Buying a membership to a big-box warehouse club like Costco, BJ’s, or Sam’s Club is generally a pretty good idea. You have access to massive quantities of pretty much anything you could ever want, and the prices are generally pretty good, too. But if you’re not careful, you can end up wasting a ton of money on things you don’t need and/or food you’re not able to eat before it goes bad. But if you keep these 13 tips in mind, you won’t waste a dollar on food at warehouse clubs ever again.
The restaurant industry, especially sit-down chains like Applebee’s, has been having a rough go of it recently, in a large part because more and more people are cooking at home instead of dining out. Stretching our dollars at the supermarket is a way of life, and for certain food items, you can stretch your dollars the furthest at warehouse clubs.
If you play your cards right, you can end up saving hundreds of dollars in grocery money every year by shopping at warehouse clubs. But if you play them wrong, you can end up throwing away hundreds of dollars’ worth of unnecessary groceries. The most important things to keep in mind are to not buy any foods in bulk that you’re not going to be able to use quickly or freeze, and to play close attention to deals and sales. And don’t forget the main rule of thumb for grocery shopping in general: Don’t shop hungry! Read on to learn how to stretch your food dollar at big-box stores like Costco, BJ's, and Sam's Club.
The biggest mistake people make at stores like Costco is assuming that everything there is less expensive than at grocery stores. This definitely isn’t the truth. Compare the price of staples at your supermarket versus warehouse stores (figure it out per pound or ounce if the sizes are different), and make a list of the least expensive places to buy each.
Hard liquor and beer are much less expensive — up to 35 percent, in some cases — at the big box stores than at liquor stores and supermarkets. You’ll find the biggest savings on top-shelf booze, but budget brands are also generally perfectly suitable.
If you freeze meat properly, it can last for months in your freezer, and big box stores sell meat in much larger packages than at the supermarket. And if you have some butchery chops, you can buy large pieces of minimally processed meat and break it down yourself, like turning a whole beef tenderloin (also called a “pismo”) into nice filet mignon steaks.
As a member, you’ll probably get coupons mailed to your house; don’t throw these away! Also, membership desks usually have extra coupons handy.
Those large bags of shredded cheese don’t seem too useful unless you’re making a lot of pizza, but keep in mind that it also freezes very well. Separate them into individual zip-close bags and defrost as needed. The same goes for other types of processed cheese, like blocks of Cheddar, but nicer cheeses like Brie should never be frozen.
Costco's $4.99 rotisserie chickens make for an ideal quick and easy dinner; they can be served as-is or shredded and turned into any variety of dishes. You can’t really freeze them, but they’ll last for a few days in the fridge and are seriously inexpensive.
Vegetable oil is one of those foods that really benefits from being bought in bulk. Pour some into your old regular-size bottle (carefully), store the rest in a cool, dark place, and you’ll be set for months.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are the ideal warehouse club buy, because they’re already frozen and they’re something that everyone needs. Keep them in the freezer and defrost what you need when you need it. On the other hand, produce at warehouse stores generally isn’t cheaper than at the supermarket.
Pet food is a lot cheaper at big-box stores than at the supermarket, or even at the pet food store, when bought in bulk.
Buy all your breads and baked goods at the warehouse clubs, but make sure you have the freezer space to store it before it gets stale. Their bagels tend to be pretty good as well. And as for dairy, you can find yourself saving up to 40 percent on dairy products at warehouse stores over the supermarket.
When meat is a couple days from expiration, it’ll usually be marked down significantly. Pay attention to all of the price labels, as they can change on a day’s notice thanks to supply and demand.
Take-and-bake pizzas are a great way to feed a family. They’re also inexpensive, they freeze really well, and many claim that they're just as good (if not better) than what's found at the leading pizza chains.
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