Costco vs. Grocery Store

Good morning!

I’ve recently received several requests to talk about how we do our shopping at Costco versus the regular grocery store, what we buy where, and how we save money (and don’t overspend) by doing it.

We all know Costco (or Sam’s Club) is a fabulous place to totally blow your budget. Am I right? Everything just looks so good, they have the newest foods/brands/etc., and most everything is just so darn convenient! And because it’s in bulk, it’s technically so much cheaper, right? WRONG. Sometimes, yes, but not always.

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After Cody and I got married, we went back and forth about getting a Costco membership. Is it worth it for only two people? After some researching, we decided that yes, it definitely is, but only if you’re careful. We made an agreement early on to only buy what we needed, and forego the “extras” as much as possible. I recognize that what may be considered the “extras” to one person may mean an entirely different thing to another. But for us, this meant no pre-made frozen meals, no regular clothes shopping (unless it was needed), no household appliances just because they looked “cool”, no fancy meats and cheeses because they looked delicious, etc. We consider “extras” pretty much anything that’s not the basics.

Initially, Cody made a spreadsheet on Microsoft Excel, and we compared the costs between Costco and our local grocery store. (We compared each item’s price per ounce.) We don’t do this much anymore because we have our system down, but it was really interesting to discover what was cheaper at the grocery store versus Costco. Costco carries mostly name brand items, so even though you may think you’re getting a great deal because you’re buying it in bulk, it’s not always the case since you’re buying the name brand. For example, I buy the off brand cans of beans and frozen veggies at our local grocery store because Costco’s cans of beans and frozen veggies are name brand and as a result, are pricier.

Here’s some examples of what we buy at Costco versus our local grocery store…

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Costco:

  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Water softener salt
  • Dog food
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dryer sheets
  • Baby wipes
  • Toothpaste
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Q-tips
  • Deoderant
  • Milk
  • Almond milk
  • Grandma Sycamore’s Bread (Cody’s fav)
  • Ground turkey
  • Frozen chicken breasts
  • Salmon (occasionally if it’s on sale)
  • Shredded cheese
  • String cheese
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Greek yogurt (sometimes – I go in phases)
  • Cereal (sometimes – I go in phases)
  • Peanut butter
  • Jam
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Ranch dressing
  • Chocolate chips
  • Baby carrots
  • Frozen berries (for smoothies)
  • Trail mix
  • Applesauce

Our weekly Costco bill ranges anywhere from $20 – $60 depending on what we need. We try to space things out the best we can.

Local grocery store (aka Wal-Mart or Smith’s):

  • Canned foods (i.e. beans, tomato sauce, veggies, etc.)
  • Frozen veggies
  • Produce (i.e. spinach, bananas, berries, potatoes, etc.)
  • Oatmeal
  • Spices
  • Flour
  • Sugars
  • Coffee
  • Half & half
  • Random salad dressings
  • Some condiments (i.e. mustard, mayo, ketchup, etc.)
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Hamburger/hot dog buns
  • Pasta sauce
  • Other random ingredients for specific recipes

Our weekly grocery store bill is usually anywhere from $35 – $50.

As a whole, I’d say we probably spend about $60 – $80 per week on groceries if we were to combine our Costco and grocery store purchases. We will occasionally have a higher cost week if we need to buy dog food or something like that.

I want to note that as our family grows, and our child(ren) begin to eat more fruits and vegetables, we’ll most likely buy more produce from Costco. I do think Costco has quality and well priced produce, but we can’t get through most of it with just Cody and me eating it. I’d hate for it to go to waste, and we’d be throwing money down the drain, so I still buy most of our fruits and vegetables from our local grocery store.

IMG_2567

Another thing, as much as I don’t like most Wal-Marts, I’ve learned that not all Wal-Marts are created equal. We live in a newer community, so the Wal-Mart by us is actually pretty nice and new. We’ll see how long that lasts, but until then, I’m going to take advantage of their low prices. Otherwise I hit up our nearby Smith’s … just depends on my needs and how I’m feeling. Give me a nearby Trader Joe’s, and that would certainly be my grocery store of choice alongside Costco, but unfortunately that’s not the case.

That’s our grocery shopping in a nutshell! I hope this helps those of you that are trying to figure out how to cut back on your grocery shopping bill or maybe you’re trying to decide whether a Costco/Sam’s Club membership is worth it.

Last thing, this is PROOF that you can totally eat healthy on a budget, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Do you do any grocery shopping at Costco or Sam’s Club? If so, what do you usually buy there? Where do you do the bulk of your grocery shopping? How much do you typically spend on groceries per week?

