Shopping Strategy: What Small Families Can Buy at Costco

For my birthday last year, my parents gave us a Costco membership.  As a family of just two, I wasn’t sure we would get much benefit from it, but we’ve already renewed the membership because of a few things we’ve found that we really love to buy.

Here are what we consider to be Costco wins and are regular purchases for us:

  • Cheese: cheddar, extra-sharp cheddar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Butter: regular and Kerrygold
  • Milk
  • Eggs (organic ones come in a 24-pack)
  • Frozen fish: wild hake and salmon
  • Snacks: pretzel thins, organic tortilla chips, pita chips, and kettle chips
  • Olive oil
  • Almonds and other nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Bacon
  • Ground beef and turkey (before the side of beef came)
  • Fresh ravioli or tortellini
  • Berries: fresh when in season and frozen the rest of the year
  • Green beans
  • Yeast
  • Rice
  • Spring mix or baby spinach
  • Bagels
  • Avocados

The biggest one for me is cheese — I’m pretty sure we come close to making up our membership just in cheese savings.  I’ve bought some other produce there, like onions, bell peppers, and Brussels sprouts, but not super-regularly, since we have to have something in the meal plan multiple times for it to work out correctly.  The yeast package is so enormous you will never buy more until it expires, but it costs the same (less, maybe?) as the teeny jar at the grocery store so it is definitely worth your time.

Not everything at Costco is cheaper than the grocery store, so knowing your prices will definitely help you save the most money possible. Chicken seems like the worst offender to me, but whole chickens are still a good price.

Sometimes the prices are cheaper than the grocery store but you get an outrageous amount that you could never use before the food went bad. If it’s a huge package but cheaper than the smaller package at the grocery store (not per ounce, in total — and yes, that happens sometimes at Costco), then consider if you can freeze part of it or just give some of it away to a friend. Even with giving some away, you can still save money.

They also have discounted gift cards for sale. If you go regularly to any of the places they have for sale (or or planning a large purchase soon), they can be a good deal so it’s worth a look.  They also sell stamps and movie tickets.

Outside the kitchen, we’ve also bought a blender, socks, eyeglasses (four pairs), detergent, paper products, and OxyClean at Costco.  The eyeglasses in particular are so much cheaper than anywhere else.  Getting a Costco membership as a small family can definitely be worthwhile!

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Chest Freezer Organization

We just bought a new chest freezer at Costco in preparation for the side of beef that will arrive later this fall.  (Yes, this is our awesome basement with a red floor. It’s an old house and the basement is where it shows the most.)

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I am really excited to pack it full but wanted to be sure all the food was accessible, not just the top layer.  Since it’s fairly deep, that’s a real problem.

We opted to buy some smaller bins that stack even when empty to fill the main part of the freezer.  That way if I want something all the way at the bottom, I just have to take out the few baskets on top instead of removing every small package of meat.  The medium ones worked out just right to fit two across and four deep.

The freezer came with a basket that I’m using above the compressor area, so there’s only a small space between the bottom of the basket and that shelf.  Since it was basically impossible to find a basket for such a narrow space, I’ve decided to keep my large packages of meat there, like the bags of shrimp or fish that I buy at Costco.

Just a side tip: we also opted to tape the special freezer defrosting tool directly to the freezer so we’ll always know where it is. Good thinking, Gavin!

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Coming Soon: A Side of Beef!

We’re finally biting the bullet and buying a side of beef! This is something I’ve dreamed of doing basically since college and now that we’re in our own house, this was the right time.  I’m going to sell a little of it (about 20 pounds) to my parents, but the rest is all ours.

Why did we decide to do this?

  • I want to try new cuts of beef (and consequently new recipes and maybe even techniques).  This includes growing in appreciation for the traditionally less-desirable cuts.
  • I want to shift more of our food budget to buying grassfed (and local) meat and this is a much more affordable way to do so than buying individual cuts. I think it’s important to do this to support local farmers and also for our health.
  • We’re the kind of people who love paying for things in a lump sum. I know that’s pretty unique, but I think it’s easier to budget this way.  I lowered my grocery budget for the next year and I’ll shop the freezer instead of the store.

There are a few things you have to decide before making this purchase.  Mainly, where are you going to buy from? It will help you choose a farm if you can prioritize your wants.  Here are some of the things we considered when choosing a farm:

  • Is it important to you if the beef is grass-finished?
  • How local do you want to purchase your meat?
  • Are you able to pick it up or have it delivered?
  • How will the meat be packaged?
  • How much does it cost? What is the pricing structure?

I looked at a few places (it should come as no surprise to anyone that I put them all in a spreadsheet to compare) but ultimately wound up picking a farm that made the process extremely easy.  Their beef is 100% grassfed and they’re located about 2 hours from St. Louis.  I had a choice of having my meat vacuum-wrapped or shrink-wrapped (I chose to pay extra for vacuum-wrapping so it will last longer) and will have it delivered to a drop-off location in St. Louis.  Their pricing was a flat rate instead of paying a deposit, butcher fee, the hanging weight, etc. I appreciated how simple the process was, including payment via Paypal.

They also had a worksheet on their website for me to fill out specifying the cuts I wanted.  I was able to go through it and choose what we wanted. I erred on the side of more roasts, since I figured those could be cut into stew meat or ground at home if I decided I wanted to something else with them, but not vice versa. I even got to pick the thickness of each kind of steak!

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We’ll be picking up the meat at the end of October.  Until then, we’re trying to eat the last few pounds of beef I had frozen and have purchased a chest freezer. I can’t wait for pick-up day!

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Review: Grocery iQ

Gavin and I use Grocery iQ to manage our shopping lists for various stores.  I’ve been using this app for about five years and chose it back when I was in college for my iPod touch.  My use of it has really changed over the years, but we still really like it.

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Some things we love:

  • We can use the same account on both of our phones, so our shopping lists are always synced.
  • I can log into the web interface from any computer to manage the lists.
  • We can make multiple lists, so we have ones for the grocery store, Costco, Target, the hardware store, and things we’re looking to find secondhand.
  • I can specify how much of something I need, either by quantity or weight in pounds.
  • I can save things to my favorites and add them quickly, which is great for things like milk or eggs that we buy all the time.

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Some downsides:

  • If something isn’t in their database of products but is similarly named, it’s hard to get it to add what you want and not one of their products.  My main example of this is red bell peppers.  To get around it, I add things I plan on buying semi-frequently to my favorites.
  • Things can get lost if they aren’t added to a specific list and you aren’t in the habit of checking your “All Items” list.  This has gotten Gavin before.

This is definitely a situation where being a geek trumps my love of writing lists on paper.  The ability to have either of us edit the list from any device at any time is the best part.

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