Staying savvy at Costco

How smart is Costco?  I mean, they charge for membership.  Then they entice you with samples.  And they have EVERYTHING.  All for a cheaper price than you’d find (almost) anywhere else.

But here’s the downside.  You don’t need a 10 pound block of cheese or 50 veggie burgers at once.  Unless you’re about to cater a party, for vegetarians, that’s an insane amount of food to have at your house.  And really, who has enough fridge/freezer space for that? 

So how do you use Costco (or Sam’s Club or whatever bulk store you shop at) to your advantage and not get sucked into the fun of saving? 

Make a list.  And stick to it. 

The idea of going to Costco without a list gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it.  It’s the biggest recipe for disaster (and overspending) ever.  So before you leave the house, take stock of your fridge, freezer, and pantry.  Think about what you’ll be making for meals in the coming week(s).  And then write down the things you need.  Just the things you need.  Not the stuff you may need (aka want).  And you know which things I’m talking about…

And once you get in the store, stick to the list.  Seriously.  Don’t let yourself get sidetracked.  Don’t go down aisles you don’t need to go down…you will only find more things to buy.  Just put your head down and get your items and get the eff out!  Check your list before you check out and compare it to your cart – do you have more than you came for?  Put.  It.  Back. 

If you go to the store without something on your list, and then you see it in the aisles looking oh so inexpensive, chances are you DO NOT NEED IT.  It wasn’t on your list.  You wouldn’t have even known about it 5 seconds ago.  So don’t buy it. 

The two main ways to fall prey to this can be divided accordingly (1) the items you frequently buy at Costco that you didn’t add to your list and (2) the items you don’t buy at Costco that you didn’t add to your list. 

Example 1: Organic quinoa.  The last time I was at Costco I saw a 4 lb bag for ONLY $6.99 (which is a really good deal).  But I still had quinoa at home.  So why buy more?  Because it’s “such a good deal”?  No, that doesn’t make sense.  Buying something you already have simply because it’s inexpensive and in front of your face is not economical.  When I run out, then I can go back and get more.  Costco isn’t going anywhere.  Restocking food in anticipation of running out is a slippery slope…and soon you end up with enough stuff stockpiled in your pantry to feed an army.  Use what you have before buying more.  You will surprise yourself at how much longer you can stretch things when you cook this way.  It’s way more economical, I promise. 

Example 2: Frozen lasagna.  No offense to Amy’s vegetarian lasagna, I’m sure it tastes amazing (all Amy’s products do), but the convenience of having frozen food is not worth the freezer space.  I make lasagna almost every other week.  It’s really easy.  It’s really cheap.  And I know exactly what’s in it.  But the thrill of having (lots of cheap!!) individual lasagnas is so enticing, sometimes the fact that I prefer my own cooking escapes my brain.  I’ve never actually bought these frozen lasagnas, but I’ve been close (and I imagine others feel the same pull to the rest of the frozen fare – like Lean Cuisine meals and such).  In the moment, try to remember this – even though that item may be cheaper than it is elsewhere does not mean it’s a good deal.  You probably wouldn’t even buy it elsewhere!  Would you?  No.  Because it wasn’t on your list!

Consider the size and how long it will last before going bad. 

I am shopping for two people.  Just me and Kyle. 

So many times I have been thisclose to buying massive tubs of greek yogurt and cartons of berries and bags of green beans and…I could go on and on…

But these things go bad.  And my fridge is only so big.  So I have to force myself to be practical.  And selective.  4 pounds of organic carrots is actually something I will go through.  It’s on my grocery list every single week.  It’s cheaper than I’d find elsewhere.  It won’t go bad anytime soon.  And I won’t go through it at a faster rate just because the supply seems endless (like I might with a family sized bag of pita chips). 

And once I commit to that (massive) bag of carrots, I mentally block off the (entire) produce drawer it will take up.  That way, I don’t buy a million other equally huge veggies that will have no place in the fridge. 

How many green beans can two people eat before they go bad?  Not multiple pounds, that’s for sure. 

Most produce will be better bought and eaten when it’s fresh; and it won’t go bad that way.  Wasted food is obviously not economical.

Other random little tips:

Shop with a buddy and make a pact to not let each other splurge on extra things.  It’s easier to be strong when you have someone looking over your shoulder as you add things to your cart. 

Shop with a buddy and split the bulk things that you both want.  Maybe you can’t make it through 8 pounds of spinach before it goes bad, but splitting it between two households makes it totally doable (and even cheaper).

Go to the store an hour (or less) before closing time.  That way you only have a limited amount of time to shop and you can’t afford to get distracted or lured into extra aisles in the store. 

Cool deal? 

Now let’s discuss all the ways that Costco is awesome. 

First off, the Kirkland brand is amazingly cheap and it’s basically the copycat of another beloved brand.  Can’t beat that! 

And even the non-Kirkland brands are ridiculously inexpensive.  On my last Costco visit I wrote down the prices of everything I have bought in the past or will likely buy in the future to do some price comparing back at home.  I searched online – bulk grain websites, nut.com, amazon.com and anywhere else I could find that sold wholesale items.  And every. single. time. Costco came out WAY cheaper.  Not just a little cheaper, WAY cheaper.  Nut butters, quinoa, brown rice, almond milk, maple syrup (and we’re talking organic here people!)…the list goes on and on.  Costco annihilated the competition.  So the moral of the story is: wait until you run out, then hit up Costco.  Diapers and wipes and other baby stuff wasn’t as huge of a savings as food was, but it was still a few dollars off.  We are amazon prime members though, so there’s the benefit of having free shipping (that arrives at our doorstep) at our fingertips that may cause amazon to slightly edge out Costco in a diaper emergency. 

IMG_8561 

Here are some of the things I personally think are excellent scores:

Household

  • toilet paper (19.99 for a TON)
  • paper towels (19.99 for a TON)
  • green laundry detergent (12.99 for 160 oz)
  • toothpaste (6 large tubes for $9.99)
  • hand lotion (it’s plant based & paraben free, 2 22oz for $10.99)
  • shaving cream (6 6.25 oz for $10)
  • trash bags (200 for $14.99)

Food

  • Almond Breeze almond milk (6 32 oz non-refrigerated boxes for $8.79)
  • organic quinoa (4 lbs for $6.99)
  • organic eggs (24 for $7.29)
  • organic baby carrots (4 lbs for $5)
  • organic maple syrup (1 liter for $13.99)
  • organic garofalo pasta (6 17 oz. packs of pasta for $7.99)
  • brown rice (10 lbs for $5.39)
  • almond butter (26 oz for $5.99)
  • organic peanut butter (2 28 oz for $7.69)
  • organic oats (10 lbs for $9)
  • Clif bars (24 bar variety pack for $21.99)
  • organic tomato sauce (12 15oz for $7.15)
  • Sabra hummus (16 2oz mini tubs for $7.45 or 2 lbs for $5.99)

Extras (only buy if these are on your list!)

  • electronics (TVs, computers, cameras, etc.)
  • sonicare toothbrush heads
  • memory cards
  • printer ink cartridges
  • vitamins/drugs

Great vegan & gluten free finds:

  • Sabra hummus (vegan, gluten free)
  • Falafel Republic falafel & wraps (vegan)
  • Crunchmaster gluten free crackers (vegan, gluten free)
  • Boca burgers (vegan)
  • Clif bars (vegan)
  • Corazonas bars (vegetarian, gluten free)
  • gardein frozen meatless chik’n (vegan)
  • soy milk, rice milk, almond milk (vegan, gluten free)
  • produce (vegan, gluten free)
  • roasted nuts (trail mix blends, cashews, almonds, mixed nuts, etc.)
  • oats, brown rice, quinoa (vegan, gluten free)

I’m tempted by a few other things but have yet to buy them (because they are things I’ve never tried before).  And it is completely illogical to buy a massive amount of something I don’t know if I like or not.  Let me know if you’ve tried any of the following:

  • organic rice milk (12 quarts for $13.59)
  • baby diapers (we are cloth diapering, but it might be nice for the early weeks – cloth diapers are huge!)
  • baby wipes
  • Seeds of Change organic quinoa & rice (6 8.5 oz for $11.49)

These lists are just a small sample and selection and prices vary by location.

Your turn to share!!!  What have you tried and loved (or tried and found not worth it)?  Favorite Costco purchases?  Other cheap baby items I should be aware of?  Tips to avoid impulse buys? 

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61 thoughts on “Staying savvy at Costco

  1. Lee

    Do they have Hannah brand hummus at your Costco? If so, try it. So delicious! I also agree on the paper towels, trash bags and toilet paper. Definite Costco staples.

