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

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

How much house can I afford

Home buying 101, evaluating one of your most important financial decisions.

View Course »

Getting out of debt

Everyone hates debt. Get out of it.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

36 Comments

Filter by:
whorunwerun

WOW keep them poor people out of our den of gluttony. What a pompous idiot who wrote this. How about just getting meat that doesn't cost twice the price because they can't buy in bulk you jerk. Oh my god to write this is just Disgusting. I can't even list all the reasons they should be allowed. I will say My sister was on food stamps and she was forced to pay ridiculous prices for the food she wanted for her four kids. Yes we helped but she didn't want to be a burden. I would love to teach this person through experience what poor people go through. They promise to stay away for your crab legs.

Tuesday at 9:00 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jenberr3

Oh and I make my bread fresh thanks to the awesome price and quantity of Costco ,you have no idea what it is to be poor or even budget food stamps are not giftcards people use and treat them like money in a supermarket evidently you think its free spend how you want voucher or gift card but it more seems from your lack of knowledge you have no idea what poverty is and how to really spend a $ your ignorant and your a complete idiot.

February 09 2015 at 5:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jenberr3

Here is what I get as a single parent with a pay check of 300 after taxes to feed my 3 kids I get $224.00 in good stamps for the month

1 pork lion for the month 19.00 the long big one last the whole mths I cut it up portion it out and cook different ways ,soups curries stews ,burritos u name it
8 whole chickens for the month $40..00 I do the same as with the pork
20 lbs rice $ 15.00
20 lbs flour $20.00
Quick $12.00
8 gal milk $20.00

Beans 20 lbs15.00
Oil 12.00
ButterButter 8.00
Cheese the big blocks at 5.00 a piece
Coffee 10.00
Then I take the rest of food stamps and go to the dollar store and buy
Vegetables ,fruits salt baking powder ,whatever condiments I need to cook with monthly yes there dollar stores here in Cali that all have fruits and vegetables fresh

So yes am really buying 20 lbs of olives and cashews to feed the squirrels must be a rich people thing to do Dick......

February 09 2015 at 5:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lazycomunist

"I'm not saying that SNAP recipients can't budget their money and spend wisely. "
it's not? then what are you saying? it sounds like that's exactly what you said. Don't tell people how to use their own benefits. Mind your own business. Food stamps benefit farmers because their products are bought by the government, using welfare recipients. Why do you think food stamps is under the agriculture department? Get a clue man!

January 05 2015 at 9:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lazycomunist's comment
whorunwerun

There is no better person to budget their money then a poor person. It's what wrong in this country of rich A55h@les.

Tuesday at 9:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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
1 reply to kimilindsey's comment
carrieodo

Thank you for that! Jeez. This guy clearly doesn't have any idea what he is talking about and has his nose is very high in the air. Perhaps he will get a taste of what it's like to be "poor" and have other people tell him where he should or should not shop.

November 13 2014 at 6:07 PM Report abuse 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