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January 26, 2012


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I would be curious to see a post detailing your monthly food budget of $500. There are three of us and we spend $700-800. This includes non food items like cleaners, toilet paper etc and we do not buy packaged or frozen food. It would be interesting to see how you do it and what type of food you eat. I would love to spend less on groceries while eating healthy.

I don't see anything unethical or socially unnaceptable in making a meal of free samples, particularly in the case of stores like Costco where you dish out the money for an annual membership. "Free" samples are so-called for a reason. Whether its possible to subsist entirely on a diet of this nature is another question. The poster herself acknowledges that this is unhealthy and often less than filling so it seems that she's aware of health issues. Be that as it may, these are rough times, and ingenious methods of saving money for life's other necessities- even unconventional ones- may be the secret to making it through to future prosperity.

David - $700-$800 for 3 people? That seems insane. We don't track our food spending that closely, but since all of our grocery and Costco bills go on the credit cards I can say with relative certainty that our grocery store budget is well under $300 in a typical month. We also get fast food on average maybe twice a week, generally at less than $10 each time - so well under $400 a month in food. I think the incremental costs of adding a third person would be well under $200 (especially if it was a small person aka a child).

Regarding Costco samples and savings...I don't think you can say that since they save up to $2600 per year that they must spend virtually nothing, since there are still many meals to cover. If you read what they said, they eat "a meal" at Costco 2 or 3 times a week and we can extrapolate another 1 or 2 times a week at the grocery store. So even if in a typical week they get 5 free meals from samples, that still leaves another 9 - 16 meals (depending on whether they eat 2 or 3 a day) plus any snacking for the rest of the week - So she probably still spends 2-3 times what she purports to save.

The problem is the initial assumptions aren't stated. The savings depends on to what you compare it. Is that savings versus PB&J on homemade bread? Or versus a trip to Applebees? Without stated assumptions, everyone fills in the blanks with their own predilections. You're probably leaning towards the PB&J, while the commenter is comparing it to eating out somewhere else.

In Madrid,Spain they have many Tapas bars. Where they would put food in front of you as a snack. I pretty much was able to skip dinner a few times if we were going out to a few of these. I guess if you lived there you wouldn't have to worry about starving, as long as you had money for a few beers. :-)

I don't really have a big problem with it either. Although they're going those days simply to get the free samples, Costco and the food distributors may get just what they want ultimately. Because they don't get all of their food this way, I'm sure they've purchased some of the items if they like them and they fit within their budget.

It does seem like a lot of money though - although if the couple is saving 24 meals per month, $5 per meal seems pretty reasonable. Then again, maybe the "alternative" meal may not be $5 (a pound of pasta and some sauce is less than $5 and that can give you 4 meals - also a dollar-menu burger and fries with tap water is $2).

But interesting take on "extreme free-sampling." (All rights reserved!)


The purpose of giving away samples is to get you to buy the product, not to feed those down on their luck. If you need a free meal, you should go to a soup kitchen. Trying to save money by eating meals at Costco is just beyond tacky, or ghetto, or whatever you want to call it.

I pass out samples at our local Kroger stores. I can't imagine anyone eating enough through samples to constitute a meal. This past weekend I was the only one in the store and I was sampling crackers. Another weekend it was just me and while I was passing out sausage bites and a child ate enough for two people, it would hardly be enough for a meal.

Maybe it's the area that they live in but there's not a store around here that would afford them that type of savings.

As a follow up: Part of my job is to meet a sales quota. However, someone who is purposely and repeatedly taking advantage of the sample without buying the product isn't really hurting my numbers all that much. We anticipate behavior like that when our quotas are set.

if saving money is a top priority, then maybe the money going to the membership should be reallocated to groceries. At least this way, they can be inmore control over what's going into their bodies.

Are the samples ever something like a meal sized portion of something actually healthy, say, broccoli, or oatmeal, or quinoa,or carrots, or are they mostly processed foods like Hot Pockets? If the latter, which in my experience, is mostly what i see offered by the samples tables in my local grocery store, then no, you really don't "save" anything by eating meals that are not nutritionally balanced, free or not. I agree with Jonathan and DCS re; the questions on the costs savings, compared to what?