  2. Claire

    I love costco!! Thanks for all the tips. So, I have tried the kirkland brand baby wipes. They work perfectly fine; they don’t smell; they don’t irritate my girl’s skin; and the little pop top lid stays shut (so they don’t dry out). I have also tried the seeds of change quinoa and rice (the little precooked pouches, right?). Disgusting. The end!

    Hope that helps! And hang in there these next few weeks!

  3. Ashley @ My Food N Fitness Diaries

    Great post! It’s definitely easy to get caught up in all of the fun bulk food items at Costco. When we first got our membership, my husband made an Excel spreadsheet and we compared all of the prices of our food and household items at Costco versus our grocery store. It was super helpful! Now we have our “Costco list” and our “grocery store list” and pretty much stick to it every time. Occasionally I’ll see a new product or brand that I will buy or try out, but I try not to make that a habit. Our usual Costco purchases include: bread, milk, eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, rice, vitamins, toilet paper, paper towels, deoderant, soap, shampoo/conditioner, and dog food.

  4. Crystal

    We love Costco. LOVE. I know just what you mean about almost getting sucked into the frozen food I can make at home. Last time I ALMOST bought a frozen bag of noodles and veg. Really? As if I don’t make that every week already?? LOL As for the Seeds of Change Quinoa and Wild Rice packs – they are amazing!!! We have some at home right now. The only thing is they are pretty garlic-y so you might want to check out the ingredients from a Fodmaps perspective. When I bought them I wasn’t paying any attention to those things yet.

  5. Lindsay

    I like Costco…but I love BJ’s. They have a lot of the same things, but often in slightly smaller packages, e.g. 2lbs of strawberries instead of 4lbs at Costco.

    I have the Seeds of Change sprouted rice and quinoa (unflavored in a big bag) and it is pretty good. I also bought Seeds of Change sprouted beans/lentils (unflavored in a big bag) at my Costco and those a really good too. I have seen that brand at the health food stores and it is super expensive elsewhere.

    The plain organic quinoa I bought at Costco says that it is pre-rinsed…but it is gritty. Any ideas? I have tried rinsing it and that helps but doesn’t totally eliminate the grit.

    I don’t post often, but love your blog :)

  6. Nicki

    Lil hippie will fit in those cloth diapers sooner than you think. I thought the same thing. My lil one was 7lb, 6 oz. when we left the hospital. I tried them on for fun a few days after we got home and they fit!! Held in the breastmilk blowouts so much better than the disposables too. We’ve used Kissaluvs, Thirsties, and Bum Genius so far, and have had a good experience with them all. I’m drooling over the Antsy Pants pull-up kind as we are heading in to the toddler stage.

  7. Lacey

    You should definitely buy diapers at costco. they’re cheaper and higher quality than huggies, pampers and luvs.

  8. MM

    Agreed! Costco will get ya!

    There are just so many amazing thing. Great helpful hints to stay in control when you are there.

    I die over that huge bag of quinoa and the frozen blueberries!

  9. kristinp

    Oh lordy, I love Costco. I’ve tried that rice and quinoa blend and it’s ok – nothing spectacular, but it is a nice time saver once in awhile. Keep in mind too that if you get something at Costco and don’t like it, you can return it for a full refund, no questions asked. The waste still bothers me, but sometimes it’s an option I use.

  10. Heather

    I LOVE the Seeds of Change organic quinoa & rice packets – they cook in 90 seconds, so they’re a perfect last minute grain in a pinch. They are pretty garlicy, though. I think they’re delicious!

  11. amanda d

    I agree with what you have listed here, for sure! Most of the time, my budget limits me as well, so I have to REALLY need something or be able to use it a lot the next few weeks! One thing to be careful of is that they do switch things out, so there is a slight possibility that you’ll come to love something and then it’s gone next time. I have had that happen just a few times. Otherwise, my only tip is to avoid going on weekends if you can, it’s insane! Much better on a weeknight!

  12. Elise Post author

    ugh, i totally agree. the place is a madhouse on the weekends. finding parking is half the battle!!
    ive already had them stop carrying certain products on me. like that amazing falafel republic stuff. so sad :(

  13. Elise Post author

    nope. never heard of that brand. but cmon, how you can i pass up on my lover, sabra!?! they have the most massive tubs for suuuuuper cheap :)

  14. stacy

    They sells huge bags of baby kale leaves. I put them in gallon sized zipock bags and throw them in my freezer for making green smoothies! Also, their tomatoes are great but not organic. Sigh

    I also buy their tubs of organic baby spinach and freeze some for smoothies and save the rest for meals. However, the quality of the spinach isn’t that great and I feel like I spend 10 in the cold fridge section scrutinizing each tub to find a few that don’t have icky leaves!

