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

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J Kae Nielson Ericks

Working at a convenience store I see abuse daily.
I would much rather see someone at Costco using food stamps than at maverick / 7-11 buying effin red bulls and junk food ... PERIOD!

April 09 2016 at 1:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Heather Crawford


March 07 2016 at 11:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Heather Crawford

Ignorance at its finest. You've clearly never had to write your grocery lists for 3 different stores each month to be sure you get the best deal on every item you purchase. Let alone have you had to know just how NOT tempting it is to purchase crab legs because they are priced in bulk simply because if you did something so stupid, you'd be lucky if you could afford Ramen noodles for the rest of the month! Think before you "speak" next time. This past is not as enlightened as I'm sure you thought it was.

March 07 2016 at 11:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Please don't listen to this guy. I save so much money with Costco, and I find get so many things that I cannot outside. Cheese, eggs, milk, and meat. Everyone knows that Costco puts a lot of effort on their product research so only the best things get put on their shelfs. I can see a huge difference on the quality of almost everything. And if you ever have any issues you can return ANYTHING ANYTIME. Another huge deal and hot item is their cooked rotisserie chicken. Its a fantastic deal at 4.99. I eat off of one chicken for at least 3 meals and I'm even making chicken broth out of the left over bones. On top of all this I get the executive membership and receive 2% back on everything. By the end of the year I almost get a free membership.

OBVIOUSLY this guy has no clue and loves to eat garbage.

January 06 2016 at 11:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lucy Plaza Harayda

Okay, I searched to see if cosco accept ebt and I read that they do witch I think it's a great thing. However reading down the line I read that "cosco accept food stamps for poor peaple" well I have something to say, first off the people shouldn't be identified as poop people, people should be identified in class; such as, high class, middle class, and lower class. That being said, the way this ignorant person a knowledge the people is wrong and imature. I am a middle class individual, but when you have a big family sometime you seek help from the government, in the end we "poor people" pay taxes to those getting food stamps such as my self. So yes I work a crazier shift then most over 10 hours a day 5 days a week and pay all of the bills and still struggle to take care of my family of 8. So please choose your words wisely. Thank you cosco for accepting ebt it's a great help for those who needs the help to find great deals.

November 08 2015 at 2:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Ashleigh Bennett

My kids don't even like crab legs………..

October 21 2015 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ashleigh Bennett

Ignorant! How are you even allowed to publish your thoughts? Dumbass!!!!!!

October 21 2015 at 6:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Faith Jackson

Aaron Crowe, you are an ass. Are you kidding me!!!??? Most people who get food stamps (and I have been there more than once) buy for the month, not the week, that would be impossible!! Your article is insulting, assuming, and honestly really stupid. You have no idea what you are talking about. your article is a joke and at the expense of struggling people. Maybe someday you will have a clue what it's really like, I sure hope so!!

October 20 2015 at 3:43 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Idriss Slaoui

This is such an arrogant article. I suggest that before you begin writing about folks that receive any form of governmental assistance, you should understand the income challenges that they face. Being able to live on and average (as you said) of $101.52 per month takes an extensive form of financial management. I also suggest that you should try to live on that amount for a month, as opposed to ridiculing and dehumanizing these people that manage to do it every month.

What makes Costco any different than Bj's? I don't see much difference as they are both large warehouses that serve similar purposes. Bj's has been accepting SNAP as long as I can remember. So then Costco must be designed for the rich folks whose incomes are substantially higher than the average American - the main conclusion that I drew from this article. The last time I checked, America is no longer about segregating between the rich or poor, or in this case, those who receive government assistance.

If you consider yourself an American citizen, or simply a literate journalist, you should rethink your values and find something more valuable to write about.

October 17 2015 at 8:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Michele Porter

"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."

What an insulting and arrogant article. To be poor does not correlate to being stupid. I have no doubt that a mother or father who uses EBT knows better than you or I how to stretch a dollar.

In fact, any person that uses EBT and shops at places like Costco or BJ's, or Sam's obviously doesn't need your feigned concern on whether they are able to "correctly" budget their benefits without being tempted by a case of crab legs.

And, justifying a $50 membership is very easy since a family can purchase bulk meats, dairy, dry and canned goods at substantial savings compared to grocery stores.

It annoys me to no end when folks are condescending towards those who receive benefits. They have enough stress in their lives without having people like you deciding what they deserve to buy and where they deserve to shop. People like you who tsk, tsk, their grocery selections while standing in line behind them at the grocery store.

Mind your business.

September 18 2015 at 2:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply