Buying in bulk is an amazing way to save a buck or two, but only if you do it right. Learn how to budget for Costco so you don't spoil your grocery budget with a single shopping trip.
Oh hey! We're just over here chatting all about Costco! One of our favorite places in the whole world… I have definitely shared all about Costco before. Here are all my best tips, including:
- Costco Membership Secrets – You may just want to check this out and see if you're getting the most out of your membership!
- What to BUY from Costco – The best deals on staples that will help you shelf cook like a pro! Here's a list of what I buy!
- And of course, my most recent Costco Haul. Complete with a video of me waddling around the store, pregnant, with twins!
I've still been getting so many questions about how I budget for Costco and these big shopping trips. I get it, these bulk shopping trips typically end up being a tad more expensive than a normal weekly shopping trip. If you're not planning for this, it can be hard to fit this in your grocery budget!
We're going to do this post a little differently: question and answer style! Ready!? Here are the most common questions I get about buying in bulk from Costco.
HOW TO BUDGET FOR COSTCO
First off, it's hard to know how much to spend if you don't set a budget and make a plan! Long story, short!
- Set a Grocery Budget… STAT!
- Shop Once Per Week. Alternate Stores.
- Remember that stocking up is a process! Not a one-time thing!
If buying in bulk, meal planning with what you have on-hand, and shopping your pantry is a new way of thinking, it may take some time to build up a stockpile… and that's okay.
Alright, let's get to your questions!
HOW DO I STICK TO MY COSTCO GROCERY BUDGET?
I can't seem to get out of Costco for under $100 and if I still have to go to Walmart or Kroger, I'll be way over budget.
This is the most common question… and believe it or not, the answer is three-fold and pretty easy!
MAKE A PLAN
Make a plan to go to only ONE store per week. When I only had $100 per week to spend on groceries, I knew that I had to be careful going to Costco and that it would probably drain that whole week's budget. Because of this, I planned accordingly the week before and stocked up on all the Walmart stuff I might need to hold me through the week so that I could make a single shopping trip to Costco.
BREAK YOUR BUDGET DOWN WEEKLY
Since breaking my budget down into a WEEKLY budget instead of a MONTHLY budget, I have had to shop more…to shop less. Meaning, I shop more frequently and spend less each time I go. I used to go to Costco once a month and spend $200+, but now I just switch off stores every other week and spend no more than $100 each time I go.
Yes, this means I'm going to Costco more frequently each month (2x instead of 1x), but really, it hasn't been a big deal. More than anything it's helped me learn what things are worth buying from Costco because it drains my budget much faster…but helps me stock up on things. As well as what's best to buy at Walmart!
You MUST stay within your budget. You won't be doing anyone any favors if you get in the habit of allowing yourself to go over on those times you need to really stock up. Just know that you won't be able to stock up on everything at first. You won't be able to buy anything you want or even everything you need at one time. But, you will get everything you want and need over time. And guess what? It's totally fine! My family eats great, our clothes smell good, my hair isn't falling out, and we're fine! It's all about making choices and keeping the bigger picture in mind.
You need to learn to pick and choose. I used to buy almost everything on my list on Costco because it was convenient–one stop, large quantities, quality products, prices rarely fluctuate. However, since following my more strict weekly envelope budget, I have to pick and choose more and sometimes I even have to make sacrifices so I can stick to my budget.
Be willing to put things back. I keep my shopping list, the calculator on my phone, and my price notebook with me while shopping. As I put something in the cart, I subtract it from the amount on my calculator so I always know how much I have left. Don't be afraid to put things back once at the register, try to avoid impulse buys!
If you only go once a month, do you borrow from your “other” budget for that week since you said to never borrow from the next week?
BORROW SIDEWAYS, ONLY IF YOU HAVE TO
Borrow the right way. If I know that I need to stock up on a few more items from Costco, I'll adjust the budget by spending less the week before or borrowing from the other budget. But NEVER from next week's budget.
Save your Costco trip for the end of the month! If your normal budget is $100 per week and you know that you want to spend a bit more than that at Costco, save $15 dollars from your grocery budget each week to add to your Costco budget at the end of month. This would give you a bit more for your Costco budget.
If I buy 6 boxes of dishwasher detergent, I wont need it for months, so I will save in the long run. I'm just confused about how to stick to the budget right off the bat. Can I expect it to cost more initially???
PATIENCE, MY FRIEND
Whoa! Hold up! Did you forget what we said before?? You MUST stay within your budget. This is the number one rule that you must follow. At all times.