We make a monthly trip to Costco to buy gas and groceries but I have yet to eat one of their many samples. For one thing we don't believe that it's healthy to eat between meals.

I also don't consider my main meal of the day to be merely a way to satisfy my hunger. There is a big distinction between 'Eating' and 'Dining' in our opinion. My wife goes to a great deal of work to prepare a delicious, home cooked meal, 5 nights/week, often using some of my home grown vegetables. These meals don't come out of a box since we don't even own a microwave oven - never have, and never will. To us, ambience is very important. While my wife is in the final stages of preparing the evening meal I set up the table, light the candles, and open a bottle of wine. We also like to watch something on TV while we are eating. I do a cable channel search and if I can't find a program that I know we will both enjoy I pick one of the pre-recorded programs that are saved on our DVR. We both think that it's very important to make our evening meal a highpoint of the day where we can relax, enjoy one of our favorite dishes, also enjoy an hour long program such as a Nova, Nature or Globe Trekker, and have some meaningful conversation before retiring.

Obviously, things were somewhat different when we were both working and we had three teenagers living at home.

If 3 meals a week at Costco saves them $100-$140 then they are spending too much on food to begin with if their financial situation isn't healthy, as she put it. $4-5 per meal per person is too expensive if you've got financial difficulties. If those numbers are right then they need to cut back their food spending. Not that $4-5 is really excessive in my opinion but they are the ones with financial problems and having to resort to grazing at Costco.

I consider this outright cheapskate behavior.

This really seems its abusing the system. But then I guess its not hurting anyone really. Jessica says such behavior doesn't hurt her and if Costco didn't like it then I assume they would do something. I mean free samples are free.

Jessica, said: "I can't imagine anyone eating enough through samples to constitute a meal"

The Coscto stores I'm familiar with usually seem to have 1-2 dozen different people giving out samples. The sample people seem to be at the end of every other aisle. Its crazy. All those small bites can add up especially if you make more than one round.

I don't see anything wrong with it, however I do consider it "cheapskate" behavior, and I also question the math of saving even $100/month. When it was just my husband and I we could easily eat for the whole month on $250. breakfast lunch and dinner. There are tons of inexpensive healthy foods, and the time to prepare the food would be well under the time to make a trip to costco. Even now, with 2 kids (although to be fair, one is still breastfeeding), our grocery bill was $300 plus an additional $200 in restaurants - and the $200 is very inflated because I have been traveling a lot for work this month, and had to eat out for lunch.

I sampled at Costco once in a while and it is not enough for a lunch unless I double/triple dip. The food taste good, but they are all packaged frozen food - not very healthy. I don't think it's worth the long term health hazard to do this.

These folks must be pretty skinny if they're able to get a full meal just out of Costco samples (either that, or I'm fatter that I think I am, since I can't imagine feeling content just off of samples).

They would be much better off by eating real food for those meals. You can get a big container of oatmeal for a few dollars and I believe it has around 20 searvings. It is also good for you! I eat oatmeal every day for breakfast for health reasons but the low cost is a bonus.

Rice and beans are also very inexpensive- if they make better food choices they will get better health and lower food costs. The trick is they have to be willing to take the time to cook the food, and live with eating similar foods over and over: Tonight we are having rice and beans, tomorrow is beans and rice :-).

-Rick Francis

While this is definitely not the healthiest option, it's not something I would say is "wrong". Especially if you have a paid membership, there's no need to feel bad for that!

Saving money is about finding every way you can to cut costs, and if this really works for them, it's great!

I was at Costco with my in-laws this past weekend and they were offering free samples. It was GREAT! There were so many varieties and I could have definitely gotten a meal out of them. I could totally see people freeloading off of the free samples.

lol....those people just get in the way of the carts

During a protracted period of unemployment (13 months) we let our Club membership lapse. Unemployment Insurance barely covered the mortgage and COBRA expenses. Paying for memberships from savings or on credit simply felt wrong. A retrospective review of our finances revealed that we spent less money on food when:
1. We shopped at regular grocery stores.
2. We didn't stock-up or buy food in bulk.
3. We bought only for the current week, with what could be carried home on the bus.

