Moms love Costco, and for a good reason – buying in bulk means fewer shopping trips and more money saved, who wouldn’t be on board with that? Also, can you say double carts and free samples?
Not everything at Costco is a great deal though, there are certain loss leader items (things the store purposefully chooses to LOSE money on) that are GREAT deals designed to get you in the door, then there are plenty of other items that may not be such an amazing deal, where the store makes up the money from the loss leaders. Which items you choose to spend your money on makes the difference between club membership saving you money, as opposed to membership causing you to spend extra money on items you wouldn’t normally purchase, and in quantities so large you can’t possibly use them before they go bad.
Here are two essential questions to ask yourself before adding an item to your basket:
- Will I be able to use all of this product before it expires?
- Do I have room to store this quantity of this product?
A few additional key things to keep in mind to make your membership work for you are:
- Have a list and stick to it (or set a predetermined limit on impulse buys for each trip — ex/ 1 item, or $15)
- Stick to household staples. Only buy products that your family uses regularly and you know you enjoy, this way you avoid the predicament of spending $20 on a box of protein bars only to find out that no one in your house likes them.
It can be hard to know what bulk purchases are actually worth it and which aren’t. You may not always know off the top of your head when the bulk price is better than buying smaller quantities, or it can be hard to compare between items of varying quality. Although overall, Kirkland brand (the Costco generic brand) products have great reviews and are competitive in the market, there are a few products (their light beer for example) which tend to not have the greatest customer reviews. In general, the bulk prices found at Costco are good prices, with a few great prices scattered throughout the store. Oftentimes, items can be found cheaper elsewhere if you competitively shop store sales, and especially if you use coupons in conjunction with store sales. Good examples of products that frequently go on sale at grocery stores and drug stores are cereal, meat, canned goods, and hygiene products, plus there are almost always coupons for cereal and hygiene products if you know where to look.
All of that said, Costco prices aren’t always the absolute best prices, but for me, in this season of life, I have made the decision that getting good prices at Costco is preferable to constantly following store sale ads, cutting coupons and running to multiple stores in the same week. For me, the convenience of Costco is well worth my time and energy. Plus, there really are certain items, that if you buy just those, the money you save more than pays for your membership (I’m looking at you- gas, rotisserie chickens, and alcohol).
Here are the top 20 items (in my opinion) that are actually a good deal at Costco (meaning they are good quality and a great price).
- Rotisserie chickens
Costco actually loses money on each chicken they sell. At $4.99 per bird, these chickens beat out grocery store prices. They also happen to be 3 lb chickens, compared to most grocery stores 2.5 lb chickens, so not only are these cheaper than your average rotisserie, they are bigger. Pick up a rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad and you have dinner ready for less than $10. Meat from rotisserie chickens can also be shredded and quickly turned into a quick soup, chili, taco, enchilada filling, curried chicken salad or gumbo.
2. Food court food
The $1.50 hot dog and soda is one of the better deals Costco is known for, this price hasn’t been increased since 1985. In addition to the hot dog, the food court offers many quick options for $5 or less for a quick lunch or dinner. These prices beat most fast food prices, and with better quality ingredients. Of course, you can always make your own lunch at home for less money, but if you’re already going to spend money out, Costco is the spot to do it. They have even added some healthier and vegan food court options over the last few years, including the Acai Bowl.
3. Sheet cakes
It is always cheaper to make your own cake at home, but if the convenience of store-bought cake is your preference, the prices on Costco cakes are unmatched. You can buy a half sheet cake (feeding 48 people) for $18.99, which is the standard price for a quarter sheet cake at most grocers. (You can also buy a quarter sheet cake at Costco for $9.49 if you don’t need such a large amount.)
The wine and liquor quality, prices and selection are phenomenal. The most notable savings will always be Kirkland brand products. The Kirkland brand French vodka consistently performs equal to or better than Grey Goose in taste tests.
The Kirkland brand bacon consistently performs at the top of taste tests with competitors and is a great price. The bacon is sold in packs of 4, which can be a lot for smaller households, but bacon doesn’t take up much space in the fridge and freezes well, so it is worth purchasing.
6. Maple syrup
If your household likes pure maple syrup then the quality and price of the Costco bottle cannot be beaten.
The Kirkland brand apple sauce packets, beef jerky, nuts (whole cashews, mixed nuts, etc) and granola bars are all a great deal. The savings on other items like snack bags of goldfish may not be quite as dramatic but are worth it if your household goes through large quantities of these items.
Consensus on Costco produce is that it is great quality, but many shoppers complain about not being able to finish an entire package before it spoils. The prices are great, especially on the large variety of organic items, the key here is to know what your family will actually eat, and stick to those items. The organic spinach is one of the better deals. I don’t buy this every week, but when I do I will incorporate spinach into multiple meals that week. The berries and bananas are always great deals, and items my family doesn’t have trouble using up (especially since I will freeze extras if they start being past their prime and use those for smoothies in the future). A few other favorites for my household are grapes or apples (since they have a longer shelf life than many fruits). I also love the pineapples, watermelons, organic broccoli, and organic baby carrots.
