The Costco Rule of $10 And Other Bulk Buying Tips

If you’re given $100 to go grocery shopping, you can normally get quite a large number of items.  Of course it all depends on what you need for your shopping list, as a bag of chicken or other high priced item can take away part of your budget, but usually those are balanced out by smaller priced items.

A loaf of bread.  Some cups of yogurt.  Cheese.  Lunch meat, whatever you will, you can generally get a pretty good number of items at Costco.

Not so much at Costco.

I love Costco.  We’ve been members at Costco for many years and I truly believe that in spite of the $55 membership fee, we still come away saving money throughout the year.

Still, I’ve learned that there’s practically nothing in the store that we normally buy that is less than $10.  Understanding this has helped me reset my expectations.

We always make a list for Costco, and inevitably, we’d have what appeared to be a short list, and think that it would mean a small total, but would end up getting ‘surprised’ when 12 or 15 items cost between $150 and $200.

It was then that I realized that very few items we buy are below $10 and learned to reset my expectations accordingly.

Now, if I have a shopping list of 10 items, I know that I’m good for at least $100.  In the grocery store, 10 items can result in a bill of $25.

mb-201309cartsGranted, at Costco you’re getting a lot more than you would at the grocery store.  Your 16 oz bottle of ketchup for $1.49 at the grocery store turns into three 48 oz bottles at Costco for $9.  It still saves you money in terms of unit price, but the overall impact from a cash flow perspective can be jarring.

Budgeting.  Creating a budget is key.  As I mentioned above, when I make a list, I ballpark around $10 per item, usually a bit more, depending on the list.  There are still some items we can get for under $10, like a four-pack box of graham crackers or a container of feta cheese, but those are always offset by higher priced items, like 1120 baby wipes for $25.

Reality.  We very rarely fall into the trap of wasting food from Costco.  Even though we get larger quantities, we tend to buy stuff that:

  • we know we will use because it’s part of our everyday usage
  • lasts a long time
  • have ideas in mind for items that we haven’t purchased before.

Many people fall into the trap of buying something because it looks good, but when they get home, they don’t have a use for it.  So, they stick it on a shelf or in the freezer and there it sits until it gets pushed to the back of the shelf and is discovered way after it’s no longer useful.  We make sure that we have plans for whatever it is we buy.  In fact, new items often generate excitement because we’re looking forward to trying something new for the first time.

Rotation.  We have a shelf in the basement that’s a secondary pantry.  Most of our dry foods from Costco go on this shelf.  I do a couple of things here that ensures that we use all of our stuff:

  • Old before new.  If we have something that we’re buying more of, I’ll put the newer stuff in back to make sure that the older stuff doesn’t expire
  • Re-organize while putting away.  When I put away our stuff from Costco, I’ll reorganize the shelves.  I’ll slide things around to make room for new items.  I’ll pull stuff that got shoved underneath something else back to the front.  I basically come away knowing everything that’s on the shelf, and if it’s an item that has sort of been forgotten, the process of putting new stuff away gives me a reminder to take a look at the items and make note of what we have to use.

Costco and other warehouse stores can be a great source of savings, but only if you make sure you use what you buy, and also have a realistic expectation going in.  I’d have to think that the two biggest reason people end up quitting is because they end up wasting money or because they deem it ‘too expensive’.

Both of these can be properly managed with the tips I’ve lain out above.

Readers, what tips do you have to share for successful Costco shopping trips?

