Costco has developed a loyal following, due to the widespread belief that buying in bulk equates to big savings. It's true that stocking up on some products can be a major money-saver, but not all items in the store are steals.
Read on to find out which 10 Costco deals are the best — and which ones are the worst.
Related: 20 Ways to Save Even More at Costco
The 10 Best Deals at Costco
A Costco Gold Star Membership costs $55, but it can definitely be worth the investment. The retail giant offers deep discounts on a wide variety of products that can save you a significant amount of money.
Stephanie Nelson, The Coupon Mom, has conducted extensive research on wholesale clubs and offers her expertise on some of the best items to purchase at Costco.
1. Dairy Products
“Although quantities are large, if your household consumes larger quantities within the freshness period, expect to pay 30 percent less than supermarket prices on eggs, butter, cream, half and half, egg substitute and cheeses,” Nelson said. “If your household is smaller, you can freeze butter, egg substitute and cheeses (grated).”
2. Gift Cards
Costco sells gift cards for major retailers at 15 to 30 percent off face value. For example, you might be able to score two $50 Lucille's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que gift cards for $79.99 or two $50 Hornblower Cruises gift cards for $69.99. Whether you need a gift for someone else or are heading to a participating establishment with your family, this is a cost-effective way to save money.
3. Fresh Produce
Not only can you stretch your dollar further while eating healthy, the retail giant also sells organic produce. In fact, the Seattle Times reported in June that Costco has surpassed Whole Foods to become the biggest organic grocer.
“The overall cost per pound is lower than the typical supermarket,” Nelson said. “If you can't use all of the produce in time, consider dividing the food and cost with a friend or shopping partner.”
Get high-quality frames and lenses at seriously competitive prices by shopping at Costco. The retailer topped the charts of a recent Consumer Reports analysis of eyeglass stores.
5. Baking Ingredients
“You may not be able to use a 25-pound bag of flour or have the storage space, but you can save dramatically on baking items such as chocolate chips, vanilla extract, basic spices, nuts, vegetable oils, evaporated milk and especially baking yeast,” Nelson said.
She noted that you can save up to 80 percent off supermarket prices on items such as yeast and extracts by shopping at Costco.
Costco has gained a reputation for selling high-quality wines at prices significantly lower than other retailers. And, the retail giant also has its own signature Kirkland labels that are actually produced by many renowned wineries. For example, Girard Winery makes Kirkland’s Napa Cabernets and blends, and the owners of Champagne Janisson & Fils and Champagne de Bruyne are behind Kirkland’s brut and brut rosé, reports Wine Spectator.
7. Meat and Poultry
“Not only is the club price lower than the supermarket's regular price, but the grade of beef is higher,” Nelson said. “Clubs tend to carry the higher Choice grade, while supermarkets' typical option is one grade lower — Select." She added that if you buy large quantities of meat, you can always divide them and freeze them for later.
If your Costco has a gas station adjacent to the pump, it’s probably a good idea to fill your tank up. The retailer can sell gas that’s 6 cents to 12 cents per gallon below the market price, reports CBS News.
9. Bakery and Deli Items
If you’re having a party, feed your guests with pre-made fare from Costco. “Wholesale clubs feature super-size baked goods, rotisserie chickens and ‘take and bake’ extra-large pizzas for the same price as smaller supermarket alternatives,” Nelson said. “These are perfect sizes for entertaining large crowds.”
10. Hot Dog and a Soda
Feeling a little hungry while shopping? Head on over to the Costco food court for a $1.50 hot dog and a soda. The store hasn’t changed the price of this quick and easy meal for 27 years, reports ABC News.
The 10 Worst Deals at Costco
Bigger isn’t always better, especially when you can’t realistically use the product up before it expires. When that happens, you end up wasting money. “Impulse buying is common at wholesale clubs because everything seems like a bargain," said Nelson. "But stocking your cart with large quantities of bargains easily results in hundreds of dollars of spending."
Nelson shared some of her warehouse shopping tips to help you avoid paying for items at Costco that you should actually get at a supermarket or different retailer instead.
1. Personal Care Products
Nelson advised against purchasing personal care items, such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo and lotions, in bulk. “If you are a coupon and deal shopper, supermarkets and drugstores feature these types of items with coupons frequently, so you can stock up on multiple quantities of smaller sizes for pennies,” Nelson said.
Babies grow fast, so buying diapers in bulk can backfire if your child moves on to a bigger size before your supply is finished. You’re better off joining Amazon Prime and signing up for a diaper subscription that can allow you to save 20 percent off select brands.
3. Packaged and Dry Goods
Skip the packaged and dry goods, such as name-brand cereals and baking mixes, when shopping at Costco. “These items frequently go on sale at 50 percent off at supermarkets and have coupons available, so your unit cost is lowest at the supermarket,” Nelson said.
4. Laundry Detergent
You never run out of laundry, so purchasing detergent in bulk at Costco might seem like a cost-savvy move. But really, it’s probably not worth it.
Laundry detergent doesn’t expire, but it starts to break down after six months in open bottles and nine months to one year in unopened bottles, reports The Huffington Post. Unless you have a very large family or are purchasing detergent for commercial use, you probably won’t be able to use it quickly enough.
5. Books & DVDs
Warehouse stores like Costco often place books and DVDs near the checkout lines in an attempt to lure customers into making impulse buys while waiting to pay. But, these items aren’t typically great bargains. “You can find lower prices online or for pennies at your local thrift store,” Nelson said.
6. Feminine Hygiene Products
Costco charges an average of 50 percent more for feminine hygiene products than the base sale price at other retailers, according to TheKrazyLadyCoupon.com.
It’s easy to get lured in by a seemingly low price for a bulk box of tampons, but sales at other stores are abundant. Plus, manufacturers frequently offer coupons for these items.
7. Designer Clothing
Don’t get too excited if you find clothing from well-known designers while browsing the aisles of the store. Many designers produce inexpensive lines specifically for retailers like Costco, but they’re often of a lower quality — meaning they’re not made to last, reports Today.com. You’re better off saving up for an investment piece, as top lines are designed with materials of the highest quality.
Most condiments have a shelf life of six months to one year, which can make it difficult to use a bulk supply before the vast majority expires, reports The Dallas Morning News.
“Unless you are entertaining, pay a lower cost overall by buying sale-priced condiments and snacks at the supermarket, with coupons that are frequently available on these items," said Nelson.
Nelson advised against purchasing items such as crackers, chips and cookies in bulk because large sizes of perishable items are more likely to be wasted or simply cause you to overeat. You won’t save money if you have to throw expired food away or inadvertently eat more of it.
10. Paper Products
“Your cost on sale-priced paper towels, bath tissue, facial tissue, paper plates and napkins may be lower at the supermarket [and] discount stores like Walmart and Target,” Nelson said. “Coupons are also common for these items.”
Keep reading: 30 Items to Avoid at Wal-Mart