The Ultimate Costco Shopping Guide

I get a lot of jokes about shopping at warehouse stores like Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club. “They must love you there,” or “Do you buy 4 lb steaks?” Truth be told, for as big of a guy as I am (over 30o lbs on a good day), I don’t eat as much food as you’d think. But, I eat enough that it definitely warrants having a Costco membership. And for the record, I have zero affiliation with Costco or any other warehouse store, other than the fact that I shop there. But hey, Costco, if you’re reading this, hook a brother up with a free membership or some gift cards, would ya?

I’m not here to tell you that you need a membership, because if you watch sales you can definitely get a lot of food at better prices. But unless you’re buying grass-fed beef straight from a farm, it’s tough to get decent quality meat in large quantities. For me, I can buy protein powder and fish oil at good prices, in addition to lots of ground beef and organic produce. Those alone make the $50 membership worth it. Tag along with a friend to check it out, do the math, and if it works for you, get it!

It’s easy to get carried away in these stores, and walk out having spent several hundreds of dollars without even realizing it. I visit the store every 2 weeks, and spend between $60-120 a visit, depending a lot on whether I need protein powder or fish oil. I also have a weekly grocery store run for other food. When all is said and done, I shoot to spend around $500 a month on groceries (not including supplements). I buy organic when I can, in bulk when it makes sense, and try to plan my dinners around meat that is on sale, since that’s usually the most expensive part of the meal. These are prices in North Carolina. Some of this will differ depending on where you live, but generally, this is a rough estimate of what you can expect.

This is what I buy on any given Costco trip and why:

Organic baby spinach {bi-weekly}: Not only is the clamshell container awesome (it keeps the spinach fresh and usable for almost 10 days in my experience), the price is great. I use this stuff for salads, in scrambled eggs every morning, and in protein shakes during the afternoon. High in iron and other vitamins, everyone can use more spinach in their diets. Between $5-6 for a TON of spinach.

Ground beef {bi-weekly}: I have 1-2 of these patties for lunch (approximately half a pound), just sauteed on the stove with some frozen veggies and then topped in BBQ sauce or something equally as delicious. It’s not gourmet, but it’s fast, high in protein and fiber, and fairly cost-effective. This is also the same beef we use in recipes for dinner such as chili or meatloaf. $2.99/lb, sold in 6 lb packages.

Premo’s hot Italian sausage {once a month}: $14 for 6.5 pounds…hard to beat that. This is mostly used in dinner recipes, like Pizza Soup, but is great on the grill. It’s not as spicy as you’d think, and lasts for a long time in the freezer.

3-pack of Silk almond milk {bi-weekly}: When you drink protein shakes daily, you tend to go through milk at an alarming rate. I tend to avoid cow’s milk, so I can’t vouch for the deal on that, but this 3-pack is pretty good. You can sometimes get these on sale cheaper at a regular store, but generally this is a good price and the multi-pack is convenient. It’s under $8 for 3 half-gallons.

Fresh salmon filet {bi-weekly}: At $5.99/lb, this is a great deal. Yeah, sometimes I get a little nauseated thinking about paying upwards of $15 for half of a fish, but salmon is so healthy that it’s hard to not justify that cost. I tend to get this at least once a month, if not twice a month. Usually makes 4-6 servings. Perfect for this recipe or this one.

Bacon {bi-weekly}: 4 lbs of bacon for $13…awesome. There are few things in this world better than bacon. Getting bacon for this price is one of them. There are a few different types of bacon there, but the store brand is the cheapest. The quality is still good, and it fries up nicely.

Protein powder {monthly}: With as much protein powder as I go through, it’s not always feasible to buy really high-quality stuff. This is one area that I’d like to get better about, as I think a better quality supplement can affect training, but for now, I don’t always have $60 for a week’s worth of protein. Enter the 4 lb. Muscle Milk bag. For $32, this lasts me about a month. Sometimes I’ll mix it with other higher quality proteins, sometimes I won’t. It’s a decent protein that is made without any soy sources, which is hugely important for me. The grams of protein per serving is good, as is the protein to carb ratio. A solid option if you’re on a budget.

Fish oil {monthly}: Much like the protein powder, I can’t realistically buy super high quality fish oil. I take 16 pills a day. If you do the math, that’s almost 500 pills a month. That can get really pricey with some of the best brands out there like Nordic Naturals. If I win the lottery, maybe. Until then, the Costco brand is great. Every few months they run a sale which takes $3 off per bottle, bringing this down to about $12 for 500 pills at 500 mcg. Great price for decent quality fish oil.

Jacks’s salsa {bi-weekly}: Fresh, delicious salsa that is great on scrambled eggs or in our black bean soup. Around $5 for a giant container that lasts forever.

Organic honey (double pack) {every few months}: I believe organic food is better for you, but I don’t kill myself to eat only organic and natural products. In this case, I can get organic honey at a pretty decent price. This is a great sweetener in protein shakes, on top of sweet potatoes, and anywhere else you might use sugar.

On occasion, I’ll also pick up an 8-pack of black beans or a giant can of crushed tomatoes. It’s rare that I get anything else, as much of the other products there are frozen, processed nightmares. It’s tempting to want to buy a lot of food when you walk into a warehouse store, but if you stick to the basics, you won’t blow your food budget and you’ll have healthier meals.

  1. James left a comment on January 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I don’t know how you feel about ordering online, but I get my protein from http://www.bodybuilding.com

    It’s Optimum Nutrition’s 100% Whey and you can get a 10lb tub for $100. Also, when you google for discount codes, you can always find something to bring the cost down. Right now “KETTLEBELL10” will take 10% off the entire order, which brings it down to $9/lb.

    It’s a pretty pure source, has no soy, no sucralose, and no banned substance. I prefer it over Muscle Milk tastewise also. Hope this helps!

    Here’s the link:
    https://www.bodybuilding.com/store/commerce/cart.jsp?_requestid=4469116

    – James

    • The Strength Agenda left a comment on January 24, 2013 at 4:32 pm

      Very cool…I’ll have to check it out. I agree, Muscle Milk’s taste is nowhere near as good as many of the premium brands I’ve tried.

  2. michelle left a comment on January 25, 2013 at 11:51 am

    > But unless you’re buying grass-fed beef straight from a farm, it’s tough to get decent quality meat in large quantities.

    I actually do that 🙂 For the past 2 years I’ve bought an entire side of grass fed beef at pretty damn good prices and kept it all in a chest freezer in the basement.

    • The Strength Agenda left a comment on January 25, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      Nice! Our tiny freezer is jealous!

      • michelle left a comment on January 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm

        It’s only I think 7 cu ft? I forget, but it holds close to the entire side of beef, and we usually just have to stick a couple extra steaks in the upstairs freezer 🙂

  3. Justice left a comment on February 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Hey Tom, just curious on why you drink almond milk as opposed to cow milk? Also, I did not see chicken breast on your list. Costco usually has the best deal for around 2.10 a pound for skinless boneless breast.

    • The Strength Agenda left a comment on February 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Good question! I’ve mentioned it offhand here and there, but I avoid cow’s milk and other dairy products just because they make me feel like crap. Dairy produces more mucus in your body, and that often can affect your joints. It might not be noticeable for a lot of people, or I might have more of an intolerance than most, but I feel so much better when I avoid it. And dang, you’re lucky. Our Costco charges 2.99 for boneless thighs, and more for the chicken breasts. We wait for mega sales and stock up at our local grocery when they’re $1.99 or so.

  4. Anthony O left a comment on September 22, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I love my free protein. Yeah it’s got soy but non GMO and the isoflavones have been removed (the estrogen like compound) so no man boobs, myself and many have had phenomenal results in weight lifting and fitness. Check it out http://www.results.vi.com and the shake science at http://www.shake.vi.com
    The whole program has been a godsend to my family and many of my friends I just had to share!

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