Cost of Costco

If you had asked me prior to kids whether I would ever shop at Costco, I would have scoffed. In college I even wrote a paper reflecting on my thoughts of disbelief at the scale of consumption Costco enables and perpetuates. I couldn’t fathom that people would actually pay money to be a member of such a “sales” club. Who really needs a gallon of olive oil?!

I grew warmer to idea when I read an article about how they treat their workers, and how they are a liberal NW business. Yet, it was actually the diapers that sold us our membership. After getting a case of disposables as a gift, we were intrigued by the concept of being able to purchase staples every few months and then get our local organics delivered weekly. Very appealing indeed to a family who really rather do other things with our spare time than go shopping. Now that we use cloth, the diapers are no longer a draw and I’m thankful not to have to spend extra $40 every visit, but the case of baby wipes is still a must.

After three years as members, I’m beginning to question the true convenience and savings of Costco. 

  1. Because we try to go infrequently we end up blowing our monthly budget every time, although it does equal out over time as we don’t have to purchase items. Items average $10, so they add up very quickly!
  2. The nearest Costco is 22 miles round trip, although I do try to chain trips together.
  3. There are always temptations to buy more than your shopping list. My last splurges were new kiddie jammies and Easter dress, a case of wheat ale and organic Oregon wine, and some perennials. Extra price: $145.

Yep, I’ll admit it, neither very finaance nor eco-friendly. Are you a Costco member? 
Do you feel like your family really saves?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Official Gift Policy

I’ve got a touchy subject that I’ve been struggling with for a while now: How do you tell generous family members that enough stuff is enough?

In our house, my Mother is the gift fairy. Virtually every time she visits she comes bearing assorted gifts. They usually aren’t extravagant, and typically are things she thinks we “need.” My Mother has only the best of intentions, and is always very thoughtful in her gift giving. That’s the reason why it’s so difficult to put my foot down. I’ve tried again and again to set limits and we’ve made some progress, but there always seems to be some extra gift. 

Now to my Mother’s defense, she  understands our green values, and I give her all the credit in the world for teaching me these values. She actually lived off the grid for over a decade, and is currently leading a green school transformation. She doesn’t bring cheap plastic trinkets, and has never given something that was inappropriate or toxic. She knows our BigGuy is a bookworm and brings books on a regular basis, which he loves!  I’ve had discussion with Mama friends, and always try to justify it by knowing that there are plenty of Grandparents who are more egregious consumers and truly “spoil.”  Yet, we don’t want our kids to feel entitled to her gifts.

On a financial level, I feel guilty about her spendy money on us and would rather she save her money to retire earlier and spend more time with the kids! I also don’t have a clear picture of her retirement situation, and want to make sure that she is taking care of herself first. There’s also the larger issue is that it feels like she puts a lot of time, money, and emotional energy into her gift giving that could be better shared with our family in other ways. She is a wizard at sewing and crafts, and I would much rather she spend her extra energy on crafty expressions than shopping. And again to her defense, part of the reason this dynamic has presented itself is because she knows how infrequently I shop for things beyond groceries, and that I would truly rather spend my time in other ways.

So, even with attempts to set limits, we hit another wall after the holiday and birthday season. I’m sure you can picture the preschool meltdown surrounding a coveted book/CD set… Enough was enough, and Hubby promptly drafted our new family policy around gifts.

Official Gift Policy

  • We do not want our children to associate materials things with their loved ones.
  • We value quality time with loved ones over material goods.
  • Gifts do not equal love or can replace quality time and relationships.
  • Material goods create tension over time and resources, creates competition for attention, and exacerbates a culture of consumption.


1. Our family will not accept any more material gifts.
2. The only exception is one gift for Christmas.  

3. A family outing or experience-based gift would be welcomed for Birthdays.
4. Hand sewn gifts, used clothing and used books or supplies for craft projects are still welcomed, but need to based on a larger reward system for good deeds.
5. Any special circumstances must be discussed in advance of purchasing – big or small.

On a recent visit, I discussed our need for a moratorium on stuff in our household with my Mother. The discussion wasn’t easy, as I can feel the emotional energy she pours into each purchase. Once she buys things for us, it’s no longer mere stuff, but special gifts with meaning. I understand that they are a symbol of her love and affection and a way to connect between visits, but I have to listen to my gut. I know that we can create experiences and memories together that surpass the pleasures of stuff. It’s our only viable option for living in true sustainable abundance.

Are we being too strict?
What’s your family story with gifts?
Do you set limits? How?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Our Personal Story of Stuff

Aside from how beautiful Oregon is, the most common remark I’ve gotten from my Danish family and friends who have visited is that our home feels and looks more European than most American homes. I’m sure this is partly because I lived in Denmark, and I appreciate the aesthetic of simple nature-inspired design. While not spartan, our home is noticeably uncluttered. 

It’s also because even before kids, Hubby and I were a bit of stuff misers. We don’t want to be burdened by clutter and waste and we have a pretty low threshold for unnecessary things in our life. We make our choices about what material items we purchase very consciously and deliberately. We lived with an empty living room for almost three months just because I wasn’t willing to buy just anything. And although I love my furniture, I do regret that I was unable to purchase it without flame retardants…but that’s another story.

