The Costco Date. Declaring War on your Grocery Bill.

Jumbo Dog and Refillable 20oz Pepsi. $1.50

Jumbo Dog and Refillable 20oz Pepsi. $1.50

My wife Kelly and I have started a new tradition. The Costco Date. Kelly actually coined the term and I jumped on it.  I was recently complaining about our grocery bill that two growing teenage boys have something to do with.  We had bailed on Costco a few years back primarily because the times we usually went, weekends, it was usually a zoo. I have better things to do with my time than visit a big-box store on a weekend. We also started ending up with oversize stuff we didn’t need like giant jars of olives and other questionable clothing and gadget purchases.

We’d started using Amazon Prime for paper products, pet food, and lots of other items so we decided not to renew our Costco membership. That was before I decided to declare war on our grocery bill.

While Amazon has proven to be a decent replacement for overpriced paper products, toiletries, and other household items that we used to get from grocery stores, this did not address the largest part of our grocery bill: food and staples.

Movin’ on up.

When you’re spending 31% over the national average for a family of four on groceries, the first thing to do is wrap your head around exactly what you’re buying every month. I remember back when fuel prices were spiking, people said that that’s what was impacting the cost of food. It’s funny now that currently fuel prices are dropping, the food prices still increase.

It also doesn’t help living in one of the wealthiest counties in the country.  Things are priced accordingly, whether you’re shopping at Whole Foods or Shoppers Food Warehouse.

The lunch date.

So, we decided that just once a month on a weekday, preferably a Tuesday or Wednesday (slower days at Costco), we would pop over before lunchtime do about 40 minutes of (grocery only) shopping and then wrap up with a quick lunch at the exclusive and trendy Costco Café.  We have plenty of dates but lunch dates are rare, especially cheap ones.

So far, it’s been a good idea. We focus just on groceries and can get each other’s feedback on what to eat, menu planning, healthy food etc. I can complain about things I think are over priced and Kelly can give me a reality check.  I can’t moan about the grocery bill if I am involved. We also keep each other in check on any impulse purchases.

Being the planner in the family, I started out by listing out every item we purchase at grocery stores or Target and try to identify items we could purchase in bulk, like beer(!), cheese, hot dogs, frozen waffles, and dog food to start. I ended up with a list of over 60 items, organized by department. I put the departments in order like bakery, produce, frozen so we could quickly fly through the store. Heres a list you can save or print.

How we covered our Costco membership in just 2 months of dog food savings alone.

Otis, The Happy Hungry Lab

Otis, The Happy Hungry Lab

We’ve been doing this for about six months and the savings have racked up to over $200 a month. Just one example, on Otis our 110Lb Lab’s fancy pants low ingredient count dog food alone, we are saving more than the total cost of our Costco membership after only a few months.


Core Large Breed Dry Dog Food Petco  $68.00 (26 lb bag)

Natural Balance Large Breed Dry Dog Food Amazon  $43.00 (28 lb bag)

Kirkland Natures Domain Large Breed Dry Dog Food Costo $30.99 (30 lb bag)

Monthly Savings from original dog food brand, $37.00 a month, and an extra 4 lbs per bag.

As a bonus, Dog Food Advisor Rated the Kirkland dog food brand with 4.5 stars, on par with the top quality brands.  Yes, I did end up on a website called Dog Food Advisor. Don’t ask.   Personally, I judge the dog food on the quality of Otis’s crap, which I pick up, and it has been beautiful lately!

Poop Photo Redacted  

So, here are a few tips for successful visits to Costco or your local discount club.

  1. Visit on the slowest day, before lunchtime.  You can ask any cashier or the manager what the slowest day is.  Avoid weekends, you have better things to do.
  2. Take your spouse, roommate with you. Gives you some time to bounce ideas around and have some lunch.  Think of the $1.50 hotdog/soda combo as part of the experience, or just get a cup of coffee.
  3. If your goal is saving money on groceries, then focus just on the groceries completely. Avoid the gadget and clothing sections, you’ll get out of the store a lot quicker.
  4. Create a list using a to do list app on your smartphone or an app like Evernote. If you forget your list, you can always open it up on your phone.
  5. Costco has an app that lets you clip special offers and add them to a shopping list. The discounts are automatically applied to each item at the cashier.
  6. Not everything’s a great deal.  Have a good feel for what things cost elsewhere. For instance, we found that organic milk at Trader Joe’s is 20% below Costco pricing, Wine is also less expensive at our local Trader Joe’s.
  7. You’ll make a few mistakes and over purchase certain items that are just too large. That’s where it’s helpful to have a spouse or roommate around to remind you of that giant jar of pickles you haven’t used up.
  8. Big-box stores are always a bit of a pain, but just remember one visit per month will save you many trips to other stores, saving time and reducing impulse purchases.

The Frug

@the_frug on Twitter



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