How to Shop in Bulk Without Over-Stuffing Your Pantry and Fridge

Since the benefits of buying in bulk can be undone with one wrong purchase, we’re going to walk you through the best Costco shopping practices.

  • By Brittany Yamamoto-Taylor
  • July 16, 2019

We can all agree that there is a lot of appeal in snagging a great deal. It seems like everywhere you turn there is a sign with a red price tag advertising just how much you will save if you jump on a special sale right then and there. However, even the best discounts won’t save you much money if you don’t use ingredients before they go bad or you repurchase them because you forgot you already had some stockpiled. To help you out, we created 3 smart shopping tips that you can practice to keep your monthly food budget in check, and even lower it!

While haphazard bulk purchases probably won’t help your bank account, if you choose the right items to buy, you can save both money and time. Why spend extra gas and an extra hour running to the grocery store when you can stock up on discounted staple ingredients ahead of time? 

If you want to start saving on multiple fronts, let’s first tackle the best ways to go about bulk shopping so you don’t waste any money or food. After that, we can move into the 3 categories of ingredients we like to prioritize at Costco – our favorite bulk store.

Smart Bulk Shopping Tips

1. Stock up on pantry items you use most

Whether buying in bulk is perpetually tempting for you or actually feels overwhelming, it’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of bulk shopping. If you stay away from purchasing larger quantities because of clutter or thinking that having 15 of any one item seems like too much, then you’ll miss out on some great savings. At the same time, if you buy everything in bulk, your pantry will be overflowing and you’ll definitely end up throwing food away, which also means throwing away money.

To strike the right balance, take note of the ingredients you most frequently use in day-to-day cooking. Once you have a list, compare the Costco price to your regular store price and see how much you will save by buying in bulk. Here are some common ingredients used in daily meals:

  • Pantry essentials: oils, vinegars, spices, canned goods, stock / Better than Bouillon, beans, nuts, pastas, grains (rice, quinoa, etc.)
  • Proteins: meat, poultry, seafood, tofu
  • Dairy: yogurt, butter, milk, eggs

Once you’ve purchased your bulk items, it’s a good idea to keep a simple inventory list of what you have and where you store it. This way, you won’t forget about an ingredient and end up buying duplicates.

2. Split with a buddy

While bulk discount stores like Costco have some amazing deals, buying in large quantities doesn’t always make sense for everyone’s budget or storage space. Whether you are a household of one or a big family that can’t spend $15 on peanut butter at one time (even if it will save in the long run), we have the perfect solution to still take advantage of bulk savings: buddy up!

It only takes a couple text messages to set a regular time to go shopping with a friend so you can purchase things together. Every member of Costco can bring up to two guests into the warehouse, so it’s easy to buddy up with a friend who has a membership even if you don’t. 

Also, mobile bank transfers or apps like Venmo make it so simple to split the bill right then and there. You can then divide everything between the two of you, and if any of your items come in one package or jar, just whip out your handy Tupperware or reusable silicone baggies

Seeing a friend and getting your bulk deals on without emptying your wallet? It’s a definite win-win situation!

3. Extra Costco discounts

If the bulk discounts that are innate to any Costco purchase isn’t enough, there’s more! Costco sends out circulars every month with further discounts – some of the deals are even available online if you don’t have time to hit up the store. You can find each month’s special discounts at this Warehouse Savings section of their website and make the most of your membership.

Now that you understand 3 important ways to make bulk shopping work for you, let’s move on to our favorite items to pick up when we’re at Costco.

Best Bulk Items at Costco

1. Shortcuts

Pre-Made Meals

Although we are the biggest fan of home-cooked meals, we also know that ready-made meals can be lifesavers in busy times. So, plan to have a solo date at Costco and leisurely wander the aisles to find your favorite shortcut meals to stock up on. 

Between raviolis, chicken fried rice, fish sticks, and Indian dishes, there are a lot of tasty options that will save you a lot of money in a pinch. In particular, the seasoned ribs are great to freeze and then pop in the Instant Pot for a last-minute group meal. If you stock up on a few of your favorite shortcut meals, then you won’t have to hand over bundles of cash to restaurants or take-out joints on the nights that cooking just isn’t going to happen.

Shortcut Ingredients

Some days you can squeeze in cooking as long as the recipe takes less than 30 minutes. For those times, here are our favorite ingredients that will help you prepare a home-cooked meal in a flash:

  • Minced Garlic – Since garlic is called for in so many recipes, buying it already minced can make prep for the week go by much more quickly and easily.
  • Rotisserie Chicken – Getting a rotisserie chicken at Costco only costs $5 and can be used to make a variety of meals like soup, salad, sandwiches, and nachos. In our meal plan recipes, one rotisserie chicken always makes two different meals! (See how we used it for a cobb salad one night, then in a noodle stir-fry the next night.)
  • Other Proteins – Getting ready-made proteins like carnitas and poke is a great way to save prep time so you get tacos, soups, and bowls on the dinner table fast.

2. Frozen Meats & Produce

Frozen meats

Did you know that animal proteins like chicken tenders, fish, and shrimp cost less than their non-frozen counterparts? If you want to save some money, pick up some frozen meats and you’ll always be ready to cook up a great meal at a great price.


You can easily pick up a great veggie medley at Costco and use it in stir-fries, sautes, and even soups. Whenever you have a stir-fry recipe, you can always just use your frozen medley in place of whatever veggies the recipe called for. (For more great tips on how to stir-fry, check out our Guide to Stir-Frying!)


Costco frozen fruit might look like too much fruit at first glance, but you don’t have to keep it all frozen in your freezer. You can stick some fruit in the refrigerator to thaw for sauces, vinaigrettes, cobblers, and cheesecakes. Whatever you do freeze can easily be used for smoothies, punch, or sangria – the perfect way to keep cool and refreshed when it’s warm outside!

3. Cheese

Cheese can be expensive, so buying it in bulk will get you the best deal. If you use cheese a lot in snacks, pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, and Mexican dishes, then purchasing a big block will save you a lot in the long run.

Although pre-grated cheese is very convenient, it’s important to note that those types of cheeses often have a good number of fillers that prevent clumping. Because of this, we recommend buying the large blocks of cheese, grating them in a food processor, and then freezing whatever amount you won’t use in baggies.

Now that you are well-versed in our favorite Costco tips and tricks, we hope you’re ready to put them into action and start saving every month! If you have a friend or family member who loves a good deal, please help them get bulk-shopping savvy by sharing this article with them.

Also, if you’ve found any ingredient surprisingly helpful to buy at Costco, let us know in the comments below!

A little note:

Some of the above links are Amazon affiliate links, which means we earn a small percentage from those sales. We use this affiliate revenue to support the continued growth of Cook Smarts. Thank you!

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