How to Live Off Less Than $500 a Month at Costco

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A FRUGAL COSTCO DIET


There's little doubt that shopping at Costco saves money, and it's convenient for stocking up in a single trip. But can budget-conscious consumers feed a family for an entire month without shopping anywhere else? Cheapism.com drew up a Costco meal plan with four weeks' worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for a family of four, including two young children. The total cost came to just under $475 (prices may vary by store). That's about 15 percent less than the "thrifty" grocery budget of $561.10 prescribed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (for a two-parent household with two preschool-age children, based on food costs in May 2016). Because the ingredients are sold in bulk, the total was calculated based on unit prices for the food used during the month. Many items are frozen or non-perishable, so any excess provides a foundation for next month.

Related: Don't Miss These 13 Perks of Costco or Sam's Club Membership

BREAKFAST

The following four breakfast options provide variety for the morning routine. Choices include quick weekday breakfasts, along with a larger meal for lazy weekends. This meal plan requires only one package of most of the products mentioned, but check the serving sizes against your family's appetite to be sure.

BREAKFAST: BACON AND EGGS

Leisurely Saturday and Sunday mornings call for eggs ($7.69 for three dozen) cooked any way you like; bacon ($7.99 for four 1-pound packages); fresh bananas ($1.39 for 3 pounds) or black seedless grapes ($7.49 for 4 pounds); and, of course, coffee ($10.49 for 3 pounds of Colombian coffee sold under Costco's Kirkland Signature label).

BREAKFAST: OATMEAL

Quaker Instant Oatmeal, sold in bulk at Costco for $9.79, makes a hearty breakfast, and 52 packets go a long way. Make or serve the oatmeal with milk ($2.29 for a gallon of the Kirkland Signature brand) and enjoy a cup of coffee.

BREAKFAST: CEREAL

Cold cereal is a staple in many households, and for good reason -- it's inexpensive, quick, and easy. Cheapism priced out two favorites, Kellogg's Mini-Wheats ($8.99 for a 70-ounce box) and Frosted Flakes ($7.45 for 61.9 ounces), but Costco also carries other varieties in the same price range. Again, milk and coffee figure into the total.

BREAKFAST: ON THE GO

If you're in a rush, head out the door with yogurt and a banana. Bulk tubs of Kirkland Signature-brand Greek yogurt ($6.99 for two 32-ounce containers) are more economical than individual cups, so fill a to-go container with one serving and you're ready for the day.

LUNCH

Sandwiches are the easy way out for lunch. The following four options can be rotated throughout the month. The key to living off a tight grocery budget is avoiding waste, so make good use of leftovers. Divvy up last night's dinner for variety and a break from sandwiches. The lunch menus assume adults drink water and kids get skim milk.

LUNCH: TUNA SALAD

Tuna comes in a dozen 7-ounce cans for $12.99 at Costco. Mix in some Kirkland Signature mayonnaise ($4.99 for 64 ounces), add a few cut-up grapes if on hand, and sandwich between two slices of Schwebel's bread ($2.95 for two 22-ounce loaves). Pair the tuna salad sandwich with Snyder's pretzels ($5.99 for 52 ounces) and fruit.

LUNCH: CHICKEN SALAD

This option is intended as an occasional riff on the ubiquitous tuna salad sandwich, using Kirkland Signature canned chicken breast ($11.99 for six 12.5-ounce cans). Add a spot of mayonnaise and fresh grapes (if available) to make chicken salad. Accompany the sandwich with Herr's chips ($3.59 for a 22-ounce bag) and organic Mott's applesauce ($11.79 for 36 3.9-ounce cups).

LUNCH: HAM SANDWICH

Canned meats and fish are a cheap way to get some midday protein, but Costco also sells affordable lunch meat in bulk. Pick up some Kirkland Signature extra-lean sliced ham ($9.69 for two 24-ounce packages) and fashion a simple sandwich once or twice a week with the addition of some mayonnaise. Round out this lunch with chips and fresh fruit.

LUNCH: PB & J

No budget grocery list would be complete without ingredients for classic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Costco sells 48-ounce jars of Jif creamy peanut butter in packages of two ($9.99) and 42-ounce jars of store-brand strawberry jelly ($6.99). Bonus: The jelly is organic. Pretzels or chips and fruit complete the meal, which should be another lunchtime standby.

Photo credit: Tyler Olson/shutterstock

OPTIONAL LUNCH: FREE SAMPLES

To reduce the monthly grocery bill even more, try shopping Costco on a Saturday, when store employees hand out samples. Go during lunch and fill up on bites of prepared meals, meats, fresh-cut fruit and breads, and packaged snacks. If someone in the family is still hungry by the time you wind your way through the store, make a brief stop at the food court. A quarter-pound all-beef hot dog and a drink costs $1.50 and a slice of pizza is $1.99, regardless of topping.

SNACKS

Many people, especially kids, need a snack between lunch and dinner. The snacks that fit the goal of living off Costco for a month on a $500 grocery budget include Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, pretzels, and string cheese (48 Frigo Cheese Heads sticks for $7.89).

DINNER

With 14 dinner menus, families can repeat each meal just once over the course of four weeks. There are also potential variations on a theme. For example, swap out cheese pizza for pepperoni or dress it up with leftover veggies. Again, the menus assume adults drink water and kids drink milk.

