Is Costco frugal?

Joshua and I have enjoyed discussing this question which was left in a comment yesterday:

I've been reading your blog for a few years so I know you are a frugal shopper and homemaker. Do you find you get a good price on the items at Costco? We shop there, too and have noticed our grocery bill rising and I'm trying to figure out if it is because of the items that we buy there or elsewhere (usually Walmart). We aren't able to get everything we need at Costco and find some of their things to be more expensive than Walmart.

The short answer to "Is Costco frugal?" would be... it depends! :)

What you purchase, how far you have to drive, how large your family is -- these are a few of the things that determine whether Costco is saving you money or costing you more.

I do feel that we get a good price on the things we buy at Costco. However, not everything there is a good deal, of course.

Here are some of my favorite frugal deals at Costco:

Romaine lettuce, organic carrots, spinach

Bananas, apples (some kinds), pears

Frozen strawberries, blueberries, organic veggies (green beans, peas, and corn)

Butter, plain yogurt, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese

Pinto beans, 50# bags of bread or all-purpose flour

Mission tortilla chips, corn tortillas, Rotisserie chicken (pick out a big one; they're all $4.99!)

Bottled water ($0.09 per bottle, which is a good deal if you use bottled water; we drink Berkey water though), some spices, vanilla extract

Why we do most of our grocery shopping at Costco (at least for now):

We go through a lot of food. Our boys eat a lot, we have dinner guests almost weekly, and we pack lunches or eat at home for all our meals. (Or church potlucks.)

Costco is 3 miles from our house.

This year's Costco membership was a gift from Joshua's parents. (They know I'm crazy about Costco!)

With 4 children ages 6 and under, I don't like to shop at more places than necessary, and weekly sale-shopping involves more than 1 stop. We go to Wal-mart/Target/Fred Meyer type stores about 3-4 times a year, and I've found that those types of places are my weak spot when it comes to spending more on stuff we wouldn't normally buy, including food.

Food also happens to be sort of a hobby for us. Joshua enjoys creating cheesecakes and loves to grill. I love baking bread and trying new things. We both appreciate the quality of the foods we buy at Costco. I realize that I am not "saving" any money when I spend $5 on Costco's organic frozen green beans vs. buying canned green beans from Aldi, or generic frozen green beans on sale. We just enjoy them a lot more. (Maybe that's why we go through so many vegetables!) :)

The dangers of shopping at Costco:

Buying in bulk can mean that, while you're getting a better price on something that would normally be expensive, you don't ration it (since you have such a large quantity) and end up using more of an expensive item.

I've seen this in our household with getting the 1/2-gallon cartons of heavy cream. Great cream, great price -- but instead of having whipped cream as a rare treat, we use it much more freely. It's nice to be able to serve whipped cream generously, especially to guests, but we probably don't actually save money on a luxury like whipped cream.

One remedy is to ration bulk purchases. Know how long the item needs to last. (Write it on the box/container, if necessary!) Freeze what you won't be able to easily use up fresh, to make things last longer. The 5-pound bag of shredded cheese looks like more when it's divided into 3 portions, and two are put in the freezer for next week or the week after.

Costco carries non-food items, which in my book are usually non-essentials. If you let yourself wander into the center section, be careful! I am really good about not buying other "stuff" at Costco and sticking to just food, but it can be tempting.

Carter's kids outfits for $6.49?! That's a good price on quality CUTE clothing but my kids have never had a need that GoodWill or hand-me-downs couldn't meet. I stay away from GoodWill for the most part, too, since if I can't think of true NEEDS to look for there, I am probably wasting my time, money, and filling our house that much fuller.

After years of shopping and eating from Aldi's, moving away from Aldi's and moving on to Costco shopping and eating has made us notice the quality differences. We're not "brand snobs" but we are somewhat "quality snobs" now. This could be hazardous if we ever move away from Costco, but, I imagine we would make the adjustment back.

What do you think? Is Costco (or Sam's Club or BJ's) frugal, or not?

