When I was growing up in the U.S., Costco runs were a weekly routine. That routine fell to the wayside after I moved out on my own, and it was because the places I lived in didn’t have Costco, or because I didn’t have easy access to one. That has changed in the recent months. At first I didn’t bother getting a membership card, and just went with friends who had one. But, I eventually came to the reality that there is a certain freedom that comes with having my own Costco card. For me, it’s the chance to shop at times that are convenient for me (never, ever, ever on weekends). While I’m there, I can stay as long as I want~ sometimes I have very goal-oriented trips, where I am in and out of the store in less than 30 minutes. Other times, I like to take the time to browse the DVDs, magazines, or explore new baking supplies and household products, and then maybe have a treat at the end of my trip. I think those are good enough reasons to make the membership fee worthwhile.
I’ve had my membership card for eight months now, so I thought it would be a good time to share some tips on what has worked well for me so far. To give you an idea on my current lifestyle, I live in a compact urban apartment and I also mostly cook for one, at most two people. My kitchen is small, and I have limited storage space in both the cupboards and refrigerator. Given these realities, it’s not practical for me to buy certain items or ingredients in bulk because either I have no room to store them, or they may go to waste before I have a chance to consume them. It’s also easiest and most cost-efficent for me to utilize public transportation on my trips to Costco, which also of course limits the items that I can buy.
Before going to Costco, I always make a list, and bring just enough cash to cover the items on that list. This was a little difficult at first, because I didn’t know the prices~ but during my first few visits I took photos of the items that I’m interested in or would routinely buy and just compiled my list from there. If I don’t have the cash to buy an item, I also take a photo of the item and price tag, and decide if I still want it on my next visit. (It’s my second nature to hoard and to impulse buy, so I have to go to extremes to quash those impulses). My second most important tip is: never go hungry. The concession stand is at the end of the store~ after you check out. I don’t usually eat free samples (the lines are long) so unless I follow my advice and do some preventative eating, I’m hangry by the time I get to the check outs. The item placement changes each and every time I’m there. This is one of Costco’s strategies to get you to browse more. I happily accept this reality and I browse with an open mind (in that gloriously cool air conditioning) and the reassurance that with a list and limited cash on hand, there is not much damage that I can do.
After some trial and error, I’ve come up with the list of items that have worked well for me to buy in larger quantities. I’ll list them below and offer some suggestions for either using or eating them.
Items that work well for me to buy in bulk:
Legal pads ($339 for a pack of 10)
I use these legal pads a lot for work. At home, I use them for planning blog posts, or for jotting down recipe notes or phone messages. The yellow paper stands out in my usual piles of white paper, so it’s easy to keep my handwritten notes separate from my print outs. I store most of them at my office, but I keep two or three handy at home.
Oven Paper ($ 369 for two rolls)
This is a Japanese brand, and it’s an absolute bargain at $369 for a pack of two rolls, which are 50 meters long. It’s heat proof up to 250C. I find the paper to be sturdy, and of course, non-stick and really a pleasure to use. I used it to line cake tins, baking pans, and also as cushioning to transport baked goods.
Earthbound Farm Triple Berry Blend ($569 for 1.36 kgs)
My absolute favorite Costco item. I use these in my smoothies nearly every single day during the summer. I divide them up into smaller sized portions before storing them in my tiny freezer. Even though the bag berries initially seem expensive, they yield several servings. I find these berries are handy if you don’t have time to go to the grocery store for fruit. It’s hard to imagine now, with summer in full swing, and the abundance of mangoes, bananas and passionfruit, but in the winter months the fruit selection is abysmal and these berries could provide some welcome variety.
Chia Seeds ($245 for 32 ounces)
I like to add chia seeds to my smoothies to sneak in some extra nutrients. The price of this 32 ounce bag at Costco is about the same as a bag 1/3 its size at my neighborhood supermarket.
Baby Leaf Salad Mix ($225 for 200 g)
This salad mix of is one of the most versatile ingredients I’ve ever come across. I make purposeful salads with it, or I sneak it into my Korean instant noodles, or whatever else I want to make “healthier.” It’s been so integrated into my food routine that I feel a little lost when I run out before my next trip!