The bus... right... we decided not to use the car during unemployment for anything other than a job search or a true medical emergency. This enabled us to slash our fuel consumption to the bare minimum. Going to church, visits to family and friends, entertainment, etc. all required walking or mass transit.

Now that we are back to a dual-earner, six-figure income household, we've retained some of the extreme tightwaddery from our jobless months. The warehouse clubs didn't save us any money, so I'm not going to pick that up again. An added bonus is that shopping there was quite a time suck. It always involved 2-3 hours on a weekend.

Obviously, every family's situation is unique. But the Warehouse Club habit may be just a habit and not a money saver at all.

If the OP needs $2000 annually in nutritional support, a food bank or soup kitchen will likely give them more healthy options than grocery store samples.

My wife and I - and our 5 kids - have been members of both Sam's Club and Costco for years. We have the Business membership at Sam's and the Executive Membership at Costco.

We shop at Costco as a family at least once a week and buy about half our groceries there. We enjoy eating all the samples that we can. As some have already stated, many times our club will have a dozen or more samples available.

Sometimes, the samples are enough to fill us up. But most times, we still end up buying hotdogs or pizza in the cafe - it's the cheapest place to feed a family our size.

I don't see a problem with going to a warehouse club just for the samples. It is a club. You've paid to become a member. One of the benefits of membership is the ability to enjoy the samples, which they hope will entice you to buy their products.

I think it is possible to save big money by just eating the samples. But even if you didn't quite get filled can buy a hot dog and a drink for $1.50. Not the best lunch health-wise, but definitely still a big money saver over the typical lunch out.

I can't see myself visiting a store just to fill up on samples. However, this year I am trying to supplement our groceries with food freebies from companies that provide samples by mail. We get a few snacks here and there. They usually send coupons with the samples. We use the coupons at Harris Teeter where they double or sometimes triple the face value of the coupons.

I work as a 'Sales Advisor' at Club Demo Services the company that prepares the samples for Costco members. At my warehouse we get people that come in every day and eat a sample lunch. Some are members some are not. Some people do come in every single day just to eat samples. We are told that members can take as many samples as they wish. We prepare 800-1500 samples depending on the day. We are trained to Smile, Invite, Greet, Talk (three points about the product) and then ask for a sale pointing out where the product is located, how much it costs. They expect us to do this for EVERY MEMBER, EVERY TIME.

We do not have a kitchen we are using the carts. We haul out the water we are using, the pans, the spoons to stir with. Everything we have to put in the cart so it is a little bit like camping. We can not leave the cart.

We can not turn away from the samples. We can not give children samples without the parents and children hate this and they are scared of us because it ends up we yell at them because we get yelled at big time, and if a kid eats a peanut item or wheat item or milk item when they maybe allergic to it, it is all on us.This has happened too. About 7 times a day, each day I hear "Oh this is my lunch. hahaha."

I have to figure out if there is pork in my product,how much salt, fat, calories, carbs per serving size how many weight watchers points. if it is "veggi" if there are eggs, milk, wheat, nuts, tree nuts, fish...what country does it come from. Because these become the excuse why they won't buy the product, too much X. Then the member will fake buy, take the item put it in their cart, "Oh since I am buying it I am going to take another sample. hahaha." they always laugh too. Then they roll away and put the item on a random shelf a few rows down mis placed. This happens every day to every single demo persons product. How can this save people money in the long run since now costco people get to reshuffle items, clean up fallen toothpicks, trash cups left all over. Then we have to know if there is a spill to sweep up around our cart. change gloves get back at it since now there is a line forming for our two bite sample. Then some members get super angry at the traffic jam VERY ANGRY. they hate the demos. The costco people eat their demo lunch every day it is like a little party for them every day. We eat them too on our breaks. Come try the samples, smile have fun, say thanks, move on. Come back for another just don't pretend to buy. Don't pretend you just bought that same pack and have it at home. Don't call me sweetie, sugar, hun. Be low key. and no I have no idea why they just moved XYZ and I really don't know where they moved it to.

Sally --

Sounds like you need a new job...

I cannot imagine walking into any grocery store 3 times a week. The temptation is too great. I know I would fall for something that is marked way down that I don't really need, thus spending money while attempting to save money on freebies. Plus, I could never fill up on freebies without obviously taking advantage of the vendor.

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