Survival Shopping at Costco: A Quick and Easy Guide

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Image: shopping cart on grass
Several years ago I bought the James Wesley Rawles book, How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, and to this day there’s one statement he makes in the book that has stuck with me:

“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).”

As we all learned in early 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine, it’s shocking just how quickly shelves can be emptied of, well, just about everything, from toilet paper to canned corn.This week I decided to revisit Rawles’ advice. Could I really prepare for TEOTWAWKI at Costco? The answer is yes, for the most part.

If I knew ahead of time that another quarantine or worst-case scenario was on its way, I would definitely have a strategy in place before embarking on a Costco trip. You can get prepped pretty quickly in that single trip, but here’s my best advice for making the most of it.

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

  • Bring cash and lots of it. If the end of the world really is right around the corner, your debit card 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. Costco only takes certain credit cards, so make sure you know what they are and that you’re prepared with the right one, if you go the credit card route.
  • 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!
  • Do a store reconnaissance weeks or months prior to The Big Day. Although most Costcos have a similar layout, you need to know exactly where to find the bottled water, Motrin, and Progresso soup. Knowing how the store is organized will help you steer your massive cart to the most important parts of the store.
  • 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.
  • Take someone with you. Divide your shopping list between the two of you.
  • Get in shape. Do you have any idea how much all those cans and toilet paper will weigh?
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Don’t overlook essential non-edibles, such as OTC medications and household cleaners. This list will help you get started in making a master list of the non-edible supplies your family regularly consumes.
  • Drive a vehicle that can handle all the goods you’ll be purchasing.

Obviously waiting until the very last second to start shopping for your survival needs is the last thing I would recommend, sometimes it is unavoidable. Having a backup plan like this might just save you from running out of essentials before the disaster passes.

What if you don’t live near a Costco?

If you’re panicking about stocking up fast for a major emergency, then check out my series, Last Chance Apocalypse Shopping, starting with Dollar Store and Hobby Lobby for creative ideas for finding survival supplies no matter what store you happen to be in!

5 thoughts on “Survival Shopping at Costco: A Quick and Easy Guide”

  1. This is a great article. Even some of us who consider themselves pretty well stocked can run low as money comes and goes. I was waiting for a paycheck and the morning it arrived I went in to Costco at opening to find that the checkouts were already clogged with shoppers. Everyone had toilet paper and paper towels in their carts. I headed straight for the paper products. I got mine! Then I got some garbage bags, dog food x2, energy and hydration drink packets, butter, and every kid-friendly food I could fit in my cart. Thank goodness, because the kids have eaten me out of house and home. Within 30 minutes of opening, Costco was out of toilet paper. Thanks to the magic of couponing, we haven’t had to worry about medications, toiletries or cleaning supplies. We were good for water, except that we need distilled water for a CPAP machine. I was lucky to have a few gallons, but the fact that the shelves were bare of this essential for a month put the fear of God in me. That is a life-saving device. I won’t take my stash for granted again!

  2. PreparedTeacher

    We too were lucky. I was paying attention to things and when we heard about China and it’s little issue then its outbreak we hit costco and other places for last minute items (we have a decent storage), before it went loco. I also snatched up about 10 gallons of distilled water for the cpap machine. Some family members were asking for others to keep an eye out for that stuff for their machine, they couldn’t find any in an area of 400,000 people. I told them they can make their own distilled water for it. I was not going to share with them, why? because they live over 30 miles away, they should of been ready, this item can be made they just can’t be lazy and it comes to a point when you have to care for your immediate family and neighbors because they will be the ones closes to you when things go wild and you will need to band together.

  3. I consider a good sized pantry or basement storage room with shelves something people looking to buy or build a home should have, on their must have list. What good does rushing to a store to grab what you can do if you have no safe place to organize and store it. Also if you have a large store room, you can buy Before a crisis hits and take advantage of sales. This also lowers your chance of fighting over the last jar of pickles with a desperate housewife who may be carrying.

  4. If it’s a life or death scenario, make sure you get the basic staples first:
    1. Milano Cookies
    2. Famos Amos Cookies
    3. Chocolate covered raisins, macadamia nuts
    4. Mtn. Dew
    5. Meds
    6. Tuxedo Cake
    7. Pumpkin pie
    8. Combination pizza
    Won’t have to worry about cooking. Feed a family of 4 for a week. The right foods certainly releases a lot of stress.

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