    The oranges and lemons are good too

    They have great chicken jerky for dogs…. Only ingredients are chicken, veg glycerine and water. Healthy treats for my furrykid!

    Gotta love the tp and pt too!

  15. Elise Post author

    we have the same thing (not the excel spreadsheet – your husband is so awesome!!) but the separate grocery lists.

  16. Elise Post author

    thanks for the heads up crystal – im NOT a garlic person (especially with the fodmaps thing) so thanks for the info.

  17. Elise Post author

    ive actually never heard of BJs – where are they located?

    anyway, regarding the tru roots quinoa, ive bought that kind before too but didnt have (or didnt notice) the grit issue. has it been that way with all the bags youve bought? aside from the pre-rinsing tip, im not sure what to suggest.

  18. Elise Post author

    awesome. we are going to start with bum genius with the bumkins liners (but i only bought a few just in case they dont fit right or whatever). im eyeing blueberry and fuzzibuns as backups, but ill keep your recs in mind too – thanks!!

  19. Elise Post author

    it only took one (massive) bag of frozen strawberries…that took up our whole freezer for half a year…to make me realize the bulk frozen stuff just wasnt worth it.
    luckily we have a bigger pantry, so that space isnt as precious. i feel the same way about the quinoa. cant beat that price!!

  20. Elise Post author

    thats smart using the greens for smoothies…i guess that way its not as essential that they get used right away.
    sadly, we have a pretty pathetic freezer drawer. next home we move to, im making sure the fridge/freezer is massive. or that we have an indoor one and an outside one in the garage.

  21. Courtney

    I have been using Fuzzibuns, and I wish I’d started sooner. They are great!
    I’d recommend having some newborn disposables around unless you have a ton of time to do laundry. You would not believe how 1. much a newborn needs changing and 2. how sticky and gross newborn poop is.

  22. Elise Post author

    we have ~200 disposables – so that should last us a few days right ;)
    we figured we would get more as needed for the early weeks (or however long until he fits into the cloth diapers).

  23. stacy

    I bought a 5cubic foot mini deep freezer for like $180 at home Depot. Totally worth the money and if u buy online, they deliver it for free. I live in an apt and it fits in my kitchen.

  24. Ashley

    Not about Costco, about baby…
    I have two little ones and I have found that Target diapers are the absolute best! They are inexpensive, super cute (just polka dots, not characters), and they can hold A LOT!! And this is coming from a diaper snob who would only buy pampers! So, check them out and I hope you like them!

  25. Lindsey

    I love the rice milk from Costco!! It tastes really good and isn’t too sweet. It has less sugar than most brands. It’s so much cheaper too :)

  26. Brigid

    My cart at CostCo looks really sad. I go when I need toilet paper, booze, or toothpaste. Or gas, if I’m filling up near work. I don’t have vision insurance, so I’m thinking of seeing an optometrist there, too. We saved enough on alcohol for one party to justify the cost of the membership, and it was a small party!

  27. Courtney

    I am SO freaking jealous of your Costco’s almond milk! And unsweetened too?! Score! I NEED to get that at the Costcos in my region…

    They also have good prices on dried fruit and dates. I recently got a HUGE bag of organic dried figs (Made in Nature brand) for $9 something. I think the same bag was around $23 on Amazon. And the medjool dates are super cheap too. I eat insane amounts of produce, so that is basically all I get at Costco, but I will keep requesting the almond milk… ;-)

    Courtney

  28. BroccoliHut

    YESSS. I love discussing Costco. I’m glad to find someone else who does too.
    As for things I buy at Costco, most of them are similar to what you buy: TP, paper towels, almond butter.
    Other favorites include flea/tick meds for the dog (WAY cheaper at Costco than anywhere else), bread (I freeze half when I bring it home), canned salmon (wild-caught Alaskan!), and dried fruit (gotta love super-cheap dried blueberries).
    I’ve also bought a juicer there for a pretty good price.
    Now I want to go to Costco!

  29. Elise Post author

    well it IS an awesome place to get booze…i could def see the discounts being worth membership for one party!
    i didnt find the gas to be much cheaper though.

  30. Elise Post author

    good to know. is it thin? like watery? or not. im used to almond milk’s thickness. not sure if it will work in coffee and stuff.

