One of the biggest issues I hear frugal real foodies struggling with is finding affordable real food without having to drive all over dodge.
Over time, you find a routine as to what stores or markets work best for your budget, your time and your area. But I remember first starting out and wishing there was some totally awesome list that someone else had put together for me, just coming right out and telling what stores had the best deals on certain items. It would have been helpful too if they told me what NOT to buy, and their reasons why.
Back then, I was neck-deep in information overload. My mind was swimming with random bits and pieces about nitrates and BPA and high fructose corn syrup. I felt like throwing my entire kitchen in the trash can and spending a paycheck or two at Whole Foods, but that wasn’t possible with our small grocery budget. Besides, one paycheck won’t get me very far there!
Today’s post is an ode to you folks who are feeling this pain. Those who are trying to eat better and not go broke. Those who are making more foods from scratch, but simply don’t have the time or energy to make ketchup or butter. Those who have embraced homemade bread, but are still trying to get their families to embrace whole grains.
Allow me to share my version of a totally awesome list of healthy food at Costco. At one time or another, I’ve price compared just about every item on this list with either another store or an online seller. In the end, Costco won. The totally awesome list is broken down into four main categories:
- What I Always Buy
- What I Sometimes Buy
- What I Never Buy
- What I Would Buy But Haven’t Yet
You’ll find the price for each item (which might vary from store to store) and explanations throughout the list too, since it helps sometimes to see the ‘why’ behind what someone does. The items in each list are in no particular order. Unless you count the way Costco designs the layout of their warehouse. 🙂
What I Always Buy
Almonds, $15.49 for 3lbs ($5.16/lb)
California is the only state that grows almonds commercially, and since the state requires almonds to be pasteurized (with either propylene oxide or high-temperature steam-heat), I figure there’s no point in forking over the money for “raw” almonds when they’re likely not raw anyway.
Organic Maple Syrup, $16.49 for 1L
Hands down the best price I’ve found anywhere. Not even Amazon can beat it!
Jasmine Rice, $16.99 for 25lbs
This equates to just 68¢ per pound, which is an amazing price for rice. We also prefer the taste of jasmine rice over long grain white or brown. It’s just a hint sweeter, and fits well with most of our meals.
All-Natural Peanut Butter, $10.99 for (2) 40 oz jars
The term “all-natural” is not regulated and has no official meaning, so it’s up to us as consumers to read the ingredient label and decide for ourselves whether it’s truly natural or not. Kirkland brand all-natural peanut butter contains just peanuts and salt.
Vanilla Extract, $6.99 for 16 oz
The only way you’ll be able to beat this price is if you buy vanilla beans and liquor in bulk and make it yourself. I’m not there in my journey yet, so for now, this is my go-to shop for vanilla.
Active Dry Yeast, $4.49 for 32oz
A KILLER deal for yeast. Those little single serving packets are expensive on their own. Buying in bulk equates to just 2¢ for every teaspoon of yeast.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $11.99 for 1L
After this fridge test and even more research after the fact, we’ve decided that the Tuscan EVOO at Costco is pure olive oil and the best we can get at an affordable price.
Chocolate Chips, $8.69 for 72oz
The only downside of these chips is that they contain soy lecithin. Fortunately, we’ve eliminated soy from just about everywhere else in the kitchen. We’ve really cut back on our use of chocolate chips since we started eating real food, so this doesn’t concern me much. I haven’t noticed any difference in quality between these and the Nestle TollHouse brand either, so these are a winner.
Organic All-Purpose Flour, $14.99 for 25lbs
Most commercial flour is enriched, meaning there is synthetic vitamins and minerals added to the flour after the berries have been ground. The only way to avoid this is to buy either un-enriched and un-bromated flour, or go organic. We make all of our breads from scratch, and although we’re on average 75% whole grain, we still use white flour on occasion. Buying in bulk equates to paying $2.99 for a 5lb bag, which is a great deal on organic flour.
Old-Fashioned Oats, $8.39 for 10 lbs
After reading about the differences between all the different types of oats on the market, I decided that the Quaker Old Fashioned Oats from Costco offer the best bang for our buck. They earn points for not being partially cooked like the instant oats, and since they’re basically steel cut oats that have been squished, I don’t see the point in paying more for the unsquished version.
Kerrygold Butter, $6.99 for (3) 8 oz sticks
Mmm. Kerrygold’s butter is grass-fed, and is the yellow-est butter I have ever found. It’s only a bit more per pound than organic butter, but incredibly more affordable than buying it at another local store where they sell it for $4 per 8 oz!
Organic Cheese, $10.99 for 2 lbs
Most organic brick cheeses at Costco run this price, with the exception of sharp cheddar which is just a dollar more. $5.50 per pound of organic cheese is a really great price, and no other store in our area can come close.
Organic Ketchup, $6.99 for (2) 44 oz
Organic ketchup contains sugar, but it doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup. Ketchup is another item that we don’t eat as much of as we used to, but when we buy it, it’s always from Costco.
Cashews, $14.99 for 2 1/2 lbs
These are salted, but you can save a few pennies and get a 2 1/2 lb tub of unsalted cashews for $14.69. Like the almonds, the best price I’ve seen and they’re our preferred nut for homemade protein bars.
Fresh Mozzarella, $6.99 for (3) 8 oz balls
Homemade pizza isn’t the same without fresh mozzarella cheese – the kind in water. It’s also just $4.66/lb, far less than any other store in our area.
Granulated Sugar, $4.29 for 10 lbs
After watching the circulars week after week, and even price comparing with a coupon, Costco consistently offers the best deal on granulated sugar. Granted, I know this isn’t 100% “real food” because it’s not completely natural, but we use it for kombucha, baking bread, some desserts and Mr. Crumbs’ coffee. My general rule of thumb is to bake with honey, but not every recipe is completely adaptable. We average buying this every four months, and that’s something I can live with. I did try organic sugar one time but it cost twice as much and the bag was half as big. For now, for our budget, we’re sticking with the plain white granulated.
Sun-Dried Tomatoes, $7.99 for 32 oz
We love these tomatoes in our Greek dishes, and this is just a mere fraction of the cost in other stores. Trust me, I found out the hard way when we ran out at the last-minute and we had to make a quick stop at Savemart! Yikes!
Kalamata Olives, $7.39 for 52 oz
Like the sun-dried tomatoes, another killer deal. Local stores charge nearly the same price for a teeny tiny jar!
What I Sometimes Buy
Flour Tortillas, $5.99 for (2) 25 ct
If I’m short on time or feeding a crowd, the Tortilla Land flour tortillas would be in my cart. They contain canola oil, but no other weird ingredients. This is definitely a compromise food in my opinion, but sometimes homemade tortillas just aren’t in the schedule, ya know?
Organic Frozen Fruit, $9.59 for 3 lbs
That price is for blueberries. A berry blend is $9.99 for 3 lbs and mangoes are $8.69 for 4 lbs. My eye has been on these throughout the winter, and the price hasn’t changed. We tend to buy these usually over the winter, but this is a really great price that might even give fresh berries a run for their money!
Apples, $6.99-$9.99 for 5 lbs
Previous trips to Costco almost always contained apples. After finding local organic apples for a better price at the farmers market, this might change. Of course, if they’re not in season, Costco still has the best price in town.
Honey, $12.99 for 80 oz
This is for the single big container. The smaller honey bears are priced at $12.99 for (3) 24 oz, and are actually more per ounce than this big container. Lately we’ve ordered raw honey from Tropical Traditions or Amazon.
Lemon Juice, $5.79 for (2) 48 oz
This might very well make it to my “always” buy list. It tastes amazing, and the large bottles mean I don’t feel bad making lemon vinaigrette dressing every night of the week. We bought this Mid-March and we’re just barely halfway through one jug. Although it’s a bit more out-of-pocket since it’s bulk, it’s turning out to be a huge money saver over the course of time.
