Stores like Costco and Sam’s Club aren’t just for large families with massive pantry space. I save around $1,000 a year by shopping bulk (with a two person family and a small apartment)- here are my tips to slashing your budget by purchasing bulk:
Since we have a small apartment with somewhat limited storage space I like to hit up Costco about four times a year. That way I can rotate items, and only replace what I absolutely need (for example, I buy ziplock bags and parchment paper about once every year and a half-but I buy olive oil twice a year). I buy one package of salmon instead of 5, because I don’t have the storage space for more. More frequent trips are key if you’re working with limited storage space.
The most common mistake people make when bulk shopping is assuming that everything will be cheaper at a bulk store than at a standard grocery store- this is not necessarily the case. It’s helpful to know exactly the cost per unit for things you normally buy. That way when you shop big box stores you know if you’re getting a good deal or not. Bringing a list of your grocery store prices and a calculator is key until you get the hang of bulk shopping. For example, in terms of personal care items I find that razors, toothpaste, and bar soap are not cheaper at Costco- I can pick them up for a fraction of the price at either Rite Aid (a common chain pharmacy in New York), or for even less at the dollar store. However, things like tampons, toilet paper, and aluminum foil always seem to be cheaper at Costco- so I buy it there.
I know that initially this seems like a lot of work, but after a couple of trips pricing things will become second nature to you. By having an excellent stock of goods at home, you’ll massively lower your weekly shopping cost. When I have a fully stocked pantry of goods our weekly grocery spending is around $30 for two adults.
Here’s what I got on my last Costco trip. As you will see, in terms of meats we mostly eat seafood (just personal preference)- however I have heard that poultry and other meats are a good deal at Costco as well. I don’t buy produce there only because there is an excellent produce market near our apartment that is cheaper and has a wider variety.
In italics I’ve included my standard grocery store prices so that you can see how much I save and where. I break items down by unit instead of how much of each thing I actually bought- it makes it easier to compare prices, and works well since I primarily buy non-perishables. Here are some recent scores:
Crushed Tomatoes- Costco Price: $0.99 per 28 oz. can (Grocery Store Price: $1.39 per 28 oz. can)
Tomato Sauce- $0.94 per 15 oz. can (1.32 per 15 oz. can)
Shredded Mozzarella- $0.73 per cup ($2.00 per cup)
Ketchup- $0.68 per pound ($2.39 per pound)
Frozen Mahi Mahi Steaks- $2.45 per steak ($4.23 per steak)
Frozen Sea Scallops– $3.75 per serving (four scallops) ($6.32 per serving)
Frozen Salmon Burgers- $1.17 per burger ($1.66 per burger)
Frozen Salmon– $1.87 per fillet ($3.48 per fillet)
Canned Tuna- $0.27 per ounce ($0.33 per ounce)– This varies, sometimes tuna goes on sale big at my grocery store, when that happens I stock up there instead- it helps to be flexible.
Kitty Litter- $0.30 per pound ($1.10 per pound)
On average we spend about $1,000 a year at Costco- and about $1,440 at our local produce market, spice shops, and grocer. I would say about $150 a year is spent at Costco on household, non-food kitchen items, and personal care items, so discounting that- we spend about $2,290 on food each year (plus our $50 Costco Membership fee). This averages out to approximately $194 per month for two adults in a very high cost of living area. This includes a variety of expensive seafood, an abundance of olive oil, convenient tomato sauce, nuts, frozen berries, and cheeses. When I was on a lower budget, I cut dairy and frozen seafood from our menu and brought our grocery expenses down to an average of $104 a month.