You Really CAN Save Money by Shopping at Costco

So often, I see big bulk stores get a bad rap. I see comments about how no one needs a 24-pack of paper towels or a 50-pound bag of flour or a two-box set of cereal, etc., but it never makes sense to me, so I wanted to debunk the myth by saying that unequivocally, you really can save money by shopping at Costco and other bulk stores.

Problem is, it takes discipline, and that’s not the responsibility of Costco or Sam’s or any other bulk store: that is the responsibility of the shopper.

There, I said it out loud!

Sure, I can easily drop into Costco and walk out with $300 of things I don’t really need. I could come up with a lot of meals with fantastically delicious ingredients, Xbox games at a huge discount, magazines and books full of recipes much cheaper than anywhere else, and a new patio set. I don’t really *need* any of those things, but if I didn’t have discipline, then those things could easily find their way into my shopping cart.

Thing is, I have the ability to say “no.” Costco does it right; you have to pay with either cash, check, debit card of Amex (which requires a monthly payoff) when you checkout, which eliminates your possibility of spending money you don’t physically have. However, you can still spend money you have earmarked for something else, but again, that’s on you!

My family? We need paper towels and use them frequently. Yep, need. I like the idea of being green and not using materials that end up in my trash, but running my washing machine daily just to keep up with rags and non-consumable cloth isn’t helping energy consumption or the water supply or the dumping ground for my soapy water. Then there’s the dryer. (And no, not everyone can have a laundry line.) So if I pay $1.50 a roll at the local grocery store but can get them for $.75 per roll at Costco, by buying in bulk, yes, it’s saving me money, without a doubt.

I bake, so I easily go through 50 pounds of flour. Again, the per-bag cost at the local grocer is considerably more expensive than the large quantity at Costco. The only caveat is that you need a safe place to store the flour, so we invested in sealed Rubbermaid bins. They weren’t expensive and now I don’t have to make a last-minute run to the grocery store to finish a cupcake order, killing my profit margin.

That two-box package of cereal? My husband leaves for work at 5:30am. Making a big breakfast at that time is unrealistic for him, and I’ll share here that I am a bad wife who does not get up with him and make his breakfast OR his lunch. (He’s a big boy, I work too so he’s quite happy packing leftovers from the night before for his lunch and he enjoys his cereal. Low-maintenance, fast, and varied..and he’s pretty selective to be sure his choices are as healthy as a cereal can be.) He most definitely saves money this way, too.

Before you knock someone coming out of Costco with a 50-roll package of toilet paper — after all, I would venture to guess that 99% of us use it? — consider that maybe it’s how they make their mortgage payment, by cutting costs via storing these items instead of buying them at more expensive rates. Be inspired and maybe stop to think where your downfall lies in going to a big bulk store. Do you load up on sweets you wouldn’t normally buy? Splurge on new clothes when your closet is already over-full? Blow the budget on a fancy new barbecue when the one you had is sufficient? Those are things you can live without. They may be fun, they may even improve your quality of life or make a meal more enjoyable, but they aren’t “needs.” While each one of us determines our own needs, the fact remains that we all need food and certain household consumables and many of us find purchasing them at bulk stores to be an economical way to do it. You just have to shop smart and buy what you’d already buy elsewhere, and have a place to put it all.

I know for a fact I save money by shopping at Costco. I can go into the store with my list of toilet paper, flour, cereal, beer, cheese, eggs and milk, and come out with only those items. Nothing more, nothing less. Why? Because I know that I’ve saved money on those things that I would have bought elsewhere. To be completely honest, I do spend extra at times — a yummy box of yakatori for dinner, a bag of dumplings or a bulk box of granola bars. Even though they aren’t on my list, they are adding to our meals at a reduced cost. We eat anyway, so to eat more cheaply, with good quality, is ideal, right? It all breaks down to comparing what you’d buy elsewhere to what you buy there, and if you can do the math and stick to the basic principles, you’ll be fine.

Before you knock someone for shopping at a bulk store, price out your grocery list items at Costco…at a per-unit cost. If storage is getting in your way, I totally get it, but for many of us, finding storage is the non-monetary cost of saving my actual money, and that is worth FAR more.

And my new house? Plenty of storage space! Instead of deciding what color of new couch we want to buy, we’re deciding where to store my baking pans, my cookbooks, my shoes, and our pantry overflow. (But I’m thinking a burgundy couch sounds really sweet….)

Costco does not know I’m writing about them so this is totally my own opinion about a favorite shopping place and an excellent way to live frugally but without feeling like it!

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  1. As an update — I went to Costco yesterday. For paper towels, no less, an 18-pack! At .83 per roll, which is far less than even the $1+ cheapest price at Target, we saved some serious money. I got out the door for $69.01, to be exact, also buying cheese, romaine lettuce heads, micro greens, a new cupcake carrier with extra height (see how I stuck that in there like it’s food?) so I can more carefully transport client cupcakes, yogurt, Himalayan salt (at $4, far cheaper than anywhere else I’d seen, especially since it comes in a grinder), chopped garlic and three pounds of deli meat. And I splurged…don’t tell anyone, but I spent $.64 on a diet fountain soda! Ahhh, such a nice treat.

  2. Frozen foods, on the other hand, are something you’ll almost certainly want to pick up at Costco rather than your local store. Not only are they cheaper, but they’re also higher quality. In fact, the more “packaged” a product, the better the deal at bulk stores—so keep that in mind when you’re shopping and you’ll be sure to save the most money possible. Hit up the article for more Costco-shopping tips. Thanks, Kerry! Photo by Emilee Rader .

    1. So true! We don’t often buy the packaged products, but there are times you really need a quick, convenience dinner item. Costco items are always quality. We usually keep a package of corn dogs or ravioli or something the kids can easily serve if we’re not around. During this upcoming move, I’m sure we’ll be buying a few more! Thanks for posting!

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