Wondering if a Costco membership is worth the price? Or wondering if you are really getting good deals when you shop? It can certainly be confusing to shop… you need to do quick mental math to compare bulk sizes to standard grocery sizes. I find that impossible when the store is super crowded and I am trying to get through the crowds and just get the heck out.
Usually my kids are whining or poking each other and really it is all I can do to keep them happy, check off my list and not have cart rage when people stop to chat or clutter up the aisles waiting for samples. (Grab n go people, Grab n go!) So I thought I’d make an easy guide for you with some of the best deals I find at Costco AND some of the things that I personally think are overpriced. I have been a coupon blogger for about 7 years now and I have gone through stages of heavily using coupons and following sales in stores to just occasionally using coupons and trying to simply buy things at good prices. At this phase of my life, I seem to have become a professional chauffeur for the kiddos in addition to my other responsibilities and so that means I need to figure out ways to save money on groceries without spending as much time cutting coupons or running to different stores. I do find myself in Costco about once every three weeks or so stocking up on things. So this is a list that is just my opinion after watching prices as a coupon blogger for several years. You may find some slight variation in pricing at your local store.
Best Deals at Costco
. 1. Condiments: Not all condiments are great deals and sometimes it is just too much to buy and store in your pantry but many are great deals at Costco. Some things to watch for:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil– this is an excellent price at Costco
Coconut Oil- this is an excellent price but the tubs are actually more than we need and I can fit in the pantry. So again only a good deal if you actually use the quantity they sell.
Pure Maple Syrup– the cheapest I see anywhere on pure maple syrup
Agave– if you use it regularly it might be worth buying in bulk
2. Dog Food: We used to use Kirkland Brand dog food- but after lots of readers mentioned quality issues, we upgraded to the premium dog food at Costco. I still think this is an excellent price and you can check the comments below for lots of feedback from readers.
3. Spices and Seasoning: Another great stop is the spices and seasoning section. I buy vanilla, cinnamon, cinnamon sticks, lemon juice, salt, pepper and more. Often the giant container at Costco is cheaper than the small container at the grocery store. The vanilla especially is one to look for- you get real vanilla not the yucky imitation vanilla you see at the grocery store. The flavor difference is amazing. This is an easy way for Costco to suck you in! Don’t buy if you won’t use the entire package within 6-12 months or if you really don’t have the storage space.
4. Organic/Green Cleaners: The big two for organic and green cleaning- baking soda and vinegar. You can buy these two items specifically in bulk and use them to clean just about everything. I use vinegar all over the house to clean and also just switched to vinegar instead of fabric softener. So much cheaper and the clothes are just as fresh at a fraction of the price of fabric softener. Plus no nasty chemicals and one less container to store in the laundry room.
5. Canned Goods: I always stock up on canned tomatoes, beans, olives etc… when I shop. Often the prices can be cheaper than if I used coupons at the grocery store. If you like canned veggies these are a fantastic price as well. You do need to buy by the case so I only get the items we use a ton of- but any extras make great food bank donations! For example, I get the organic S&W black beans at Costco for $.84/can. At the grocery store I would pay $.99 for conventional beans. The exception to this rule is during the holiday season. You can often get Del Monte canned veggies and such for about $.50 a can or less in the grocery store.
6. Organic Produce: Organic produce specifically can be an excellent deal at Costco. I buy large containers of mixed greens, power greens and spinach on almost every trip for about $3 a container. I also find the best prices on organic apples, grapes, raspberries, strawberries and more depending on the season. I find the quality of the produce not quite as good as a Farmer’s Market but far superior to a grocery store. Not everything is a great deal- they do offer convenience packs of pre husked corn, chopped butternut squash, chopped mango etc… that are a little more expensive but the convenience of getting meals quickly to the table might be worth considering. Costco tags will have a per lb price listed on the lower left corner of the price tag. I typically try to stay somewhere close to $.99/lb for in season conventional produce and $1.99/lb for in season organic produce. This varies by item so it is absolutely worth checking the fresh produce when you stop in. Consistently Costco has the best prices on bananas that I see anywhere. Oh and note if you see a big markdown on something just note it needs to be eaten RIGHT AWAY. I just bought 3 lbs of organic peaches for $4.99 at Costco (great price) but I was kicking myself 2 days later when every last peach was covered in mold and we had only made it through about half the box. (So it isn’t a good deal if you are tossing things out!)
7. Eggs/Milk/Butter: Again you are buying in bulk so this will depend on your consumption but I find the best overall prices on eggs and milk to be at Costco. My store has organic milk (2) gallons for $11. That is slightly less than the local grocery store where organic is $5.99/gallon. I go back and forth on buying milk at Costco just because 2 gallons takes up so much space in the fridge. The one thing we always get is the organic eggs. Costco has great prices on organic eggs. You might also consider almond milk- my Costco has (2) almond milk for the price of one at Target and the brand Costco carries (Califia) is far better then what I find elsewhere. The butter is an excellent, excellent deal as well. About $12 for 4 lbs and I typically see 1 lb for $5 at my grocery store. You can freeze butter so don’t be afraid to grab it.
8. Cheese. Goodness our family loves cheese and I find great prices at Costco. We regularly buy bricks of mozzarella (or sometimes fresh mozzarella), bricks of cheddar, sliced Tillamook cheese, Laughing Cow and more at Costco. It is by far the cheapest prices I find. They also have excellent prices on gourmet cheeses but again you do need to buy in bulk- so only a good deal if you eat it all.
9. Frozen Fruits and Veggies. The prices can be similar to the grocery stores but the quality at Costco is excellent. I make a lot of green smoothies and I find the organic fruit at Costco in general to be a lot cheaper than the grocery store. Plus I get larger bags so I am not running out every few days. We love the frozen peaches, mango and blueberries specifically. The blueberries are great for tossing into pancakes, smoothies or my kiddos love frozen blueberries as an after school snack. Again just watch the per lb price on the price tag so be sure you really are getting a good deal (most likely you are).
10. Wine/Alcohol. I tend to buy wine at Costco- they have lots of good brands for very reasonable prices and I tend to get Bogle or Liberty School as our house wine for about $6-9 per bottle. The Kirkland Margarita Mix is awesome as well. Just add ice- no tequila needed. And those are just some of the things I love to buy at Costco. There are many other great deals of course including tortilla chips, bread, grains, juices/lemonade/coffee etc… As for the Costco coupon book- not everything is a great deal in the coupon book but many of the items are. Unfortunately the only way to tell is to do the research- for example as of posting Costco has a coupon for Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. The price is $3.99 after coupon for (2) 24oz bags. Now that sounds good right? But to tell if it really is a good deal- I just Google Cinnamon Toast Crunch and click on images. I can see a standard size box and see that it is 12oz. So the Costco price is $.08 per oz which is like paying $.99 for a standard size box at the grocery store. That is a great price and if this was on my list I would grab it for sure. I also love to stock up on garbage bags, Ziploc bags, scrubbing pads, paper towels and toilet paper at Costco. I usually find the best prices when there is a coupon in the coupon book.
The Worst Deals at Costco
Again this is just my opinion and for sure there is something to be said for saving yourself some time shopping. These are the items that I don’t personally find to be a great deal and I typically avoid at Costco.
1. Fresh Meats. The prices at Costco on boneless, skinless chicken, ground beef and steaks in particular tend to be FAR more than I would pay at the grocery store. Note with these items it is very important to watch for sales at your grocery store and stock up and freeze the items. You will save a ton of money and save yourself the hassle of always trying to buy this stuff week after week. If you want something fancy, Costco might be the place for you to buy but for the basic staples I tend to buy at Sprouts or another grocery store on sale. (NOTE: You do need to watch the ads for you area in grocery stores and buy when things are at the cheapest. For example the price of boneless, skinless fresh chicken might be $3.49/lb one week and $1.99/lb the next week.)
Lots of people argue the steaks and beef at Costco are amazing deals. Our family has been consistently disappointed so I can only speak from my personal experience. You might take a look and see what you think.
Exception: The rotisserie chicken is always a great deal at Costco and a nice easy dinner!
2. Personal Care items such as shampoo, conditioner, razors, body wash etc… I personally don’t find these items to be a great deal at Costco. Often they are actually a lot more expensive than just watching for sales at Target or the drugstores. If you don’t mind occasionally clipping a few coupons you can probably get these items much cheaper at the drugstores. One exception is that I tend to buy Nexxus shampoo liters when there is a coupon at Costco. The shampoo is about $10. (Note: even for salon haircare I tend to buy it at Ulta when they run a big sale. I grab two shampoo and two conditioner at Ulta and that will easily last until the next sale. With the coupon, Nexxus conditioner is about $18 at Costco. Just to provide a comparison the Ulta sale mentioned above gets you a comparable product like Matrix for $9.49. A significant savings.
3. Books. I always check out the books at Costco and I snap photos of any books that catch my eye. I will usually keep them on my phone and when the time comes for me to buy a new Kindle book, I pull up the picture and buy the book. I find that Amazon frequently beats the Costco prices on books- especially if you like Kindle versions or paperbacks. Not always but it might be worth checking- you can download the Amazon app for free and actually just scan the bar code on the book to check quickly in store.
4. Cereal. I don’t tend to buy cereal at Costco unless there is a coupon and even with a coupon it isn’t always a great deal. We don’t buy the sugary cereals but I do get regular Cheerios and Kashi when they go on sale. Otherwise usually my grocery store has better prices (even without coupons.)
5. Household Cleaners. Not all the household cleaning items are a great deal at Costco plus you are buying in huge packages. Unless you are the Duggars or you have a small business or something you probably don’t need a lifetime supply of dish soap and Windex plus those packages are very hard to store. Here is an example of the prices I tend to see at Costco on cleaning products:
Tide Laundry Soap is priced at $19.99 for 170oz. That works out to $.11 per oz.
Tide regularly goes on sale for $5.00 (50oz) in my area. That is $.10 per oz. I try to buy Tide 50oz for $3.50- that is with a coupon and store promotion- so .07 per oz.
And you might be saying- well they offer coupons for Tide so that could be a better deal. The last time they ran a coupon book deal on Tide it was $18.49 or $.108 per oz- still more expensive.
So again this doesn’t apply to every single item but it can be worth checking out before you buy.
6. Candy and Treats. I thought I’d put this out there with Halloween around the corner. I don’t buy candy at Costco for two reasons- it is usually much more expensive than stores like Target and Walmart and the quantity is just too much for a standard size family. I love the chocolate covered raisins at Costco (they are seriously the best anywhere) but I find that I eat the entire vat of chocolate covered raisins so I tend to stay away :).
7. Diapers and Wipes. Yikes this is a controversial one and some people absolutely love the Costco brand wipes no matter the price. I have personally compared prices many many times and I always find Costco to be higher then a sale and a coupon at Target.
Pull Ups are $29.99 for 86 at my Costco. That works out to $.35 per Pull Up or like paying $7.70 per pack. At Target the regular price without a sale is $8.99 and I can always print a $2 off Pull Ups coupon. When there is a coupon in the Costco coupon book the prices are better but they still work out to be like paying $6.13 per pack or so – so not really a huge savings. A sale at Target is typically going to get you a better deal. So it doesn’t hurt to do the math before you buy.
8. Office Supplies. With the exception of ink refill cartridges- I don’t find the prices on paper and pens and such to be that great at Costco. The best bet is typically to watch for sales from office supply stores in the weekly ads or to just stock up on your supplies during the dirt cheap back to school sales in July and August every year. You’ll pay pennies on the dollar for your supplies.
9. Fresh Flowers. This is another controversial one. I hear a lot about how cheap flowers are at Costco and I just don’t find that to be the case. My Whole Foods, Farmer’s Market or Sprouts and Safeway all beat Costco prices on fresh flowers. (Update: I gave the flowers a second chance after people insisted they were wonderful. My $10 bouquet lasted precisely one day and then started to die. I will never buy flowers again myself but I am sure this can vary by local provider. You can also return the flowers to Costco for a refund if they die but really who wants to hold on to a dead bouquet and then go to the trouble of fighting your way back into the store for a refund. No thanks.)
AND if you do have a gas station at your Costco that alone can be worth the price of membership. When we lived in Seattle I exclusively bought gas at Costco because they always beat out everyone else in price. Now that I am in California, we don’t have gas stations at our store so I do miss those savings.
The deli at Costco is awesome. I am a vegetarian myself but I know people love the hot dogs! Get a fountain drink for $.59, Churros, smoothies or pizza. You can’t beat the prices.
Gift cards can be awesome deals at Costco if you can use them for restaurants, activities and vacations! We occasionally get gift cards to local restaurants for about 20% off the retail price. These can be great gifts during the holidays.
The Pharmacy and the Eye Glass center are also huge perks. We don’t often get prescriptions but I always buy glasses and contacts at Costco- the prices are significantly less than if I bought through my Doctor’s office. If you do need glasses, watch those monthly coupon books. They occasionally offer savings on prescription glasses.
And now it is your turn! What are your favorite deals at Costco and the things you tend to avoid?