9. Frozen fruits and vegetables
These are well priced, with several organic options. I love the bags of frozen fruit for smoothies and fruit crisps. I also regularly buy the frozen organic cauliflower rice and frozen organic edamame and love that each come pre-portioned into one-use servings.
Whether you are buying cheese slices, string cheese, shredded cheese or fancy imported cheese (of which they have a GREAT selection), you will find great prices and quality on cheese. Remember to only buy what you can actually use in a reasonable amount of time, otherwise buying in bulk will end up costing you money.
The prices on Kirkland cage-free eggs are actually cheaper than buying regular eggs at grocery stores (barring any super sales).
12. Specialty Foods
Things like grain-free chips, gluten-free crackers, cauliflower pizza crusts, and gluten-free pasta can be pricey in small portions at grocery stores. If your family is like mine and can go through these items in large amounts, it is worth buying these items in discounted bulk prices.
13. Nut Butters
The Kirkland brand organic peanut butter and organic almond butter are top quality at a great price. The peanut butter has only 2 ingredients: dry roasted peanuts and salt. The almond butter has only 1 ingredient: roasted almonds.
The quality and prices on Costco meat are great, whether organic or not. Grocery stores will have sale prices that beat out Costco prices, but if you don’t follow sale ads, Costco is where it’s at for meat.
15. Gift cards
You basically make money by purchasing gift cards at Costco. You pay $69.99 for 4 $25 Coldstone gift cards, or $79.99 for 2 PF Changs gift cards, so whether you are purchasing for yourself to save money, or buying as gifts, the gift cards are always a great deal.
According to GasBuddy, Costco gas prices are at least 20% cheaper than gas stations and has the lowest priced gas in New Orleans.
The deals on cruises and rental cars tend to be about 30% better at Costco as opposed to budget travel sites.
Costco consistently has the best prices on tires. You can schedule your appointment online, then shop while your tires are being put on. One thing that sets them apart in the tire game is that Costco inflates your tires with nitrogen.
“Nitrogen retains tire pressure better over time than compressed air, which can positively impact the life of your tires, as well as the fuel economy of your vehicle,” -Costco notes online.
They also offer a 5-year road hazard warranty on tires and lifetime free tire maintenance services (including flat repair, tire rotation, and balance).
19. Prescription medicine
According to Consumer Reports, Costco has the best prices on prescriptions at a brick-and-mortar store.
20. Sparkling water
Costco has a great variety of sparkling water at good prices including brands like Waterloo, La Croix, Spindrift and Perrier. The most notable deal, however, is the Kirkland brand sparkling water, which I actually like better than most brands on the market.
There are also a few items I would recommend skipping at Costco and purchasing elsewhere:
1. Baking supplies: especially flour, baking powder, and yeast.
I’m not saying these are bad prices, they aren’t, but each of these items has a limited shelf life (6 months, 12 months and 4 months, in the order above) meaning that most households will not use large quantities of these products before they go bad. So unless you bake your own bread every week, it isn’t worth giving up valuable real estate in your pantry to unreasonably large amounts of these items.
Again, these are not bad prices, but with a shelf life of 12 months, most households won’t finish these items before they expire. The spices I do make an exception for are black pepper and salt, most households that cook regularly can finish these containers while still in their prime.
3. Short-cut meals
Whether we are talking about the pre-prepared meals in the deli counter, or the refrigerated short-cuts including already cooked chicken skewers or pulled BBQ pork I tend to skip these items. I like to keep our family dinners under $10 a meal for our family of 5 and to have a full meal to feed my family using the short-cut ingredients I would normally end up in the $15-30 price point, at which point I figure I might as well just order pizza or get take-out. If your budget is bigger, or if you are in a particularly busy season (like having a newborn) then these items might be beneficial for your family, just know, it is always cheaper to cook yourself.
This might be a controversial one, so hear me out. The diapers at Costco are a good price, and the Kirkland diapers do well in consumer reports, but diapers (even the actual Kirkland brand) are cheaper on amazon than at Costco. Then, if you subscribe and save on Amazon, you save even more. I also love that with amazon the boxes are delivered directly to your door and you don’t have to haul a giant box of diapers home from the store.
5. Olive oil
The Kirkland olive oil is top-notch quality, at a great price, but since olive oil should be used within 3–6 months of opening, and Kirkland oil is sold in 2-liter bottles, most households will not consume all of the oil within the recommended time period. (This article states that the average American goes through less than 1 liter a year)
If I haven’t already convinced you on why Costco is worth it, here are a few extra bonuses:
- The employees are super friendly. Costco pays its employees well and gives them good benefits. Happy employees equal friendly and helpful employees, enough said.
- Their return policy is great. In the event that you do buy a giant bottle of salad dressing and don’t like the flavor, you can return the dressing for your money back. Also, if your produce ends up being unsatisfactory, all you need for a refund is the receipt (you don’t need to bring the whole package of produce back to the store).