How Parents Save Money at Costco

By Ben Edwards on 3 December 2010 (Updated 25 November 2011) 23 comments

Many of our friends are big Costco shoppers and for years talked about how much money they saved at Costco. They couldn't believe that we weren't members and encouraged us to join. I wasn’t convinced it was worth it, but once I discovered a few different Costco membership discounts, I decided to give it a try.

One of the first things I did when we became members was ask around and see what kind of purchases saved people the most money. After all, our friends were the ones encouraging us to join, so I figured they should have some pretty good tips. We have two young kids and many of our friends are also parents of little ones, so I got a decent list of how parents save money at Costco.

I took all their suggestions and categorized them into the different areas below:

Household Items

These were probably the most commonly mentioned purchases; parents like to save money on the store brands. Three people said that they could actually buy napkins and paper towels a little cheaper than the Kirkland brand (Costco's store brand) elsewhere, but they got them at Costco for convenience. On top of that, with hordes of little kids running around, you can go through a lot of napkins and paper towels, so it helps to buy these items in bulk:

  • Kirkland paper towels
  • Kirkland toilet paper
  • Kirkland laundry detergent
  • Kirkland dryer sheets
  • Kirkland dish detergent
  • Kirkland dish soap

(See also: 30 Household Products Vinegar Can Replace)

Food

We don’t buy as much from Costco as the rest of the parents I talked to, but the thing we do buy the most of is food. We have a few food items that we know for sure we’ll save money on that we get every time.

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One of our friends mentioned an interesting thing I hadn’t realized.  Apparently Costco has started to carry a lot more organic food. She didn’t go into detail on what specific organic food she buys there, but I know buying organic can be pretty expensive, so it’s nice to have a cheaper option. Here are the types of food parents save money on at Costco:

  • Olive oil
  • Almonds
  • Ketchup
  • A-1 sauce
  • Steak and ribs
  • Cheese blocks
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Salsa
  • Kirkland waffles
  • Strawberries

Drinks

Every week we buy three different kinds of milk: whole for our youngest, 2% for our four-year-old, and skim for us. Buying all that milk adds up, but the prices are considerably lower at Costco, so I definitely agree with the following list. We don’t drink much bottled water, but the money we save on milk could almost pay for the cost of membership.

Here are the types of drinks that our friends buy for themselves and their kids at Costco (hopefully the Coke's not for the kids):

  • Bottled water
  • Diet Coke
  • Milk

Baby Stuff

We're friends with one couple who had twins in addition to a two-year-old, so they’ve saved a ton of money buying baby supplies at Costco. Of course, not every parent likes the same brand of diapers...I know we could have saved a lot on diapers at Costco with the generic brand, but my wife really liked a different brand they didn’t carry.

When the babies were eating and sleeping their way through the first few months of their lives, these are the items parents bought from Costco to help save money:

Toys

Several of our friends always check prices at Costco first when buying toys for their kids. One lady recently found the same Star Wars Lego set for $10 cheaper at Costco than it was at Target. My wife recently bought a kid’s book for our daughter for $8 at Costco, compared to the $15 it costs at the big chain bookstores. Saving $10 here and $7 there can add up, especially during the holidays.

So parents, what did I miss? What else do you save money on at Costco?

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Guest's picture
Stacy

We have Sam's instead of Costco where I live, but most of your findings are similar across all the club stores. I would remind parents that while diapers might be ever so slightly less expensive at the club stores, you can't use a coupon. There are always coupons out there for diapers, so it's probably better to use those and purchase diapers at a big box store. I do like the convenience of bulk paper goods as you mention, even though that's another item that may or may not be less expensive at Costco/Sam's.

don't forget about all the free samples... you can feed your kids for free a few times a year and not feel too guilty about it! HA :)

Guest's picture
SML

Lunchmeat! It's half the price at Costco that it is at Shaw's. We buy a loaf of their 7 Grain bread, a pack of roast beef and a pack of swiss cheese there almost every week.

Guest's picture
Guest

We used to buy diapers, but now Amazon Mom/Subscribe and save is even cheaper. However, we love Costco's wipes (both baby wipes and their disinfectant wipes). Paper towels, toilet paper, and dishwasher detergent are as good as name brands and cheaper (unless you have some killer coupons and a sale at another store).

Milk is cheap and we save a bunch on produce and fruit--it's all very high quality.

We also buy wine, toys, and lots of stuff here. Returns are hassle free and the times I've had issues with items, Costco's customer service rules. My savings more than pay for the membership. And, with the executive rebate, I never even pay for my membership.

Guest's picture
resa

We have a large bonfire (about 120+ people) every year and roast hot dogs and make s'mores. We save well over $200 on hot dogs, buns and chocolate bars when compared to the grocery store. Parents might find that shopping for just one party will offset the expense of the membership.

We also used the Costco Auto Program and saved a lot on our car!!

Guest's picture
Tim

Costco offers very little in the way of savings on diapers. We assumed we'd save a ton but once I did the research, we could always find them just as cheap in numerous other types of more convenient retailers (grocery stores w/coupons, non-club big boxes, etc.).

Guest's picture

We LOVE Costo and we save big time on Pet supplies! Frontline, Dog and Cat Food, Cat Litter - and who can beat the $20 giant dog pillows. Our pets are big fans.

Guest's picture
Mccoy

Hmm, the organic products got me interested so I did a little poking around online. Sounds like the organic strawberry spread and organic hamburgers are good ones to try.

