How to Shop Successfully at Costco

I think it was about 7 or 8 years ago that I first bought a membership to Costco.  I remember taking the family for the first time on a Sunday evening.  We were so excited to try all the samples that everyone had been telling us about.  Alas, anyone who shops at Costco knows that by evening there are usually no samples.  That was our first lesson in shopping at Costco.  If you want samples, don’t go on a Sunday evening.

The next lesson is one that I didn’t learn until a few months ago.  Toilet paper is actually a better deal at Costco.  That may not seem like a lesson to most people.  But seriously, I just figured that it wasn’t actually a good deal.  Everyone buys their bulky toilet paper at Costco just because…   However, I finally compared the price and the amount of toilet paper to the toilet paper I would buy weekly at Target & I realized, uh, yeah, DUH!   Even if you compare rolls and prices and they are similar, if you look at the toilet paper itself, Costco’s Kirkland brand of toilet paper is a bigger roll.  Now when I buy toilet paper, it actually lasts longer.  I’m definitely saving money on toilet paper… It only took me 7 or 8 years to learn that one….

Another thing to know about shopping successfully at Costco is if you do want samples, noonish to three-ish is the best time for the most samples.   Oh and going the week before a holiday you are certain to hit the jackpot.    My kids still talk about the time we went the week before Superbowl Sunday and they got an entire drumstick for a sample, along with a bunch of other party foods.     And I’m not ashamed to admit that I do love the samples.

Which brings me to another tip, be careful of the samples…  I’ve made mistakes through the years after trying a sample.  Oh yes, this marketing ploy works.  I buy stuff.  Stuff I don’t need.  That’s not necessarily bad for some folks, but we are on a tight budget.  And I really need to watch my grocery bill.  Another downside to the impulse purchase of the sample is it often leads to waste which leads me to my next point.

Evaluate the size of the item and determine if your family will actually finish it before it spoils.  I can think of two things off the top of my head that I don’t buy (anymore) at Costco.  The first was a sample that we all loved, some dip of sorts, I believe it was spinach artichoke.  Everyone loved it.  So I bought it.  Guess what… Kids get sick of it about halfway through the container.  Bam, waste.   Second, hummus.  My kids love hummus.  So when I saw the very budget friendly container of hummus, you can bet I bought it.  But again, bam, halfway through the kids were sick of it.  More waste.   Some of those big containers will definitely be finished by my family, but others will not.  So this is a learning game that will vary family to family, person to person.

Coupons.  Those monthly coupons, which thankfully, you don’t have to actually take to the store, should help determine what you buy each month at Costco.  I’m not saying to buy things you don’t need or like.  However, if you are like me, and surely someone is like me, then it can help you decide between similar items.   For example, granola bars.  I like to eat a granola bar for breakfast.  I love to buy their big boxes of 36-48 granola bars. It seems like often one of them is on sale for the month.  As long as this is one I like, that is the one I will get.  Period.   I’ll also try to get things we use like mouthwash and hand soap when they happen to have the coupon.  We use a lot of paper plates.  I usually check which paper/plastic plate is on sale when I visit & those are the ones we get.   Coupons may not sound like a big learning thing, but it does help to plan for your family.

Another big thing, I try not to walk down the snack-foods section unless I need something specific, especially if I am hungry.  This is where many of my impulse buys have come in…  Let’s see, there was the coconut cookies, the lemon cookies, the everything crackers, jelly bellies, chocolate covered raisins.  I could go on.  But I won’t.  Just avoid this section or enter at your own risk.

Fresh spinach….  great price, big bag…  Shopping hint:  pull off the bottom shelf.  Nothing annoys me more when I go to buy my huge bag of spinach than when it only has 2 days left till it’s out of date.  My family will use a lot of fresh spinach, but not past its date.

You’ll find your things you love.  Certain things are just good deals:  40 water bottles for $2.99!  Plastic flatware is so cheap.  Milk is obviously a good deal, as is butter and half and half.   Ibuprofen, the price can’t be beat.  Oh and their tortilla chips are such a good deal!    Oh and of course, if you feel hungry, their little restaurant with pizza and hot dogs are a great idea!

Now that I have learned the tricks, I don’t think I waste nearly as much money as I did that first year I joined.  As someone without a lot disposable income, this is very important!