For more frugal ideas, tips, and discussion, visit Jessica's blog! :)

You can also see photos and price break-downs of several Costco shopping trips for our family:

Grocery shopping at Costco (week 1) -- $102

Grocery shopping at Costco (week 3) -- $132

Costco shopping week 4 -- $118

Costco groceries (week 5) -- $88

Week 6 -- Costco -- $150

Comments

I love Costco for things I just can't get at my regular grocery store, like dried mushrooms, whole wheat, quinoa, and bread flour in large quantities, peeled garlic, 100% organic lemon juice, wild caught frozen salmon. I haven't noticed a huge difference in our grocery bills but I'm not good at paying attention either, unfortunately. I go only for things on my list and definitely stay out of the middle section LOL.

I love Sam's Club, which is very similar.

My main argument when people accuse Sam's of not being frugal is QUALITY.

Even Sam's club generics are such higher quality than grocery store generics.

We've noticed so many food items where the name brand or Sam's product had 4 ingredients on the label, and the grocery store brand of the same product had 20 chemical-y sounding ingredients.

We've even discovered some items have fewer calories in the higher quality product!

We skimp in a lot of areas. And we still make frugal grocery choices (buying in season, etc). But we think Sam's is worth it.

costco has way more organic items at a great price

Wow.... I spend twice that at my local grocery store. Maybe I need to go to Costco!

I have a weakness for Target Tammy. It's nice to know that even a frugal shopper such as yourself, can be impulsive! Thanks for sharing that..

How are the prices for chicken/turkey and the like?

Let's see... chicken and turkey prices... I have never bought turkey at Costco.

For chicken, they sell fresh whole chickens (Foster Farms brand) for $0.99/lb or fresh whole organic chickens for $2-something per pound.

Fresh chicken breast is more pricey ($3.29 I believe) and I have never bought that. I think drumsticks are about $0.99/lb as well. Frozen chicken breast or tenders are under $2/lb.

I can usually find a sale on chicken for better than Costco's prices! Whole chickens (not organic) for $0.79/lb is more my target price... but if you wanted organic, Costco would probably be cheaper, from what I've seen. :)

I whole heartedly agree with your post. Very well said. I wish we had a Costco close to us! We have a BJs membership. We figure we save enough on milk and eggs to pay for the yearly membership. I do shop selectively there though. I get a lot of my bulk buys from co-ops (which I am sooo grateful for!)

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, Costco. You are right the quality is better and the prices are lower. Even when you buy in bulk, over the period of time it takes you to use the product you have saved not only money but gas and time; which to me is the most valuable.

We love Costco! We've been shopping there for over 16 years. (Oh my goodness, I am old!) We were not always frugal shoppers, but we love the quality and being able to get gourmet food for much less than other places. I still shop the grocery stores for some things, but I concur on the items you listed. They beat sales usually. Great post!

That was from me, Jessica, aka FishMama ;) Can't figure out where to put my name....

I prefer to eat organic when possible and Costco has a lot of organic food choices at a good price. We're a family of 9 (4 adults and 5 children ages10 -3)and spend 250 - 275 (these is 1/4 of our monthly budget) at Costco once a month. It's far from my house but I also go to Trader Joes and Whole Foods. I look at it as a girl's day out.

I have found that if I feed my kids better quality whole foods it cost me more but my children are healthier. When you have good quality food at home you don't want to go out to eat.

Tammy I love your site. Have you looked at www.lynnskitchenadventures.com it's another of my favorite food sites.

Yes! :) I like Lynn's Kitchen Adventures too! :D
When you have good quality food at home you don't want to go out to eat.
That is definitely true for us! :) I often figure an estimate of our meals and tell Joshua, "all this cost xx" (usually $10 or so for a big dinner) and we talk about how that amount wouldn't have fed us GOOD food or as MUCH food at, say, Taco Bell! :)
We like eating at home and we like the (healthy) foods I prepare, and those are even better than getting the lowest prices possible. :) But that is for my husband and family; I know it's different for others! :)

We don't have Costco, unfortunately, but we do have Sam's. I find some things to be cheaper, and some things not so much. I basically have a list of essentials that I regularly buy there every few weeks. I basically break everything down on a price per unit basis, and if it's cheaper (or something I can only find at Sam's, like a big bag of pita chips that my family loves to snack on), then I buy at Sam's. Otherwise, I plan menus around sale items at Meijer or Kroger.

I don't spend any more than approx. $90/week on groceries and toiletries, and spend approx $100 every three weeks at Sam's, but that includes diapers ($38 every three weeks for my twins.) So what's that...I guess about the same as what you're spending when you break it down.

We also eat almost every meal at home, and my husband takes lunches; we might eat out once or twice per week tops.

Love your blog!

Great thoughts on Costco:) I find it funny Target is my weakness as well I almost never come out of that store empty handed. I have to throw Trader Joes in there I have to shop for special diets GF sugar free ect and they have really good prices on specialty items such as rice pasta, specialty goat/sheep cheese, almond flour ect. I find them worth the trip every once in a while for items I cant find else where.

We have a Sam's membership and my sister has a Costco membership so we do both. My shopping list for each store is very specific! I have noticed that the quality of the Sam's brand has gone down lately (namely TP and tall kitchen garbage bags) so I get those at Costco. I do love all the organic items in one place!

For the past few months I've ordered through Azure Standard and have found that their prices on high quality, often organic, items are often HALF what I pay at Sam's or Costco. I've been pricing white cheddar cheese: at Sam's it is $9/lb and Azure carries it raw for $4/lb! I'm sure they have drops in Seattle (they are based in OR) so it may be worth looking in to! Our quality of food has jumped way up since I started ordering through them.

at Costco! i love it, but sometimes i find that when you buy 5 things and they are all $10, I spent my whole food budget! I buy milk, romaine lettuce and the colored peppers there, sometimes cheese. I buy my soaps there, like dishwasher soap, dishwashing soap, laundry soap. I like to buy electronics there or small appliances as i love their stand behind things policy. I develop my digital pictures there and buy gas there. So, anyhow, I spend about $15 there every week.

I agree it is HARD when each item is $10. Sometimes I feel like we didn't really buy very much for what we paid, but then I think in terms of how a regular grocery store sells the items... the 1 (5#) bag of cheese turns into 10 bags/blocks (8oz.) of cheese! Or the bags of frozen veggies (5#) and fruits, into 5 bags... the carton of eggs, into 5 dozen!

And at that point I realize just how much food we go through! :P :)

But anyway, I think we end up eating a little less variety since I have to know I'd actually USE the large amount I buy. :)

We have Costco and Sam's, and both are close. On the things I buy, I find better prices at Sam's, so I have a membership there.
Here's what I buy and why!

We love costco, but are careful!

This past year and a half with all the health issues our girls have faced Costco has been a huge help because I could go once a month, do a bigger shop and then fill the corners of our needs with quick trips to Henry's for fresh stuff, and we stayed in budget.

We just moved to the Pacific Northwest and after running down fridge/freezer/pantry with our move we went to Costco last night and restocked. It was great, and I know I got good prices.

Recently there was a posted deal for this amazing price on Maple Syrup on Amazon. I just shrugged, that was regular price at Costco.

Also, our daughter had heart surgery in January (she is healthy and doing great!), so she has to eat meat, but she is not crazy about meat. If I buy meat at Costco I consistently get a high quality of meat with no misses, and that means she will eat it. When I buy sale meat at the grocery store when we were in Southern CA I often found it was tough, or not as flavorful and that was confirmed when she would not eat it. So this is an important factor for us.

Blessings,
Kristy @ mrspear.blogspot.com

You just have to be careful with what you buy. Go with a list, know the prices elsewhere and keep a running total in your head, because buying in bulk can add up fast.

I agree with your post! We go to Costco once a month and stock up on the things we can get cheaper there. Usually not produce as we get ours from a CSA, but things like organic butter, frozen shrimp, raw nuts, and organic chicken is a whole lot cheaper there! I do my weekly trips at Safeway (just minutes from our house... less than two miles), for items that are cheaper there or that I don't wish to purchase in bulk.

The little Carter outfits are my weakness at Costco. ;) But I try to only get an outfit if there is a need. Walmart bargain tables are cheaper, but I've noticed the quality is lacking... the clothing fades in one or two washings.

~Elizabeth in Alaska

We have a bj's and sams club we use both, my dad gets a discount for a bj's membership at work. you do have to watch prices some things are not a good deal, but even if its like only a few cents an item your saving over a lifetime your saving more. Also bj's has there own coupons and you can also use reg coupons on top of them, so that can save you alot. Also you can use the freebie coupons there and get almost double and maybe pay a few bucks. For example I got a coupon for a free oscar mayer turkey bacon now if I had used that at my reg grocey I would have only gotten 1 pack at bjs it was 5.99 for a 4 pack and the coupon said up to $4.00 so I only paid $1.99 for 4 packs of turkey bacon. I also find alot of there household cleaners are normally cheaper as well. I also agree about the organics that they tend to also be cheaper.

We are a family of 11, 7 of whom are 15 and older so we're feeding a lot of adult portions in our house. Costco is my first stop on my shopping list. Our only other grocery shopping options in STX is HEB, Super Walmart and Sun Harvest. No Aldis or Krogers here.

I have my list of things that I only purchase at Costco. I also have a Sams card for the few items that I can only get at Sams. I much prefer Costco's store conditions and quality.

Costco is where I purchase eggs when our hens are not laying, cheeses, cream cheese if I can't find it on sale, butter, dish soap, ziplocs, organic sugar, spices, organic carrots, mini sweet peppers, romaine lettuce, organic baby spinach, frozen organic corn, oj & berries, tp, foil & plastic wrap, lg cans of tomato sauce and diced/crushed tomatoes, olive oil, grapeseed oil, Kirkland chips & tuna, lemon juice, fresh lemons, limes, minneolas, broccoli, avocados, onions, and so much more. I know what I shop for there and where it is located so it doesn't take me long to scoot right on through and out again.

Costco is my staple shopping. I buy very very few premade, precooked items so much of our from scratch cooking ingredients come from Costco. I also buy very little there that is not food. In our community, managing our food budget w/o Costco would be very, very difficult.

Now I'm going to date myself. Even when we were a family of 4, I shopped at Price Club, in the pre-Costco days. I bought in bulk, divided it up and froze it. It was soooooo much cheaper than buying in smaller quantities at the markets. And it helped to budget the larger quantities out.

One time I was asked where my favorite place to shop was. I'm not a mall shopper or a department store shopper. My immediate answer was "Costco!"

I used to shop both bulk stores and Walmart. I have saved soooooooo much money by just stock piling while couponing at Safeway!

Tammy, one reason you may see your grocery bills rising is the fact that food prices in general are rising quickly. Recent news stories have indicated that the prices of meat will really go up this summer due to the increased cost to feed cattle and chicken. One reasonis that farmers are growing corn crops for ethanol and not for food.

I very regularly visit this topic. I don't have a Costco membership but my MIL has one and she will take me there occasionally. I LOVE shopping there. I do feel that their quality is higher than other places, but I our grocery budget is more in the range of $50 a week (we feed one less person than you do Tammy) instead of $100-$150/ week. Sometimes I drool when you post pictures of your shopping trips there!! LOL!

We are a family of 2 adults and 2 canines!!! These are some of the items I find to be bargains (prices are approximate):

1. Frozen strawberries in a 6 pound bag (it's the same brand Tammy buys since I saw a pic of it on your website).
2. Frozen blueberries
3. Bread yeast ($4.00 for a pound and it costs $12.00 for a 4 ounce jar at the supermarket). A pound of yeast lasts us about a year.
4. Pet supplies (piddle pads, dog beds, etc. I buy them higher quality dog food at a specialty store).
5. Neutrogena sun block ("dirt cheap" at $8.00 for 2 tubes).
6. Mozzarella cheese (very inexpensive for a 5 pound bag that gets divided and frozen).
7. Baby clothes. I have bought them for friends and they have great prices on Carter baby clothes.
8. Lunchmeats (ham, sliced turkey, sliced cheeses, etc) GREAT bargains!!
9. Eggs ($1.99 for 18 eggs!!!)

