Survival Shopping at Costco

image by David McKelvey

I’m sure you all have figured out by now that I’m a huge fan of survival “literature”.  I own just about every survival manual out there and love watching all the hard-core survivalist videos on YouTube.  So when James Wesley Rawles book, How to Survive the End of the World as we Know It, was published, I bought it almost immediately.  One statement he makes in the book intrigued me.  You can find it on page 105 (Hey!  I know you all own the book, too!  Or at least you wish you did!).

Waiting until the eleventh hour to stock up on canned and bulk food is not recommended, but if your circumstances necessitate it, then consider it a calculated risk.  Don’t hesitate once you see the first warning signs.  You have only one day to shop before the hordes descend and strip the stores clean.  However, instead of making these purchases at a supermarket, I recommend buying at a membership warehouse store (such as Costco or Sam’s Club).

Last week I had a few hours without the kids, so I decided to check out Rawles’ advice.  Could I really prepare for TEOTWAWKI at Costco?  The answer is sorta-kinda.  (Check out my Costco TEOTWAWKI Shopping Guide here.)

If all you need are canned goods, batteries, and maybe some over-the-counter meds, then Costco will do just fine.  You can load multiple cases into one of their large carts or cargo cart, and you’ll be good to go.  The downside of this approach is that all of these goods eventually run out.  If you do not also have a way of obtaining long-term food supplies or already have a stable and productive produce garden, you’ll soon be in trouble. But, at a Costco or Sam’s Club, you can quickly load up on large amounts of goods, and it’s likely that these warehouse stores will be initially overlooked by the hordes of unprepared and panicking people.

Here are my top ten  tips for making this final shopping spree a success.

  1. Bring cash and lots of it.  If the end of the world really is right around the corner, your debit card (Costco doesn’t take credit) may be worthless.  Also, you don’t want to be caught at the register, short on cash, already in a sweaty panic, and pressured to decide which survival supplies you really don’t need after all.
  2. Already have an active Costco (or Sam’s Club) card.  Surely you don’t want to be standing in line at Customer Service waiting to have your picture taken while all hell is breaking loose around you!
  3. Do a store re-con weeks or months prior to The Big Day.  Although most Costcos have a similar lay-out, you need to know exactly where to find the bottled water, Motrin, and Progresso soup.
  4. Decide in advance your top priorities.  Use my shopping guide as a starting place but customize it to your own needs and the supplies at your local Costco.  For example, most Costcos don’t carry water barrels, but yours might.
  5. Take someone with you.  Divide your shopping list between the two of you.
  6. Get in shape.  Do you have any idea how much all those cans and toilet paper will weigh?
  7. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
  8. Race through the front doors and past the products displayed by the front doors.  They are usually seasonal items, gourmet food items, and new products that will most likely not be on your survival shopping list.
  9. Plan your route around the perimeter of the store.  You’ll find clothing, shoes, music, books, dried fruit/nut/candy, seasonal products, and home goods in the center area.  Save that space for last, and know in advance what you are looking for.  If you’re shopping between October and December, the center is definitely a waste of time, since it will be filled with toys and holiday decorations and supplies.  During the spring and summer, though, you’ll find camping and other outdoor goods that may come in handy.
  10. Drive a vehicle that can handle all the goods you’ll be purchasing.

(Check out all my downloadable resources here.)


There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

© Copyright 2010 The Survival Mom, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Survival Mom
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  1. Dagny says

    LOL — the hordes are an everyday, near-constant occurrence at the Costco I frequent (near the Pentagon). Mid-morning last Friday the parking lot and inside were so mobbed several of us in line were joking that we must have missed a snow forecast.

    I'm an avid Costco fan. Indeed, my battery stash is from Costco. Kirkland-brand batteries. I'd read that while name brand batteries may last longer, the generic brand are a better value. Thanks to Costco I have enough artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, pickles, cereal and toilet paper, etc. to make at least the first month post-apocalypse pretty comfortable.

    You just have to experience one severe snowstorm forecast around Washington, D.C. to get an inkling of how crazy people could get in a crisis.

