I love Costco. In fact, I probably love Costco too much.
It is a warehouse “mostly” filled with great deals and many different types of products. Each season showcases different items.
We live 5-10 mins away from Costco, and this is where we do most of our grocery shopping.
One thing I noticed was how easy it is to overspend at Costco. I might go into the store with a specific list of items, and come out with much more. And sometimes this can include expensive products.
This problem isn’t unique to Costco. But since I go there regularly, it has become a re-occurring problem in the past.
This article is for anyone who has had an “oh shit!” moment after the teller reveals your total in the Costco checkout line.
Put on the Armor Truth
Costco has so much stuff, and sometimes they have products that you didn’t even realize you wanted.
I think it is a great place when you put your mind and spending on defensive mode when you enter the store. They want you to overspend and buy things you can’t afford and don’t need. Especially now that they take Visa cards, it is easier than ever to spend more than you make.
But if we are constantly overspending every time we go into Costco, we could be wasting a ton of money. Over a long period, this can easily get into the thousands of dollars thrown down the drain.
It is one thing to go into Costco with a clear idea in what you want to purchase, and getting that item. It is a whole other story to consistently come out with things you weren’t planning on buying.
Avoid Browsing at Costco
In the past, we’ve enjoyed browsing the Costco aisles. But I’ve noticed that most of the time, this ends up tempting me to purchase things I don’t need.
Maybe you are not like me and can comfortably browse the store and still only come out with what you were planning on buying. But in my case, this ends up being too risky. It’s like playing with a flaming marshmallow. Chances are you will get burned!
For example, going through the TV area is a huge red flag for me, since I love new TV’s. They are always coming out with new and better TV’s, and I’m tempted to want to upgrade. But the issue is we don’t need to upgrade our TV, and they are expensive.
It becomes especially hard because we have to walk right by the TV section when entering the store.
I look at Costco like a warzone. Get in and out as fast as possible!
If you do want to go to Costco to browse, one option is to leave your cash and cards at home. The complication here is that my Costco id is on my CITI visa credit card. So one day I might have to try this and “illegally” enter the store. Or create a fake Costco id? I’m open to suggestions!
Stick to a Budget
The more you can plan and think about your purpose for going to Costco, and how much you want to spend, the more likely you aren’t going to buy shit you don’t need.
And sometimes it isn’t even the large purchases that get us. They sell vast quantities of processed foods. Add a few of these boxes to your cart, and you could end up spending $50-$100 extra.
One technique we have started implementing when going to Costco is doing the following:
- Create a specific list of the things you need.
- Using your phone and the calculator app, every time you add something to your cart, add it to the total.
- Give yourself a max value in how much you want to spend on this trip to Costco.
This will make it 100% clear in how much you are spending before the checkout line.
I will not go to Costco unless I have a meal plan created for the following week, and have a good idea in what foods we have available at home. There is no way I can go to Costco and stay on budget unless I have a good idea in what we need. I’ve made a habit of doing a general food inventory, as part of the meal prep process
Plan Big Purchases
If you see something you “need” at Costco, it has helped me to avoid buying that item at the moment. Sometimes I’ll realize, after thinking about buying something, that I don’t need that item.
I like to ask myself these questions:
- Do I really need this item?
- Can I afford this item and not sacrifice my future goals?
- If it is expensive, how am I going to save for this item?
- Can I get this item somewhere else for less money?
Often, if it is not something I need, I usually end up forgetting about it, and life moves on.
Even if it is something I could use, chances are I don’t need it right away. It’s pretty rare for Costco to have deals that either get sold out or end quickly (at least at our Costco).
Sometimes buying in bulk makes sense. We get more, and each item costs less.
But this also means we could end up getting more than we need for the month. Even worst, you might not use all of it, and you could end up having food spoil.
We’ve been trying to think about whether particular items are worth getting at Costco. Even in cases where buying in bulk is cheaper, the fact that we don’t need that quantity means we could save money by getting it somewhere else.
If we buy fresh fruits and veggies, we plan on using them the week we go to Costco. After that first week, we try to use frozen or canned vegetables, until we make our 2nd trip to Costco that month.
You Can’t Desire What You Don’t Know About
The more you can enter Costco prepared, the better.
There are so many things I could magically determine I need. But most of these items aren’t going to add much value to my life. Some of them might be useful, but I’m usually not able to make a good decision on the spot. In most cases, I end up buying something I rarely use or don’t use at all, just because I bought it without much thought.
It becomes about being intentional in what we purchase.
If you go to Costco with the intention of buying a TV, go ahead and buy that TV! But I want to avoid going to Costco and bringing back things I don’t need.
I’ve probably have spent $1,000’s on things that I threw into the shopping cart without much thought.
Reduce Visits to Costco
In the last few months, we started limiting how often we go to Costco. We now try to do most of our Costco shopping on the 1st, and then we might go for a few things one more time through the rest of the month.
It is kind of shocking because we will almost burn through half of our budget in the first Costco visit. But we get things that will last a while or items that we can freeze. For example, their sour cream tub will last the whole month. We buy the unrefrigerated almond milk that will last until Jesus comes back.
From what I can tell, this 1st Costco visit is expensive because we are refilling on a lot of the staples that are low. Which includes peanut butter, jelly, coffee beans, frozen veggies, almond milk, flour, oils, etc…
Limit Processed Foods
If you can stick to mostly buying whole foods, this can save large amounts on your Costco bill.
Fruits and veggies are usually pretty cheap. You can get bulk cheese for less and shred it yourself. Costco’s meat selection is excellent, and if you purchase whole chickens, you can save a ton of money.
We’ve gotten into the habit of making large batches of frozen meals. This ends up saving massive amounts of money and time.
- In most cases, we can create a frozen meal with leftovers, for $3-$5 per meal. This cost does not include what we use as leftover meals.
- It usually takes 2-3 hours to create 6-10 frozen meals. These meals end up lasting 2-3 months in the freezer!
- For the days where we are eating a frozen meal, I will take it out of the freezer and place on the counter in the morning. It then usually takes 45-60 minutes to cook in the oven.
We currently have two dishes we like to make in bulk: lasagna and chicken enchiladas. Our girls have grown to love these meals, and they are incredibly tasty especially if I add some homemade smoked cheese!
Have you spent more than you wanted at Costco? How have you tackled this problem?
Chris Roane is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.