Tuesday, October 16, 2012

31 Days:: Costco, Part Three: What I Buy

[This is Part Three of a Costco mini-series.  Part One and Part Two appeared yesterday.]
OK, drumroll, please...
What follows is THE LIST.  This list was created after I had a few people ask me "What do you buy at Costco?"  I've emailed this list to at least 10 people over the last couple years, and each time I send it out, I add a few more things to it...because I keep finding more great deals at Costco.  This list is also the result of conversations with other Costco members over the years.  I'll randomly ask other people the same question..."What do you buy at Costco?"  If they mention something that I haven't tried yet, I'll often price-check it and then purchase it if it's a good price on something I use regularly.  
Some items are followed by an explanation, some are not.  If there is no explanation, it means that, plain and simple, the item is cheaper at Costco than it is if I would have bought it at Aldi, or on sale with a coupon at Meijer.  

My list is based on prices at "my" Costco and "my" other grocery stores.  Prices most likely vary by region, so if I mention a price, don't assume it's the same in your area.  I would suggest price-checking at your local Costco to see if these items are a good deal for you.  
The following items are rarely, if ever, in the coupon book.  In spite of that, they are still a good deal, so I buy them regularly.  
  • Cheese: shredded cheddar, shredded mozzarella, shredded Mexican blend (I divide the bags up into 2 cup portions, then put that into ziploc bags and then into a larger freezer gallon ziploc.  If I'm feeling lazy, I'll just divide it into 3 large bags and make sure to measure it later when I cook with it.) The shredded cheese price varies a bit.  Last time I bought it there it was "high" (equivalent to $1.20 per 8 oz bag), but still a good deal compared to most Meijer sale prices.  I've stocked up on 88 cent cheese at Meijer, but since that sale rarely ever comes around, I'll run out of that 88 cent cheese eventually, and I know that a great price will be waiting for me at Costco.  I also buy two-pound blocks of colby jack, and feta. The feta comes in a huge container and is a WAY better deal than Meijer.
  • Milk: $2.39 a gallon usually. Not cheap enough to make a special trip, but if I'm there anyway I always pick it up.
  • Oatmeal: a big blue box of "old fashioned" Quaker oats....the kind I use for making granola.
  • Honey: It comes in such large bottles that the bottom of the bottle usually gets sugary and hard before I can use it all, but it is still so much better of a deal that it is worth it if I dump the last 1/4 of the bottle or so. I also tried to microwave the last part of the bottle to soften it up a bit, with varying results.  Maybe you don't use that much honey, but if you make this marinade or granola on a regular basis, you'll go through it pretty quickly.  
  • Goldfish crackers:  These show up in the coupon book about once a year, but even without the coupon, the price is still decent.
  • Fruit snacks: Welch's is the cheapest but sometimes there are other brands in the coupon book.
  • Trail Mix: Kirkland brand.  You can't buy all the ingredients separately and make it as cheap as they sell it for.  If you want to stretch it further, add Cheerios or chunky granola.
  • Fruit n Nut Mix: Kirkland brand.  Ditto above, for price and stretching it.
  • Kirkland brand tortilla chips: The "strips" are the cheapest, but the organic kind actually taste a little better (and are a little more expensive, but are still cheaper than Meijer).  Kirkland's organic tortilla chips are also slightly more expensive than Aldi's store brand of tortilla chips, but I'm not going to stress about a few pennies...I'll pick up the chips wherever I'm shopping.
  • Kirkland brand paper towels: I have not sat down and done the math for this or the toilet paper, but a friend of mine has, and I trust her calculations :) 
  • Kirkland brand toilet paper
  • Kirkland brand trashbags:  13 gallon drawstring (cheaper than Meijer brand flap tie)
  • Kirkland brand plastic wrap:  a great deal, and very good quality
  • Cooking spray: Kirkland brand, or PAM if it is in the coupon book
  • Mrs. Butterworth's syrup: sometimes there is a coupon for this, but even without the coupon, it's still a great deal
  • Kirkland brand waffles: They only come in a "plain" flavor, but the kids like them with syrup
  • eggs: 3 dozen - they are "extra large" though, so I only use them for eating, not baking. They used to have a LOT better price than standard grocery stores, but it has been kind of high lately...not much better than Aldi.
  • whipping cream
  • butter:  the price bounces around from $1.60/lb to $2.25/pound, so I don't buy this all the time.  Sometimes Meijer or Aldi has a cheaper price.
  • 5 lb bag frozen corn: last I checked it was $1.05/pound, just like Meijer, but Costco's corn is way better. They also sell 5 lb bags of frozen broccoli for the same price, and it's very good. 
  • Dried cherries
  • pecans and walnuts
  • cinnamon and a few other spices:  As I've said before, I try to get most of my spices from the Shipshewana flea market.  But since I only go there once a year (or less), I need to pick some up in between.  I've been very impressed by the quality and taste of Costco's spices.
  • real vanilla extract:  I usually use imitation vanilla, but the real stuff just makes certain things taste so much better.  It's a steal if you buy it here!
  • bread flour:  It comes in a 50 lb bag!  Ugh.  Not my favorite job to transfer it all to smaller containers and bags...but so worth it, because it's so much cheaper here than at Meijer! 
  • sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar:  The price on these items varies, so sometimes I buy these items here and sometimes at Aldi or Meijer.
  • active dry yeast:  comes in a large block.  I put some in the fridge and freeze the rest.
  • olive oil:  similarly-priced at Aldi.  I'll pick it up wherever I'm shopping that week.
  • tortillas:  A 2 pack of 18 tortillas each. We eat a lot of wraps, so we go through them fast, but you can also freeze them.
  • bagels:  I pick these up as a treat sometimes.  They are not a super deal, but they're tasty, and humongous...half a bagel is plenty!
  • bread:  My Costco carries a 2 pack of the "whole grain white" or "white wheat" that is really good. The loaves are huge, and it's only $3.00 for the 2 pack.
  • individually-packaged snacks: I don't buy these on a regular basis, but if I do need them for something, it's much cheaper to pick them up here than at Meijer.  Sometimes they are in the coupon book as well. I'm talking about the "100 calorie pack right bites" or just the individually packaged Cheez-its, etc.
  • redskin potatoes
  • other produce if it looks good and cheap enough:  In the summer their berry prices are very competitive, and SO much nicer than what Meijer carries.  And somehow, their produce looks nice all winter long.  If I'm going to buy strawberries or raspberries in the winter, I'll pick them up at Costo.
  • chocolate-covered Acai berries:  Um, yes, these are a good deal at Costco compared to the Meijer price...but totally not a necessity.  They are an occasional treat :) 
  • Kirkland brand formula:  I don't buy this anymore, but when I had a baby, I switched to this brand at the 6 month mark.  She had no issues making the switch, and it's a steal!
When the following items are in the coupon book, I snatch them up!  Almost everything in the coupon book is a good deal.
  • Ziploc bags: Snack (they just started carrying this size), sandwich, and quart and gallon freezer
  • vitamins
  • tampons
  • baby wipes:  Huggies and Kirkland brand both appear in the coupon book
  • cereal:  all different varieties...just check the price!
  • Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chips
  • Triscuits, Wheat Thins, and other crackers
  • Yogurt
  • M&Ms
  • coffee
  • juice boxes
  • Snapple
  • Quaker instant oatmeal packets
  • dishwasher tablets:  It is cheaper for me to use tablets than liquid or powder detergent, because I automatically don't use too much.  Finish and Cascade Complete are both good, but Costco also recently started carrying a Kirkland version of this, and I'm very happy with it.
  • laundry detergent: I only get Kirkland brand and All, because those are the cheapest. They also run coupons for Tide and Gain, and as far as I know the prices (after the coupon) are competitive...but unless you are picky about your detergent brand, those are still kind of pricey.
  • Swiffer products:  I use the dusters so I know those are an awesome deal, but the other products probably are as well
  • Reynolds aluminum foil
  • Glad Press 'n' Seal
  • Kleenex:  Kirkland brand and Kleenex brand, depending on what is in the coupon book.
  • Claritin (for my daughter), Miralax (for someone who shall remain unnamed)
A few more notes:
  • We do not have a dog, but I've been told that Costco carries various brands of dogfood at good prices. 
  • You might notice that diapers are not on my list...and that's not just because I don't have any kids in diapers anymore.  I've price-checked name brand diapers many times when they appeared in the coupon book, and they really weren't all that great of a deal.  Costco also carries a Kirkland brand diaper, but I wasn't happy with the performance of those diapers...this is probably the only Kirkland brand product that I haven't liked.  Some people really love Kirkland brand diapers, so if you find they are a good deal in your area, they might be worth a try.
  • I also don't have "frozen, boneless, skinless chicken breast" on my list.  The price at my Costco is a bit higher than than the typical sale prices at Meijer, so I've only purchased it from Costco once.  However, as my California readers probably know, Costco has a good price on chicken breast compared to some non-Michigan grocery stores.
Again, the above items are a good deal for my family, because we use those items.  (Notice I didn't title my post "What to Buy at Costco", but "What I Buy...") If you don't make your own bread, then that 50 lb bag of bread flour is not going to be a good deal for you.  And no matter how cheap that feta cheese is, it's not a bargain if you don't use it regularly in recipes.
I hope that this list will assist those of you who are Costco members. And for those of you who aren't Costco members, well, what are you waiting for? Maybe this list will convince you to join :)

