Good day friends! I hope you are all having a nice Friday! :-) First of all, I want to thank you for being here! :-) I know you come here each day to find One Good Thing by JILLEE…but I sincerely appreciate you understanding that on occasion I need a little help from my friends. :-) Today I would like to introduce you to my friend Jordan Page from “Fun, Cheap, or Free“. I first met Jordan when we were both guests on the same local television talk show, and I knew then that should the need arise, she would be a terrific guest post on One Good Thing By Jillee.
Many of us know and love Costco. Their prices are good, food is great, and buying bulk will save you “millions”…right?
BUT – did you know that there is a RIGHT way and a WRONG way to shop at Costco? It’s true! Here is some helpful information to ensure you are SAVING money at Costco, and not SPENDING yourself into oblivion!
Helpful Preliminary Info:
HERE is a SUPER easy method for making, and tracking a grocery budget. It will change your life. It also shows how much you should be spending on groceries.
See how I fit buying bulk into that budget HERE
See the easy way we track ALL our budgets HERE
Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the post to get the REAL “meat and potatoes” tips on how to save money at Costco!
Ok! Now onto Costco…
For my shopping at Costco I mainly stick to the bulk items that are typically involved with cooking, and try to take advantage of their coupons whenever possible (see more on that at the bottom of the post).
(For a helpful video of a TV segment I did on this subject and additional Costco buying tips and tricks, click HERE.)
So what SHOULD you buy from Costco? Here’s everything I could think of that I typically buy:
Note: Just for the record…No, I don’t always buy these items every time I go. Rather, I buy these when they go on sale, and/or if I’m running low on my supply. I usually always try to keep these items on-hand. And another note, no, I didn’t list EVERYTHING here…there are plenty of things that I missed, I’m sure. That being said…
The best deals at Costco:
- Dog food – about 1/2 the price of pet stores!
- Olive Oil
- Diapers & wipes – $5 or $6 off per box usually when you use their coupons. I buy whatever brand is on sale that month, because Huggies actually makes the Kirkland brand (so they are literally as good!)
- Laundry detergent / fabric softener/ dryer sheets – with coupons (see HERE for my preferences)
- Cheese – I buy their huge bags of shredded Kirkland mozarella and cheddar. I divide them into small sandwich baggies and freeze them; pull out one bag at a time as needed. I also buy a huge 5lb block of cheddar, slice it up, freeze it in small baggies with small squares of wax paper between the slices, and pull them out when needed. The slices are great for sandwiches.) – see my tips HERE
- Tortilla chips – the 3lb bags of Mission chips
- Bags of frozen fruit and veggies – They are not only cheaper, but much better than other stores’ frozen veggies.
- Seasonings, and pre-minced garlic – Their containers are HUGE and are much cheaper than other stores!…unless you buy them loosely in bulk, seen HERE.
- Cleaning supplies – Disinfectant wipes, Comet, Swiffer refills, etc. (with coupons)
- Prescriptions & vitamins – with coupon when possible, but in general they are nearly always MUCH cheaper at Costco! Tip: you don’t actually need a membership to buy from their pharmacy. Click HERE for info.
- Cakes – $17 for their MASSIVE, semi-customizable cakes? Unbeatable. Oh yeah, and they are delish too!
- Flowers and plants – A friend of mine’s folks own a large chain of flower shops. They said that Costco’s prices are so good, absolutely no one can compete with their prices. Same with their plants and trees.
Other great deals at Costco:
- Toilet paper and paper towels – The Kirkland brand mainly. It tends to be cheaper, even if a different brand has a coupon.
- Bananas – Unless I can price-match it cheaper that week.
- Potatoes – They may not be the cheapest, but they are HUGE and last forever.
- Strawberries – When in season. They are the biggest and best strawberries EVER. Tip: Rinse them in 1 part vinegar, 10 parts water. They will last way longer!
- Baby formula – Kirkland formula is just as quality as the expensive stuff (it’s most likely made by the same manufacturer, actually)…but a fraction of the price!
- Bagels – Not necessarily always cheaper, but WAY better. I also like the mini bagels for brunches, parties, and mini pizzas/sandwiches for the kids.
- Frozen chicken (*update: I used to buy bags of frozen chicken from Costco. Now I price-match chicken when it’s on sale for $1.70/lb or less. Then I put each fresh chicken breast in it’s own ziplock sandwich bag and freeze it. Ends up being much cheaper most of the time!)
- String cheese – I freeze most of it, and pull a few out of the freezer at a time and keep it in the fridge for my kids. Packing them into lunches frozen is also a great way to keep them fresh – they are perfectly thawed out by lunchtime!
- Romaine lettuce and bagged spinach – Many times I can price-match the lettuce for cheaper, but the huge bags of spinach are nearly always cheapest at Costco.
- Chips – Potato and Dorito chips mainly
- Fruit snacks / granola bars / some crackers / “snack items” – Nearly always with a coupon.
- Tortillas – Their bake-at-home ones are basically the most delicious tortillas ever.
- Salsa – We love their Kirkland salsa. Tip: If it starts to go bad before you can use the whole container, stick the rest in the freezer and pull it out when you’re ready to use it! Never let it go to waste.
- Kirkland frozen lasagna – I usually shy away from frozen, store-bought meals. However, in this case since it’s around $10 for two trays (I believe), it’s a decent deal. One time I mentally factored the cost of my making lasagna, and Costco can basically do it cheaper!
- Face lotion / deodorant / razors / shampoo / conditioner – With coupon. Extreme Coupon-ers will gasp at this because you can often get them cheaper with couponing, but I go for convenience since I only buy these 1 or 2 times per year.
- Postage stamps – When I need a lot of them. They aren’t cheaper per stamp, but you don’t get slapped with any fees and it’s an easy way to buy lots of them at once.
- Eggs – Cheapest place I’ve found to buy brown eggs.
- Canned food – the BIG cans. The small cans aren’t the best deal, but the huge cans are! Open them up, divide them up into saved jars, freeze them. Spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, pineapple, whatever it is, just divide it up.
- Juice – With coupon when possible.
- Baking items – flour, sugar, sometimes butter and margarine, but I can usually price-match it much cheaper.
- Jam (see HERE)
- Photos and other printing – GREAT deals on prints many times. If you buy their picture frames you get 100 free prints included which is killer. Also, they often times have $5 or $10 off photo books in their coupon books.
- Plants, outdoor equipment, sporting equipment – when in season. Even if it’s not the most rock-bottom price, their return policy makes it worth buying there in my opinion!
- Garbage bags – The big, sturdy black ones – with coupon. Trust me, you get what you pay for with garbage bags!
- Paper plates, utensils, cups – With coupon. You can actually run their clear cutlery through the dishwasher, see HERE.
- Hand soap, body soap – With coupon.
- Rotisserie chicken – Great quick, healthy, cheap dinner idea.
- Pancake mix & pancake syrup
- Frozen salmon – With coupon when possible.
- Hamburgers, and foot-long hotdogs – Smaller hotdogs are nearly always cheaper at Walmart, but their Kirkland foot-long ones are to die for.
- Lunch meat – See HERE for this killer deal I found once.
- Vegetable oil – I buy the huge container, pour some into a smaller container that I keep by my stove, and keep the huge container in my cold storage. I simply refill it when needed.
- Chocolate chips – With coupon
- Dog beds, bones, and treats
- Ziplock bags – with coupon
- Those awesome Kirkland chocolate diet drinks (like Slim Fasts kinda). Great meal on the go!
- Gasoline – will save you major $$ over time, and is 3% cash back on your card!
- Electronics – We bought our nice DSLR camera from there after shopping around for months. It went on sale around Christmas time, so not only was the price good, but their return policy is awesome. BUT…shop around because not all their electronics are cheaper.
Now, keep in mind, it depends on why you are buying. Costco may be more expensive than Walmart (that’s where I am comparing my prices because those are the two places I shop), but their quality might not even compare in some people’s minds. To me, the quality of the things I buy isn’t different enough for me NOT to save the money. Does that make sense?
That being said………
What I avoid buying at Costco:
- Ground beef – I can almost always price-match it for $1.60 or less, and get the super ultra lean stuff for less than than $2/lb. I stock up like crazy when it’s on sale at other stores and freeze it, so I always have it on-hand (I often times cook it up first, put it in 1lb quantities in freezer baggies, and freeze it so it’s ready to go for recipes). Costco’s is upwards of $2.50 or $2.99/lb. Good quality, but much more expensive. Ground beef is a cheap, fatty meat by nature, and is rarely ever eaten alone. Since it’s usually mixed into the meal, why pay a lot?! I save my money for the nice meats.
- Other meat (roast, steak, etc.) – This is personal preference. Costco’s quality is unmatched, but based simply on price, you can get better deals when they go on sale at the grocery store. For me, I’d rather buy good food (and maybe not THE BEST food) and stretch my dollar to get MORE food. But, once again, personal preference.
- Cereal – They have coupons occasionally, but still more expensive at Costco.
- Small cans of canned food – It’s convenient to have them in a big box of 8 or 10 cans, but price per can is higher than Walmart, especially if you price-match a good deal.
- Condiments – Condiments go on sale like CRAZY in grocery stores around holidays. Stock up on ketchup, mustard, and BBQ sauce at stores when they go on sale and you’ll save way more.
- Pasta & sauce – You can typically get 1lb of pasta for $1 (often times much less) on sale. It’s usually always more than that at Costco. Sauce you can usually get for $1 per jar (or much less) at Walmart, Costco is nearly always more expensive. I buy cheap pasta sauce and use it as a base to making my own sauce. I make large quantities and freeze it. Much cheaper, and better!
- Most produce – Once again, personal preference. Costco’s produce is awesome, huge, often organic, and high-quality…BUT it’s typically more expensive. Once again, I’d rather stretch my dollar and get MORE for my money. There are times when their produce is cheaper, but you just need to learn your prices (see below for more on that). For example, their 3lb bags of spinach is a great deal. And when in-season, their strawberries are competitively priced. They might not be the cheapest, but the size and quality make them a good deal. However, their apples, oranges, grapefruits, grapes, and other produce will cost you a lot more.
The most important tip:
LEARN. YOUR. PRICES!!!!
I can NOT stress this enough! I carry around a little “price notebook” with me and mark price per ounce, pound, or ‘price per each’ of things. Learning your prices is really the ONLY way you’ll save money at Costco. See HERE for all the info about my Price Notebook.
Remember: Just because it’s bulk and/or from Costco doesn’t mean it’s cheaper. There are many staples at Costco that are NOT cheaper, so I usually deal-shop for those at other stores. Get to know pricing so you can really only buy the things that will actually save you money.
Make it last. If you opt for the huge container of strawberries and they start to go bad, don’t toss them! Get creative! Make strawberry spinach salad for dinner. Make smoothies. Make freezer jam. Do what you can to NOT let anything go bad, because you’re just throwing money away. My tip?
FREEZE. EVERYTHING. If it’s on it’s way out, freeze it! If it ends up being funky when you thaw it out, hey…at least you tried. This goes for everything – produce, meat, bread, sauces, fruit, buns, milk (yup. freeze it.), you name it.
Buying bulk WILL save you tons of money…unless you only use half, then throw away the rest. See some of my creative uses for food HERE.
You might not need 800 toothbrushes. If it’s just you and your spouse, it would probably take you a few years to go through a Costco sized container of toothbrushes. Don’t get too excited about the convenience of Costco. If you only need 2 toothbrushes, maybe buy a $1 toothbrush and put the money you would’ve spent on Costco toothbrushes toward other things
Don’t be afraid to store things. Some people might not want a Costco-sized pallet of toilet paper because, well, that’s a lot of toilet paper to hold onto! But guess what? It’s cheaper. Deal with it ;) haha. Hide it under a bed, in a rubbermaid bin in your garage, under your stairs. Don’t be afraid to hold onto things. The savings are worth it many times!
Don’t be afraid to return things. Costco has a great return policy! They will take back just about anything. So if you buy the solar lawn lights and they don’t fit right in your yard, don’t be afraid to take them back. Now, that being said, please don’t abuse the system. Returning things unnecessarily or dishonestly (using it with full intention of returning it after using it, for example) only increases prices for the rest of us. No fun-o. Try your best to make it work. If it doesn’t, get your money back.
The non-food side of the store holds the best deals. Many of us think FOOD when we think Costco. But really, the best margins in price are on the non-food side of the store! Furniture and housewares tend to have the highest markups – anywhere, all the time. But with Costco they will never have higher than a 14% margin on ANY of their products, at ANY time. Thus, they drop the price dramatically to stay within that 14% margin. So cleaning supplies, diapers, dog food, vacuums, rugs, pot & pan sets = all great deals. However, learn your prices and don’t impulse buy on furniture and appliances, those are NOT always the best deals at Costco. To see a great video showing other great insider tips of shopping at Costco, click HERE.
USE. THE. COUPONS!! For heaven’s sake people, use the coupons! Don’t get them? Ask the membership desk. They even have them online many times.
When there’s a coupon for something you need or would buy anyway (very important) then stock up. Limit 2 on diapers but you only need 1 box? Buy 2. Then go back and buy more.
Why? The coupons rotate. So yes, the Huggies coupon will be back, but not for another 2 or 3 months. What happens when I run out of diapers in the meantime? I end up paying full-price…unless I have them on-hand.
Make a budget and shopping list and stick with it! If you don’t need it, you’re wasting money…even if it is a good deal. Be disciplined. Make a budget, make a list, and don’t be afraid to take stuff off the conveyer belt when checking out. Use some self-control, people! :) Once again, click HERE for how I work shopping at Costco into my tight budget.
Get the most out of your membership. Click HERE for more on that.
So there you go! I hope that gives you lots of tips for making sure you are SAVING the most money possible the next time you go to Costco. Happy shopping!
Jordan represents “The new face of frugality”. After she and her husband fell onto some tough financial times, they learned the secrets to living WELL, on very little. She teaches that it’s not about going without, it’s about stretching every penny so you can HAVE more, DO more, BE more, and LIVE more than you ever thought possible. Thus, she has been dubbed the Fun, Cheap, or Free QUEEN!