Costco on a Budget—What to Buy, and What to Avoid

One way that we have started saving a lot of money on groceries is shopping at Costco, because it can be significantly cheaper to buy food in bulk.  However, you have to be careful.  There are certain items that save you money, are convenient to have on hand, and do not go to waste, but Costco also sells products that are not a good value to any family wanting to save money.  Shopping smart at Costco has helped us greatly reduce our grocery budget, and it has become a big part of our meal planning tactics.What we buy at Costco

Costco has high quality meat at a good price.

Costco sells all kinds of meat and fish in bulk, both frozen and fresh.  I have found that the best consistent values on meat at Costco are country style pork ($2.59/lb), ground beef ($3.49/lb), and bacon (4 pounds for $11.99).  The pork and ground beef are sold in large packs, so we divide them into smaller portions once we get home.  We separate the meat into servings of about 1 pound each, put them into freezer bags, and toss them into the freezer.  When we are ready to use a portion, we just thaw it and get cooking!  Bacon comes in 4 separate one pound packages, so we simply freeze those until we are ready to use them.  As a result, our freezer is constantly stocked with meat that has been portioned into the amount we normally use for meals.

There are a lot of other deals on different kinds of meat at Costco, but we buy beef and pork frequently because they are the most versatile for inexpensive meals.  We used to buy chicken breasts at Costco as well, but we found they were much cheaper at our local grocery store.  In fact, pork, beef, and bacon can sometimes be found cheaper, but it often takes coupon clipping and stalking the weekly sale flier to find a deal that is better than Costco.  Sometimes I just don’t have time to clip coupons, and in any case, the quality at Costco can always be trusted!

The Costco bakery has amazing bagels.

Do you stop at Panera or Einstein for a quick breakfast bagel on your way to work?  My husband used to do this, and he spent a little over $1 each day on this habit.  One dollar sounds like a great deal, but it really isn’t.  At Costco, you can get two 6 packs of freshly baked Einstein Brothers bagels for $4.99.  That’s 12 bagels at only 42 cents a piece!  You can find a similar price on the bagels at your grocery store, but the ones at Costco are just too delicious to pass up.  As soon as we buy them, we throw them in the freezer so they will stay good for months.  Bagels also make for an easy meal!  I enjoy making egg sandwiches for a quick breakfast, and we frequently use them to make hearty sandwiches for packed lunches.  Having delicious and versatile bagels on hand for a fast meal at home helps us avoid the temptation to spend money eating out.

Costco sells inexpensive baby formula.

Baby formula was the reason we got a Costco membership in the first place!  Kirkland Signature Infant Formula is high quality, comparable to the big name brands, approved by our pediatrician, loved by our little one, and very easy on the wallet.  A 40 ounce container is only $17.99!  For more information about how much money we have saved buying formula at Costco, check out this post.

Coffee in bulk?  Yes, please!

Costco has a lot of great deals on coffee.  We buy Folgers Coffee Classic Roast for $3.99 a pound, but they have numerous other options that are very cost effective as well, including K-cups from a lot of different brands and ground coffee made by Kirkland, Dunkin’ Donuts, Mayorga, Seattle’s Best, and Starbucks.  No matter your coffee budget and taste, Costco has it, and usually for significantly cheaper than you can buy it at your local grocery store.

Household supplies are cheaper at Costco.

Costco has great prices on toilet paper, paper towels, dishwasher pods, feminine hygiene products, and baby wipes.  Buying these everyday items in bulk saves us a lot of money because it is significantly cheaper at Costco than at the grocery store.  Paper products don’t go bad, and we know we will use them, so we take advantage of the great wholesale price of these items.

What we avoid…

I never buy produce at Costco.  It is simply too much for our family to eat before it goes bad, and the price is cheaper at Aldi, anyway.

I also never buy the sample products.  Trying samples is the highlight of our Costco trip, because we love to try new foods and we have a great time introducing a wide variety of flavors to our baby as we shop.  However, only once has there been a sample of something that we intended to buy before we entered the store—and it was baby wipes, not food.  If you can’t help but throw the product in your cart after you try it, it would be better for your budget to just avoid the samples altogether.

Finally, we never buy junk food at Costco.  Even if it is the deal of the century, we simply do not need to have 200 Rice Krispies Treats in our cupboard.  In fact, we completely avoid the aisles close to the registers that are filled with chips, cookies, candies, and the like.  Unless you are throwing a birthday party or you are in charge of treats at the next PTA meeting, spending money on something you don’t need in your house is not a good budget tactic.

You can save a lot of money when you shop smart at Costco, but it is a mistake to assume it is always a better deal to buy wholesale.  Some food items go bad, and sometimes we get so distracted by the samples and “deals” that we end up buying things we don’t need.  What are your favorite deals at Costco?  What is a better value at the grocery store or somewhere else? Let me know in the comments!

3 Comments

  1. I love shopping at Costco! And everything you mentioned is correct. There is one thing that I do buy. I buy alcohol there. Because around holiday time, it’s actually cheaper. ( I have dinner parties on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.) Buying it from the liquor stores are higher at that time of year. I usually purchase them around mid-October. Thanks for the tips!

    • Great tip about the alcohol! I notice they have featured craft beers and bottles of wine that go on sale occasionally, I need to take a closer look!

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