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Comments

  1. says

    Unfortunately, we do not have a Sams or Costco near where we live. However, I would TOTALLY go shopping at one of those places if I could. :) Thanks for this post though–taught me alot about the differences in bulk stores and grocery stores.

  2. Becky Przy says

    Love this post! We don’t have a membership to a club (not one nearby). I do shop at Walmart and the local grocery store. I have found the grocery store has much better produce and can run some awesome weekly deals, but Walmart is cheaper for the ‘basics’. Our budget is approx $75/week. I clip coupons–but only for products I would buy on my own. It drives me crazy when people say they don’t eat healthier because they can’t afford it!

  3. says

    the things I get at costco weekly are eggs, broccoli, spinach, and one fruit.
    there are monthly or even things that we get on rare occasion there like diapers, tp, detergent, ect that are a huge saver!

    • Ashley says

      It’s $50 for a regular membership and $100 for an executive membership. We went with the executive because you get 2% back on what you buy plus 50 bucks (I think?) back at the end of the year. Cody realized it made more sense to get the executive… I’d ask Costco more details because I can’t remember exactly!

      • says

        We just got the executive membership and I believe you get the extra $50 back at the end of the year, IF you don’t spend a certain amount (so they will downgrade you to the regular membership and refund the difference between memberships). I’m in shock at how little you are spending. Our grocery budget for 2 adults and a 2 year-old is $125 (and that’s after we cut down on things…). You’re motivating me to look at our spending again. Thanks for sharing!

        • Ashley says

          I’m sure our bill will go up a bit as Hunter starts eating real food, but it IS possible if you’re careful!

  4. says

    We’re like you guys- shop at Costco for things such as toilet paper, paper towel, detergent, cereal, etc., and Walmart or Super Target for normal groceries. We only hit up Costco 1-2 times a month though. Sometimes I see new items I’d like to try at Costco, but I’m unsure if I’ll like it and not about to spend $10 for a huge bag of it! I love Costco’s produce as well, but I rarely ever buy it because it is simply too much for the two of us. I’ll have to look for the almond milk there next time there though! It depends on the week as to how much we spend- some weeks it’s well over $100, while others is less than $50.

  5. says

    I spend about 60 euro (80 dollars) just for me in my weekly shop but I’d say in total over the week it’s closer to 100euro on average (about 135 dollars!) Crazy I know! But I don’t drink, or go out much, I don’t have any children and I’m still living at home.

  6. Amy P says

    We have a Sam’s Club membership but I have been thinking about adding a Costco membership for healthier, organic type of foods. Do they have a good amount of these? We do have a Trader Joes between Costco and Sam’s Club but have actually never shopped their fresh produce section. We are family of 5 and I have a home daycare so we go through a lot of fresh items :)

  7. says

    Good info! We don’t shop at Costco or Walmart, actually. I split my shopping between Trader Joe’s and Food Lion usually. If it weren’t for our wine bill we’d probably be closer to you money-wise with how much we spend!

  8. says

    I love that you addressed this. I don’t belong to Costco but I do belong to Sam’s club and i always wonder about that! I buy a lot of produce and food at Aldi which is a much cheaper store than the grocery stores. I do buy a few things at Sam’s because of the prices, but I definitely need to go and weigh the costs and see what would be better for us :)

  9. says

    Awesome post, girl. I plan on coming back to reference this later. We just got a membership to a Sam’s Club in the area. I did the math on diapers and formula, and it was the best option for us. So I want to take advantage of the membership and buy other things there. I went there for the first time last weekend, and I had to be very careful to only buy the things that I knew were a better deal there haha! I found that there were good prices on toothpaste and the moisturizer I use (Aveeno), too. Do you buy toothpaste there?

    • Ashley says

      I totally forgot about a few of the toiletry items we buy from Costco, but yes, toothpaste is one of them! Just added a few more items to the list! ;)

  10. says

    Right now, we have a membership to BJ’s (which is the equivalent of a Sam’s Club). There are definitely items that are cheaper to buy in bulk there than at the grocery store, but I totally agree…sometimes they’re way more expensive. The bulk items I buy include toilet paper, paper towels, certain cereals, peanut butter, laundry detergent, frozen chicken and gummy vitamins…to name a few.

  11. says

    Yup – I totally agree. Though I don’t get much out of a wholesale club membership, which is why we don’t pay for one, I have tried them in the past. I found that grocery store brand products are often cheaper than name brands in bulk quantities. I must admit, the wholesale clubs do have decent wine prices though! ;)

  12. Traci says

    We have a membership to BJs (but I used to go to Costco) and you’re totally right about some things being a much better deal than others. We do the math ourselves while we’re there and determine what to buy there vs at the grocery store (for example, pass on canned tuna because it often goes on sale for cheaper elsewhere). We do buy trash bags, toilet paper, brown rice, paper towels, cleaning supplies, nuts, sometimes toothpaste, and occasional snacks there though.