We live near the beach in Los Angeles so EVERYTHING here is inflated... from homes to groceries, everything here is costly (not to sound snobby or anything) As a result, I am thrilled to find bargains at Costco. I hope this helps some readers!!

My cousin has a membership. She tells me about all the great stuff they have - gluten free crackers, huge bags of rice, etc. So, I watch her kids for a few hours so she can run errands...and I give her cash to pick up the few things I'd ever buy from there, and she picks them up for me during her regular costco shopping trip. Sneaky of me, huh?

Works for me... :-)

Wow! Im in Walled lake,Mi! And so glad not to live where you do!
I would never pay more than 79 cents for a dozen eggs!
And at our COSTCO,Sams,No deals worth signing up for!
Im reading over you ladies prices of items and shaking my head.
Im a coupon clipping,deal grabbing mom of 3,
And to be honest,I think COSTCO and SAMS are taking advantage of us busy Moms!
Although i will say COSTCO has Awesome quality!

....with a family of 10.... even full time couponing doesn't cut it with our size family and with the amount of cooking and baking we do, Costco and Sam's are great consistant resources for us and we save a lot of money shopping there....far from taking advantage of this busy mom.

In my years of couponing...I've learned that it is too easy to buy inferior-just-barely-considered-food-product just because it's on sale with a coupon for .45 cents. Costco has amazing prices for the quality of food you are getting and with a large family and for someone who cooks and bakes alot---couponing can't come close on a consistant basis... Sure I may be able to find .79 cent eggs ever once in a while using a coupon on eggs that are marked down at Kroger....However, we go through 30 dozen eggs a month--- couponing can't compete with Costco's price on eggs for that volume on a consistant basis.

There is a lot to be said for food quality and price...something a lot of people leave out when talking about saving money on groceries.

Ladies! Have you been to Carters!??
You can mix and match,buy 4 outfits
for 12 dollars!
Costco is not only robbing you,
they are also selling you last years stuff!
Who cares? The new moms you r buying 4!

Where do YOU live? I want to move where you live, because I have NEVER seen a 4-for-$12 deal at my Carter's!!!

We cook and bake alot...and have a large family and find Costco a lifesaver.

I love the pure vanilla ---it's an amazing product for the best price I've seen at any other store...even with a sale and coupons---it doesn't even compare to what you can get at Costco everyday...

I also use a lot of olive oil---it's always been very high quality and inexpensive compared to grocery store prices and quality. Even on sale...with coupons...I've compared the price per ounce and Costco came out the better deal.

I also like all the organic products available, inexpensive butter and cheese, specialty products, eco-friendly soaps etc.

Great Post....

A couple of great ones that havent been mentioned are Sliced bread! They have kirkland HUGE loaves of bread ( probably about 2 regular loves) for 3.89 for 2 and they are high furctose free. Another great price is the tortillas. you can get 40 flour for under 3.00 or 100? or so corn for under 2.0. The regular grocery is twice that. Also cottage cheese for 4.99 for a BIG container. Its twice that at the regular grocery store as well.

For cheese, we find them the best price of any store. For example, their Jarlsberg is a fantastic bargain, as is their fresh mozzarella.

We also find plenty of other things there at great prices like Nutella and pudding cups.

And for our dog, their pet beds are hard to beat.

We don't buy everything there but a lot of the merchandise is the best value I have seen.

We have always been members in one of them Many years BJ's, short time Costco and currently Sams for a while. BJ's and Sams are both better at savings than Costco. However, Sams is the winner. We have 3 kids and eat very well. I would not afford the same luxury from a brand grocery store. Sams does have a few organic items that we buy. In fact, those organic items are more important than others to be organic, such as spinach, carrots, salad leafs and so on. All in all it saves a lot of money for bigger families.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.

User login

Subscribe for free recipes, menu plans, and kitchen tips!