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How to Save Money on Healthy Food

How to Save Money on Healthy Food

Costco and other warehouse stores are the one-stop shop for healthy fuel. Here's a grocery list, plus meal ideas for how to best use the store's lower-priced, high-quality ingredients.


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My new book, Scarcity Brain, contains the following sentence:

To supplement my diet, I drove to Costco, a place that, along with democracy, I consider one of America’s great institutions.

I meant that.

Because the 2% project publishes three times weekly, we can get more tactical—we can analyze hyper-specific ways to live better every day. We can go down niche, but useful rabbit holes I don’t go down in my books due to the pacing of books.

We often think eating healthy costs more money and takes more time. That can be true—but only if you’re shopping in the wrong places.

Today we’re going down a Costco rabbit hole. It’s a place that can help you:

  • Eat healthier.
  • Save money.
  • Save time.

Of course, if you’re more of a BJ’s or Sam’s Club person, that’s cool too. Costco is the GOAT warehouse store (for reasons you’ll learn below), but this story applies to all warehouse stores.

Let’s dive in.

The Case for Costco

In short

Costco is a favorite of nutritionists and certified financial planners.

The details

Costco is a place where you can purchase everything from gasoline to fitness equipment to TVs to all sorts of delicious healthy calories—in bulk, for less money, without sacrificing quality.

Heck, you can even buy a casket, a relaxing trip to a luxury resort pretty much anywhere in the world, a Cadillac, a 72-pound wheel of Parmesan cheese, or a 27-pound bucket of Mac & Cheese, which, paired with the 72-pound cheese wheel, should give you enough cheesy calories to ride out the zombie apocalypse (not if, but when…).

I first started talking about the wonders of Costco with my aunt Rachele. This was when I was in my early 20s and becoming a human who tries to eat healthily but also finds the prices at Whole Foods to be an affront to decency.

Turns out Rachele is the perfect person to speak to about feeding yourself and your family healthily and cost-effectively.

Rachele is a Utah-based nutritionist who works with clients ranging from tech execs to professional outdoor athletes (she works by word of mouth only, so holler if you want an intro). She also raised four kids, two of whom eat more food than anyone.

What’s essential for this topic—the “Costco saves you money” part of it—is that Rachele is married to my uncle, who works in finance and is a brilliant mind in personal finance. He’s the type of person who might run a spreadsheet on the price per pound of various fruits and vegetables at different grocers within a 25-mile radius of his home to get a bargain (while, of course, also factoring time, gas, and more into the equation of where to buy).

“I actually give my clients a Costco shopping list,” Rachele told me. “There are so many healthy, economical options. It just makes it easy and affordable for people to eat healthy.”

Two Reasons Why Costco Rules

In short

Costco has engineered itself differently than other retailers to save customers time and money.

The details

1. It saves you money

Costco’s founder, Jim Sinegal, once famously said, “If (saving the customer money) doesn’t turn you on, you’re in the wrong business.”

And, well, let’s just say the man has executed on his fetish.

As the New York Times reported in an article called “How Costco Became the Anti-Walmart”:

At Costco, one of Mr. Sinegal's cardinal rules is that no branded item can be marked up by more than 14 percent, and no private-label item by more than 15 percent. In contrast, supermarkets generally mark up merchandise by 25 percent, and department stores by 50 percent or more.

Costco buys items in giant quantities, allowing them to purchase them cheaper from the manufacturer. Here’s a fun graphic from The Hustle, explaining how the combination of Costco’s ability to buy its products for less and then sell them to you at a lower markup saves you money:

This approach applies to everything inside Costco.

Costco’s shelves hold all sorts of items sold for a fraction of the price you’d pay at a typical grocery store. To take three random examples you can buy:

  • The best Saigon cinnamon you’ll ever taste: 11 ounces for $2.50 vs. 4.79 for 1 ounce at Whole Foods.
  • Mass quantities of organic chia seeds: two pounds for $7.50 vs $15.99 for one pound at Whole Foods.
  • Gigantic jugs of pure, organic maple syrup: 33 oz for $11, versus $26 for the same quantity at Whole Foods.
  • And on, and on, and on down the aisles.

Costco’s in-house brand, labeled Kirkland Signature, offers the best deals.

Most in-house brands are of lower quality. But Kirkland Signature products are produced by some of the country’s most well-known food makers but sold for less.

For example, Starbucks roasts Kirkland coffee (two pounds, $10), Bumble Bee produces the Kirkland Signature albacore tuna (eight cans, $13), and Adams does Costco’s organic peanut butter (56 ounces, $10).