  13. Holly says

    We are getting a brand new Costco built right by our house and a Walmart. I can’t wait to take advantage of them both this Fall. Ashley, you are so inspiring! I know you eat healthy and it definitely is on a great budget too! I have the hardest time buying non organic produce. We bought organic all the time when we had two incomes and it worked. However, we are down to one income and we spend 150-200 dollars a week on groceries! I know, it’s expensive! In Januar, back when we lived in WI, we spent about 5-600 bux a month. Now, the last three months in Texas, with my husband, brother(he lives with us), and I we, are averaging 780 a month! Luckily, my brother chips in. I really want to start rethinking how we grocery shop. I have a hard time clipping coupons because the majority are for things we don’t eat, more processed/packaged foods. Sometimes I go online and print out coupons for healthier brand items, but that can be a painf. Also, the hubby is a very picky eater, so that’s hard too.

  14. says

    I definitely agree about Wal-Mart– it’s so close to my home with low prices that the convenience is hard to beat… otherwise, I really try to avoid it. I’m now considering Costco based on what you and others have said about the savings/variety.

  15. Sarah says

    My husband and I have had a similar discussion about the need for a Costco membership given that its just the two of us and we live in a condo with limited storage space. I am very impressed with the low grocery bills especially since you have told us about your home cooking/lunch making at home. This may be a post for another day but could you possibly share a weeks grocery list and meal plan (and then what is left over for the next week and what/if anything didn’t get eaten before it went bad). I try and try and can’t keep our grocery bills that low and I still grabbing things on the go! Thanks!!

  16. says

    We love Costco. But I do agree the extras can get in the way of keeping a budget. In the past we have broken it down and between our cash back and Exec membership we still save a lot of money. Just what my husband eats in cereal pays our $100 membership. Let alone my almond butter addiction ;) We also picked up a Baby Einsten play mat for $39 vs $100 a Babies R Us – exact same one so again it paid off for us. Produce is tricky, we buy spinach, berries, tomatoes, cucumber and avocado from there since it all can last two weeks with rarely any waste. Weekly is tough since we do a Costco run every other week so those weeks are higher. Non-Costco weeks about $40-50 is an average and Costco weeks about $150.

  17. says

    I love getting things at costco – especially because it means I can go a few weeks (or months!) without buying some things. We typically buy the same type of things you buy there. The only problem I’ve run into is space. Storing everything is so hard because we don’t have a pantry. We also just started buying toilet paper there – you get like DOUBLE what you would get at target or walmart for the same price. I’m all about that!

  18. says

    I love Costco! We buy very similar things as you and Cody do. I forgot about getting wipes there though, will have to look into that! I def agree that if you shop there the right way, it’s better money wise in the long run.

  19. says

    I do all my food shopping at a my local food store. Since I still live at home with just my mom, we don’t need to buy a ton of stuff in big bulk. For us the membership costs wouldn’t be worth it. Whenever I go to Costco with something, I do get tempted to buy extra stuff!

  20. says

    You guys budget so well! We’re on Eric’s mom’s Costco membership, but we don’t have any in Brantford so we only get the chance to go when we’re visiting home – although once we move in 2.5 weeks, we’ll have one just down the street. I tend to by more non-food items at Costco – coffee liners, TP, puppy pads, shampoo, the like. Food-wise, I buy almond butter (cheaper there), egg whites, gum, bread/english muffins (freeze some of it), protein or granola bars…it’s so hard not to buy extras though!

  21. says

    We have a Sam’s membership because there’s not a nearby Costco. We mostly do things like laundry detergent, paper towels, and toilet paper. We’re in much the same situation as far as the fruits and vegetables go. We don’t get anything there because the two of us can’t possibly get through all of it before it goes bad!

  22. says

    We chop at Costco for similar things like bread, frozen fruit and meat. I will get spinach there because I eat salads and smoothies daily so I go through it pretty quickly. We got into a bad habit of getting snacks from there when we were first married. It lead to an unfortunate weight gain due to the huge portions we would eat!

  23. Debbie @ Deb Runs says

    I usually hit up Costco about once every week for produce, salmon, some toiletries, and laundry/cleaning supplies, oh and wine! :-)

    My contact lens supplies are a little cheaper at Walmart, but Costco is so much more convenient that I don’t waste my time making two stops.

