Why assumptions about grocery prices cost bucks

Two of my favorite stores, Costco and Winco, are 5 minutes from each other.   A couple times a month I plan a trip where I visit both stores.  Most things are cheaper at Winco, but there are several things where Costco is a proven winner. This morning I made a grocery list and as usual, divided it by store. I always go to Costco first, so that whatever is too expensive or not available there, I can grab at Winco.  Today some of the Costco prices were as I expected.

  • milk-$1.92 a gallon.
  • grated cheese — $9.99 for 5 lbs of mozzarella or cheddar
  • carrots – $5.49 for 10 pounds
  • flour – $6.45 for 25 lbs
  • tortilla chips – $3.65 for 3 lbs

Other things were way higher than I’ve ever seen them at Costco.

  • Bacon was $10.99 for the 4-lb package that used to be $8.
  • Butter was $9.49 for 4 lb– just a few months ago it was $6 for 4 pounds.
  • Kirkland coffee used to be $7 and is now almost $11.
  • A 10-pound box of 40 hamburger patties that used to cost $18 was $24 today!

That’s $16+ difference on just four items, all of which I pretty routinely buy at Costco. By the end of the trip I was feeling pretty disappointed with Costco. But since I knew my prices and was already planning to visit Winco that day, it was no problem to just get those items at Winco. Unfortunately butter was only 50 cents cheaper at Winco — it’s been going up in price lately!  But coffee was $6 and bacon was $8 (for 4 lb).  Definitely a savings.

As I was walking through Costco, I realized there were a few items I hadn’t priced in awhile.  So as I shopped various places I wrote down prices.  Here’s what I found:

10-lb bag granulated sugar

  • Costco– $5.15–(oops, I bought it at Costco– ah well)
  • Winco–$4.48
  • Walmart- $4.48

25# all -purpose flour

  • Costco-$6.45 (Costco scores big time here– more than a buck cheaper!)
  • Winco-$7.68
  • Walmart- $7.68

2# Brown sugar

  • Costco- $1.40 (and Costco wins again!  OK, maybe Costco doesn’t TOTALLY disappoint me!)
  • Winco- $1.76
  • Walmart- 1.68

The difference in cost in many cases may be small, but it adds up.   I  buy 40 or more items many shopping trips.  If even half of those items can be bought 50 cents cheaper elsewhere, that’s a $10 savings in one shopping trip.  Multiply that by a trip a week and in a month you’ve saved enough to pay for a new blouse or a month of swimming lessons or a trip to the movies.

And I don’t spend forever shopping.  My joint Winco/Costco trip happens about twice a month, and works well because the two stores are very close to each other. My other grocery trips tend to be short ones combined with other errands, usually coordinated so that I can take advantage of great sales at various stores.  I ended up at Walmart today because I needed to  pick up a prescription.  Last week I visited Albertson’s to take advantage of an amazing $1/box cereal sale– I bought 20 boxes! —  but I made that trip when I had to be near there anyway for something else.

I don’t get totally obsessive about it– on crazy days I sometimes buy few things where I know they are more expensive to save time — gotta be realistic and not use too much gas, too.  But in general I try to buy things where they’re cheaper, and I try to stock up when things go on good sales.   For example, that 4-lb-for-$6 butter last winter?  I bought 30 lbs, and froze it, which allowed us to continue eating butter at the best price for weeks longer than most people probably did.

It also pays to check all the prices within a store for a particular item.   For example, today I didn’t see a good price on eggs at Costco or Winco– our hens aren’t laying QUITE enough —  so I ended up buying them at Walmart.  Most averaged $1.70-$1.90/dozen, but with an extra 30 seconds of scanning I spotted a different brand — $1.44 for a dozen jumbo eggs.  Yeah, I know, I only saved a quarter, for that 30 seconds of looking…but again, it all adds up!

And the hamburger patties?  I ended up buying a huge 10-lb roll of regular ground beef for $2 a pound at Winco.  Then I went home and made my own patties.  I mixed 8 pounds  of ground beef with 2 cups of oatmeal, a cup of wheat germ, 1/4 cup of dry minced onion, some salt, and a cup of pureed tomatoes.  That made 36 patties which I layered on a cookie sheet with wax paper and froze. (That’ll be 2 meals, with a few patties left over.)  I then used the last 2 pounds of ground beef from the 10-lb roll for spaghetti sauce, enough for a couple meals.  So, for $20 I got 4 patties less than I would have from the $24 Costco box, but also made the meat stretch for 2 more meals. And the added ingredients make our burgers healthier AND tastier.

{ 20 Comments }

  1. I, too, have noticed the drastic increase in the cost of butter.

    How do you store your flour? We make almost all of our own bread and pizza crust and I have been buying bread flour in 25 pound bags. I divide it up into 1 or 2 pound bags and freeze, but I am always looking for a better way. The one time I bought a 50 lb bag, my husband looked in the freezer, saw the baggies of white powser and said it looked like we were storing bags of cocaine!

    • Hi Fern,
      I often buy 50lb bags, actually, and store them in an 18 gallon Rubbermaid on the floor of my pantry. I haven’t had bugs in Rubbermaids yet, and have used them for years.
      Mary

  2. I use a lot of flour and haven’t considered buying it at a warehouse club. Aldi has it for $2.24 for 5 lbs and Walmart for $1.58. Costco would beat both of them!

  3. Your point about saving 50 cents on 20 items is such a good one. I’ve gotten so slack lately! I need to focus on my big goals and make the effort. Thanks!