And remember, you don't need to stock up on everything at once! It takes time, trust me. But once you get in the habit of “buying ahead” as I call it, then you will get to the point where you shouldn't ever have to run out and pay full-price for something because you are in dire need of it.
WHEN DO I RESTOCK MY PANTRY?
Do I wait until I run out of all or most of the things I need? If I wait to stock up on several items, I feel like I wouldn't have the money left over for the items I need immediately, like milk and eggs, for instance.
CONSTANTLY–STOCKING UP IS A PROCESS
Stock up when there is room in the budget. If there's room in the budget, my rule of thumb is to buy 1 for now and 2 for later. For example, if I'm making taco soup, I'll buy the cans of beans I need for the recipe this week, plus a few more to keep stocked in the pantry. If I do this every time, I'll always have a few cans in the pantry to use in a pinch.
Space out the stocking-up. One thing to keep in mind is that coupons usually run for at least a few weeks. If you can't afford to buy multiple quantities of something based on your weekly budget allowance, buy ONE…then go back and buy another the next week…then another the next week. Just space it out.
Meal plan and shelf cook! If you are planning meals with only what you have on-hand and merely supplementing with items from the grocery store, you'll typically have a little money leftover to stock up on a few staples. If you constantly vary what you're stocking up on (stock up on items you need and use frequently), you'll have a good stockpile.
Double and freeze. Since you're already buying and cooking anyway, plan to buy and make extra for later so that you have it on a rainy day! This way you're not just stocking your pantry, but you're freezer, too. This makes shopping and cooking more efficient and you're constantly getting more bang for your buck!
COSTCO COUPON QUESTIONS
Do I only buy what there are coupons for? Even if I don't need it?
If you don't need it. Don't buy it! PERIOD. THE END.
If I need it and there is not a coupon should I be filling in with the best deal I can find somewhere else until I do see a coupon?
Back to this tip–You need to learn to pick and choose. Do you really need it? If so, make space in the budget and pay full price or find the best deal. If not, wait for the next time the coupon pops up.
Keep a price notebook. This will make or break whether you lose or save money when buying bulk. You need to learn your prices and figure out what is worth buying at Costco for your family, and what is better to buy at the grocery store.
IS COSTCO WORTH IT FOR A FAMILY OF 2?
It's just my husband and I and we don't have a lot of storage space. I'd like to try out Costco, what do you recommend?
ABOVE ALL, STICK TO YOUR BUDGET
In all honesty…buying bulk from a place like Sam's or Costco for you right now might not be the best fit. Keep in mind, you don't have to have a membership to Sam's or Costco to buy bulk. Most grocery stores now have a bulk section, so you can still try to find things in larger sizes when you feel it's something you use a lot of.
You could certainly get a membership, but just be very selective about what you buy. You probably don't need the Costco-sized pallet of toilet paper, even if it does save you $5/mo. You could buy a small pack on-sale at walmart and it would last you a month. However, things like bread, seasonings, cooking items like olive oil, detergent, and some other regularly used, non-refrigerated items might be worth the savings.
Really, what it comes down to is STICKING WITH YOUR BUDGET. If you can't afford bulk sizes right now, don't do it! Just stock up on regular-sized items when they are on sale (you can use my method HERE) and you'll build your stock-pile, without having to buy huge quantities.
WHAT IF COSTCO DOESN'T FIT IN THE BUDGET?
Is your trip to Costco part of the monthly food budget? If it is I just don't see how you can do that food is really expensive.
Short answer. Yes! The Costco trip is most definitely a part of the food budget. At least all the consumables and the food are. If you pick up some clothes or electronics or something, it would come out of the other budget.
ADJUST YOUR BUDGET IF YOU NEED TO
Where you live does affect your food budget. However…is it so expensive because you're paying full-price for it? Or because you're buying things you don't need? First, you need to make sure that you are doing all of the above–meal planning, shopping sales, shelf cooking, making sacrifices, etc.
If food is expensive in your area or you have a house full of starving teens, your needs might be different. Adjust $25 at a time and really challenge yourself to stay under budget, you don't want to raise your budget unless you absolutely have to.
We have family coming for dinner at least twice a week. It gets a little pricey. How do you fit this into the budget?
Yes, feeding a crowd can be expensive…but it doesn't have to be. See HERE for lots of cheap meal ideas for you to make when your family comes to visit.
