Costco has started to accept food stamps at its warehouse clubs nationwide, which could be great for poor people looking for deals on food, or the worst decision in the history of buying groceries.

Anyone who has been to a Costco store knows the enticements of impulse buys that you'd normally walk by without a thought at any other store. Four pounds of red king crab for $99.99? Sure, why not? A deli meat party pack for $44.99? Yeah, we'll eat it eventually. Enough cashews to keep a squirrel happy for the winter? Bring it on.

Buying in bulk is great if you plan on emptying out your pantry within six months and the purchase was a deal too good to pass up, as I discussed in a recent podcast with a frugal chef.

And with a record 35 million people being helped through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in July, they sure can use the discounts offered at Costco. That's a 23% annual increase in the number of people using SNAP, proving that the recession hasn't ended yet.

The average monthly SNAP benefit last year was $101.52 per person. For a month. Try spending about $25 a week on groceries for yourself and see how far you get.


What will $25 per week get you at Costco? You can almost afford a tub of dried fruit, which will make for an interesting week of meals, or an assortment of smoked salmon.

Whatever you're buying at Costco, even for a family of four and the extra money that having kids brings in, it's going to take some creative financing and meal planning to buy enough bulk items to come up with a week's worth of meals.

I'm not saying that SNAP recipients can't budget their money and spend wisely. As a matter of survival they're probably better than most working families in budgeting for groceries and avoiding unhealthy impulse buys.

But the grocery carts at Costco are so big and the checkout lines so long that you feel like a dope if you've wasted an hour there and only walk out with a $25 jug of olives that will last for eternity.

There are no 15 items or less lines at Costco to speed things up because no one buys less than 15 items at a time. I've been a Costco member for about six years, and I don't think I've ever walked out of there without dropping at least $100.

And that's another issue -- is Costco waiving the annual membership fee for food stamp recipients? Doubtful. The $50 fee brings in much of its profit. I don't know how someone on food stamps who is shopping there maybe once a month can justify paying $50 for the privilege of shopping there for a year, but the enticing free food samples might make a meal in themselves during a visit and make the membership fee seem cheap.

I'm all for increasing the purchasing power of shoppers, but SNAP users may have to be protected from themselves. The federal program prevents some items such as liquor and cigarettes from being bought with SNAP benefits. Maybe it should add Costco to the list of banned purchases.

You can only eat so much peanut butter, no matter how good the sale was.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net

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Michael George

Wow. It doesn't get much dumber. You think that people who are barely getting by should be forced to purchase a single can of beans, rather than a sack of beans for the same price?

What is your economic logic? I would love to hear it.

I went to your Facebook page and your Google+ page. There is no college education on your FaceBook page and your Google+ page lists San José State University, but doesn't say that you graduated.

What is your economics education? None? What business school did you attend?

Hmmm? That's what I thought.

Write what you know kiddo- write what you know. Remember when your high school creative writing teacher told you that? It still applies. And you're still writing fiction.

October 07 2014 at 4:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
collekinz

What an ******* be careful what you say you might find yourself in Your counties welfare office applying for assistant on day.I work at a homeless shelter And I see Smog ass rich people who have had unpredicted tragedy take everything away from them they have gone from riches to rags and do not know how to live without materialistic things.you never know when tragedy will strike making you 1 of those what did you call them poor people.

July 12 2014 at 11:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kimilindsey

I see why you are a freelanced journalist now. Its clear you do not use your membership often. You'd get much further in journalism if you did your research instead of writing a article strictly on your opinions. You wrote in no supporting facts Aaron. I don't believe you even for one moment you considered some families have multiple children therefore raising the amount they get a month. Or perhaps how many families that receive food stamps do not also receive Tanif. ( cash assistance). In fact many many families that receive food stamps are employed . Your entire article is based off assumption and your opinion. The only thing you did manage to do was write something controversial and the only people that would agree are people with very small narrow thinking that live in a perfect little box as yourself that also do not know the price of basic items at a store they claim to have a membership. People that also have NO clue as to whats really going on with those that receive any assistance. Oh, here's a thought. ... did you even think for a moment to speak with people that receive SNAP? I'm willing to bet that before, during and after the 10 minutes total it took you total to write this garbage you never thought to go use your membership and price many of the basics. Like milk, bread, or a jar of peanut butter. There's many more that a family could yes easily spend 50 bucks for the year and it would be quite beneficial. You focused your thoughts around a single individual with less then 200$ a month in food stamps.

