Costco Capers #NaBloPoMo

This past weekend saw us set out on our biannual Costco run. The Italian Stallion and I do not engage in this sport lightly. The visit is a culmination of weeks of precision planning, pantry reconnaissance and rigorous training. The training consists of pushing dollar bills in and pulling them out of wallets and speedy mathematical value assessment. Apart from this physical and mental preparation, there is always the the issue of what to wear to resolve. I mean who wants to end up on the hypothetical Costco equivalent of People of Walmart.

Walmart e card 1To us non-Americans the Wal-Mart phenomenon is curious indeed. We have no real Australian equivalent that has spurned a whole subculture. In fact, I was so curious that I asked a friend to take me to a Wal-Mart in Tennessee last time I was in the States to pop my Wal-Mart cherry. It must have been a slow day because it was nothing like what I expected to see having regard to the Wal-Mart mythology from the Internet. People shopped whilst fully clothed and there were no sprawling cash register lines. Talk about underwhelming. I didn’t buy anything.

But back to Costco. For us Costco is a pilgrimage and something not undertaken lightly as it is a least a half day event. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly there is only one Costco servicing Sydney. Sydney has a population of about two million, so our Costco sees plenty of action. Secondly, the store is about an hour’s drive away and that’s not counting the time it takes to find a parking spot. Thirdly, given there is only one store social encounters are unavoidable even for a city of this size. You will always meet someone you know at Costco, which of course then ties into the whole fashion thing. This weekend’s excursion didn’t disappoint as we bumped into two of the Italian Stallion’s colleagues and their spouses.

And everything about Costco is BIG.

Big quantities, big deals, big checkout lines, ginormous trolleys and big bucks.  Costco have these great little dinner rolls that I have longingly wanted to try for the past year. I have picked up a pack every time I have been to Costco, but the thought of what to do with 36 of them has always led me to leave them on the shelf. This time though I bit the bullet bread and took the BIG small dinner roll plunge.

And the act of lovingly placing in my trolley the 3 kilos of chicken thighs that will grace our dinner plates for the next little while next to that piece of outdoor furniture that I had to have is worth the trip all on its own. I like an eclectic, variety filled shopping basket.

The fun continued with the post Costco run packathon. Getting the stuff in the car took the patience of the Dalai Lama and the precision of Tetris. Luckily for me the Italian Stallion is really good at Tetris which is positive news indeed because the whole Tetris thing had to be repeated in the pantry at home. As for finding the stuff three months down the track when we need to use it… yeah.. good luck with that.

Which leads me to divulge Fascinating Costco Fact No. 352: After buying cling wrap in bulk at Costco last year, we have figured out we use 300m of the stuff in a year. Costco therefore not only assists with inventory control but also gives good trivia.

So now we are back in training for next year’s biannual Costco run. Should be just in time for Easter.

Dinner roll anyone?Bread Rolls

 Do you ever shop in bulk? Do you have a special shopping experience you could like to share?

G is for Gift Horse: Looking Right Down The Mouth (#atozchallenge)

photo from flikr-too far north's photostream

When is a gift not really a gift?

I am pondering this question after a small moment of unexpected euphoria crept in this week during a shopping expedition for furniture. Happily, this was not my shopping expedition, but one for a family member – I was merely the chauffeur.

Furniture shopping fills me with dread. It’s such a big responsibility. How many times in one’s lifetime do you buy a hall table, buffet, coffee table, television cabinet all coordinating to match? What happens if the wood grain or stain doesn’t match the rest of the decor? How do I tell the difference between my oaks, teaks and my walnuts and should one mix their cherry with their maple? Questions, questions….always questions.

Given that I was the not the major player in this expedition I was fairly relaxed.  There were no decisions for me to make other than which voice would be barking directions from the GPS. I am happy to report that all went well and the furniture was dutifully purchased. The furniture though came with a “gift”.

The sales assistant proudly explained that she would provide a gift certificate for accommodation to the value of some thousands of dollars. Let me reassure you this was not the motivation for the furniture purchase as were unaware of the offer until the decision point had been reached. My family member advised that she would give the certificate to me as a thank you for driving her that day as she had no need for it. In my head I was off and running on my dream holiday to an exotic island location with hula boys, crystal blue waters, fine white sand, colourful alcoholic drinks with paper umbrellas, plastic monkeys and maraschino cherries.

Not so fast! The slippery slide into the realm of the ridiculous beckons:

Step 1: decent from overseas paradise to local – the accommodation is for Australia only. Fade out the hula boys, but OK, there is much of the country left to see.

Step 2: Decent from local to weekend whirlwind – the accommodation is for a maximum of two night’s stay. Well crumbs, who stays somewhere only for two nights unless it is for a family funeral or business trip? Maybe we could tack on some extra nights and make it a true getaway. That’s going to cost something, my wallet is starting to weep just a little.

Step 3: Decent from local weekend whirlwind to the ridiculous – to get the accommodation you have to pay for breakfast and dinner for each person for each night. Really? Have you seen the price of hotel food lately? Captive meal audience amounts to hotel funny money rip-off. And the gift requires the purchase of not one, but two meals per day!

 At this point I feel I am looking the gift horse squarely in the mouth and can see not only its tonsils, but its digestive tract as well! And I haven’t even started with the registration, booking and administration required to claim the “gift”.

Of course, these sorts of schemes are designed with people like me in mind. The profit comes from breakage, meaning unredeemed gift certificates. These companies make the initial offer sound irresistible and then litter the path of redemption with obstacles to the point where the offer is only for the truly tenacious.

I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but this is just one asterisk too many. Whatever happened to the good old days when the gift was a real and tangible set of steak knives? Or better yet, no gift, but proper pricing?

Beware the horse bearing gifts for he shall put you to work.  Maybe if I had the steak knives I could cut through all of those conditions…