Costco moved into our town not too long ago. I kid you not, I counted down the days until they opened in eager anticipation. When we first got our membership and I started browsing through the store I got really nervous. Since everything is in bulk, I realized it would be very easy to overbuy and negate the money-saving purpose of having a Costco membership in the first place! I even considered returning the membership. Now we have had our membership for a couple of months and I could not be more thankful for it! Costco has saved us SO MUCH money, it is completely worth every penny. It is part of the reason we’ve been able to cut $300 off our monthly grocery budget, while still buying organic, whole food. So, let’s talk about how to save money on groceries by buying in bulk because…
Here’s the deal… it IS really easy to overspend at Costco.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned about how to save money on groceries by buy in bulk:
1. Meal plan and only buy the items that you KNOW you will use in a timely manner.
I do one big Costco trip each month. I put together a list of about 21-25 meals that I plan on making that month. The rest of the meals we either do leftovers or breakfast. I’m not the type of person who wants to eat four of any particular meal in the month, so I try to coordinate the ingredients so that I can re-use as many as possible to make different dishes.
This is an idea of the types of meals that would be included in my meal plan:
- Instapot Whole chicken served with rice or quinoa and vegetables (twice)
- Black Bean Soup (twice)
- Venison Fajitas with homemade sourdough tortillas (once)
- Open face sourdough grilled cheese & homemade tomato soup (twice)
- Pasta & marinara sauce (twice)
- Instapot chicken parmesan & pasta (once)
- Mushroom chicken & pasta (once)
- Lentil Soup (once)
- Stuffed Cabbage Casserole (made with ground venison) (once)
- Oven roasted chicken breast & potatoes (twice)
- Instapot Pulled BBQ chicken & sweet potatoes (once)
- Sourdough pizza (twice)
- Chicken fried rice (twice)
- Chicken noodle soup (twice)
If there are ingredients that I know I will need a large quantity of, I buy it from Costco. For this meal plan the things I would buy from Costco would be:
- Organic whole chickens (2 to a pack)
- Organic chicken breasts (They come sectioned into 3 packs. I would buy 2 of these.)
- Organic pasta (6 to a pack)
- Organic pasta sauce (2-3 to a pack depending on brand)
- Black beans (8 to a pack)
- Diced tomatoes (8 to a pack – used in chili & to make tomato soup)
- Tomato sauce (12 to a pack – used to make pizza sauce, BBQ sauce, and in the soups)
- Organic Mushrooms
Other things I might buy at Costco during this month would include …
- Bulk bags of organic frozen vegetables
- Sweet potatoes, apples, bananas, spinach, and onions
- Organic shelf-stable almond milk
- Organic raisins
- Organic steel cut oatmeal
- Organic quinoa
- Organic rice
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Maple syrup
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Organic butter
- Organic chicken sausage
Many of the staples like quinoa and rice last for months, so I don’t need to buy them every trip. For this meal plan I would need cabbage from another store for the lentil soup and stuffed cabbage casserole, as well as cheese for the pizza, cabbage casserole, and chicken parmesan. I tried buying bulk cheese at Costco and it was just so. much. cheese. In the future, I will go with smaller bags of cheese from Aldi. I don’t typically go to Costco and Aldi in the same week so I would save those meals for week 2 or 3 when I had a chance to run to Aldi.
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2. Get an approximate total before you walk in the store.
I have found that shopping once a month at Costco works for me, and I go to Aldi or another grocery store for mini trips (totaling $20-30) in between. I plan that I am going to spend 2/3 or more of my grocery budget at Costco at the beginning of the month, so I plan accordingly. In my experience, you can’t go to Costco and expect to only spend the amount that you would have budgeted for one week of groceries.
Once you have your meal plan, record the prices of each item to the best of your ability so that you have an estimate of the total you’ll be spending at the store. Make sure it fits with your monthly grocery budget and leaves enough room for you to make smaller trips to the store in the month as needed. Before I became more familiar with the cost of each item at our Costco, I spent hours looking at Costco price lists on other blogs. I found that this one from Queen Bee Coupons is hands down the most comprehensive and accurate. Now that I’m more familiar with the store and I tend to buy the same products each month, I can go based off my past receipts.
3.Resist the urge to throw extra items into your cart.
