How Costco Saved My Food Budget

Is it me or are food prices out of control?   It seems as if product quantities are continually shrinking, while their prices are steadily increasing.

There is no doubt that trying to feed a family on a budget is challenging.  If you are trying to feed your family healthy meals, the challenge is even greater.  Factor in homes where there are dietary restrictions due to food allergies and intolerances and you have what seems to be an impossible feat.

I feel your pain on all three levels.

I enjoy cooking, and while I do not need to feast on filet mignon and lobster tails, I do like to focus on good quality, whole foods while preparing my meals.  I’m not into processed foods, but when I do purchase them, I am very discriminating, avoiding artificial ingredients, preservatives, and as much garbage as possible.  I purchase organic items when I can, but have loosened my grip on that a bit in order to work around my food budget.  Some of my children and I have food allergies, making the purchase of special foods mandatory.  I am a stay at home mom; we’re living on a single blue collar salary.  Things are tight.

I have to be honest.  For several years my food budget was out of control.  While I tried my best to make every dollar stretch, it just never seemed to be enough.  I was not buying extravagantly either; I’m just talking about necessities.

About two years ago I really felt burdened to get this under control.  I was not being a good steward of what the Lord had given me.  He had already provided me with what I needed, and it was my responsibility to find ways to make it work.

I prayed a lot, and then sat down to try to identify specific problem areas.  Was I buying needless items?  Was I not planning meals?  Was I foregoing a shopping list?  Was I too set in my ways?  Was I wasting the food we had?  Was I not shopping the sales?

I answered yes to some of those questions, not all, but a few.  But then, it hit me.  The problem in our home was quantity.  For years my food budget reflected a home with younger children.  I now had two teenage boys and one preteen boy.  They ate like adults not little kids.  They were not gluttons; they were growing, active boys.  They ate more.  That was the simple reality.

For a time, I worked to ration our food.  I would portion food out into little snack bags.  I would refuse to make a second trip to the grocery store once food shopping was completed.  This helped a bit, but it didn’t solve the problem.

Then a friend popped over.  Her family situation was very similar to mine.  She focused on feeding her family wholesome food, organic when possible.  She had to navigate food allergies.  She also had teenagers to feed. We got to talking about the struggle we both had in making our dollar work for us.  She told me that she had been shopping more and more at big box stores like Costco.  I shopped at Costco…for water.  But Costco scared me…seriously.  Those big cases came with big price tags.  I didn’t see how this would help me.  I also had the notion that nothing wholesome could be found down the aisles of Costco.  I found our conversation interesting, but not something that I would consider.

However, I must admit that the Costco conversation kept coming to mind.  I couldn’t ignore it.  So, the next time I went to Costco for water I decided that I would walk the aisles and look around.

I did and discovered two things:  there were many organic items, some that I used regularly, filling nearly every aisle, and, their prices were reasonable, and in some cases, insanely good!

So, I decided to do a one month experiment.  I would take my food money and allot two-thirds of it to shopping at Costco, while leaving one-third of it for shopping at my regular grocery store.   I shop once every two weeks.  I would buy enough for two weeks at a time, splitting some of the items up and storing them in the basement for the second week.

Fast forward one year later.  I am still following the plan.  The experiment was a success.  Costco has provided us with the quantity we need and has allowed me to spend less money.  I still shop at the grocery store for meat and other items, but the bulk of my items come from Costco.

I do forewarn you that not everything is cheaper at Costco.  You certainly need to compare prices and make decisions accordingly.  If I know that I can make a wiser purchase at the grocery store or online, then I do.  I have to shop carefully, only with cash, to avoid picking up items that I do not need.  I also tend to shop alone; that keeps me focused on buying what is needed, not what someone else wants.  Like all other big box stores, there is a yearly fee, but I have figured out that I save a whole lot more money this way, even taking into account the membership charges.

To hammer home the point, the items below were purchased at Costco.  I also went to my grocery store to find out the price of the same item (or comparable).  The numbers say it all.

Silk Almond Milk:

Costco:                 $7.69 for three half gallons
Grocery Store:    $3.99 for one half gallon

Udi’s Gluten Free Bread:

Costco:                 $7.59 for a 30 oz. loaf
Grocery Store:    $4.99 for a 12oz. loaf

Organic Frozen Blueberries:

Costco:                    $11.99 for three pounds
Grocery Store:       $3.99 for 10 oz.

English (Hothouse) Cucumbers:

Costco:                  $3.99 for three
Grocery Store:     $2.99 for one

Kind Bars:

Costco:                   $12.99 for 24 bars (about $0.54 per bar)
Grocery Store:      $2.99 for one five bar box (about $0.60 per bar)

Classico Tomato Sauce:

Costco:                  $7.49 for three 32 oz. jars (about $0.07 per oz)
Grocery Store:     $2.50 for one 24 oz. jar (about $0.10 per oz.)

Organic Maple Syrup:
Costco – $11.99 for 32 oz.
Grocery Store – $19.99 for 32 oz.

Crest Mouthwash:
Costco – $6.99 for three liters
Grocery Store – $5.69 for one liter

Organic Eggs:
Costco – $6.99 for two dozen
Grocery Store – $4.49 for one dozen

This system works for our family.  This is not an advertisement for Costco (I do not receive any money or consideration from Costco or the brands above).  I have simply outlined what I have done to keep within my food budget.

There are other ways to trim down your food bill, but I will keep those tucked away for a post in the near future.

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