Abigail Murrish - The Penny Hoarder

Ever since I started managing my own household two years ago, I’d dreamed of having a membership to Costco.

Friends with memberships told me about the beautiful fruits and vegetables, amazing deals on alcohol and bargains on peanut butter and coffee. I ogled Pinterest meal plans where people would extol the value of Costco.

Costco sounded like a foodie paradise. But since it was just my husband and me, I couldn’t justify the expense of the $55 membership, not knowing whether we’d be able maximize it. Would the membership be worth it, even though we weren’t shopping for a big family?

In January, my husband and I adopted a dog, and his foster mom recommended purchasing Costco dog food because of its quality and value. That’s when we decided to take the plunge and buy a membership.

Since then, I’ve enjoyed shopping at Costco as much as I thought I would, although there’s been a bit of a learning curve. I’ve saved an average of $50 a month -- a total of about $250 since I started shopping there.

Here’s what I’ve learned about shopping for two at Costco.

1. Buy Items with a Long Shelf Life

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Costco has a wonderful selection of high-quality shelf-stable items like jams, canned beverages, coffee and spices.

Before you go, keep track of items you consistently use when cooking and price them out at Costco. My list includes chicken bouillon, olive oil, oatmeal, peanut butter and almond butter.

We're spending the same amount as before -- or less! -- on these items, but enjoying significantly better quality.

Moreover, having them on hand removes the stress of always wondering whether we’re running low on a particular item.

2. Eat Like a Minimalist

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At Costco, you can take advantage of the wonderful deals on perishable items, too.

The problem? Those deals require you to purchase more of a particular item than you’d likely buy at the grocery store. I love grapes, but can I really eat four pounds before they go bad?

Since shopping at Costco, I’ve adopted a minimalist approach to food. Instead of building our weekly menu around dishes requiring dozens of different ingredients, we focus on using a few high-quality ingredients in a variety of ways.

The only fruits and veggies we may eat for a week or two are grapes, greens, carrots and apples, but they’re great quality, taste delicious AND we’re saving money.

3. Simplify Meal Planning

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Costco has been a tremendous tool as I’ve simplified my meal planning over the past six months.

I buy enough meat for a month in bulk, weigh it at home in servings that work well for cooking and freeze it in my standard-size freezer.

I also purchase large canned goods at Costco and make multiple meals at once, like spaghetti sauce and tomato soup, then freeze them in individual servings.

These two practices limit our spending, help us stick to our budget and make meal planning easier.

4. Split Items with Another Couple

[caption id="attachment_32349" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Is costco worth it Photo Source: Pix Deluxe under Getty Images[/caption]

At Costco, you’re allowed to bring a guest with you. However, only the cardholder can make the purchase, so you must split the costs after purchasing.

A friend and I recently visited the store, and together we were able to purchase a greater variety of items without compromising our budgets.

We bought a 10-pound bag of whole carrots, 16 ounces of blueberries and four pounds of grapes. Not only would this have been too much produce for my husband and me to consume in a week, I didn’t want to spend $20 on carrots, blueberries and grapes.

Instead, my friend and I split those fruits and veggies when we got home, and we feasted on high-quality produce all week for about $10 each.

5. Buy a Rotisserie Chicken

[caption id="attachment_32350" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Is costco worth it Photo Source: Warren Price under Getty Images[/caption]

I make a shopping trip to Costco once or twice a month, and when I do, I always buy a chicken. For $5, we can get two dinners and some leftovers from the meat and make stock from the bones. You can’t beat that!

Sometimes I buy multiple chickens and give one to a friend, or debone the chicken and freeze all the meat.

6. Look Beyond the Kitchen

[caption id="attachment_32351" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Is costco worth it Photo Source: People Images under Getty Images[/caption]

As I mentioned earlier, we got a membership to Costco so we could buy food for our adopted dog.

We spend $28.99 for a bag of dog food, which is comparable to grocery store prices. However, the woman who cared for our dog before we adopted him (we also call her our personal dog expert!) explained this food is comparable to higher-quality dog foods.

Costco is also a great place to buy things like hygiene products, home goods and gas, and I’m looking forward to using its photo services and pharmacy.