Remember that if you do that, you will add a minimum of $10-$20 for each item you throw in… all it takes is 3 extra items to equal an extra $30-60 on your final bill! Costco’s prices do change from time to time. The almond butter you bought last month might have been a special deal, and this month it’s $3 higher. I’ve found that usually other items I’m purchasing are on sale to balance out price changes like that. If you find something that’s such a good sale that you HAVE to get it, try to see what similar priced item you can cross off your list to account for it. If you can’t eliminate anything, either say no to the sale or account for it somewhere else in your budget.
4. Don’t browse.
Go in with a list and stick to the list. Don’t even walk through the sections that don’t have something on your list in them! It’s too easy to get sucked in!
How to save money on groceries by buying in bulk: What NOT to buy!
Each family is different, but these are things that I have found don’t work for us to buy at Costco.
1. Lots of snacks or convenience foods.
Those tend to be the types of foods that you just eat faster if you have them. My first trip to Costco I bought 3 gluten free frozen pizzas. A week later I decided I would never do that again unless I was having a party or company…. They were sitting in my freezer calling my name until they had all been eaten! Three pizzas gone within a week! Sheesh. I allow myself to buy 2-3 “snack foods” (usually trail mix, nuts, and one type of cracker or chip), but if I buy more than that I know that we will just keep eating them until they’re gone. I buy my snack foods at Aldi where they come in smaller packaging & lower price points or I make them myself.
2. Things I can reasonably make myself.
I don’t buy things like salad dressing, BBQ sauce, pizza sauce, or pre-made soup because I can make those easily out of the ingredients I’m already buying.
3. Things I won’t use before they go bad, or things that I don’t need a bulk amount of.
You definitely need to be careful when buying things like fresh produce. I have found that it’s worth it to buy sweet potatoes, onions, and apples because they will either get eaten fast enough, or will last a long time. I still buy spinach and bananas because if we don’t eat them fast enough, we can freeze them. I have found that any other produce I have bought there has gone bad faster than I can use it. Use discretion and only buy perishable items that you know you’ll use right away.
4. Diapers and Wipes
I’ve found that I can get a better deal on diapers at Target than at Costco. If you prefer name brand diapers, Costco’s Huggies Little Movers Plus diapers are a good buy. A pack of 180 size 4 diapers is $45.99, so $0.26 per diaper, compared to Huggies Little Movers Diaper Economy Plus Pack from Target, you get 144 size 4 diapers for $46.99, which is $0.32 per diaper.
HOWEVER, if you don’t mind generic diapers, Target is cheaper. Kirkland’s Signature Supreme size 4 diapers, they are $35.99 for 180 diapers, making them $0.20 per diaper. In contrast, the Giant Pack of Up & Up size 4 diapers from Target is $21.99 for 144 diapers, making them $0.15 per diaper. In addition to that, I never buy diapers when they’re full price from Target. They frequently have a deal where you can get $20 off your order of $100 or more on diapers/wipes/baby items. I stock up during that deal.
Kirkland’s Signature baby wipes come in a 900 count box for $19.99, so $0.02 per wipe. Target carries the Up & Up fragrance-free baby wipes in an 800 count box for $13.49, so $0.02 per wipe as well (if you round up), HOWEVER, you can add that into your cart when they have the spend $100 get $20 off deal, which makes it significantly cheaper than Costco.
5. Things that won’t fit in our space.
Since Costco is a bulk store, the obvious question is “Where do I store it all?” We have 5 people in a house that’s less than 1200 sq feet with no pantry and no garage. Believe me, if I can shop at Costco and find places to put everything, anyone can. I make sure my pantry, fridge, and freezer are as bare as possible before I do my big shop, then I come home and have to use some creative planning and problem solving to get everything put away. That being said, we have no room to store huge packages of drinks, the giant size container of coffee, or rolls and rolls of paper towels. We do have a deep freezer, which is a necessity for bulk shopping. Be mindful of the store space you have and don’t over-buy.
A fringe benefit of shopping in bulk means that I don’t have to shop every week now! We have a pretty full schedule, and I never realized how much the weekly grocery haul really added to my plate. I love doing one big shop a month and knowing I don’t have to worry about it again for a whole month. We run to Aldi or Kroger at some point during the month, but I don’t consider those real trips because we usually only need a handful of items. Having such large quantities of our staple foods in our house means that even when we’re been busy, whipping up something fast at home is still more time efficient than running out to pick up a pizza or go through a drive through.
Even though it is easy to overspend while shopping in bulk, with careful planning and discretion, shopping in bulk can save you hours of time and hundreds of dollars!
I want to hear from you! What are your favorite products to buy at Costco?