Raise your hand if you love Costco as much as I do! Now keep it raised if you love looking at your receipt when you walk out the door… that's what I thought. Here are the best tips on “what to buy from Costco” so that you don't walk away broke.
I consider myself to be a bit of a Costco expert. Not only have I been shopping there my whole life (yes, family outings to Costco as a kid were the bomb), I've become fascinated with Costco and have made a point to learn everything I can about this amazing store.
This has led to me doing several TV segments about shopping at Costco, and even getting personally invited to an exclusive behind-the-scenes view of the store by a Costco GM. Over the years my “How to shop at Costco” posts have gone viral. Every time I post on Instagram about my Costco finds I get asked loads of questions about my Costco shopping trip. It made me realize that my “Costco Fundamentals” posts are so old, I bet hardly any of you have actually seen them!
Oh, the mysteries of Costco…the $200 store as many people call it. Does it save you money? Are the deals as good as they seem? Is it worth having a membership? How do you shop there and not lose your entire paycheck? How do I fit Costco trips into my budget?
All great questions.
Thus, today I've compiled a massive list of what to buy from Costco that will actually help you save money! Here are the best resources all in one place! This post breaks down how to budget for Costco, what to buy and what to avoid, how to use their coupons, tricks for getting tons of cash back on your membership, and much, much, more. Hope you enjoy!
Click HERE (or click and watch below) to see the behind-the-scenes tour of Costco I gave on Studio 5, talking about what to buy and what to avoid, as well as how to use the coupons, find the best deals, and find secret discounts on their price-tags:
BEFORE YOU SHOP AT COSTCO
Now there are a few things you need to know before you hit the streets… I mean aisles at Costco.
- Set your grocery budget! This is crucial. If you don't have a budget, you will definitely overspend. There are just too many good things at Costco. I set up my shopping budget and some general tips for grocery shopping!
- Track your grocery budget! However you track your spending will work. But here's how I track my grocery budget – this method will change your life.
- Learn how to buy in bulk without breaking the budget. Here are tips for how to fit buying bulk into said grocery budget. Guys! Shopping at Costco is definitely a learned skill. But you can totally do this!
- Become a Costco pro! Costco Membership Secrets you need to know!
- Keep your money organized. Just a general life-saving financial trick – check out how we organize our money. This is seriously one of my most viral concepts.
- Last, but not least, check out how I meal plan and my most recent Costco haul for even more tips!
MEAL PLANNING WITH STAPLES
As for having meals planned out in advance, my answer is…I do, when I can! Let me tell you…making a meal plan at LEAST one week in advance will save your family hundreds over time. Dinner was often a last-minute thought in my house. Since really trying to think through a few meals in advance based on what's on sale, I have saved my family tons! And have made my life a lot easier.
I have a big list of 101 dinner ideas that I keep near my fridge for last-minute ideas. Most of them can be made with the staples I keep on-hand, and the produce deals I get that week from deal-shopping. It's amazing what can be whipped up if you keep “general items” on-hand!
Alright now… let's get to shopping!
WHAT TO BUY FROM COSTCO
For my shopping at Costco, I typically stick to the bulk items that are usually involved with cooking, and try to take advantage of their coupons whenever possible. If you don't get the coupons mailed to your house, the membership desk usually has extras. Ask to be put on the mailing list next time you are there!
So below I have listed the things I pretty much regularly buy from Costco. 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.
One more note, no, I didn't list EVERYTHING here…there are plenty of things that I missed, I'm sure.
BEST DEALS FROM COSTCO ON FOOD
Frozen foods and lunch items are basically the best from Costco! Here are some of my favorites to keep on-hand:
COSTCO FROZEN FOODS
- 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!
- Bags of Frozen Fruit and Veggies – They are not only cheaper, but much better than other stores' frozen veggies.
LUNCH ITEMS FROM COSTCO
- Lunch Meat – See HERE for this killer deal I found once.
- 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!
- Chips – Potato and Dorito chips mainly
- Tortilla Chips – the 3 lb bags of Mission chips
- Snack Items – Fruit snacks, granola bars, some crackers, pretzels, veggie straws, etc. Nearly always with a coupon.
- Applesauce Pouches – for my kids (like THIS KIND) which are great for lunches on the go.
- Those awesome Kirkland chocolate diet drinks (like Slim Fasts kinda). Great meal on the go!
FRESH FOOD FROM COSTCO
- Eggs – Cheapest place I've found to buy brown eggs.
- Cheese – I buy their huge bags of shredded Kirkland mozzarella 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 5 lb 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.
- 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: Rise them in 1 part vinegar, 10 parts water. They will last way longer!
- 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.
If you do buy bulk, make it last. If you opt for the huge container of strawberries and they start to go bad, don't toss them! Get creative!
- Freeze them to use for later!
- 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.
STOCK UP ON BAKING AND COOKING ESSENTIALS
- Seasonings and Pre-minced Garlic – Their containers are HUGE are are much cheaper than other stores!…unless you buy them loosely in bulk, seen HERE.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Juice – With coupon when possible.
- Jam (see HERE)
- Rotisserie Chicken – Great quick, healthy, cheap dinner idea.
- Olive Oil
- 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.
- All Things Baking – Flour, sugar, sometimes butter and margarine.
