Is it possible to find any good deals hiding on those warehouse shelves loaded with vats of olive oil & tubs of detergent? I think so, and I’m not just saying that because I love Costco. Which I do. Buying in bulk is not just for survivalists in Idaho or families of fifteen. It is a great strategy for anyone looking to stretch their grocery budget and incorporate more real food into their diets. Not running out of ingredients or having to go to the grocery store as often are nice perks, too.
Couponing is great, but I will never be one of those shoppers who only defines a good deal as being “free or nearly free.” I think any amount you can shave off your grocery bill is better than nothing. I’m also somewhat picky when it comes to food, and I’m ok with that. Like you, I’m not willing to feed my family just what is cheap to the exclusion of what is real and nutritious. It will definitely depend on your family’s household needs and budget, but I have personally found our Costco membership to be worth the small annual fee we pay my husband’s employer to get it.
Big box stores like Costco or Sam’s Club can be a good option…
:: For those products that are rarely or never paired up with coupons. I no longer buy cereal or butter at Costco because I can get them consistently cheaper at a grocery store with coupons. However, on many non-coupon products, Costco prices often blow other stores out of the water.
:: For those times when you run out of your stockpiled items on off-months. For example, I try to stockpile chocolate chips in the winter when baking sales & coupons are abundant. I usually run out, though, which doesn’t go over well in our house. So I buy a big bag of chocolate chips at Costco which ends up being much cheaper than Winco in the long run.
:: For those of you feeding a small army. Providing the food for a large family, big reunion, or graduation party are all times when coupon shopping might not be the best use of your time and energy. By shopping a box store, you can buy big quantities, often without spending more than you would at your local Winco or Walmart.
:: For those times when you need a break from coupons. When I was nine months pregnant with my second child, I did not have the energy or the desire to run around to multiple stores doing coupon deals. I still needed to buy enough food to hold us over following the baby’s arrival, though. My husband and I headed to Costco to stock up on a few week’s worth of easy meals and fast snacks. I just made sure that everything we piled in the cart was on budget and cheaper than Winco’s prices.
:: For products you use frequently. I cannot tell you how much I hate doing coupon deals for toilet paper. Ugh. Not my idea of a good time. I have decided that even though it seems more expensive up front, buying Kirkland tp takes the headache out of comparing ply and roll size. I bought Charmin-type brands (mega rolls) in other grocery stores on great sales/coupons and was always frustrated when they were fluffier, squattier, and smaller. For my sanity, I avoid tp deals like the plague and happily pay $14.99 for 30 big rolls at Costco.
:: When you can force yourself to stick with your list and your budget. The hard part with Costco is restraining yourself to just picking up the good deals, avoiding the temptation to load your extra-large shopping cart with all the other extra-large offers. I make a list and stick to it. I once heard the advice to avoid shopping with a cart at Costco to limit your purchases to what you can carry out in your hands. Not bad advice. Unless you’re lugging kids along, too. Then it’s bad advice.
Costco can be a great source for selected groceries and household products if you know basic prices for your area. Here are some of the best deals I have found at Costco. These are all products I consistently buy (and some new favorite finds!). Prices and selection reflect the Portland-metro market, as of April 2014.
I load up on produce right out of the gate. Costco has some great deals in the produce section, and they are carrying more organic options now.
The 6.5 pound bag of organic sweet potatoes for $6.99, the 1 lb. container or organic spinach or spring mix for $3.99, the 10-lb. bag of organic carrots for $5.79, or the 3-lb bags of organic bananas for $1.99 (.66/lb) are all good buys. The organic baby kale or 3-green mix is also one of my favorite new finds. $4.99 for a 3-lb bag is a sweet deal, especially when you don’t have to wash it. I use it to make a Green Juice or Kale Salad.
I always grab a big pineapple for $2.99. Let it ripen for at least a week on your kitchen counter. I haven’t had a bum one yet. Speaking of letting them ripen, grab a bag of 5 large avocados for $5.99. I’m with Jerry Seinfeld (“I don’t return fruit. Fruit’s a gamble! I know that going in.”), but it drives me nuts when I buy avocados that are rotten inside or don’t ripen evenly. Let them ripen for a week, then put them in the fridge when they’re soft and ready to eat.
The English cucumbers (3 for $3.49), grape tomatoes (2-lbs. for $4.99), and bell peppers (6 for $6.79) are a decent price for the size and quality. Costco’s big bags of garlic (3 lbs. for $5.79), onions, and potatoes are also a good deal, especially if you can split them with someone else. The apples are a good price in the off-season (spring/summer), but not worth it when you can buy or pick them fresh locally. The Pink Lady variety, around $1.50/lb, is my favorite.
Oh, and the strawberries suck me in every single spring. Thankfully they actually haven’t been half bad this year.
STORAGE & PAPER PRODUCTS
Costco is where I buy kitchen garbage bags, plastic wrap and parchment paper. And heavy-duty foil. It’s more expensive but so much better than the thin, flimsy stuff. We use it for grilling and camping, in addition to normal everyday stuff. And my husband is always sneaking it out of the kitchen for his covert energy-efficiency projects. Seriously, we have foil wrapped around some of the most random things at our house.
We’ve already covered my feelings about toilet paper, but paper towels are in the same boat for me. I just want to buy a bunch of big rolls for a good price (12 for $14.99) and be done with it for a few months. 48-count Kirkland AA and AAA batteries (not pictured) are a good deal, too, for about $13.
Oh man, this is my favorite section of all. For starters, no one can beat Costco’s price on active, dry yeast at $3.99 for 32 oz. Even at Winco, you’ll pay double that. Granted, it’s a lot of yeast. Split it with some friends or store half in the freezer, half in the refrigerator. Then bake a crazy amount of No-Knead Bread.
The vanilla extract also falls into the can’t-be-beat price category. Costco carries 16 oz. for $6.99. The best I could find at Winco was 8 oz. for $11. The huge tub of coconut oil for $22.99 (.29/oz.), 4.5 lb. bag of chocolate chips for $8.99, and the almond flour for $6/lb. are good deals that will keep for a long time. Use almond flour to make Chewy Chocolate Almond Cookies. So good.
My Costco is now carrying raw Oregon honey, which makes me really happy. I had just decided to start buying local honey, but it’s not cheap. This Naked Wild Honey is only $16.69 for 4.5 lbs. I’m sold. Plus, how often do you get to see the word “naked” on your receipts? Don’t answer that.
The 3-lb. bags of nuts are a good deal. Almonds are $5.23/lb, pecans are $6.85/lb, and walnuts are $6.33/lb. All prices are slightly cheaper than the Winco bulk section.
I love Chia seeds. They are tiny and adorable and good for you. Also, the nutrients are easier for our bodies to absorb, as opposed to flax seeds, which have to be ground first. Costco sells a 2-lb. bag of Chia seeds for $13.99, much cheaper than Winco’s $9.10/lb. bulk price. Organic milled flax seed at Costco is $1.92/lb. I sprinkle both of these on my yogurt, add them to smoothies, or stir them into baked goods.
The 12-lb. bag of organic short grain brown rice is $13.99 ($1.66/lb.) I searched all over the Portland area, including Asian markets, for the best prices on rice and couldn’t find a better deal. Go here for steps on cooking perfect brown rice.
The organic quinoa is $5/lb. This is double the price it was a few years ago. Ugh. Winco does have quinoa in their bulk section for $4.20/lb. The organic rice milk comes to $1.66/carton which is a good price (Winco is $2.34 each).
Some other good bulk buys (not pictured) are the ground cinnamon, 32 oz. real maple syrup for $12.79 ($17.85 at Winco), 4-lb. bags of coconut flour for $6.99 ($1.75/lb. compared to Winco’s $3.24/lb.) and organic peanut butter for .20/oz. Krista also wrote a post on canned goods you should buy at Costco.
REFRIGERATOR / FREEZER SECTION
File this under weirdest pictures I have ever posted. Taking grocery pictures is an art… that I clearly have yet to master. I used to buy more in Costco’s dairy/freezer section. Prices have jumped and stock has changed lately, though, so I skip items like eggs and butter now. The half gallon of half-and-half is still a good price at $3.59. It might be my imagination, but it seems to stay fresh longer than other brands?
My husband is like a kid in a candy shop when we hit the cheese aisle, so I have to strap on his leash or I will find all kinds of mystery cheeses in the cart when we hit the check out stand. Costco has a good cheese selection, and some prices will beat your local grocery store. The huge block of feta cheese is $3.99/lb. Laurie buys this and freezes it in smaller portions. Also, the Pecorino Romano is a good hard cheese to keep in your fridge at $7.49/lb. A little bit goes a long way.
The organic frozen vegetables are around $1.20/lb. These are nice to have in the freezer for a quick side dish or stir fry.
HOME MAILER COUPON PRODUCTS
Costco doesn’t accept manufacturer coupons, but they send out home mailer coupons to members. Melody at This Beautiful Frugal Life does a great job of rounding up the best prices each month. I often stock up on deodorant, windshield wiper blades, storage bags, coffee, diapers/wipes, and some snacks when they are $2-5 off regular prices.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a look at some of the products that consistently make it into my huge Costco cart. If you are willing to be selective, you can often find quality items for cheaper than chain store prices. Also, think outside the grocery box: photos, gift cards, gas, mattresses, clothing/shoes, and flowers are often a better deal at your local big box store. Happy shopping.
Is Costco a good deal for your family? What do you buy?
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