  24. says

    Our budget is $200 a week and we went just under this week. I think us spending that much is definitely ok now that we have a third adult living with us, but before when it was just Tyler and I, I admit, it was a little high. We do splurge on a lot of food items though. It’s just the one area I can’t sacrifice right now!! I would take groceries over new clothes any day! haha

  25. says

    Great post. We do like you buy many things at Costco or Sams (once our family grew we joined both). We buy most of our produce from those store and it is great. With our large family we go through a lot of it. :)

    We are probably at about 200 dollars a week. I am always trying to lower are grocery bills.

  26. says

    Great post!! Love the breakdown of items!

    We go to Sam’s probably every 3 weeks? It is usually around 70$ b/c we stock up on frozen berries, chicken, cheese, a few other items and then of course buy milk. But every week I hit up Sprouts b/c their produce is THE best! So we look at our monthly grocery bill rather than weekly, because we only go to sams every couple of weeks. Works for us! :)

    • Ashley says

      Awesome! I’d totally be OK with going to Costco every 2-3 weeks, but Cody goes through bread and milk like crazy, so we have to go pretty much every week at least for those two items!

  27. says

    We do most of our grocery shopping (probably around 85%) at Trader Joe’s – their produce prices just don’t even compete with any local grocery store. The other 15% comes from the farmer’s market (during the summer/fall), sale items at our local co-op, random/occasional things at Target or HyVee.
    We have a Costco membership but primarily use it for tp, tissues, napkins, ziploc bags, etc. Even though we rarely buy food from there our membership still pays off in the long run.
    Great post, Ashley!

  28. says

    Oh my. What an eye opener. I probably spend around $100-$140 a week on groceries, which I know is ridiculous. Too many impulse buys from Whole foods and Trader Joes, plus, to be completely honest, I’m still dealing with binge eating (although it’s more like over eating now, one too many servings) and therefore I run out of food more quickly. Definitely need to work on a budget…

  29. says

    totally with you on shopping at 3 different stores. and yes, not all walmarts are created equal.
    We buy almond milk, nuts, frozen fruit, and udis GF bread at costco. Such good deals!

  30. Beth says

    Do you worry about not buying organic produce such as spinach, which is one of the dirty dozen? My bill would be less without organic.

    I shop at Trader Joes and Jewel. Never thought to shop at Walmart!

    • Ashley says

      I do buy some of the “dirty dozen” fruits and veggies organic, but not always. Depends on the price and how we’re doing with our budget that week. I just make sure to clean and scrub them extra good if I don’t get the organic.

      • Beth says

        I know…so expensive. Does Walmart or Costco sell organic produce at all? I have no idea how to clean greens! They get so soggy. Do you have some sort of method?

  31. says

    I love Costco but I save my trips for about once every 6 weeks or so. Of course, that makes my bill a good $200 every time I go but if I were to space it out weekly, it ends up not being too much.

    As much as I dislike Walmart, like you I do a lot of my shopping there. It is definitely cheaper than other stores and it is really convenient for me, being just a couple miles away. Fortunately, our Walmart has even started carrying a decent sized section of local and organic stuff. Trader Joes is my absolute FAVE but it is a 20-25 minute drive so it only happens every few weeks.

  32. says

    I LOVE Costco but yes, it can be a little expensive if you don’t stay with your list and compare costs. I’d say I typically go every two weeks and spend around $70 on things like organic produce, Organic Chicken breasts, Organic Eggs, nuts or canned tuna and salmon. We also buy toilet paper, paper towels and dog food but not as often. I wish we only spend as much as you do weekly at the grocery store! I’m lucky if I stay under $100 lately with the way my two boys eat!

  33. says

    you’re gonna die.. i spend way too much on groceries. every week i go to trader joe’s and whole foods and spend about $75 at TJs and $100 at WFs. i go to costco about once a month and spend around $150. eeeep… oh well, better than spending it on crack.

  34. says

    This is great, thanks so much for posting Ashley. Like you, we now live in a newer community. I don’t mind shopping at the Wal-Mart here at all. I feel that it’s pretty nice and clean and they quality of merchandise isn’t bad. However, before we moved (we actually only moved a few miles away), the Wal-Mart that was most convenient was NOT nice at all. I shopped there for the prices, but I felt it was dirty and not well managed or taken care of. If I needed to get in and out quickly and without a hassle, I went to Publix.

  35. TheGooch says

    I’m thinking about switching from CostCo to Walmart. WM is a lot closer, and the CostCo closest to me has been slowing dropping several products that I used to go there to get. The dilemma is that I have Executive Membership until October, and their Amex TrueEarnings card. I’ll have to drop both to switch.

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