Grocery Geek: Costco for FREE?

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My first week of grocery shopping during the Pantry Challenge turned out to be pretty successful. Despite the fact that we’re already out of bread.

Once I cleaned out the pantry and cupboards earlier this week, I felt such a renewed sense of ownership over my kitchen. I know what I have, I know what we need to use soon, I know what not to buy again (evidenced in the bag of stuff to take to the food pantry and what was tossed into the trash).

And I restrained myself while shopping this week. I keep a magnetic pad of paper on my refrigerator where I keep a running log of things we need. I keep lists for Costco, Walmart, Sprouts, and Trader Joe’s, my four regular grocery stops. Imagine my horror when the list of things that we were truly out of and truly needed was Costco!

Any Costco member will testify to the fact that it is hard not to come out of that store with more than you intended. And to do this during a Pantry Challenge? Be still my racing heart. Since I had to return those lovely-baking-pans-that-I-really-liked-but-started-to-flake-their-coating, it seemed like I just needed to bite the bullet.

What restraint! Here’s what I ended up getting:

I didn’t even buy everything on my list! And, as you can tell, it was a pretty boring list: bananas, cheese, pasta, half and half, milk, bread, and cleaning supplies: Dawn, sponges, and vinegar. I bought nothing that wasn’t already on the list. My total: $66.

However, since we upgraded to an executive membership earlier last year, I had a rebate check for $67 and some change. So, it was the once-in-a-lifetime FREE grocery trip at Costco, since that rebate was money that came out of my grocery budget last year! Who woulda thunk it?

(I suppose if you really want to get technical, some of that money was recouped from the extra expense for the upgraded membership. But, let’s not split hairs. I’ll take my Costco victories wherever I can get them! In my mind, I’d already made peace with the membership cost because I stopped getting harassed at the checkout AND we save so much shopping there. But, if it makes you more comfortable, we can count $45 back toward the membership which means this trip cost me $44.)

And fresh produce:

Also in our grocery shopping this week was our weekly produce box, pictured here:

We subscribe to the large box from Abundant Harvest Organics. I really can’t say enough good things about these folks. If you live in Southern California, you should join. Seriously. They deliver as far south as San Diego and as far north as Ventura. It is the best deal for farm fresh organic produce, often beating the price of grocery store conventional. The food is seasonal and “normal” enough that we are stocked with fresh fruit, salad greens, and some new funky stuff to try.

But, thankfully, funky isn’t so funky anymore as I learn what to do with it.

This week’s box contained apples, pears, pomegranates, spinach, turnips, rutabagas, new potatoes, truly baby carrots, swiss chard, arugula, lavendar, red leaf lettuce, and butternut squash. The promised fennel was missing, but that’s okay, because I didn’t know what to do with it. They are great about missing or less than stellar items, though, as they threw in an extra bundle of carrots, oranges and pears to compensate for some under-par broccoli last time.

I ordered 20 pounds of apples as an “extra,” bringing our total to $59.40.

Also in the grocery haul was a quick $5 stop for hubs to buy cilantro and smores fixings for a bonfire at the beach. That brought our weekly total to $64.40, not bad when you consider I went to Costco, too! {snickers}

Month to Date: $64.40*

*Or $108.40 if you want to count the membership money (see note above).

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  1. We go to a restaurant that serves a pear with a lavender honey sauce that is to die for! When I saw you got both pairs and lavender my mouth started watering. I’ve looked on line but haven’t found a recipe for it, one of these days I’m going to have to experiment! Enjoy your produce.

  2. Christine A says:

    I just upgraded to a Costco Exec membership last week after they confronted me at check out and told me how much we spent on gas and in total!!!

    • Personally, I spun a few gaskets last spring about the confrontation at the check-out. That said, it did pay for itself. I think it had to do with buying gas there, actually.

    • @Christine A, They kept asking me and I kept declining. They never mentioned that if the rebate does not at least equal the difference in membership between regular and executive, they will refund the amount. If they’d told me that, I would have done it earlier! Figures, I spent enough there now that I lost money by not doing it earlier. oh well. Anyway, they said gas does NOT count for the executive rebate. I use my Costco AmEx, which gets the gas rebate, but the executive rebate is not earned for fuel purchases. (Tobacco also does not earn it, but that doesn’t affect me.)