As soon as I get home, I usually wash and dry (with my salad spinner) the entire box, and store it in a Lock-Lock box. I line the bottom of the box with a paper towel to absorb moisture, and I find that this method allows me to keep the salad nice and fresh for almost a week and a half.
Then I challenge myself to find all sorts of creative ways to incorporate the salad into my lunches and dinners. I’ve made fancy salads with roasted vegetables, and sometimes with rotisserie chicken. Other times, I add pasta underneath to make the salad a bit more filling. I also find that the baby leaves make a delicious garnish. On the bottom right corner, I stir fried udon noodles with Korean chili paste assorted veggies and shrimp, and topped it with a generous handful of the salad mix.
Rotisserie Chicken ($179 each)
I buy one of these chickens every once in awhile. I divide it into several small portions, and freeze half the small packages. They are a great addition to the salads mentioned above, and also for quesadillas or burrito bowls. I also shred them into my favorite spicy noodles, alongside with some cucumber. (I can’t remember how rotisserie chickens are roasted and packaged in the States, but please bear in mind in Taiwan, these chickens are roasted whole… meaning the head is intact. Just a heads up (haha) so you aren’t too surprised when you open the bag).
BabyBel Cheese ($425) or Kirkland Brie ($299)
The BabyBel cheeses last for a long time in my fridge (almost 3 months!). I think these are an efficient way to make breakfast or lunch more filling, or good for a quick snack before a workout. I switch between buying the BabyBel cheeses and the wheel of Brie.
After enjoying the apple brie panini at Toasteria, I find myself craving the combination constantly. Brie costs $200 and up for much smaller packages at the grocery store I have easy access to (for imported products) so the Costco version is much less. I divide the Kirkland Brie into smaller portions and seal it with Press-n-Seal, and keeps well for almost a month or so.
Assorted Flowers (an amazing buy at $179 per bouquet )
I love having fresh flowers at home, so I always make sure to pass the flower section to see what’s available. I’ve had really good luck with the roses and lilies, especially in the winter. In the summer, the flowers suffer a bit because I don’t keep the air conditioning on when I’m not home. But for $179, it’s an affordable thrill, even if only lasts for 4-5 days.
Assorted English Magazines (prices vary)
I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite magazines, Monocle is available at Costco. The price is good too~ much cheaper than at the local bookstores, or online. I usually scan the titles and if I think I’m interested in about half the topics covered this month, I will go ahead and buy it and read it in bed on a Sunday morning.
Now, let’s move on to some of the items that I think I would have less success with. Please note that these have nothing to do with the quality of the item, but just various reasons why they wouldn’t work with my current lifestyle.
Items that do not work for me to buy in bulk:
Pasta. I have nowhere to store it in my kitchen cupboards (the only extra place is probably in my closet, and then I would probably just forget about it) My friend and I talked about splitting a pack, but even as individual packs, the amount is enormous.
Household items, such as paper towels, toilet paper and laundry detergent. I don’t have room to store these items out of sight, and having them in plain view every single day in a very small space makes it appear cluttered.
Ready made desserts, or pretty much anything from the bakery section. One exception is that I did have quite a bit of success with English muffins~ and they kept well in the fridge and freezer.
I shared a flat of milk pudding with a friend, so it wasn’t TOO bad. But I probably ate a few too many than I should have. The same also happens with the muffins, croissants and cakes.
Snacks~ because inevitably I’ll fall into the guilt spiral of “oh my god, did I eat that entire bag?” Instead, I find the flowers are about the same price as a bag of snacks, so if I feel like I’m really in need of a treat, I just buy a bouquet instead.
In my experience, I really encourage that you don’t feel limited by space, or family size to shop at Costco. I think there is something for everybody, at reasonable prices. I find that there is a good variety of both American, and local Taiwanese brands and products to choose from, and with some creativity and imagination, it’s easy to incorporate the larger portions into your lifestyle, no matter the size.
Other practical information: As far as I know, Costco only currently accepts credit cards from Cathay Bank. There are ATMs inside the store, from both Mega and Cathay Banks, so unless you bank with them already, then you will have to pay a fee to use those ATMs.
Information: For a list of Costco locations throughout Taiwan, please refer to their website (in both English and Chinese) here.
(This was not a sponsored post. I paid for all items consumed with my own money. All experiences and opinions expressed are my own)