DINNER: CHICKEN AND VEGETABLES

For a low-cost dinner, grill frozen chicken breasts (Perdue brand, sold in 10-pound bags for $23.99) and heat up a side of frozen vegetables ($6.49 for a 5.5-pound bag of Kirkland Signature Normandy-Style Vegetable Blend). Season both with spices already on hand. A fruit smoothie made with Greek yogurt, milk, and frozen berries (Kirkland Signature Nature's Three Berries, sold in a 4-pound bag for $11.99) is a nutritious after-dinner treat.

DINNER: SPAGHETTI

Spaghetti is a budget dinner staple. Noodles and sauce are cheap to begin with, but buying in bulk (eight 1.1-pound bags of Garofalo spaghetti for $8.79 and three 45-ounce cans of Ragu sauce for $6.99) brings the per-serving cost lower still. Serve the pasta with a side of Del Monte canned green beans ($3.29 for 101 ounces). For a healthy finish, stick some fresh grapes in the freezer. This concentrates their sweetness, making them taste almost like candy.

DINNER: FISH AND CHIPS

In addition to meats such as chicken and beef, Costco stocks a variety of wild-caught seafood. This appealing meal comes entirely from the freezer: Hook 2 pounds of Alaskan cod ($14.99) and match it with Ore-Ida french fries ($6.89 for 5 pounds) and frozen vegetables. Serve frozen grapes as dessert.

DINNER: CHEESE TORTELLONI

Leftover sauce from earlier in the week dresses up Kirkland Signature five-cheese tortelloni ($9.99), sold in two 24-ounce packages. One should be sufficient for a family of four with two young children, and the second can be used at a later date. Accompany the main dish with frozen vegetables and Del Monte canned fruit cocktail ($5.49 for 106 ounces).

DINNER: CHICKEN POT PIE

Costco carries ready-made frozen meals that are tasty, nutritious, and quite affordable when bought in bulk. To take some pressure off meal preparation, different varieties have been incorporated into the dinner rotation. First up is Marie Callender's chicken pot pie, sold in packs of eight for $10.99. For a family of four, this meal easily repeats later in the month. Supplement the pies with canned green beans and finish off with a smoothie.

DINNER: PIZZA

Pizza is always a hit, and prices on Costco's house-brand Kirkland Signature pizzas are tantalizingly low. Basic cheese costs $9.99; pepperoni and vegetable pies also are available. The pizza comes in a four-pack of 1-pound pies, so make two now and reserve two for a future dinner. Sticking to the low-maintenance theme, dish out a side of canned fruit cocktail.

DINNER: HOT DOGS

Hot dogs are a favorite partly for the low cost ($12.99 for three 1.5-pound packs of Kirkland Signature beef dogs) and partly because they appeal to kids. Add necessary calories with S. Rosen's buns (16 for $2.79) and add nutrition with some frozen vegetables and fresh grapes. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (sold in a 15-box pack for $12.49) also goes well with hot dogs.

DINNER: LASAGNA

The second week of dinner rotations starts out with hearty frozen lasagna for $13.79. Try the Kirkland Signature beef and sausage variety, which comes in two 3-pound boxes. The portion size seems like so much food that you may not need a side dish. If you decide otherwise, offer fresh fruit.

DINNER: SALMON

Fish for dinner again -- this time, frozen Morey's marinated wild-caught Alaskan salmon (2.25 pounds for $16.99). Complement this main dish with frozen vegetables, seasoned with spices already in the spice rack. Add a fruit smoothie for a sweet end.

DINNER: BURRITOS

This inexpensive dinner, courtesy of Costco, will please any herbivores at the table. The frozen entree of choice is a Cedarlane vegetarian burrito ($9.89 for eight), rounded out with a side of canned fruit cocktail.

DINNER: GARLIC CHICKEN SKILLET

A frozen Birds Eye garlic chicken meal ($8.89) includes pasta, sauce, and vegetables. You should need only half the 3.6-pound bag for dinner; put the rest away for another time. No side dish is necessary, but offer an after-dinner fruit smoothie.

DINNER: PASTA SALAD

This easy summer meal takes advantage of Costco's wide selection of inexpensive fresh vegetables. This dish calls for Barilla tri-color pasta (which comes in six 12-ounce boxes of penne and rotini for $6.99), broccoli florets ($4.79 for about a pound and a half), bell pepper (six for $6.99), grape tomatoes ($4.99 for 2 pounds), and Kirkland Signature balsamic vinaigrette dressing ($7.99 for two 24-ounce bottles). Top it off with shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano ($11.49 for 16 ounces of the store brand). A side of canned fruit cocktail accompanies this meal.

Photo credit: paprica home/shutterstock

DINNER: HAMBURGERS

To ensure a couple more nights of grilling, the grocery list includes frozen ground beef patties ($21.49 for 6 pounds) and S. Rosen's buns ($2.69 for 16). Serve with leftover pasta salad -- the budget allows for a double batch. Fresh grapes are a clean finish.

DINNER: PULLED PORK SANDWICHES

For the final dinner in the two-week rotation, mate Kirkland Signature pulled pork (32 ounces for $9.99) from the refrigerated section at Costco with the remaining hamburger buns. Sides include french fries, canned green beans, and canned fruit cocktail.