11 Things You Shouldn’t Buy at Costco

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It’s a tough world out there and Americans are struggling to stay above water as inflation continues to pummel our wallets. Even food — the most essential thing of all — is getting seriously expensive. While there are a number of tried and true tricks we can use to save money on all sorts of goods, using cash-saving apps and coupon codes can only get you so far. We also need to know where we can get the best deals on items to begin with. 

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With over 111 million members, Costco is more than succeeding at delivering on its promise of bringing people the best prices possible — to an extent. There are actually some items that Costco offers not quite the best deal on. GOBankingRates spoke with experts in the grocery, finance and even skateboarding space to learn which products you’re better off skipping at Costco and buying elsewhere. 

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OTC Medications

“The prices are usually great but the truth is that most households don’t need an industrial sized bottle of painkillers or cold and flu meds,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com. “Over time these things can lose their efficacy or expire, so you either need a huge household that will use them on a semi-regular basis, or to be purchasing for something like an office to keep on hand.”

For a more reasonable amount of OTC meds, Ramhold recommends heading to your local grocery store and picking up a bottle of their store brand to save money and avoid having to toss out expired meds later on. 

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Fresh Produce

“Again, prices can be really good when it comes to fresh produce at Costco, whether you’re looking for bananas for smoothies or potatoes for baking,” Ramhold said. “But the sheer amount you have to buy is what makes this a potentially bad deal. If you don’t have plans to use those 3 pounds of bananas or 15 pounds of potatoes relatively soon, you’re going to be running the risk of having to toss out whatever goes off.”

Head to the Farmer’s Market instead and buy seasonal produce in reasonable quantities for maximum savings. 

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“Costco has a limited selection of books so it’s really only good if you’re planning to purchase a certain box set,” Ramhold said. “If you’re hoping for an extensive list of the latest bestsellers, you’re better off shopping elsewhere. Head to a local indie bookstore to offer your support, or order online from one you’d like to support. Even if you aren’t interested in that, you can shop for most titles at places like Target, which if you have a RedCard, you’ll save 5% on by doing so there anyway.”

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“Some people may not even be aware that Costco has an optical department, and they usually offer decently priced eye exams,” Ramhold said. “That being said, when it’s time to purchase your glasses, it’s a much better deal to shop online rather than in-store. You can still easily spend over $200 on a pair of glasses at Costco, but as long as you have a copy of your prescription and your PD measurement (which the eye doctor can obtain during your exam) you can take that information to places like Zenni and get stylish glasses for much less.” 

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“As parents of three young kids, we love Costco, [but] there is one thing we won’t buy at Costco,” said Erin Wilson of ChaChingQueen.com. “Milk is often 10% higher at Costco than it is at Aldi or Trader Joe’s. For as much milk as we go through, it adds up.” 

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Refrigerated Prepared Meals

“These are expensive for the amount of food you get, lack flavor, and still use unrecognizable ingredients (if that’s important to you),” said Kimberly Fox, a recipe developer and writer who teaches corporate cooking classes. “In my opinion, you are better off going to a take-out restaurant for the price and quality.”

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“Fresh cut beef, pork and chicken, like steaks, roasts and most everything else in the fresh meat section at Costco will not be the best value,” said Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game and author of “Shop Smart, Save More.” “It may seem that the cost per pound is slightly lower than your supermarkets’ regular prices, but they are not lower than the best supermarket sale prices.”

To discover the best price, take time when you’re next in Costco to open up your supermarket’s sales ad or circular on your phone. 

“Compare the two meat deals featured on the front page,” Gault said. “These two front page featured meat deals are usually a ‘loss leader’, which is used to draw you into the supermarket. You’ll find that those two front page meat deals will be significantly lower on cost per pound than Costco.”

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“Buying a skateboard at Costco is really not a good idea,” said Myriam Temam, founder of musterr.com, a site about skateboarding. “When you look at the specifications, you see that it’s a maple deck; the trucks are in aluminum and the wheels are in polyurethane. With this information, it seems like buying a skateboard from Costco is a great deal; however, that’s not the case. The wheels make a lot of noise when you ride and the bearings are really cheap. The skateboard won’t even roll well for a long time since the bearings are not lubricated and not from a good brand. If you want to learn basic tricks with their skateboard, you’ll rapidly see cracks on your deck. Even if it’s a maple deck, it doesn’t mean that the chosen wood is of good quality.”

If you really want to learn how to skateboard without causing damage, buy one from a reputable company online or in a skate shop. 

“For that, look for the most loved brands in the market,” Temam said. “These can be Santa Cruz, Powell Peralta, Baker and more. They will be more expensive, but you’ll have an excellent experience on the road and you’ll improve rapidly.”

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“I recommend not buying [cereal] at Costco,” said TJ Benedetti, the owner of Simple Grocery Deals. “Usually there are sales at our local ShopRite for name brand cereals at lower prices. The Millville brand at Aldi is cheaper without sales. For example, Aldi’s Honey Nut Crispy Oats is cheaper per ounce than Costco ($0.09 vs. $0.15).”

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Avocados are always a tricky buy — especially if you’re in an area that doesn’t naturally produce them. They’re either too hard, too soft and always too expensive. But if you’re keen on scoring a deal, definitely don’t head to Costco, where they usually cost $1.60 a pop. Instead swing by Trader Joe’s which sells them in bulk for cheaper. 

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Spices in Bulk

“When shopping at Costco, it’s easy to get sucked into buying in bulk to save time, money, and energy; however, it’s not always a great deal,” said Tana Williams, a personal finance blogger at Debt Free Forties. “For example, purchasing giant containers of spices isn’t always a great deal. Unless you cook for a large family three times a day, there’s no way to use these enormous amounts of spices before they lose flavor. It’s recommended to replace your spices every six months, so the chances of using that much pepper or garlic powder are pretty slim.”

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