      • @Sandi, that is interesting about the gas. I’m wondering if that applies to liquid milk products. Sounds like the regulations that typically apply to store coupons, etc.

        • @Jessica, All standard groceries definitely DID count. That is the majority of what I purchase there, so I would not have bothered had they not been eligible.

          From their terms and conditions: “Reward is not calculated: (i) on purchases of cigarettes or tobacco-related products, gasoline, Costco Cash Cards, postage stamps, alcoholic beverages in certain states (including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan), and at food courts; (ii) on membership fees; (iii) on purchases not recorded through Costco’s front-end registers and transactions done on or through Web sites not hosted by Costco even if accessed through, including all business, consumer, and insurance services, the online photo center, Costco Travel, and the My Publisher website”

  3. Glad you had a fun free trip! Always nice. I had to do Costco during this pantry challenge as well – it was brutal and I spent a fortune but it was most of what I will need for the month but for the most ‘expirable’ stuff.

    I gave up my executive membership as it was a catch-22 for me. I was charging, which I’m trying to avoid because I tend to spend more than when I pay cash. And then when I stopped charging it became less worthwhile [last year they had to fulfill that promise to give us what it cost us if we made less!] Now when they accost me with that gun I just say no thanks! We tried and don’t want it again.

    Jealous of your produce box!

    • It may change for us in this new year. I don’t like that most of their cheese and butter has hormones, so I buy those at Trader Joe’s. Those are some of the staples I buy there, so we’ll see if this year’s membership pays for itself or not.

  4. Great job girl.
    We do Bountiful Baskets here in Texas. We love it. And yes, you rocked that Costco trip!

  5. I love Costco too.. Im a past Exec member as well.. I spent way too much there in the past & I dont spend enough now to compensate, for the cost of the exec membership.
    I do keep my membership there for certain specific items that I cant get anywhere else for less.. either quality or price.. usually both.
    One of my “tricks” to shopping there is if I only need a few items, I dont get a cart.. I have to carry my items. When my hands are full, I cant buy anymore. 😉 Its kept my bill down many a time.

    You did a great job this week.. I havent been to the grocery store yet, but I will be going over the weekend probably. Just need eggs, sausage, & milk that Im aware of. Keeping my fingers crossed. 😉

    • We have so many staples at Costco that can’t be beat elsewhere, so we’re pretty loyal. Just trying to stay savvy, too. 😉 I like the no cart idea. That is brilliant!

  6. FYI, AHO delivers much farther north than Ventura. We picked up our box in Redding once when we were on vacation.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. Since they don’t deliver to Santa Barbara and points on the Central Coast, I just assumed they didn’t go farther north. That’s great that you could change the location during vacation. That’s amazing.

  7. I wonder if anyone is NOT an executive member anymore? Makes me laugh whenever I read a costco post because sticking to a list and the cash in hand is so HARD! … Doable, but hard!

  8. Costco arrived here a couple of years ago. I haven’t ever been, but a friend of mine is a member and she’s going to take me to look around. I’m not at all sure it’d be worth my while to join. I don’t buy brand items and Aldi is so very cheap anyway. But I’m looking forward to seeing the place and how the prices stack up. If it’d be worth my while I’ll join….

    • It may not be able to compete with Aldi’s prices, but for quality and organics, it’s really a great deal.

  9. Stacey Meyer says:

    When you do get fennel, try adding it to homemade cole slaw….adds a yummy fresh taste! It can also be roasted.

  10. We didn’t get the carrots in the box this week but got tons of spinach. I’m happy that the leeks and beets are supposed to be in this weeks box. I’ve missed them!

    • Your comment reminded me to check what’s in next week’s box. I have a backlog of squash and next week looks the same, so I better start using it or give it away. This is our first season, only done it since August, so I have no clue what’s in our future. You’ll have to give me hints of good things to come.