Here are some of the things we think about:

  • We evaluate carefully whether we really “need” something – We try not to buy something just because it’s a good deal. Not that we balk at sales, we just don’t want them to control our spending and consumption habits. 
  • We avoid impulse purchases at all costs, and usually agree upon the “need” for a purchase at least a month or two before we actually buy it. This helps our budget and ensures that we really want/need it.
  • We buy quality over quantity, like with our new vacuum. 
  • We try to buy used. some times this doesn’t work due to our quality criteria, but I bought Hubby a sweet Weber barbecue from Craigslist last Father’s Day.
  • We think about the life-cycle of the item once we’ve purchased it and ask these simple questions: 
    • How long do we expect it to last? 
    • Will it be reusable? Or recyclable?
    • How quickly will it end up in  our garbage can to head to the landfill?
There are obviously other factors that go into our decision making for some things, but you can get the picture. Asking these questions, thinking about them and talking with each other has helped us limit our spending, our clutter and our impact on the Earth. 

Now limiting stuff isn’t as easy with kids, but I’ve save that topic for another day. 

How do you decide what your family needs?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Live: Story of Stuff

After putting Girly to bed and kissing the Boys goodbye, I headed for a rare treat of an intellectual night out. I was jazzed to see my new personal guru Annie Leonard, the intrepid “host” of The Story of Stuff  at my favorite place:  Powell’s City of Books.  

It’s hard to express how energized her talk made me feel. I feel like we both just touched the tip of the iceberg.  I found so many personal connections to her own story. Like Annie, I’ve been thinking and learning about environmental/social issues for twenty years. Annie talked about how peers told her that she needed to get out of her head and listen to her heart.   One of the wisest people I’ve ever known, tribal elder Grandma Aggie , once told me that the longest journey we will ever take is 9 inches, from our head to our heart. Like Annie, I’ve had my own challenge of taking issues and myself too seriously and I feel like I’m finally finding my voice by sharing my story in bite-size blog posts. Unlike me, Annie has already reached over 8 million people worldwide with her video!  Like me, Annie is an activist at heart. I started my career in the non-profit world as a climate activist, and now consider myself an “online activist” and I’ve already shared some of my favorite organizations/causes with you (check activism category). In spite of being highly educated about the issues, Annie is also hopeful. She reminded me of my all-time favorite quote, the Hopi Nation Prayer, which ends like this:

“The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Suffice to say, Annie’s story left me totally inspired.

So, I broke a cardinal rule, and bought her new book. Annie even signed it to “Green Mama” so if you’re in Portland, I’d love to share it with as many Mamas as possible. I’d also encourage you to consider buying a copy yourself (already on the NY Times best seller list!) to share amongst your friends.

The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-And a Vision for Change

Lastly, Annie’s message resonates so deeply with me that I can’t help but share more with you about her book as I read it. I hope you’ll make the connections with me and together we will find ways to live in sustainable abundance, without all the toxic stuff!

Are you an Annie Leonard fan? 
Who inspires you?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Pipes Cost

You might want to plan on spending more money on your family’s basic water and sewer utility costs in the near future and for generations to come. The amount may vary depending on your location, U.S. or otherwise, but the trend is definitely upward. 

Before I go any further on this topic, I want to give a big hallelujah for being eternally grateful that my family enjoys these “services” for a relatively minimal price. It is awe-inspiring that generations before us were able to accomplish such engineering feets, and gut wrenching to know how many people around the planet cannot rely on this simple “luxury.”

In p-town you can buy 4 gallons clean water for a penny!   So if you’re trying to save your family some money, don’t even think of grabbing some bottled water…but do watch the new video! 

Even though the current distributions systems are pretty inexpensive, aging infrastructure is going to be costly to maintain. Public underfunding of this critical human service needs to be addressed. Most Americans spend way more on bottled beverages than we do for all the water we use to drink, bathe, wash everything, play…you get the point! (More info on EPA’s Water Infrastructure page)

While traditionally known for advocating to protect and restore rivers, American Rivers is now campaigning to maintain a cost-effective water supply and  fund clean water infrastructure  in order to prevent pollution. This is not your typical sexy mega-fauna activism topic, but what would the burden be on on our children’s generation if we don’t pay for the infrastructure maintenance now?

Certainly less glamorous than a glass of clean tap water, our sewers that whisk away waste and storm water are like an unsung hero in the world of city infrastructure. Storm water is the top source of non-point pollution; meaning we don’t really know where its coming from, but it’s being gathered off roofs and streets and in many cases flushed to the river.

Sewers/storm water management can also go a long way toward continuing existing urban environmental problems or being part of the solution.  Green stormwater solutions actually cost less than traditional discharge fees, but industries and municipalities have to be proactive.

Recently the “sewer” portion of utility bills actually explains that we each pay a Portland Harbor Superfund charge. River clean-up actually hasn’t begun yet, since industry is bickering over who is most potentially responsible, but the bottom line is that we are starting to pick up what will amount to be a very big tab to restore the river. Check out Willamette Riverkeepers’ site for more info on how to get involved. 

Do you think your water/sewer rates are fair?
What would pay to buy the convenience of reliable infrastructure? 

Sustainable Family Finances  The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.