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How to Cut Costs at Costco

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Tracy Bingaman

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I'm a healthcare momma who burned out, big time, and now I teach working moms to create the life of their dreams. I love leopard print, tequila, and my morning routine. My mission? To help moms stop feeling frazzled and start living a life of fulfillment, leaning into the joy of the journey, not just the destination!

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You know that local warehouse store that you are a member of? The one that you purchased so that you’d save money by buying in bulk? Do you ever walk in the door looking for just a rotisserie chicken and muffins and leave with everything from a set of pyrex to a stationary bike, basketball hoop and new tires? If that’s you, let me first say me, tooMe, too! 

I teach on avoiding impulse spending and still I can fall prey to the genius store design, the ever-changing selection and the seemingly random and constant rotation of items at my warehouse of choice, Costco. 

This could happen to you at BJs, Sam’s Club, and even at your local Big Lots. I’ve put together a couple of tips to keep you from blowing your budget next time you set foot in one of these gargantuan stores. These include common sense things that you probably aren’t doing that could be costing you hundreds of dollars each time you flash that membership card at the door. 

1. Skip the Cart

Yes, this sounds crazy but, not only is it a good workout, it prevents you from loading up on unnecessary things. I did this on accident one day when there weren’t any carts at the front door and I figured since I was literally only going in for the rotisserie chicken and two packages of muffins, I could carry it. 

As I walked to the back of the store where they keep the food, a genius layout plan, by the way. After you walk by a $1500 flat screen TV and a $300 blender, a $4.99 chicken, any produce and their meats seem like a great deal! 

I read an article once about how, by keeping their chicken at $4.99, Costco loses approximately $30-$40 Million dollars a year, but wins by keeping high foot traffic walking past all of their electronics and seasonal displays to get back to that coveted rotisserie chicken spot. 

If you are walking in the door with one or two things in mind to purchase, don’t get a cart. If the things you are buying are kind of awkward to carry together, grab a box from the dry food section to help out!

2. Take a List

Studies show that shopping with a grocery list can save you money. It’s been proven to decrease impulse buys and decrease your overall grocery bill. 

Yes, this requires sitting down at home and making the meal plan, writing down the groceries that you need and taking the list to the store with you. You can absolutely do this on your phone and there are lots of apps with checklists and to do lists that you could leverage for this task. Personally I’m a notebook and paper kind of a shopper. I love the satisfaction of scribbling out each item as it goes into my cart at the grocery store.

The same principles that help at the regular grocery store apply to those buy in bulk warehouse stores. Having a list streamlines your shopping, decreases your propensity to impulse buy and gets you out of the store faster. 

3. Make it Quick

The longer you spend at the store the more likely you are to see something, forget yourself, and buy it even though it wasn’t on your plan. Walk fast. Bob and weave. Challenge yourself to get in and out of there in fifteen minutes or less. Move like a teenager who just go their license, not a grandma and grandpa out on a Sunday drive. 

4. Skip the Snacks

According to recent research, 25% of grocery shopping dollars are spent on processed foods and sweets. If you can plan to skip these items altogether you’ll see that total at the checkout of your local warehouse store drop significantly. 

If there are one or two items that your family enjoys, include them on your list and limit the purchase to two items per trip. If the crunchy Cheetos that you love are sold out, don’t go looking for an alternative, just skip it! 

5. Check your Pantry

Scope out your pantry for things like dry goods in bulk and that huge box of macaroni and cheese you still didn’t eat from your LAST trip to BJ’s Wholesale Club. It can be helpful to look at items that you sometimes stock up on from your warehouse club and see if you are running low. Make a note on your list of the things you are in need of and even create a section of things that you do NOT need. 

My husband is the king of this. If one of us is getting ready to make a Costco run he cruises through the pantry and likes to say things like “under no circumstances do we need more toilet paper!” as a reminder that, despite what 2020 said and did, we don’t need a 6-month supply of the stuff! 

6. Don’t Go Hungry

The old adage is true – you don’t want to shop for groceries when you are hungry, tired, or decision fatigued. Studies show that we make better decisions earlier in the day, so plan your trip for earlier rather than later in the day. 

Eat something filling and protein-laden before you head out the door to brave your local bulk food supplier. Skip the samples altogether, because truly they are just trying to get you to try, like and buy something that 9 times out of 10, isn’t on your shopping list and you don’t need. 

7. Go Alone

Families get in the habit of making their weekly trip to Costco a family affair and an hour-long event. If you’re looking for a family bonding event, go for it. If you, however, are looking to shop efficiently and save as much money as possible, go alone and go fast, my friend! 

Employ these tips to start having Sam’s club trips that ring up to $17 instead of $217, decrease your food waste and improve your monthly budget! 

New here? Welcome! Head on over to Instagram, where I share everything from budgeting tips to getting out of debt and how to get on the same page with your partner about money – I’d love to see you there! 

Looking to learn more about budgeting, getting out of debt, and winning with money? Check out these Podcast Episodes:

▶ Ep 31: Budgeting Basics

▶ Ep32: How to Pay Off Debt

▶ Ep36: The Personal of Personal Finances – Finding Your Values & Living in Alignment

▶ Ep35: Our Personal Approach to Managing Money in Partnership

▶ Ep38: The Not-So Secret “Secrets” to Building Wealth

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I'm Tracy Bingaman

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It's so nice to meet you... I’m a PA time and money expert, self-educated life coach, self-care promoter, curly haired achiever, mom and dog mom, and a margarita loving woman.

I burned out BIG TIME, quit my job, and learned to build a life around the things that I value instead of a schedule set by something else and now I get to share those strategies with the world.

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