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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
7. Consider Deals Carefully
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.