  31. Sarah

    We don’t have Costco in this part of Australia (they might have it over east?), but this post is timely! Just last night before bed I was reading in the book How We Decide about how places like Costco take advantage of the human brain to sell things. Specifically, by exciting the NAcc (part of the dopamine reward pathway that activates when you desire something) and inhibiting the insula (which produces aversive feelings because it wants to prevent you from getting ripped off). So they have the free samples and desirable products in prominent places to activate the NAcc, and signage to ensure you’re getting a deal or the lowest price (e.g. “lowest price guaranteed”) to calm your insula. It’s brilliant marketing, but it makes me feel somehow violated to think about the extent to which our brain makes decisions without my conscious awareness.

  32. Kate

    Thanks for this – I’ve debated the merits of a Costco membership for a while since there are just 2 of us and my husband travels a lot for work anyway. I didn’t realize you could find quality organic items there – I usually just rely on Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, especially their bulk bins for things like grains and beans. Do you find it’s a better deal/selection at Costco than WF? That stuff won’t go bad, so it’s not as big a deal.

  33. Elise Post author

    in terms of selection, no, WF is definitely superior. Costco is great for bulk of the items I mentioned (oats, rice and quinoa), but they dont have many other grains. they do have dried beans in bulk, but they are MASSIVE amounts. sure, theyre super cheap which makes them a great deal, but the size of the bag is like restaurant industry amount. they have canned beans and veggies too, but not organic.
    if youre looking for things like millet and wheatberries and the likes, thats going to be a whole foods purchase (havent compared them to online but id bet theyre comparable with shipping costs considered). but for the staples, costco is fabulous.

  34. Lindsey

    It is thin, similar to skim milk. Almond milk is definitely thicker. I think that the biggest pro about switching to rice milk is that it doesn’t separate in coffee like almond milk. I think it’s perfect in iced coffee :)

  35. Elise Post author

    interesting that your almond milk separates. we’ve found the opposite to be true – almond breeze’s vanilla unsweetened is our milk of choice because it works in everything, including coffee.
    i think i may have to try rice milk again (not from costco) first.

  36. Colleen Grossner

    Great article, Elise! and blog/website!! I can’t believe you make such a great, unique dinner each night! I agree so much with what you have to say about Costco! I would add (though not in the post I’m linking) that their supplements are also an awesome deal! Make sure they have the USP seal, so you know what you’re getting is safe! Anyway, here was my “cart” and such, hope you enjoy! http://fresh-you.blogspot.com/2012/02/colleens-costco-cart.html Have a great weekend!! Colleen :)

  37. Elise Post author

    thanks colleen! good call on comparing UPC codes for the vitamins and supplements (i included those under the extras category).

  38. elaine c.

    I get all my household stuff there: tp, paper towels, swiffer stuff, chlorox wipes, etc. I also get a lot of fruit there too, mostly berries. I wish they were organic though, but I’m not super selective on that. In the summer they have great deals on melons. Dried fruits and nuts. Also, pretzel rolls (not for cost, just for yumminess).

    And my best tip (which you all probably already know) is to park by the cart corrals! Unload, put away cart, go home. And usually no one parks by them, so you have free reign :)

  39. Elise Post author

    sadly, in LA, i park where i find a spot. theres zero option of being selective. sometimes i walk 1/4 a mile to get to the store (bc the costco lot is full). im not even joking.

  40. Elise Post author

    Oh wow. I guess I hadn’t ever thought about the (lack of) regulation in supplements. I didn’t know about USP so I’m glad I read your post. Thx!!

  41. Amy

    I know I’m a little late to the party, but I also think that Costco wipes are great. My son had a rash on his legs after using Pampers fresh scent wipes for the last few weeks, and we switched over to the Costco wipes a few days ago and his rash cleared up! They are thicker than what I expected too.

    PS this is a great post! I know that I will use it in the future because I’m such an impulse shopper and end up spending way too much! :)

  42. Elise Post author

    thanks amy! good to know about the wipes (both the pampers info and the costco info).
    i have a feeling thick will be beneficial :)

  43. Pingback: The best of Costco

  44. Melissa C

    Elise, can you tell me the brand of almond butter that costco carries? Thanks! I am loving your budgeting/costco posts :)

  45. Tom

    Great post. Sorry I found it a year after you wrote. It all still hold’s true. Like you said in response to one of the comments, bulk items is where it is at. I have, however, found that things like paper towels may be cheaper through Amazon Prime! As for chicken breasts and thighs, Costco can’t be beat. Especially if you have a deep freezer.

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