    • zmalfoy says

      Lol, Dagny, that is so true! We Washingtonians (and suburban Washingtonians) can do OMGSnow! Panic like nobody's business

    • LizLong says

      Golly gee, I don't know what you're talking about! Just because the kids have had four days off in the last two weeks, plus a two hour delay, and there's a good chance they'll get two more next week – all with weather much of the country would laugh at! :-p

  2. says

    Looking forward to reading part two. We are members at Sam's Club – no Costco around here. I'm getting my bulk dry goods like rice, flour, beans, etc. there and packing them at home in mylar/plastic buckets. Comment #10 is a biggie. If I have all my kids in the van, it severely limits how much I can fit in. If we needed to do a big stockup before TEOTWAWKI, I'd have to find somewhere to leave them during the trip.

  3. says

    I also wanted to mention that Costco has a bunch of great stuff available online for a decent price. The Shelf Reliance Harvest can shelving system is much cheaper if you buy it from there. They also sell Shelf Reliance freeze-dried products. Obviously, it's not something you're going to be doing with TEOTWAWKI happening tomorrow, though.

  4. Carm says

    Love all your suggestions — but forget canned soup (too bulky, and what if you lose that can opener???!?), Wish COSTCO would stock tabatchnick soups — shelf stable, in paper packaging — no BPA lined cans to worry about. Let's all ask at our local COSTCOs!

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      Carm, that's the downside of stocking up on canned food. Yes, they're heavy, bulky, you need a can opener, and there's the risk of the food going bad. That's why it's so important to stock up on INGREDIENTS. Canned food and grocery store food has its place, but for long-term, there's gotta be that layer of bulk ingredients, the building blocks of hundreds of different dishes.

    • LizLong says

      What happens if you're sick? And two is one and one is none, so you should have several can openers to leave with your preps. Chicken noodle soup is excellent if your sick and soup in general is a quick and easy meal so I still think it belongs in what you have for days you can't stop easily to fix a meal from scratch because you're sick or too busy with other things.

    • michael says

      LOL, well, if you lose your can opener and cannot possibly imagine any other way to open the can, you should really pause and ask yourself how prepared you are to overcome any situation.

      Far too many people are thinking that having a bunch of "stuff" is being prepared.

      • TheSurvivalMom says

        Have you seen that video segment of Cody Lundin opening a can without an opener at all? I would like to embed it here on my blog, but it's part of a 12-13 minute video on YouTube.

  5. Mary says

    Quick comment, I agree that canned food has it's place and is the best and quickest starting out food. I did it that way and imagine most others did too. I progressed from large amounts of grocery store staples to Honeyville Grains freeze dried foods in #10 cans, to more gardening and canning and dehyrating on my own. I still do a combination of all of these. I wanted to comment on Carm's post of "…what if you lose that can opener…", I believe that nothing is made to last anymore, it seems that obsolescence (spic?) is built into everything. I must have 15-20 manual can openers. Buy extras on anything that you will depend on that much.

    • LizLong says

      I know people with electric can openers. I've never purchased one. The hand ones wear out fast enough! And I'm already short on counter space. I know we have at least three or four manual can openers and will probably get more at some point.

      Personally, I'm trying to get as much as I can of canned goods that there is no way I will be growing in my DC suburb. Pineapple, for instance. I just know it won't do well in my garden. Cranberries. Coconut milk. Chocolate (ok, not a canned good, but still). Coffee. Last minute, I'll probably grab some coconut too for bartering purposes since it's not exactly local.

      • zmalfoy says

        Coffee Tip: I don't know if they still do this, but when I worked at Starbucks, we would sometimes sell customers the large 5 lb "bullets" of coffee, sealed in mylar bags. If there's a blend or roast that you like, wait until they're serving it (these are often rotated in seasonal groups) and ask a supervisor or manager if they have any bullets you can buy. I'm not sure to the pricing, but IIRC, they're the perfect size to slip into a bucket.

        It's another option, at least

  6. TomBergstrand says

    A P-38 can opener will outlive all of us . I'm a bit lazy now so I carry and store the larger P-51 . Never saw one ? Ask somebody that was in the Infantry . They ALWAYS work on ANY can . You can always seem to find them at gun shows . My local (one of them) gun store sells them . Old C-Rats or even MRE's would be a welcome addition to a food storage scenario . I can't speak on MRE's with any degree of knowledge but C-Rats were more than enough for someone to survive for a long period of time . One of the things that I've noticed with #10 cans is that if you are alone or just a couple once you open them the clock is ticking . We have a couple of those "suck the air out" machines but I don't know where to get tops to reseal #10 cans . Perhaps if I could find a really good sealer top I could tape an O2 Absorber inside the top . Any ideas ???

