7 COSTCO Shopping Strategies
Somehow I found myself in the aisles of Costco more during COVID than the 10 years prior. At first I thought it was because buying in bulk meant shopping less often. That’s true, of course, but I realized that the main reason I’m drawn to Costco is that it’s a form of adventure. At a time when options for keeping myself entertained are limited, cruising through America’s mega-store always lands me on some new treasure (grill-ready octopus imported from Spain on one occasion, fresh turmeric at an affordable price on another). I still do most of my shopping at the farmers’ market and small retailers, but I’ve come to appreciate what the superstore has to offer. I’ve also learned to approach Costco with a bit of strategy, since it can be overwhelming and easily lead to overspending.
7 Costco Shopping Strategies
- Limit impulse buys — I’m not a big list-maker, but I do have a game plan for what I’ll buy when I hit Costco. I stick to my plan, with a little wiggle room for impulse purchases. I always stumble upon one or two new items that catch my eye and sometimes land on a real gem (the excellent Kirkland salted peanuts, for example).
- Emphasize shelf-stable items — I do buy perishables at Costco, but keep it to a minimum. Saving money on milk doesn’t make much sense if you buy so much that you have to toss it when it expires.
- Ask for half — A lot of the meat and poultry comes in large amounts — more than my mostly meatless family will go through. I’ve yet to try this, but rumor has it that the store will downsize the packaging if you ask nicely, allowing you to purchase half the amount.
- Be thoughtful about super-sized items — Much as I might be tempted by the giant bags of brown rice or multi-packs of eggs, I know that I just don’t have the space. Having my cupboard and fridge jam-packed with food stresses me out. Plus, it’s hard to keep tabs on what’s in there when I have too much. I’ve learned to find the items that come in more reasonable sizes and emphasize foods that I know my family eats a lot of (canned tomatoes, nuts, and olive oil, for example).
- Pick a route — Costco is like a massive maze that can swallow you whole if you aren’t focused. I’ve learned first hand that the longer I’m in there, the more likely I am to spend. I have a specific route (starting in the cheese section, naturally) that takes me aisle-by-aisle. I also stick almost exclusively to the food department, since I don’t want to be tempted by a down parka that’s cute (but I don’t need) or new patio furniture that I’ll regret later on.
- Shop when it’s not so busy — I imagine quiet times vary by store, but I’ve had good luck during mid-week afternoons. Weekends and evenings can be much busier (and don’t even think about picking up a pizza at dinnertime; those lines are epic).
- Shop alone — If you can get out of the house without the kids, you’re likely to be more efficient with fewer unplanned purchases. Case in point? The last time I went, all three of my girls were with me. We left with more snacks than I care to report, all opened before we were even out of the Costco garage. If leaving your kids at home is unavoidable, give them a budget to choose one mutually agreed upon impulse buy.
For a list of my Costco favorites, check out this post for 15 dietitian-approved options. Or check out the Healthy Costco Shopping Guide I wrote a few years ago. You might also like these two guides to shopping at Trader Joe’s: here and here.
Who else enjoys a Costco run and what are your best shopping strategies?