If family joins you for dinner–have them contribute! Trade off cooking the main dish or have them bring a side dish to share. You shouldn't have to foot the whole bill 100% every time. That's not doing anyone any favors!
The other option, if you like your family coming is you just need to make cheaper meals. It's give and take–either you have your family come and you make it work within your finances, or you make nicer meals and have them eat at their own house…and come over for dessert and games after. Give and take!
BUDGETING FOR COSTCO REQUIRES PLANNING
In order to successfully budget for Costco, you absolutely MUST plan your meals out in advance. You need to plan at least 1 week in advance, but it's easier on you if you plan 2 weeks in advance.
Here's what that means:
- Look at what's on sale that week at your local stores!
- Plan your menu items around the store sales items and…
- Use what you have on-hand FIRST. Only shop to supplement your stock pile.
- When you go shopping, buy a little extra of the items that can be stored in your pantry or frozen. That way you have them on-hand (bought while on-sale, mind you…) so you don't have to pay full-price for them when you DO need them.
- Don't waste ANYTHING. If it's getting soft, going bad, or you're getting tired of eating it…stick it in your freezer and use it later. Wasting food is the easiest way to waste money. Don't do it!
Wheew! I'm worn out! That was a doozie of a post!
*Note: for those of you who are still confused, or would simply like more help check out my budgeting program BudgetBootCamp.com.
This program contains 27 videos, where I walk you through every aspect of your finances. It has helped thousands of Freebs change their financial situation for the better! Check out more HERE and use the code FCFBLOG to get 10% off!
Hope that helped all of you. Thanks for the questions and good luck shopping!
Hi I follow you o everything and no matter what I can’t stick to my budget we are a family of four and we earn $4300.00 a month so I do 400.00 + 200.00 a month and I’m always over and ener have any money left over to pay of the $5000.00 we owe in credit cards. Please help I don’t know what to do and I’m to the point that I can’t sleep
the questions were all very interesting. my family spends $300 on groceries and household goods… this includes diapers, food and pet care, personal hyigene, etc. we often dont even spend the whole $300. we live in baltimore. i go to bj’s or costco once or twice a month. i stop by a cvs once a month, and whole foods once a week (cvs is next to my house and office, whole foods within walking distance from my office). we buy organic produce that is on the dirty dozen list, eggs, chicken, but only sometimes organic beef. we also buy produce in season. we do not meal plan, i just decide the day before what i’m going to make with what i have, though i think you need to be VERY familiar with cooking and your kitchen to do this, but its not an unattainable skill. my family also does our finances for entire quarters of the year at a time, so we are never blind sided. it has taken me 2 years to perfect this system. my point is, your grocery shopping can get this cheap, but know that achieving these type of goals requires accumulated knowledge and experience, so dont give up.
Sarah – thank you SO MUCH for sharing this comment, I am SO HAPPY to hear something like this! Would it be ok if I shared your story in a post?
I just wanted to tell you how much reading this question and answer session has helped me. As someone who plans out meals, clips coupons and reads the sale ads, I was still overspending once costco was factored in. When you said that you have a weekly budget and CAN’T go over the budget, it finally started to click for me. I finally accepted that I cannot be completely stocked and have everything that I want when I want it (and that is OK!). But beyond just that, It helped me to realize that OTHER PEOPLE dont have it all either. (I mean, some people do, maybe, but they’re probably not reading this blog.). Thank you!
Jamie I love this comment so much! Thank you for sharing and for being so honest. I’m honored that I was able to help. Thanks for reading! XO
I keep the slush fund money from the grocery budget separate, and use it for Costco trips and CSA membership, rather than transferring it into the general slush fund of “found money” … It makes more sense to me to use it as budgeted …
The most important tip you offer is to shop once per week … Even if it means shopping at more than one grocer to take advantage of sales, you must do it all in one day … This has done wonders for my budget and more importantly to me, curtailed our food waste … As I shop on Friday, Thursday evening meals are usually comical & creative!
This is super helpful! Thank you. We buy a freezer of beef once a year and as we are just starting on this budgeting process I was curious how I could work that very large purchase into the plan. Thank you!
Since it’s something that you’re for sure going to do every year, your best bet is to figure out what the total is and break it down. You could divide it by 12 if you wanted to save monthly, or divide it into the number of paychecks you get a year if you wanted to save by paycheck. Then, put that amount aside into a savings account specifically for your yearly beef purchase. Depending on how much it is per month, you could either take it out of your grocery budget each month or you could have a separate budget for that beef. Hope this helps! 🙂