And Costco is savage about its prices. It even goes as far as working with manufacturers to reengineer products to be cheaper.

For example, this CNBC documentary explains how Costco wanted to carry a specific toy that the manufacturer was selling at wholesale for $50, meaning that Costco would sell it for just under $60.

Costco worked with the toy company to optimize how they manufactured the toy and shaved 50% off the wholesale price. The result: Costco could sell the same toy to its customers for $30. As the Hustle explained:

The profit margin Costco made from the toy at $30 was the same it would’ve made at ~$60: The time and resources the company invested to lower the price were strictly for the benefit of their shoppers.

So how does Costco make money? Membership fees. A standard annual Costco membership runs $60.

If you do most of your shopping there, you’ll make that up in no time. My uncle, the financial mind, swears by the value of Costco.—Even if you’re single or living in a two-person home.

“For example,” he said. “Even though you have to buy a massive three-pound bag of organic spinach if you want spinach, it’s only $5. That’s way more economical than buying a one-pound bag for $4 at the regular grocery store.”

Worried you won’t eat bulk items in time? Freeze them.

2. It saves you time

Costco saves you time in two ways.

  1. When you buy in bulk, you come home with more, meaning you make fewer trips to the store.
  2. Costco makes your decisions for you.

The average grocery store stocks 40,000 to 50,000 items.

The average Costco warehouse, on the other hand, has an average of 3,700 items.

This is because Costco sells just one or two versions of a given food or product. This is a feature, not a bug.

Instead of offering you, say, 27 different types of plant milks, eggs, bags of rice, or energy bars, Costco buyers do rigorous testing and select what they consider to be one to three of the best takes on the product and offer only those at a competitive price.

This saves you money (it takes more financial resources to carry more products, costs that get passed onto the consumer), and it cuts down on decision fatigue.

Another benefit: “Costco’s food is usually much fresher than the grocery store’s,” Rachele said. The combination of lots of customers and fewer choices means that Costco turns over its food supply much quicker than an average store.

What to buy

If you’re a new (or soon-to-be) Costco membership holder, Rachele’s client food list below will help you get your bearings. It focuses primarily on single-ingredient foods, which a recent study found can help you lose weight no matter how you approach your diet.

(P.S. Read Scarcity Brain to learn more about the power of single-ingredient foods.)

Here are the list’s highlights—don’t worry, you don’t have to buy them all at once—and a few examples showing how you could put them together:

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Organic spinach or baby kale
  • Baby carrots
  • Frozen mango chunks
  • Organic lemons
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Frozen berry mix
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Yams/Sweet Potatoes
  • Avocados
  • Dried figs (great for endurance athletes)
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli


  • Ground organic turkey
  • Wild-caught frozen salmon burgers
  • Boneless skinless frozen chicken breast
  • Rotisserie chicken


  • Almond or coconut milk—unsweetened
  • Kirkland 0% fat plain Greek yogurt


  • Quinoa
  • Rice noodle ramen
  • Lundburg’s organic short-grain brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Lentils
  • Banza rotini made from Chickpeas
  • Veggie Craft Farms Penne

Snacks, etc.

  • Raw almonds
  • Raw Brazil nuts
  • Hummus
  • RX Bars
  • Nuttzo nut butter
  • Simple almond flour crackers, Harvest Stone organic quinoa crackers
  • Kirkland protein bar—great protein and a treat
  • Hemp seeds

A Quick Breakfast

Blend the following:

  • Spinach (frozen)
  • One Banana (frozen)
  • One scoop Momentous Essential Plant Protein (not a Costco item, but Costco does sell protein powders)
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 serving Kirkland 0% Fat Greek Yogurt
  • 1 serving Kirkland frozen berry mix
  • 1/2 serving raw almonds and/or Hemp seeds

A Quick Lunch

Make a salad that includes the following:

  • Baby kale or spinach
  • Carrots
  • Snap peas
  • Broccoli
  • 1 chopped wild-caught salmon burger
  • 1 cup cooked Lentils
  • 1 serving light dressing

A Quick Dinner

Make a one-pan meal featuring:

  • Quinoa, riced cauliflower, or sautéed yams
  • Chicken breast or rotisserie chicken
  • As many vegetables on the list as you like

Quick Snacks

  • Dried figs and protein shake
  • Nut butter with a banana
  • RX or protein bar
  • Crackers and hummus and/or rotisserie chicken

Have fun, don’t die, God bless America, democracy, and Costco.


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