  4. Christine D. says:

    Thank you for the Fred Meyer ground beef sale tip a couple weeks ago. I stocked up BIG TIME and spent the next two days browining 50 pounds which placed in one pound bags should get us through until new years! Hooray!

  5. elizabethrose says:

    Yes, Mary. I agree with Christine D. Thank you for the Fred Meyer tip. I don’t normally shop there but it was really worth it to go out of my way and grab a bunch of ground beef. Thanks!

  6. That $0.25 for 30 seconds of looking is like saving 30 per hour. I think it is worth it.

  7. I try to find the store that gives me consistently cheaper totals. I have trouble going to several stores because the extra stuff I end up buying at each store adds up! I’m not super great at sticking to ONLY the stuff on my list. 🙂

  8. I’ve noticed it, too. And I laugh at myself a lot – because I’d rather just be able to buy things at the same place every time! But it does become second nature after a while. A friend of mine told me that I’d eventually memorize prices – and it’s happening. And I live 20 minutes from town anyway, so once I get IN to town, it’s no trouble to run to several stores.

  9. brown sugar was $2.85 for 4# at Costco in Silverdale, WA. (Same price as you, just diff quantity. I saw this and I cross referenced it with my receipt. Now I am wondering what the price of bacon and butter are these days at our costco too, i am curious as to if it varries by region!

    • It is definitely different by region. I don’t recall the brown sugar price, I haven’t bought that lately, but I’ve never seen milk under $2.25 here in the 2 years we’ve had a Costco.

  10. I have been putting off making a “price book” for a little while but this post gave me that extra little shove into starting one. I bet it really can make a difference even though my family only has 3! Remember everyone…Mary has a very large family…buying things in such extreme bulk only saves money over other prices from other stores IF you truly eat/use every bit of food. For those of us with smaller families it wise to mention to be sure that you hae the room to store these bulk items and ask yourself if it will truly beused by the expiration. If not, it pays to spend a wee bit more & have it in the smaller package thus creating less waste annd truly using all of it. 🙂

    • Yes, I’ve been meaning to make a price book for… oh… at least ten years! ay, yi, yi. It just seems so intimidating every time I think about starting it! I do really need to, though, I know it would be worth it.

  11. I have a bit of a ‘flip’ side of an opinion on the cost of food. I hesitated to write this, at first, because I didn’t want to appear as a curmudgeon but thought I had to say something. We farm for a living and it is a little bit scary for me to see milk costing $1.92/gallon or $1.44/doz eggs. I know, as farmers, we only get a small portion of all these prices but when the price of food is so ‘cheap’ (I know it doesn’t seem like it when you are buying it for a family – we have a larger family too but it is ‘cheap’, really, compared to the relative cost of production), it is hard to sustain many farms. Just ‘food for thought’…

    • Sarah, our family gets raw milk from a local dairy for $6/gallon, I’ve heard in the larger cities not too far from us it goes for twice that or more! We are so blessed to have such a great dairy. They started selling their own beef too(grassfed, no hormones/antibiotic/etc.) and a 1 pound bag of ground is $4.50. His free-range/hormone free eggs are $3/dozen but an even more local friend sells hers for $2. Like I said, we are truly blessed with the prices in our area, people are just amazed when I share what it costs.

  12. Hi
    I’m with you regarding the quick scan and saving a few pennies. Noticed that you use wax paper, do you ever buy cereal? I buy a couple of types and they cone in a sealed bag the bags are great for using as a substitute for wax paper.
    best
    Rachel
    uk

  13. AllieZirkle says:

    This hits home in a good way. We were at Costco and passed by several items as they were cheaper at the nearby Kroger chain. I <3 Costco but the butter & bacon prices are steep in Phoenix too! $3.90 for 2 gallons of milk makes me happy. 🙂

  14. The thing I have noticed is that people often think that just because it comes from a large warehouse store it is automatically cheaper. I let my warehouse membership expire because I found that there were very few things that I was actually saving money on – plus I was buying large, hard to manage packages. The savings of the membership makes up for the few items I have to pay more for.

  15. sillygeese says:

    My mom pays for a business membership at Sam’s Club and gave me and one of my brothers cards on her acct, I had been paying for the membership and let mine expire this year and just use the business acct. I don’t save anything extra just the cost of membership, and it allows me to shop earlier in the morning, I live 25 mi from Sam’s but drive my kiddo’s 20 of those miles into town for school, it is great to just run in and do my shopping without waiting until. they officially open at 10.
    I go once a month and buy block cheese(doesn’t have the non caking additive this way)just recently added salsa, milk, roterserie chicken,frozen General Tso chicken, it lets us have chinese food on busy nights at less than half what take out would cost, yes from scratch is even cheaper… I was giving into the take out temptation and now I don’t, and various random meat, this is where knowing your prices really pays off, and recently frozen strawberries, but I am going to price these this month and see. Used to be on my list was apple juice, but I am triing to wean my kids off of juice and onto just water

  16. $1.92 for a Gallon of milk is unbelievably cheap. Here in Canada, in a major city, I pay $3.98 for a Gallon and that is the cheapest you can find (Costco or Walmart etc.) If I have to run to the local grocery for milk I have to pay about $4.50-$5.00 depending on the fat content (higher fat higher price). “Cheap” butter here is $2.99 for 1# (if you can find it that cheap), and I buy free range eggs for about $4.00 a dozen. I would love to have access to raw milk and free range eggs locally!