    • Liz Long says

      The LDS told me that they have a special machine just for that purpose, so my (semi-educated) guess is that there is a special machine you need to buy, and the LDS can help you find it. Easier, IMHO, is to buy a bunch of extra mylar bags and empty part of the #10 contents into those as soon as you open them. No expensive (probably bulkier than you want) gadget to store, just an iron. LDS Bishop's Warehouse sell #10 cans, lids, plastic lids, mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers.

      Do you know a good place to buy those can openers? In addition to our preps, I'm pretty sure my mother in law would love one for Christmas!

  7. LizLong says

    Re: having an active card, you can have more than one. Trust me. I lose mine every few months and can't find it for a few months. I think I'm up to three now, so I leave two in vehicles and one in my purse. I never leave home without it – I can't. :-)

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      What a duh! moment for me! I've been getting a temporary "card", really just a piece of paper, since I haven't been able to find my card. I can't believe I didn't think of getting a second card. LOL

      • LizLong says

        I think each of my new plastic ones came after about two-three paper temporary ones. At least I finally seem to have enough to (almost) always have one on hand!

  8. jan says

    I don't live near a Costco or Sam's club. We are 100 miles away from any cities, so we don't have that option. When I am in the city, I have discovered stores like Smart & Final, Cash & Carry, etc. They are restuarant supply stores and no membership is needed. Whenever we visit the city, I try to stock up at the Cash & Carry. My little town has a dairy that supplies the resturants in our area. They also sell to the public, so there are certian things that I buy from them because the price is great. I have to order it a week in advance, but I am used to that in a rural area.

    • LizLong says

      Are you in your house now? I remember you talking about moving before, so yeah for you! Enjoy your early Christmas (or Channukah) present. :-)

  9. LizLong says

    You can order things from for delivery to your house OR pick up at a local Costco. That would, clearly, not be very local for you, but it could still make your trip go A LOT faster.

    • Citizen49 says

      Costcos in Arizona & New Mexico carry the #10 freeze dried foods also. However, don't have it consistently and don't have the same stuff consistently.

  10. Maddie says

    Sams Club in the Phoenix area is now carrying 6 packs of #10 cans of freeze dried foods – its a variety pack. Also, I'm a baker so I wanted to add baking items to my supply. I found 6 gallon bucket of hard white wheat (equals 45lbs wheat) at Sams for only $14.88! So I went online to find a cast iron grain mill for $50.00. Bought some yeast and oil, and now I'm good to go!

  11. Dennis says

    I have purchased several cases of canned veggies at COSTCO on sale. The expiration (sell by) date on the cans is 2012. I was thinking that if I rotate this stock I will be ok for awhile. After finding this site (via Glenn Beck) I now realize I have a long way to go. I have found this site informative and full of like minded people. I am not paranoid after all !

  12. CraigJ says

    So if Glenn Beck's 30 million listeners, represent families of 2.5 people, that's 75 million people that are buying double their ordinary demand for food for one year. So that 25% of the population doubling up, for a 50% increase in demand for staples. Think that alone is going to drive prices higher… We are going to generate our own inflation. Am I right or is my math flawed?

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      30 million? Really? That's 10% of the American population! Right now food is plentiful and we have a great window of opportunity to stock up when, and as, we can. I guess we'll find out if Glenn's endorsement of food storage will create a run on canned tuna and wheat!

    • MPM says

      I think your math is flawed. If my husband and I both listen we only represent one family (though our family contains 3.5 people— one tot and one fetus) and I doubt every single listener represents a unique family. The truth is probably somewhere like 40 million people or so altogether. Also you have to subtract the people who already have food storage and won't need to double it and the people who listened to him but won't take any action (probably the vast majority of listeners). I think a generous estimate would be that 20% of his listeners will take any action at all, and far less will actually gather a year's worth of supplies, so that's what…. 8 million? Max? 2.7% of the population? I would guess the impact will be negligible for now.

    • Susan says

      I've ALWAYS been a food storage kind of gal long before I knew the Mormons did it. It just made perfect sense. Also know canning skills. I used to listen to Glenn Beck a few years ago, but now he seems like a raving lunatic. He is going to cause stampedes at the Costco's, Sam's Club's and supermarkets with all of his fearmongering. And yes, I can remember how people in my home state of PA when they'd get a foot of snow, would clog up the supermarket, buying like it was the end of the world. They should live in Northern AZ and CO where they get 3 FEET of snow, back to back and folks don't flee to the supermarkets to stock up!