- Pancake Mix & Syrup
- Chocolate Chips – With coupon.
- Nuts – And you can freeze them too, if you don't go through a huge bag of sliced almonds or a big vat of mixed nuts quickly!
- Organic Items – Costco how has an extensive array of organic items. I'm not much of an organic shopper myself, but if you are, Costco is hands-down the place to get the best deals!
Don't forget about the Costco bakery!
- Tortillas – Their bake-at-home ones are basically the most delicious tortillas ever.
- Bread, Rolls, Buns
- Bagels – Not necessarily always cheaper, but WAY better. I also like the mini bagels for brunches, parties, and mini pizzas/sandwiches for the kids.
- Cakes – $17 for their MASSIVE, semi-customizable cakes? Unbeatable. Oh yeah, and they are delish too!
As you can see, most things on my list aren't necessarily for specific meals. Rather, they are staples that we try to keep on-hand at all times if I shop in bulk once a month. By keeping up with the coupons and stocking up on the items that are on sale that month at Costco, we tend to always have the things we need on-hand so we don't have to pay full-price for them in a time of need.
I buy most of my other produce, meat, and pantry items at good ol' Walmart! HERE's how I grocery shop based on what is on sale and what I plan to cook that week!
NON-CONSUMABLE GOODS FROM COSTCO
Next up! Let's chat non-consumables! 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.
First up, a little tip! 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. Only buy items that you will actually use. It's not worth it to stock up on something that will just sit in your cupboards for the next year or two and never be used.
However, on the flip side, 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 that you will use. The savings are worth it many times!
NON-FOOD ITEMS ON YOUR GROCERY LIST
Costco is great for finding deals on quality items that you may use around your house. Especially if you're a mom with young kids… or a dog!
- Laundry Supplies – Detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets. with coupons (see HERE for my preferences)
- Cleaning Supplies – Disinfectant wipes, Comet, Swiffer refills, etc. (with coupons)
- Personal Supplies – Face lotion, hand soap, body soap, deodorant, razors, shampoo and conditioner. Don't forget a 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.
- Paper Goods – Plates, utensils, cups are all great with coupon. You can actually run their clear cutlery through the dishwasher, see HERE.
- Toilet Paper and Paper Towels – The Kirkland brand mainly. It tends to be cheaper, even if a different brand has a coupon.
- Garbage bags – The big, sturdy black ones – with coupon. Trust me, you get what you pay for with garbage bags!
- Ziplock Bags – with coupon
- 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.
Heads up! 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
COSTCO ITEMS FOR BABY
- 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!)
- 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!
Costco offers a lot of great services that you may not be aware of!
- 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.
- 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.
- Printer Ink – You can refill your empty cartridges for $7! (And sometimes they have an additional coupon in their mailer.) I've done this for years and it works great.
COSTCO DEALS FOR YOUR PET
- Dog Food – about 1/2 the price of pet stores!
- Dog beds, bones, and treats
OTHER DEALS FROM COSTCO
- 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.
- Outdoor Equipment and 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!
- 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.
- $1.50 Hotdog/Drink combo – $1.50? For a hotdog and drink? Now that’s what I’m talking about, people! For those Costco hotdog virgins out there, we’re not talking a dinky boiled hotdog. It’s a true-blue, footlong dog of goodness and wonder. Fun fact: when Costco first opened in the 70′s it was $1.50 for a hotdog and drink. The price has never changed, and will never change – guaranteed. In fact, Costco was losing so much money on their hotdog combo that they actually built their own hotdog factory and now manufacture their own Kirkland hot dogs to keep the price down! Now that’s true love if I’ve ever seen it…
- Gasoline – This will save you major $$ over time, and is 3% cash back on your card!
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, here are a few more tips for ya!
WHAT NOT TO BUY FROM 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.
- Soda – Costco soda may be tempting because of the HUGE boxes, but when you price it out per can, you can almost always find a better deal at your local grocery store when it goes on sale. Plus, soda stays good for a long time so stock up when it’s on sale and hold onto it, rather than buying at Costco.
- 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.
MORE COSTCO SHOPPING TIPS
- LEARN. YOUR. PRICES!!!! I cannot stress this enough! Remember, just because it's bulk and/or from Costco doesn't mean it's cheaper. 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.
- Take advantage of the pharmacy. Did you know you don’t actually have to have a membership to use their pharmacy? It’s true! But members get additional discounts. Costco pharmacy prices pretty much slaughter the competition, even Walmart (and especially Walgreens. They are NOT that good of a deal, people!)
- 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.
- 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.
COSTCO MEMBERSHIP DEETS
This is another post of mine that went viral, it's all about how to get the most out of your Costco membership. I thought I'd put a few key points below to help you have it all in one place. Here it is in a nutshell!
- Choose your membership wisely! There are two options. Weigh the pros and cons… but either way, you have nothing to lose.
- Plan for your rewards and how you'll use them.
- Stack rewards with your credit card.
While you're here!
Don't forget about my Secret Sauce online budgeting program, Budget Boot Camp! Super fun video program that makes money easy to understand. All you need is a screen and you're set!
And don't forget, if you don't save at LEAST what you paid for the program, I'll refund every dime. You've got nothing to lose! Use the code FCFBLOG to get an extra 10% off, because I love you ;)