the newbie’s guide to costco

costco can be an overwhelming experience for several reasons:

1. in a society dominated by consumerism and hoarding of goods, the sheer volume of inventory available upon walking through the doors can cause even the most uncluttered and sensible of folks to do a little happy dance.

2. for a frugally-minded foodie, buying in bulk leads to the most ridiculous justifications about the plethora of recipes that will ensue upon acquisition of large quantities of almost any ingredient (ie: someone who doesn’t even eat white rice might see the 25 pound bag for four dollars and think: wraps! stir fry! i’ll open my own rice restaurant!)

3. because of a combination of points 1 & 2, it can be confusing to determine what is/isn’t really a good deal and whether this determination will improve your budgeting/quality of life or complicate it immensely (ie: you have to start storing 3 gallon containers of mustard in your car, because you have run out of room in your pantry.)

ipso facto, when dan and i recently signed up for a costco membership, we had no idea what we were stepping into.




though i’m not sure it will ever be possible for anyone to completely crack costco’s secret code, i thought i would share a few tips that we have picked up in the past few weeks about what might be a good deal there (or has proved successful for us).

1. go crazy with non-perishable goods, provided you have storage space for them. toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, laundry detergent, ziploc bags, garbage bags and the like all make sense to purchase in bulk, though for us, buying them all at once was a bit of a misstep. we now have paper towels stacked up on top of our dryer. they fall off every time we run it because the machine shakes. score. one option that might work if you have other frugal friends is splitting a package with them. of course, because you’re dealing with other frugal folks, be prepared to negotiate down to the last cent (your time and effort to pick the item up at the store and transport it somewhere else can’t go unrewarded, can it?)

2. protein is plentiful, but not always a smart buy. though you will find a meat-filled wonderland in the refrigerated section, proceed with caution. first of all, not all of the meat is quality (certain kinds of salmon, chicken and beef are more likely to contain antibiotics, lots o fat and other nasty elements, so it might be a good time to research that), and again, if you bring home too much … well, storing it on top of the dryer is probably not going to be an option. some meats we’ve had luck with so far include: canned tuna, organic chicken, pacific cod (here’s one article from rodale arguing against buying the much more common atlantic cod), alaskan salmon and very lean beef cuts. needless to say, we have a meat-locker where our freezer used to be.

3. not to get too specific, but you should definitely buy the spinach if you find it. we recently purchased a massive bag for about a dollar above the price of grocery store spinach (and the bag is at least four times larger). i’ll just go ahead and say it: you’re welcome.

4. peanuts, nuts, snack bars. in a bit of a “chicken or the egg” type situation, dan has recently discovered that he loves snacking on peanuts. coincidentally, we’ve also purchased three large tins of them from costco in the past two weeks. i also use them to make peanut butter, so we’re both just really glad that each tin is only six bucks.


we also buy cliff bars or other proteiny snacks there because i take them with me to the gym and on airplanes, as does dan, so we go through them quickly, and this is much less pricey than buying them singly (though you have to deal with a much smaller variety of flavors. boo hoo!)

5. look for the kirkland signature brand whenever humanly possible. on every product, from beans to laundry detergent, the kirkland brand has proved just as effective as the mainstream brand and is generally quite a bit less expensive. hopefully no one will judge me too harshly for not using name brand peanuts. i know it’s not hip, but i just can’t bring myself to fork over the extra four cents per ounce to fit with the “in crowd.”

6. speaking of brands, one that i do indulge in and that i’m happy costco supplies, is CHOBANI. again, smaller variety of flavors, but i can still stock my fridge with cho for a lot less moola than when i buy the individual cups from our local grocery mart. i wish i could give it up, but it’s an addiction i will probably never kick.



though these guidelines are in no way meant to be comprehensive or dictate your entire costco shopping experience (we haven’t even scratched the surface on things like: electronics, vitamins, pain killers, pet supplies and clothing), hopefully it serves as a good starter guide for people who are interested in shopping at costco, but aren’t sure about how to take those first steps. i can say with complete confidence that since we became members, our shopping/cooking/dining experiences have been revolutionized.

happy shopping!


4 thoughts on “the newbie’s guide to costco

  1. If you use a Keurig coffemaker, the San Francisco brand coffee pods are a steal and it’s really good.. A box of 80 is $24.99. I just wish Costco would offer an 80 count box of decaf too.

  2. good tip! dan and i are french press users, so i didn’t think about that one, but i know a lot of people that would benefit from that knowledge.

    • yes – well i have definitely experienced plenty of costco via your expertise, but it’s a little different when you’re fending for yourself!

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