Coffee, $14.79 for 3 lbs
Our favorite blend is the organic San Francisco rainforest, which occasionally goes on sale for $9.99 for 3 lbs. If it does, we stock up! When we don’t by coffee from Costco, it’s another item we order from Tropical Traditions using gift certificates.
Greek Yogurt, $7.48 for 48 oz
We usually buy this when we’re about to make our own yogurt, but it’s also on the list when we’re needing a lot of yogurt or planning lots of meals using it. It’s a good bang for the buck since it’s thick already – perfect for homemade dressings and sauces.
Organic Quinoa, $18.99 for 4 lbs
We’re not huge quinoa fans, but it is nice to change up the menu now and then. It’s only $4.75 per pound too and packs a huge nutritional punch.
What I Never Buy
Chicken Stock, $11.99 for (6) 32 oz
That price is for organic chicken stock, but I would never buy either one of them because it’s SO easy to make your own using the carcass and bones from whole chickens. Homemade chicken stock is like a free by-product of buying chickens. If you want to get technical, the only true cost is water and apple cider vinegar, but even if you account for those, it’s infinitely cheaper to make it yourself.
Organic Whole Milk, $9.99 for (3) 64 oz
This milk is UHT, which of all the milks available, is the one with the least amount of nutrients left. I can actually get HTST organic whole milk for a few pennies less per gallon!
Organic Strawberry Preserves, $6.99 for 42 oz
It only took one time of making homemade apple butter to say bye-bye to store-bought jellies, plus it costs just $2 for a 16 oz jar of organic butter! Check out this post for a tutorial and recipes to get started.
Organic Kirkland Peanut Butter, $11.99 for (2) 28 oz
Peanuts are not at the top of my list in terms of buying organic, so organic peanut butter isn’t a priority. Besides, we’ve gone through A LOT of peanut butter lately and the natural version with just nuts and salt is much more affordable.
What I Would Consider Buying But Haven’t Yet
I usually buy my coconut oil from Tropical Traditions or Amazon, but I’ve heard good things about the Nutiva brand available at Costco.
Tropical Traditions typically has great prices on coconut oil, but sometimes when I need other items too I’ll order it from Thrive Market.
We don’t have any nut allergies, so we’ve always bought peanut butter. However, if I was looking to buy almond butter, Costco has the best deal. They sell two brands: Maranatha for $9.79 (26 oz) and Organic Brad’s for $15.99 (24 oz). Maranatha is the better deal per ounce and unless I was specifically looking for organic almond butter, that’s what I would pick.
We still have a few boxes of baking soda leftover from my couponing days, so it’ll be some time before we have to buy it again. However, when we need to, we’ll buy it from Costco – it’s just 38¢ per pound. That’s WAY better than any coupon price I found!
Organic Heavy Cream
We use heavy cream mostly during the holiday season. This is a recent addition to our Costco so we haven’t had a need to buy it yet. However, I’m excited that it’s available and that it’s organic!!
Organic Corn Tortillas
Like the flour tortillas above, this would be another compromise food. We usually make our own, but $2.99 for a 24 ct package isn’t a bad deal if you simply don’t have the time or energy to do it yourself. Plus since they’re organic, they aren’t GMO.
Other Items I Buy But Haven’t Listed
Some of the best deals on produce and meat can be found at Costco, but unfortunately, the prices on those vary tremendously from region to region. Local produce is always best, but I think I’m a bit spoiled since many growers grow in California… so the produce at my Costco is local.
But just in case inquiring minds want to know, or you’re unable to find good deals on local produce in your area, here’s the produce and meat that we often, if not regularly, buy in bulk from Costco:
- sweet potatoes
- whole chickens
- pork roasts
If you’re still working on creating a grocery budget, know that buying in bulk will save you money over time, but that it requires an up-front cost that can sometimes be difficult to afford. Aim for just one item each budget cycle and go from there. Soon you’ll create a meal plan from a stocked pantry and extra funds to splurge on better meat or organic produce!!
More frugal foodie price lists:
- Gluten-free foods at Costco
- Healthy food at Trader Joe’s
- What to Buy from Whole Foods
- Real Food at the Dollar Store