7 COSTCO Shopping Strategies

A selection of the best, healthy foods to buy at costco with strategies for shopping

Chalk it up to COVID, but I’ve found myself in the aisles of Costco more in the past 10 months than the past 10 years. At first I thought it was because buying in bulk meant shopping less often. That’s true, of course, but I realized recently 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

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. 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?

Comments

01.26.2021 at10:14 PM #

VANESSA T MAN

Costco will in fact cut your meat smaller, but they will also change the price on it. We asked one time and they would almost double the price per pound for cutting the item. It was cheaper just to buy it and give the rest to a neighbor than paying what they wanted for a smaller portion.

01.26.2021 at10:14 PM #

katiemorford

Ah. Thanks for sharing that. Good to get the inside scoop.

01.27.2021 at8:29 AM #

Deborah Johnson

I love shopping at Costco but the bigger packages mean I buy too much of a lot of stuff. It’s the pack rat within me, the hoarder. So, we limit our Costco runs to about once every two months, then get a shopping cart full of stuff. Make do with local groceries in the meantime. Having a large upright freezer in the basement makes buying a lot of bread and meat at Costco a worthwhile endeavour. The Cheddar price is worth the trip alone, I find. We live with a lot of extra food in the house but it makes me feel good and not feeling like we’re going to run out.

01.27.2021 at8:29 AM #

katiemorford

I’m with you about the Cheddar. Good quality, great price. Also, I have upright freezer envy!

01.27.2021 at9:29 AM #

Pey-Lih

“Having my cupboard and fridge jam-packed with food stresses me out.”
I am the same. I don’t know why that is psychologically…it was difficult seeing so much food in the pantry when the pandemic first hit. We limit our shopping to every 3 or 4 months at Costco – but not cart full – since I’m only cooking for two. I also stick to a list while at Costco.

01.27.2021 at9:29 AM #

katiemorford

I too had a stuffed pantry in the beginning of the pandemic. I think we still have a few things in the freezer that I need to cook!

Post Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *