always decent and kind. I recently forgot to take home a chocolate bar that I bought at my deli. When my husband stopped in later in the day on his way home from work, the cashier gave it to him to bring home to me. Life affirming! Honestly, I cannot give all my money to huge corporations, even if it costs a little more sometimes.
So I’m happy to support my local shop owners and pay a slight mark-up once in a while to keep them in my community. Money isn’t everything.
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