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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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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CSA Review: Our City Farm aka Villarreal Family Farm

I loved my CSA  in Madison, WI. With that farm, I bought avocados and sometimes fruit at the grocery store.  That’s it.  I was drowning in produce and was so happy about it!  The e-mails that the farm sent out always gave me a list of what I would be picking up, a story or thought, and some recipes that utilized that week’s bounty. I highly recommend Crossroads Community Farm (formerly Primrose Community Farm) to anyone in the Madison area.  Their family is adorable, the produce is great, they’re extremely professional, and the events they host are fun.

When I was preparing to move to St. Louis, one of the things I was most excited about was getting a CSA subscription. After much research and reading and comparing, I decided on Our City Farm which was formerly known as Villareal Family Farm.  Here is their website.

I was so excited! We were going to be getting a hearty box of vegetables, a dozen eggs, and a whole chicken every week. 

False. 

We do get a dozen eggs and a chicken every week (except one week, due to the extreme heat this summer and we have been promised they will be made up), but the vegetables are pathetic.  We get tons of greens and hardly anything else, even in the intense summer heat.  Each week I expect to get three to five bunches of greens, many of which are still attached to turnips, and a few other vegetables. Maybe two zucchini and an eggplant.  Or a small head of lettuce and two tomatoes. I think the first week was literally the largest and least disappointing.  By the fourth week I stopped taking photographs.  Now I am just annoyed every time I drive to get one because it’s not what I am paying for in the slightest.

I know it’s been hot, but that is nothing even close to enough to feed three to four people, as advertised.  But they are still growing greens and lettuce.  For those of you not in the gardening know, those are hard to grow when it’s hot! There are no carrots, no potatoes, no peppers, no berries, no melons, no onions, no garlic.  Only greens, more greens, turnips and turnip greens, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, and some herbs.

Additionally, the farm seems to be really poorly managed.  Here’s why I say that:

  • Their website randomly went down for weeks.
  • Jeri responds to my Monday e-mails asking if I can pick up our Saturday CSA at a different time after pickup, even as late as the following Monday evening.  I assume that most people travel at least one weekend of the summer, so this shouldn’t be something unusual.  I asked her about it before signing up for the CSA and she assured me it would be no problem. 
  • The pickup location changed between sending my payment and the start of the season, which means we drive much further than I thought we would have to.
  • Jeri is frequently late to pick-ups, even at the regularly scheduled time.  
  • The produce isn’t pre-divided into shares. Jeri just picks and chooses for you when you show up.
  • And finally, the e-mails for each week (which did nothing more than remind us to come pick up our CSA) stopped abruptly after a couple weeks.

I’ll concede that I really like the eggs and the chicken, but I could definitely source those from somewhere else and not have the burden of dealing with someone who makes it difficult to pick up my purchases.

To avoid this mistake, I’d advise you look for “typical week” photos on any CSA you choose and also find a list of what crops the farm grows.  My two biggest disappointments have been the small quantities and limited variety. Gavin hates turnips and both of us can only stand so many greens, and those seem to be the two biggest crops.  Make sure the “typical week” photos or lists look like what you are expecting to get for your money.  I would not trust the reviews on Wild Harvest, since they don’t seem to be too accurate, probably because there are so few.

I will not be returning to the Our City Farm CSA next year and wanted to be sure that others were aware of what they were signing up for before paying for this.  I’ll definitely be picking another choice next year.

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