7. Consider Deals Carefully

[caption id="attachment_32352" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Is costco worth it Photo Source: Dave and Les Jacobs under Getty Images[/caption]

As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The same rings true with shopping at Costco on a budget. If you don’t carefully assess your purchases in light of your budget, you will overspend.

At Costco, you can’t afford to make purchases on a whim or because you simply want to try something new. Remember why you’re there and stick to your shopping list.

I recently purchased five bulk-sized household items, including fabric softener, which added up to more than $50. Before I made that large of a purchase, I needed to know I would use all of what I’d bought.

The fabric softener was a great deal compared to the grocery store’s price, but only because I knew I liked the product and would use all of it. Had I simply wanted to try a new product, I would have been better off purchasing a smaller amount at the grocery store to try it out before investing in the value-sized container.

For instance, shortly after I started shopping at Costco, I purchased a value-size box of panko breadcrumbs for a recipe that called for less than one cup.

Though the breadcrumbs were a wonderful per-unit price, I would have been better off buying a smaller quantity at my grocery store. The price per unit would be more, but the final cost would have been less expensive and I would’ve used them all. I ended up giving the breadcrumbs to a friend who would use them.

Do You Shop at Costco?

Costco isn’t just for families. It’s also for couples like us who are concerned with staying on budget while still eating well.

With careful planning and thoughtful purchasing, Costco can work for any household with any budget.

Your Turn: Have you ever shopped at a warehouse club for a smaller household? What tips can you share?

Abigail Murrish is an agricultural writer. She loves writing about all things food, whether it’s in a field, at the grocery store or on the kitchen table. She lives in the great Midwest with her husband and yellow lab mutt, Lupin.

When looking for an apartment last year, I had two dreams: a dishwasher, and a washer and dryer.

My years in college without either of these appliances showed me how these little luxuries make life easier. Long story short, apartment after apartment fell through for my fiance and me in the weeks leading up to our wedding.

One month before our wedding, we found a place in our budget and desired location. The caveats? No washer and dryer. No dishwasher (and, I’d later realize, no garbage disposal).

It’s not been as bad as I anticipated, and life without a dishwasher is teaching me some good lessons.

1. Establish a Good Rhythm

One of my goals for this month is to not have dishes lingering in the sink. Because I work from home, I have an opportunity to clean up breakfast dishes before I start my workday.

However, working from home also means dishes pile up throughout the day as I make lunch, make tea and start dinner.

If I don’t keep dishes in the sink to a minimum during the day, I find myself overwhelmed by the mess when 6 p.m. rolls around and it’s time to start dinner.

2. Attack Your “Trouble Spot”

I actually don’t mind washing dishes. I do mind drying and putting them away.

It’s too easy to just keep adding dishes to the drying rack without returning them to their homes in the kitchen.

The problem? Eventually, I’ll have no room for clean dishes, so I can’t wash the dishes in the sink. It’s a vicious, sudsy cycle. Before every meal and bed, I try to make myself put those dishes away.

3. Know How Many Dishes a Recipe Requires

This is something I’ve learned to do this year. There’s nothing worse than wearing yourself out making a new recipe, then meeting a sink full of dishes you didn’t expect.

I’m all about trying new recipes, but I like to know what I’ll face when the cooking is over.

4. Use Gloves

Nothing makes me feel more like a 1950s housewife than donning my gloves to wash dishes.

To be clear, I don’t use them because I have a beautiful manicure to preserve. I use them solely because having my hands in hot, soapy water for prolonged periods multiple times a day takes its toll.

5. Clean as You Go

When I’m cooking a meal, I try to wash dishes while I’m working . Even just washing a measuring cup while the onions saute and soaking a pan before dicing the peppers adds up in the end.

6. Make It as Fun and Productive as Possible

Turn on some music. Above your sink, tape a Scripture verse, poem or song you want to ponder.

Invite your roommate, spouse or child to come in and talk with you (or invite them to join in, if that’s your style).

7. Keep Disposable Plates on Hand

There are very good times to use paper plates and cups and plastic cutlery.

Hosting a large group of folks for a meal or snacks, going to an event immediately after a meal and simply wanting to be with my husband after a long day of work are all instances when I unashamedly pull out my stash of paper goods.

Using disposable dishes on occasion gives me the chance to focus on enjoying my company over a meal instead of dreading the work ahead.

Although life without a dishwasher has its frustrations, it’s been a really good thing for me in this first year of married life.

I am learning sound kitchen management principles and I am reminded daily that modern appliances are luxuries, not necessities. Until the day I need to purchase a box of Cascade, I’ll turn up the music, don my gloves and wash away.

This post was originally published at abigailmurrish.com. Abigail Murrish is a food and agriculture writer who lives in Ohio with her husband. She encourages her readers to know their food, eat well and show hospitality.

Want to save more? Click here and we’ll help you make over your grocery budget!

When I think about budget cooking, too often images of beans and rice fill my mind.

While I love well-prepared rice and beans, I've found another easy way to help save money in the kitchen: preserving meals and foods in my freezer.

This technique doesn't rely on pinching pennies, a particular set of skills or exclusively buying marked-down bread and produce (both of which I do!). Instead, I use my freezer to make the most of my grocery budget and meal preparation time, saving me at least $65 per month while reducing the daily stress of cooking.

But what exactly is “freezer cooking”? It means using a freezer to store ready-to-go entrees, sides and ingredients for future use. By strategically using my freezer, I always have meals and ingredients on hand to keep my cooking tasty and on budget.

1. It Prevents Mindless Eating Out

I like going out to eat for fun, not because I’m feeling lazy or tired. On those days, I like to eat already-prepared meals that require little more than turning on the oven or pulling out a pan.

Freezer cooking also takes some of the expense and mental work out of eating healthy. I can carefully budget and plan meals that meet my nutritional goals, instead of running to the grocery store at the last minute to buy food for a healthy dinner when all I really want is mac and cheese and chocolate chip cookies.

Lunch can be a difficult meal to plan for, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of going out with your co-workers if you don’t have leftovers from the night before.

My husband usually takes his lunch to work, so I also make a few single-serving meals he can pop in his lunch bag. Items like cheesy refried bean burritos and soups can thaw during the morning and you can microwave them by lunchtime.

Savings: $30 a month

2. It Maximizes Your Grocery Budget

Have you ever been at the grocery store and seen a great deal, but been hesitant to stock up because you're not sure what to do with a large quantity of one item?

Freezer cooking helps me take advantage of sales and promotions because I create a plan to use the food in a batch of a particular recipe.

The opposite also works. If I know I want to make recipes that need a specific ingredient, I can start watching for those items to go on sale. I've purchased multiple pork loins at half price to make pork ragout and pounds of discounted shredded cheddar cheese for quiche.

If you’re a farmers market regular or a CSA member, take full advantage of seasonal produce. Are sweet peppers in season, with tons of bounty at incredibly low prices? Research recipes like red pepper pesto and pepper steak, then stock up, cook away and fill your freezer.

Savings: $10 a month

3. It Keeps Meal Staples Handy

I try to keep a handful of convenience items on hand in my freezer to make meal prep a breeze.

Items like pizza dough, naan bread, chicken broth and cooked beans are far cheaper to make than buy, and you can store them in the freezer until you’re ready to eat them. For example, I make multiple recipes of naan bread and freeze it to eat with Thai pizzas or coconut curry.

Every few months, I make a couple of pounds of cookie dough and freeze it in one-pound packages. Each one is a perfect last-minute dessert for an event or special treat for an evening at home.

Savings: $15 a month

4. It Minimizes Food Waste

Do you ever wind up throwing away odds and ends from recipes (half a can of tomato paste, anyone?) or leftovers because they go bad before you can use them?

My freezer has become my prime kitchen storage for perishable ingredients I’d otherwise stuff in the back of the fridge and forget.

I freeze ingredients like leftover tomato paste, buttermilk or homemade roasted peppers in small increments to grab for future recipes. If I have leftovers I'm not sure I’ll eat before they go bad, I'll throw them in the freezer for future lunches and dinners.

Savings: $10 a month

By strategically using my average-size freezer, I've been able to eat well at home, maximize my grocery budget and keep food waste to a minimum without subsisting on rice and beans.

Want to save more? Click here and we’ll help you make over your grocery budget!

Your Turn: How do you use your freezer to keep your food budget on track? Any tips or favorite recipes?

Abigail Murrish enjoys helping people enjoy delicious food while staying on budget. She is a food and agricultural writer situated in the heart of the Midwest who is passionate about encouraging people to know their food and eat well.