What do you buy at Costco?  Am I missing out on any great deals?  If there's anything you buy on a regular basis, I'd love to hear about it.

Parts One and Two of Costco 101 appeared yesterday. 

Looking for more ways to Save Money in the Kitchen?  Check out the rest of the articles in this series, here.


  1. If your husband is a coffee snob, the Bigby coffee beans are a good deal. Coffee filters are a steal.

  2. Thanks for the list, Lisa! It is so helpful and a great way for me to double check to see if I am missing anything! One thing that I buy quite often at costco is the package of foil pans - maybe a size 8x10ish. They're great quality and I believe the price is around $6-$7. They're great for bringing food away - meals, baked goods, desserts, etc. And they're great quality!

  3. I like to use nuts (pecans and walnuts) for baking and I haven't found a less expensive source than Costco. I buy the extra large vinegar containers to use in my laundry. Can't beat their fresh plant prices...we bought two hibiscus trees for #12 each three years ago and they are still blooming like crazy...we winter them in the house.

  4. Vinegar in canning season. Maple syrup: !2.99/quart last week. Greek yogurt. Individually quick frozen fish, sometimes. Quinoa. Rice. Ink for the printer.

  5. Shipshewana! Love that place! I can't ever seem to get there for the flea market, but the spices I bought at Yoder's store (same street, I think south of the flea market) were very good and they weren't in huge containers. I need to make a trip before pickle season next summer!