Personal Finance

I Stole $45 from Costco and I Feel Terrible

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I decided to do something I always thought of as financially irresponsible and sign up for a Costco membership at my local store. Roughly 10 miles from where I live, I knew that my allegiances to Publix and Winn-Dixie (the two local grocery chains) would prevent me from visiting Costco more than a few times a year and my small apartment would do the same. As much as I wanted to buy a 600 pack of popsicles during the days of 200% humidity, I just don’t have the room.

After spending about an hour at the membership counter, waiting for my Costco card to be printed so I could visit the warehouse club for the first time, I was asked if I wanted to upgrade my membership to the executive level for just $50 more. I would receive a 2% cash back check (there’s an oxymoron for ya) at the end of the year but I politely passed. I just wanted to get on with the free samples and aisle browsing as quickly as possible.

So I make my way up and down the aisles with my new Costco card in hand and I'm finding it difficult to pinpoint things I can actually store in my apartment. I knew I wanted to get a good 10 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast and another 5 or so pounds of extra lean ground beef (you can make thousands of different meals with that stuff) but nothing else really stood out as a bargain. I'm a buy one get one free nut and these deals were good but not great for me.

After about an hour of browsing, I managed to get 11 items in my cart. They were:

  • 10 pounds chicken
  • 5 pounds ground beef
  • prepared Caesar salad for lunch
  • 100 oz Lipton tea mix
  • 4 pack Healthy Choice steamers
  • gallon of whole milk
  • gallon of Lactaid free milk (for the Mrs.)
  • 24 pack of Lipton Iced Tea (bottles)
  • 36 pack of pudding cups (none for the Mrs.!)
  • 24 AAA Duracell batteries
  • 25 pack of Philly swirl pops

Now, when I make it to the register, I take pride in knowing to the penny, how much things are going to cost. With the batteries and salad being my only taxable items (because the salad is prepared), this one was easy. Rounding up, I'm in for $105. 11 items at this price always seemed ridiculous to me, but considering the size of these items, I'm confident I can make them last the entire month. I have my proteins, my drinks and desserts and enough vegetables in the salad to last a good 24 hours. I'm set.

Something I learned right away at Costco is that the cart goes down a different path than you do at the checkout counter. I guess that's to make sure you're not trying to sneak any items? Not really sure but so be it. My 11 items are on the belt, slowly making their way to the cashier, who scans them one at a time. I watched her scan all 11 items and while the Mrs. is getting a box (no more bags for me!) to pack things up, the cashier turns to me and says "$58.92."

In that split second, I knew something was wrong. I've gotten math problems wrong before but NEVER by this much, and definitely not on something as simple as 11 items. It was at this very moment I had two choices. Pay with my debit card as if nothing was wrong, OR alert the cashier that she had made a mistake and she should take a look. I wasn't exactly sure which items had been missed but I knew the chicken and beef were prime suspects. How bout that pun!

Knowing the title of this tale, you know I took the former road and kept my mouth shut. It was at this very moment that I knew I had done something wrong. But those that shop at Costco know that my journey to freedom is not over. You see, warehouse clubs like Costco have someone at the door to check your receipt. The store is wide open enough were theft is a considerable problem and not only does this Costco have one person at the door but today they had two.

Immediately my mind shifts to strategy mode. I’ve totally forgotten about the moral dilemma I’ve taken on and am now processing the guarded door I need to pass. The 30 or so yards I had between us gave me time to watch the employees very closely. On the right was a young kid, who appeared to be scanning the receipts quickly. On the left, an elderly woman meticulously took her time on each and every item in the cart. Too easy I thought ... as my cart slowly drifts to the right.

As I approach the young man, who seems extremely disinterested in his work, I face yet another dilemma, as if my Costco experience isn't dramatic enough! The elderly woman is waiving me in because she is free, while I wait for Jeremy (he looked like a Jeremy) to finish up with the person in front of me. Would it be too suspicious to wait, rather than to casually roll the cart to the left? I didn't care. She would have found the proteins immediately. I waited and pretended she wasn't even there.

Thankfully, her persistence wasn’t a strong one and I slickly moved my cart to the front of Jeremy’s line. I handed over the receipt like I had pulled this scam 1,000 times. With his left hand, he grabbed it took a look at it, then looked at my items. I expected him to go back to the receipt, take his black sharpie, make his mark and watch me as I fly through the Costco parking lot with $45 worth of goods that I knowingly didn’t pay for. Much to my surprise, his next move was to look me in the eye. For what reason I do not know but it almost broke me down. Had he held his eye-to-eye contact a second longer, I would have cracked a guilty smile but he took his marker, drew a line and sent me on my way. My receipt below shows how a kid that looks like a Jeremy signs his Costco receipts.

I bolted through the parking lot, sat down in the driver’s side of my car and thought about what I had just done. I suppose had I not known the cashier made a mistake, this guilt-ridden adventure would have never happened. Damn me for always trying to make mathematics fun.

Some people would never notice this type of mistake and others might figure it out after they arrive home and check their receipt. In both situations, it's perfectly reasonable to keep the items and move on with your life. But what about mine? The fact that I willingly kept my mouth shut, only to compound the depth of my devious behavior with each passing second leads me to believe that I may as well have taken $45 from the cash register. Is there really a difference?

So I present this to the readers. Forgetting it happened to me, would you return to this Costco, go to the customer service counter, inform them you were not charged for $45 worth of items and pay for them right then and there? Am I crazy to even suggest such a thing? I mean, people get little breaks in life all of the time and while $45 isn't a big deal, will my appearance at Costco even be understood? How many times do you suppose the customer service counter deals with people coming in to pay for stuff from weeks ago? I probably would spend more than an hour explaining what I'm trying to do.

I’m just looking for a different perspective.


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