July 03 2014 at 7:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Deborah Whitney Mill

I find many bulk items at Costco under ten dollars that keep my family feed and don't spoil because of excess... Not everything is twenty five dollars, and up, throughout the store because it's a "bulk" store. This article makes me feel like he has never shopped at Costco before. Then, randomly decided how much things cost, picking a number that sounded good. Also, that hard working people that need a little assistance are idiots that would use up every penny needed to feel their children, on an impulse buy like king crab. Brilliant. I've never had the privilege to try king crab, but I am certain it would be worth the buy... -.-

January 11 2014 at 4:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
j.bull6

To call Mr. Crowe a journalist when he produces drivel such as this is an insult to the profession.

December 31 2013 at 12:41 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Shawna Bailes

On one hand, I'm insulted and offended by this article. On the other hand, he's right about a good majority of SNAP recipients. My husband and I have two children under our roof still, and just recently had to request SNAP benefits for the second time ever. We qualify for $175 per month for our family of four. Not much compared to the outrageous amounts I've heard of some people receiving, but a huge help in my book. As someone who is educated and fairly responsible financially, I manage to make my average grocery shopping trip cost about $100- $120... for two weeks. Unlike some who have always had taxpayers paying for their groceries and some who have never suffered financially, I have learned on my own how to be fairly frugal. I plan my meals around weekly sales, stock up on basic cooking ingredients when it's a great deal, cook almost everything from scratch (Hamburger Helper still gets cooked on occasion), bake a lot my breads from scratch and make my laundry detergent myself. I did pay the $50 for a Costco membership earlier this year before my husband lost his job, but I know what items I can buy and what items are a better deal elsewhere (and what to totally steer clear from). I buy two gallons of milk at costco on my way home from work occasionally, and it costs $6.50 after taxes. A gallon at the local grocery store or WalMart is over $4 before taxes. As much milk as we go through between cereal, glasses of milk, recipes, and some homemade breads, the milk alone pays for the membership plus some (average savings of $2 per week x 52 weeks in a year = $104 yearly savings - $55 membership fee = $49 total savings). However, I also buy many of my baking necessities such as flour, sugar, salt and yeast at Costco and store what doesn't fit in my kitchen in food grade buckets in the pantry corner of my garage. I also shop at Costco for certain produce items, some meat items, as well as toilet paper and trash bags. I don't use store-bought cleansers or paper towels- I make my own cleansers and we use cloth napkins. Just because there are numerous people receiving SNAP benefits who will squander them doesn't mean we all will. Some of us make even food stamps stretch.

December 14 2013 at 3:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Carmalita Chenault

Nice insult to the hard working people. Just because you don't know how to spend $100 at costco and the rest of us do, don't insult us. I'm a hard working woman with two children I use a snap and I use money. You self centered judgmental jerk!

December 01 2013 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Neon Jenna

I find it funny that so many people are offended by this article. I'm on food stamps, and I found the article amusing and well written. Just because you're offended by something someone says doesn't mean you should insult the author. You may accuse him of not being objective, but you're not being any more objective yourselves.
I'm glad I came across this article, because now I know that I can use food stamps at Costco. I'm not a member of Costco, but sometimes (like once a year) I go with my mom (who is a member) when she goes, and I buy things for myself. But when I went, she told me that I would have to put my groceries on her Costco card instead of using my food stamps card, then pay her back later. So that's what I did. Next time I go with her, I'll know that I can use food stamps. Thanks!

November 21 2013 at 3:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dr_gonzalez

When the firm that employed my husband and I went bankrupt in 2010, we relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Thanks to "food stamps" we were able to use our savings to make our mortgage payments, keep our car insured, and pay our utility bills and property taxes. We were only unemployed for six months, but without assistance, we would have lost our home. My husband and I both have advanced degrees, three small children and a modest lifestyle relative to our salaries. We did everything by the book but, like many people around the world, fell victim to a financial crash that shattered economies around the globe.
To assume that people relying on assistance are greedy, slack-jawed morons who will impulsively blow their entire budget on a party platter and mixed dried fruits is ignorant and offensive. Perhaps some research into these programs would help to form a reasonable opinion and maybe even write something that would contribute to collective understanding, rather than deepen the rifts that separate our society with uninformed, marginalizing drivel.
For example, the majority of people receiving nutrition benefits are caucasian children. The majority of families who benefit do so for less than one year. Poor people are not stupid. They are just poor.

November 12 2013 at 3:45 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Jimmy Jones

Wow Aaron Crowe really is retarded. Learn to write a quality article fgt ahahahah

October 20 2013 at 7:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply