Budget Savvy Costco Shopping

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I love me a good shopping trip to Costco. I had only been to Costco a handful of times growing up since my mom didn’t have a membership, but my memories of Costco were grand. The lights, the large aisles with so.much.stuff, the extra wide parking spots, the FREE SAMPLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I’m only slightly making fun of people who plan their entire meals around Costco sample day), seriously though, I loved it all. Yet I knew you could only shop there if you had the room to store your purchases, something our apartment lacked so the week hubby and I closed on our house we went to the brand spankin’ new Costco in town and signed on the dotted line for our annual membership.

Say What?!

You’re telling us we could buy over-sized bags of chips?! A year’s supply worth of granola bars for a family of two in one box?! Buy five pounds of rice or eight liters of ketchup at once?! We were over the moon with excitement, until we hit the cash register.

Every time we went to Costco we filled our cart with more food and ‘stuff’ than we needed, especially for our small family of two. Yet, after every trip we found ourselves planning our next. It was like a drug. Don’t get me wrong, Costco has some good deals even for our small family but if I’m being honest our cart was always full of stuff we didn’t need.

Helpful Shopping Tips

Here are a few tips I’ve learned from many trips and shopping mistakes that help us from not overspending at Costco and maximizing on our shopping experiance:

  1. Give up the membership. If you know someone else who has one, shop with them. Hubby and I would often end up in the store just because we were ‘in the neighborhood’. Having to go with someone else (the in-laws) requires us to plan the trip, saving us from crazy impulse shopping. If you can’t give up the membership, maybe share your membership with another family. To do this you may have to temporarily ”marry” your best friend/co-worker/whoever since Costco requires you live in the same household for membership, anything for a deal though 😉
  2. Do a ”dry shop”. Leave you wallet at home and do a good walk-through at your local Costco to price things out. Check out the prices, package sizes and quantities before buying. Some things are a great deal but not necessarily for every family size.
  3. Share the cost with friends or family. Sometimes there are good deals but again for a larger group. Recently we found a double pack of a salad dressing that we really like but knew we’d never go through two extra-large bottles before it expired, so we split the cost with someone else who wanted to try it as well.
  4. Keep a running list of things you know Costco sells (on a regular basis) and prefer to buy from them. This may help you from overspending at other stores. For us it’s cereal and bananas. It kills me to buy bananas anywhere else knowing I can get a ginormous bag of 10-12 bananas for $1.69, not per pound but $1.69 total. It’s one of the best deals in town. Same with cereal, I can buy a Costco size box of cereal for less than $6.00 or pay $6.99 for a regular size box of cereal at the grocery store.
  5. If you find you consume a lot of any one thing, check to see if it’s something Costco sells it and price it out. We eat a lot of broccoli. The best price I can get at our local grocery stores for frozen broccoli is $2.50 for a 500gm bag and this is an infrequent sale price. I just bought 2kg bag of some of the best looking broccoli at Costco I’ve ever purchased for $6.00. We’re set for a while.
  6. If you’re an infrequent shopper like us, shop with a list as well as a ”Costco contingency fund”. Costco often carries one-off items, their stock is constantly changing. Rather than allowing your budget to get busted by one shopping trip, try sticking to your list and bring what I like to call a Costco contingency fund; a set amount of money you’ll allow yourself to spend if you decide there’s an item you need and may not be at the store during your next trip.

Costco is a great store if used correctly. It’s easy to go overboard and just buy stuff because it’s a good deal and end up tying hundreds of dollars up in food and ”stuff”.

Do you shop at Costco? Any money-saving tips to share?


  1. Great post! It’s SO important to watch and compare the prices at stores like COSTCO b/c sometimes they’re a good deal, and sometimes not! At our local Sam’s Club, we’ve got the running list, like you suggested, of what our family uses that really is cheaper, and that’s what we limit our Sam’s Club spending to: get the list stuff, and get out of there. Our local store is particularly cheaper on dairy products and produce.
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  2. We shop at Costco pretty regularly. We always use the coupon book that they send for items we buy regularly. We also have a list of items we buy at Costco, and before we leave for the store, I’ll do a check around the house to see if we’re low on anything.
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  3. Good tips Catherine! We love going to Costco and can save you money if you shop wisely. I actually hate the free samples. You’d think people had not eaten for weeks with the way they flock to them and make it impossible for you to get by them. 😉
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  4. Can you go into a Costco if you don’t have a membership? You can get in BJs (similar store if you’ve never heard of it) without one, you just can’t buy anything. I’ve heard that they won’t even let you in a Costco unless you’re with someone who has a membership. That’s the only deterrent for me and my wife to shop there.
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    • Catherine says:

      No, as far as I know they won`t even let you walk around without one and if you go with someone it’s one member with one non-member so my in-laws take both my husband and I. It sort of drives me nuts actually, they make you pay to spend more money…

  5. I love Costco! One thing that helps keep me on track is that you can’t use Visa or Mastercard at Costco, only a debit card (with a PIN). On a regular basis, I buy everything on my rewards credit card and pay it off in full each month. The rest of my money gets divvied out into various savings accounts, so there’s never much cash in my checking account unless I plan for it ahead of time. That means when I go to Costco I have to plan ahead how much I want to spend so I can transfer that money back into the checking account. No way to go over budget then, unless I want to stand in the middle of the store and conduct banking on my phone! 🙂

    The things that I tend to buy most are chicken breasts, the salmon, cheese, yogurt, papertowels (the kirkland brand are good), olive oil, onions, spinach.
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    • Catherine says:

      Sounds like you have a great Costco shopping plan! We buy fruits/veggies and baby stuff (wipes) often.

  6. This is a great post! We call Costco the “$100 Store” because you can’t leave there without spending at least $100. As a result, and because of the insane crowds, I rarely shop there. On a positive note though, my fiancé’s best friend manages our local Costco and he always lets us know when our favourite products are coming on sale. We always buy our home brew wine kits from Costco, it’s the cheapest option in town.
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  7. I’ve been shopping at Costco since it was The Price Club here in San Diego thirty years ago. We have regular items we buy there – toilet paper, pet food, coffee, etc. I’m not saying we don’t pick up items we wouldn’t have bought otherwise, but they’re things we needed and didn’t know would be there.

    We do skip a lot of items just because it would go bad before the two of us could finish it.
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  8. My hubby and I buy almost everything at Sam’s. (Similar to Costco) When we first got the membership we were the same way, buying anything and everything. Now we have it down to a science. We know exactly what to buy at Sam’s and what to buy at the grocery store. We love it though. Most things we can buy at Sam’s and we end up saving a lot of money. It’s great.
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  9. we go 3-4 times a year to a membership supermarket, but I always consider the size of the packaging before buying. Getting a 5lb bag of chips means we would eat old chips for month. Getting a 100 small bags of chips can be worth it.
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  10. We shop at Costco weekly, but we have a pretty small range of items that we buy. Produce and meat, mostly – the meat gets frozen immediately and we concentrate on eating the produce before it goes bad. We generally don’t buy the large volumes of things that can sit on the shelf because we won’t get through it in a timely manner.

    I don’t think you should be visiting Costco on a regular basis using someone else’s membership or recommending that others do the same. You are freeloading and increasing prices for the rest of us. I can understand going once with someone else to check it out, but once you know you want to shop there you should get your own membership – it’s the non-cheater-y thing to do.
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    • Catherine says:

      We don’t regularly go- we go maybe two to three times a year unless you count the weekly bananas I have my in-laws pick up for me. I honestly think a store forcing you to pay to get in the door to spend more money is insane anyway.

    • I don’t think this is a fair statement: “You are freeloading and increasing prices for the rest of us.” Costco has set a maximum markup of 15% across the board. I don’t think they are freeloading. It doesn’t pay to be a member sometimes.

      I used to just be the $55 member, but last year I purchased the $110 membership that gives me cash back. With the amount I spend at Costco, I get more than $110 in cash back from them at the end of the year. Essentially I pay nothing for my membership.
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  11. Me and W have never shopped at a bulk store like Costco or Sam’s Club. We have thought about it, but know that a lot of it would go to waste in our household.
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  12. We used to have a Costco membership, but we cancelled it last year. We were just spending sooooo much money there; we couldn’t leave without at least spending $200, so we had to cut the cord 🙂
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  13. Costo is great for some things, but if you use coupons you can usually get it cheaper per oz at the grocery store. I do love the samples though. 🙂
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  14. I regularly shop at Costco. But I have a list of things that I buy that I know are cheaper than the grocery store and will last me away or will be used right away. For example, I buy egg whites there because they are cheaper than the store and my girlfriend and I go through them quickly.

    There are a lot of things at Costco that cost more than the store, you just have to be willing to do a little math to prove it.
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  15. we’ve been shopping at costco for about a year now and I admit that it took us a while to get the hang of it. But now we’re pretty good. We mostly go and stock up on fruits veggies and eggs, maybe some spices and on occasion coffee.

  16. I like Costco and got a membership when our kid needed formula. Once he’s done, we stopped going though. They do have nice stuff, but we don’t have the storage space for bulk stuff. It’s always crazy busy in the store too. It’s not fun to shop like that.
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    • Catherine says:

      Sounds totally stupid but I didn’t realize they sold formula! I breastfeed but I know my friend pays over $40/week on formula!

  17. Virginia says:

    You know what pays for our Costco membership – the propane. It’s way cheaper. Also get my bananas there Catherine, and books (the old fashinoned turn the page kind) are cheaper there by at least a few bucks each. The kid’s snowsuits are great when little M. gets bigger. I would be lost without my membership there!

  18. We have a Costco membership and it can be very easy to buy stuff you didn’t even know you needed. 🙂 It’s been a good investment for the money we save but we try to shop their infrequently to stave off those urges and definitely go with a list. I had co-workers who would look forward to their meal at Costco. 🙂
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  19. Ha, Ya you can get a years supply of just about anything at Costco. We don’t go ourselves because we simply never had a desire although we have been in the store. Our relatives have a membership and like you mention as a tip, go with someone who has a card. They seem to like it for baby items and just “big stuff” and it works for them. Great tips!
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  20. I’m not sure if costco actually saves us money.. . The price on the cheese we love is 1/4 the price anywhere else, but at the same time we now eat 4x as much. So that’s a big net zero.

    As for other items, it’s drastically cheaper, but then we buy more of the stuff that we would normally ration.

    Also, the sporadic availability of certain items is a big issue for me. They had vanilla beans for a fantastic price and had them every time I’ve ever looked… until now that I’ve run out. They no longer seem to have them. Hopefully they will have them next time. The difference between bean vs extract is HUGE and worth every penny… But when Costco has the beans it saves me a pretty penny! I might just have to grow them myself!

    Once we’re done with diapers for our son, then we might give it up. The diaper prices are as good all the time as the best sale prices in the other large box stores in the area.
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  21. Good points. It can be so easy to overspend at Costco because the items are so cool. We use my in-law’s card to avoid the membership, we really just don’t shop there enough to warrant it.
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  22. We don’t have a Costco. I’m jealous!
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  23. The free samples are always a favorite. It is necessary though to find a balance between finding great deals and being realistic about how much of XYZ you’re actually going to use, though!

  24. My favorite things to buy at Costco are the frozen wild Alaskan fillets – they are easy to prepare and all pre-cleaned and deboned. My engagement ring is also from Costco. So I don’t see Costco as a way to save a lot of money, but I believe the store offers very good value, and it’s nice not to have to shop around for lower savings. The convenience is worth the membership cost.
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    • Catherine says:

      They have beautiful jewelry! I haven’t tried their fish before but you’re not the first to tell me it’s good.

  25. My wife and I have a running joke that we can’t get out of Costco without spending $80. But it’s also sad because it’s true. We have learned to limit our Costco shopping to only certain items that we NEED in bulk, and to get in and get out quickly. Costco has an amazing business model, and must be raking in the dough with people buying too much of stuff they don’t actually need. BUT DOESN’T IT FEEL GREAT TO SHOP THERE?!
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    • Catherine says:

      $80…that’s it???? I know you’re in the states and it’s probably cheaper but $80 would be a cheap trip for us!

  26. I have a membership at Costco and try to buy items that won’t spoil. I do most of my shopping at the local grocery and spend less than I would at Costco!
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  27. it`s easy to spend more money than you planned when you`re shopping in cheap grocerystores, but I guess it`s all about planning, and writing a shopping list might be a good idea:-)
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  28. I rarely find anything that a great deal at Costco. Their photo counter is probably the best feature. That being said, I still buy cleaning supplies like a fiend.
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  29. If you have a family of 4 or more I think Costco is well worth your money. Even if you don’t, you can still save on things you must get like toilet paper, paper towels, etc. I agree with you though that I do tend to buy extra things I don’t need sometimes…
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