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22 thoughts on “The Costco Rule of $10 And Other Bulk Buying Tips

  1. Same thing with me and Sam’s Club. While I dont leave with a lot of different items I do leave with a lot. For what I spend and get for 150 dollars I could feed a lot of people comfortably for a few weeks. From chicken to chops you are going to get a lot but you are right nothing is going to be less than 9-10 bucks. I find that its best that I get perishable items from markets and Publix since bulk usually tends to allow them to go bad.
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  2. Yup, almost every trip to Costco runs over $200. And I always take a shopping list. Since we have room to store the dry goods, Costco is a great place to shop. I did just get in trouble with my wife for buying some Prego spaghetti sauce from Costco, though. I love Prego sauce, and my wife and kid are OK with it. But my wife says we cannot use the Costco-sized amount of Prego without it going bad in the fridge. My reply was something to the effect that we need to eat more spaghetti. She rolled her eyes.
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  3. My husband and I have noticed this too. We play a game at the checkout where we guess how much it’s going to be, and the $10 (or sometimes, $15) rule has served us pretty well – it’s eery how close we can get just by counting the number of items on the conveyor belt.

  4. As a single person I don’t really have much need to go to Costco or Sam’s Club. I did go in the past and it did always seem like we spent a lot. Any savings can be eradicated by wasting food or increasing your consumption due to having more of a food.
    Andy Hough recently posted..Save Money With DIY YouTube VideosMy Profile

  5. When you said “We have a shelf in the basement” it made me very jealous. I live in Texas and pretty much nobody here has a basement. I remember having them at various houses in Oklahoma and Kansas but that was when I was a child. I wish that I could have the extra square footage below my house for an expanded pantry, a game room and maybe an extra sleeping area.

  6. Costco tempts me, but I don’t know if I have the space to store all the bulk purchases I would need to make to have the membership pay for itself.

    Plus my AMEX card already gives me 5% back on gas and groceries, no matter where I buy them.
    No Waste recently posted..Net WorThursday – August 2013My Profile

  7. I am shocked if we can leave CostCo for under $100. But we also have a basement pantry area and a chest freezer, so it makes it easy to store the items we buy in bulk.
    We also have the CostCo executive membership/AmEx card. The executive membership has always paid for itself- actually more than paid for itself, our annual rebate has always paid for our entire CostCo membership. This is the first year having the AmEx card, and we’ll see how it goes. But it has been very helpful for buying glasses, a new laptop, and possibly a new tablet, without having to worry about if the money is in the checking account this very second. (We pay it off twice a month.)
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  8. I don’t have a Costco membership. I don’t know if I see the value in it, for us, anyway. I we don’t have kids and so lots of the food that we would buy at Costco would go bad. Even the non perishables! I went with some family members one time that had a membership and got a great deal on things like plastic wrap and tin foil!
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    • For the occasional shopper, I think tagging a long is perfectly acceptable. If you ‘tag along’ more than 2-3 times per year, I would think Costco would start frowning on the practice.

  9. We have a list of certain things we buy from Costco (Quinoa, milk, mixed grains, etc.). The only 2 rules we follow is we don’t buy anything that is not in our “Costco approved” list and we can only buy 1 impulse item, like the pita chips they have in the sample plates. We try to restrict the trips to just one per month, so that has helped too.
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  10. I used to go to costco on a regular basis when I lived on Oaha as there was one that wasn’t too crowded a mere few blocks from my condo. My monthly bill was huge and I still wasn’t that great about cooking dinner and bringing home lunch so yes waste plus a ton of fun items like purses/jewelry that I could easily have lived without.

    On Maui, costco is a madhouse (there’s just one and it’s the only big box discounter in town plus it’s near the airport so incoming tourists are also stocking up their rental condo kitchens). I rarely go as I don’t like fighting with aggressive impatient people in the parking lot. But, my retired parents go all the time so my mom will ask me for my list (I live next door). I only really get basic use everyday no waste item. I’m not tempted by all the frozen food and gourmet goodies they have to offer. I’m also not tempted by books, electronics and kitchen stuff. Basically just get some cheese, sparkling water, catsup, greek yogurt and paper goods/laundry stuff. My bill is so teeny and I buy much better fruits and veggies from local farmer stands. I’m single too so costco is definitely too much for me.I can go into Safeway and get out for $40 but could never get out of costco for less than $100 before (plus I still went to the grocer too).
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    • Self control is good. In your situation, being single, it’s good that you can count on your parents to get your stuff. I know when I was single a membership was not cost effective just for myself.

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