  11. Oh my goodness, I’m so glad you mentioned that Abundant Harvest comes to Ventura County. I had no idea…and I’ve been reading about your boxes and adventures with new ingredients the whole time! I am going to seriously consider giving this a try. Thanks!

    • Definitely! We, well, I, love it. Hubs isn’t crazy that I am making things we wouldn’t normally have, like sweet potatoes and sauteed greens. But, I feel like I’m exposing my kids to new tastes that I never had before. You could try a small box at first and see if you like it.

  12. I wish we had a Costco. Only Sam’s for us – but I prefer Costco. And your box of fresh produce – AMAZING!! Not much is growing out here in Eastern Iowa this time of year. Our unseasonably warm weather this week made me antsy for spring and gardening – but reality will hit one of these days and we’ll be covered in snow.

    I spent $37 this week on a fridge full of fresh fruit and veggies and farm fresh eggs. Not too bad, all things considered!

  13. If you ever do get fennel, try this easy and delicious crock pot recipe:

    • @Krissa, thanks for the link. I’m actually kind of relieved not to have the fennel. My dad uses fennel seed a lot, but it’s probably overkill that has turned me off to it.

  14. I always feel weird when I go to Costco and purchase a single gallon of milk and that’s it. Sometimes that is all I need, but it is almost embarrassing.

    • @Sandi, don’t feel weird! You are the customer — and it’s great that you’re exercising restraint and NOT buying things you don’t need!

  15. I have been trying to weigh my options on getting a Costco card. I would have to send the hubby on most occasions. He passes by there everyday and we live about 70 miles from the closest one…. I would be scared with him in there. I’m imagining 200 pairs of socks and 55 gallons of nacho cheese dip! I wish I could find a Costco for Dummys post!!!!!!

  16. that is one beautiful box of produce, especially for January! I just came from my farmer’s market meeting and one of our farmer’s gave me fresh tomatoes he grew in his greenhouse. I nearly jumped for joy. I live outside Boston so this was just such an unexpected surprise.
    Kudos on Costco on the cheap. Not an easy task.

  17. I love using my Costco rebate!!! WOW, we must spend a ton – our check is usually around $130 – so it surely pays for our membership plus a bit. We do use a lot of gas – so the extra rebate on gas is nice.

  18. I must be the minority here, but I have a Costco exec. membership AND a Sam’s club membership that I share with my mom. I prefer Costco (both stores are within 15 minutes of our suburban Seattle home) but Sam’s is nice on weekends- much less crowded and I like that they carry different brands.
    We also do a produce box (Full Circle Farms) every other week. And I do love that I can go online and modify what I’ll receive. My family is adventurous, but not so for hubs. My Costco check has never NOT paid for itself- but we buy ALL of our appliances, electronics, furniture etc from Costco.

  19. I came across your blog in a somewhat random way. (I found Ty’s Burger House on Yelp and was looking for a website which could show me a menu.)
    Thank you so much for mentioning Abundant Harvest Organics! I have been wanting a service like this for a while and am excited to check them out.
    Thanks too for such great words of wisdom. I’m impressed with the little I’ve seen so far and look forward to checking out the rest of your website!

    • Thanks for your kind words. Ty’s was pretty good, though honestly we haven’t been back. We’ve since done The Counter and Elevation Burger. But, sometimes In-N-Out is just plain sufficient. Obviously not the same quality ingredients.

      Abundant Harvest is fantastic. I was wanting something like it for a long time, and the local CSAs were just too chintzy with what they gave us. This is perfect.

  20. I have a Sam’s membership. To combat the unplanned purchases, I made a Click N Pull grocery list of the stuff I normally buy each month. It took a couple of hours to set it up, but each month I spend about 15 minutes clicking the boxes – they pull the merchandise and I pay and pick it up. It is very nice and you know BEFORE you go how much you spent. The cold stuff is kept in the refrigerators until you go and then they take it to the register. The only disadvantage is that the register is near the candy aisle and if my hubby goes – he’ll buy a “treat” that’s not on my list! LOL!

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