  13. says

    If you're buying canned food, a neat and inexpensive rotation system is the Can Organizer. What you put in first comes out first so you can use it up.

  14. J Warren says

    Thanx for the P-38 reminder. Going to the Dallas Gun Show on the 27th to find a .22 hornet which has better legs than a standard .22 and will snag a buncha P-51's which have better leverage. Anyone know where a party can get a suppressor for a .22 Hornet? Or any weapon? If TEOTWASWKI comes to my neighborhood (which is fast turning into little Tejuana,) I don't want my less than friendly, probably starving neighbors to know that I'm bringing home the abundant squirrels and rabbits that frequent this area to our cook pot.

  15. Andy says

    Last week, my local Costco had a 4-pack of medium-thick merino wool socks selling for a hair under $10, or $2.50 a pair. Winter temps in my house run 58-63 degrees (and would be much lower in a power outage in the rooms at a distance from the wood stove). These socks are GREAT for helping to keep us warm (and they're not itchy at all) and a couple of pairs have gone into each BOB and into the car emergency kit. In a survival situation they'd make a great trade item as well. Costco's also a good place to get warm winter jackets, flannel shirts, work pants, gloves. You have to go to Cabela's to get great silk long-johns, though.

    Other well-priced prep items at Costco: tools, flashlights, fertilizer & weed-control, generators, shelving, motor oil, occasionally dehydrators.

  16. Gloria says

    during the thanksgiving holiday I took advantage of the turkeys on sale at out local Winco stores. I bought 2 23lb turkeys for $5.25 and $5.03. I boiled the turkeys, took the meat off the bones and then canned it. I got 14 qts of turkey with about 25 pints of good turkey broth. This is a cheap way of putting up canned food. I was so happy that I thought of doing that. Now a bunch of my friends are canning turkeys too.

  17. Jason says

    All I know is that Rawles “Gets you ready” course was the biggest rip off I’ve EVER encountered with preparedness related material. Friend and I bought it and it was basically him going through a costco with someone and the printed material were just excerpts from his FREE Blog site!

    He lost a lot of respect in my eyes putting out his previous ‘gets you ready’ course, and it wasn’t cheap either!!!

  18. Nancycards says

    I have been told that canned goods last for many years,(not cans with flip tops) regardless of the date they put on them. I was able to test that this week. I had a can of pumpkin that was eleven years old. I opened it and it smelled and looked just like new, so I made pumpkin bread, shared it with friends, delicious!

  19. LizLong says

    I bought "Snow Trax" for walking on snow and ice just before Christmas at Costco. And I've gotten some buckets from their bakery, too. :-)

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      I need those, Liz. I am terrified of slipping on ice and falling. It comes from a number of past experiences from when I lived in northern Arizona.

  20. mrselt2jv says

    We do a lot of our shopping at Aldi. We always pick up a little more then we need every time we shop. We also do some of our shopping at Sams Club. They do offer long term food storage kits. They are not very expensive and offer a pretty good variety. I think you can only order it online though. The closest store to us is about an hour away and wouldn't be practical in a pinch. After comparing prices though, for the basics, hitting an LDS cannery is much cheaper then anywhere else. The LDS cannery is a lot of work but it is well worth the price. But in a pinch that wouldn't be very practical either…. I guess just staying on top of things is the best way to go so that you never find yourself in a pinch.

    • Michelle in ID says

      We've just started going to the LDS cannery in our area. Love it! I've discovered, though, that some items I can get cheaper from the bulk bins at our Winco. In fact, they give an extra 10% off when you buy a whole bag.

      Our cannery will let even non-members borrow their canners so you can dry pack at home.

  21. Terry and Paul says

    the "Dollar Stores" are a good secondary source for Costco/Sam's.
    Doller Genreral . Dollar Store , Fred's , etc…

  22. Tom says

    you can get food grade buckets and lids from bakeries . i get mine from walmart for $1 .00 each with lids and seals. just need to clean them real good .all the big stores only have 2 days worth of groceries for normal circumstances . how fast do you think it will empty out in a emergency??

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