Guest's picture
Guest

The organic strawberry spread is a great product, but I was astonished to go to Costco to day and learn that it has been "deleted" from the list of stocked products. The manager suggested emailing Costco directly, which I have done, and I hope that other fans of this tasty and healthy product will do the same.

Guest's picture

With new twins in our house we're looking forward to really putting our Costco membership to work.

However, unfortunately for us, it doesn't look like our boys will be able to use generic formula anytime soon and Costco doesn't carry any diapers below a size 2. But for now we're continuing to stock up on paper goods (as mentioned above) food and Monster Energy drinks ;-).

Guest's picture
Heather

We got our home owner's insurance through Ameriprise, which gives Costco members a discount. I compared prices and that alone saves us more than $200 each year.

Items that we find to be cheaper at Costco: chicken nuggets (the only form of meat we've convinced my son to eat), Cheesecake Factory cheesecakes ($15 vs. $40 from the restaurant, not as much for the kids as for us), Carter's footed pajamas, string cheese, gourmet cheeses, organic apples, spinach and artisan breads.

Even though I only go to Costco about once a month, and I do most of my grocery shopping elsewhere, I find our membership to be well worth it.

Guest's picture
Leah

Costco gas is often cheaper than normal gas stations. Also, it's a great place to purchase batteries for all the kids toys, baby swings, etc. We have found the Kirkland batteries last just as long as name brands.

Guest's picture
Guest

We have a Sam's Membership, and save at least 10 cents per gallon of gas, and my husband needed new tires a few months ago. They were at least $100 cheaper at Sam's than anywhere else, and Sam's does free flat repair for all members regardless of where the tires are from.

Guest's picture
Dana

Before I swore off book-buying altogether and started relying on my local library, I used to love browsing Costco's selection.

I would just offer a note of caution about the "organic" meat and dairy products you find at these big box discounters. The organic designation most likely has nothing to do with whether the animal that provided those products led a decent life. There are plenty of feedlots full of animals that are fed organic grain every day. Organic doesn't mean sustainable, cruelty-free or even "good for the planet" anymore.

Guest's picture
Jen

We belong to BJ's and they do actually accept coupons (and mastercard/visa)... something to consider!

Guest's picture
Sridhar

It is common sense to buy any of the non-perishables in bulk at a lower cost but if you are going to buy any of the perishables just for the sake of buying cheap in bulk, you might want to double check whether you need all of it for your consumption.

Guest's picture
Courtney

Fantastic article! Many great points that I completely agree with. We save a lot of money using Costco. Their coupons that they run add to our savings. They will run a $5 off coupon on the diapers and we stock up on the limit when they do. Costco's dairy also saves us. Their milk has a long expiration date, that enables us to stock up in our spare fridge. Their milk is also produced by hormone free dairies, which is a must! Thanks to Costco, we are rarely running out of paper products. Paper towels, baby wipes, cleaning wipes, toilet paper, and paper plates are some of the products we only buy at Costco. Thanks for the terrific article!

Guest's picture
AmyinMotown

@Heather mentioned the Carter's PJ's...Absolutely. I have shopped at Costco and picked those up for my kids, and then happened to see the same thing at a regular store for like twice the amount. Girls' clothes tend to be a great deal, not so much for boys'. I have gotten a ton of cute stuff for my daughter there, including Hanna Andersen dresses and at least one Easter outfit.

Also, another thing Costco does is keep me out of stores. Target tends to separate me and my money pretty easily: I can buy diapers there for about the same as I get them at Costco, but if buying the massive 200-diaper pack (or paper products, or shampoo) keeps me out of Target because I'm not running out every two seconds, I end up saving money in the long run because I'm not tempted by all the other stuff.

Guest's picture
Guest

Our family purchases over the counter medications at a significant discount!

Guest's picture

Would you suggest the premium membership or the basic one? We looked @ COSTCO but decided to not purchase a membership. Once we have a family that may change ...

Guest's picture
Guest

I have been told by the customer service folks (and overheard them telling others) at my regular Costco store that if the executive membership didn't pay for itself they would refund the money. I've never needed to test them, but how could you go wrong?

Guest's picture
Mommybug

I have found that I can get several gluten-free items at my local Costco, though their availability has been spotty which means I have to stock up when they are in. I can get a 2-pack of Rudi's GF bread for less than I would pay at my local grocery store and it has a good texture and can hold up to a sandwich. Also, the Crunchmaster crackers have become a family favorite and are a great price. They also carry Bob's Red Mill GF All-purpose flour and Quinoa. The frozen fruits are a great price over buying the products fresh and taste great. I also love stocking up on their frozen organic veggies. For the avid baker (like i used to be), buying the large packages of yeast more than paid for my membership over what I would pay in the grocery store for a comparable quantity. Coffee is a great price there, too. I love shopping at Costco and just wish that my local one was more consistent at having my favorite items available.

Guest's picture
Ben

I think we save the most from paper towels, toilet paper and laundry soap. I can't tell you how much we go through this stuff in our house! Buy these items in bulk and you will save money. I'm so glad we have a Costco, although its a 40 mile round trip adventure.

Guest's picture
Little Tex

Love Costco products. Well worth the cost of membership.
Costco wipes $8 for 340 wipes and you can clean the whole house with 2 or 3.
Great for convenience foods like frozen ravioli or stir fry vegetables for that "I just got home and I'm hungry and I'm tempted to order takeout" days.

Always compare prices to local grocery store/discount store before you buy, not everything at Costco is cheaper!