Quit Overspending at Costco with this Grocery Guide

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Have you ever walked into Costco to buy a handful of items and end up with a cart full that cost hundreds of dollars?  Most of us can quickly fill our cart with unplanned items like no other.  And don’t get me started about those samples!  We all love ’em, but it takes some full-on self-control to roll your cart by and not throw in some sausage-stuffed ravioli or a bag of popcorn in that massive cart.  I mean really- they even give samples of Doritos, like we’ve never eaten those before. Costco is strategic, those samples are out there to increase their sales and make you come back for more.  In 2018, Costco made $138.4 billion in net sales according to recent statistics.  So, they’ve got their marketing down.

And you know what, Costco is a little tricky. It’s hard to tell if you’re getting a great grocery deal. You can’t compare the price of three giant bottles of ketchup at Costco to the grocery store down the road. Plus, many of the food items tell you the price per ounce, not per unit, making it even more confusing. Most people just expect that food at Costco is a good deal. After all, they paid for a membership, so shouldn’t it be?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the majority of grocery items at Costco are NOT a good deal.

I’m a comparison shopper and my grocery shopping catch-phrase is, “that’s not good enough.” What I mean by that is if I want to buy pears, but they’re not a good price, I walk away and don’t buy them.  The pear price was “not good enough.”  By having this kind of self-control, helps me to eat a sample, smile at the nice lady with a shower cap on her head and roll right on by.  (I know it’s not a shower cap, but gosh, they look like one!)

If you struggle with impulse buys at Costco, eat ahead of time and stick to a list and don’t buy extras.  Grocery shopping when you’re hungry is a recipe for disaster!  If you can’t resist buying what you’re sampling, shop when they aren’t giving out samples.  

I hope I haven’t completely scared you off from Costco.  There are some items I will never buy at Costco and some that I consistently buy.  I comparison shop and know the prices out there.

To make it easier on you, I’ve compiled a list of 5 items you shouldn’t buy at Costco and 5 that you should.

What You Shouldn’t Buy at Costco:

ONE

Frozen or Fresh Chicken Breasts:

The prices for chicken breast is insane at Costco averaging around $2.60 per lb. I never pay more than $1.80 per lb. at the nearby grocery stores. FYI: the majority of the meats are more expensive at Costco than regular grocery store prices.  

TWO

Chips and Snack Foods:

Have you walked down the snack aisle at Costco and looked at the prices? Most bags of chips are $7! Yeah, seven whole dollars is outrageous! If you go to any grocery store, you are going to find a better deal even when you compare it to the smaller size.  The one exception is Costco’s three pound bag of tortilla chips.  

Beyond that, unless you’re going to a party, those chips are going to be stale quick.  Buy the smaller bags at the regular grocery store.  You’ll save calories and cash.

THREE

Most Produce:

The prices of Costco produce is really high and it’s hard to go through some of the portion sizes they have before it goes bad.

A bag of potatoes at Costco is $8 (25 lb) compared to a $2.25 (10 lb.) at a grocery store. Grapes are $2.70 lb. at Costco compared to the consistent sales on grapes for $.99 lb. at regular grocery stores when in season.

Most of the fruit at Costco is overpriced except the occasional watermelon.  I’m pretty bummed that they just upped the price of bananas, so that isn’t even a great deal anymore.

FOUR

Condiments:

The prices for ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, relish and all that is really high, plus those bottles take up a lot of fridge space. Unless there’s a manufacturer markdown that’s insane, pass on it and buy the smaller cheaper versions at your local grocery store. 

I can buy a bottle of mustard for less than a dollar at multiple grocery stores.  So I pass on the ginormous Costco one.

FIVE

Canned items:

The majority of the canned corn, tomatoes, etc. is really expensive compared to grocery store prices. If you like buying cans in bulk, check out case lot sales at your local grocery stores or buy larger quantities of individual cans when they’re on sale.

Costco labels canned items by ounces and not by individual cans, making it harder to gauge what the actual price is per can.  So pull out your phone’s calculator and do the math.

I’ve bought the gallon size tomato paste cans a few times for canning, which is a good deal. But how often do you need a gallon of tomato paste?

Don’t get the wrong impression that Costco is a complete rip-off.  There are plenty of great deals at Costco on food.  Here are some of the grocery items that are seriously good deals.

What You Should Buy at Costco:

ONE

Rotisserie Chicken:

Costco’s rotisserie chicken is hands-down the best meat deal you will find in the store and the cheapest rotisserie chicken you can buy for its size. For $4.99, you get a 3+ lb. chicken that’s cooked for you, and tastes delicious!  

They all have to be over three pounds, but the really big ones can be up to five. Chat with the meat guy and they can weigh it for you if you’re curious.

 

TWO

Flour & Sugar:

If you’re a baker, Costco has some really good deals on flour and sugar.  The caveat is that they are in 25-50 lb. bags.  If you don’t go through these items fast and don’t have room to store a bag of sugar that weighs more than a small child, you might want to pass.

I used to buy flour and sugar at Costco, when I would bake bread and bake more.  But we are trying to eat a grain-free diet and less sugar, so it’s not in the cards right now.

THREE

Lettuce/Greens:

If you’re salad people, Costco has great deals on romaine lettuce, spring mix, iceberg lettuce, and spinach. We love getting the romaine hearts (it’s a six pack), cutting them in half and grilling them with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.  Divine!

Check the expiration dates to make sure you can go through it before the salad goes bad.  Many times they’re going to expire in a week of purchase, which is rough unless you’re a green-lovin’ family.

FOUR

Cheese:

We buy our feta cheese and occasionally our cheddar cheese (max price I’ll spend is $5 for 2 lb.) from Costco.

The cheddar cheese is typically around the $5.00 mark for two pounds.  If you don’t want to mess around, they do sell five pound cheese chunks that can sometimes be a better deal. 

The feta cheese is by far the best deal around when compared to other grocery stores.  Occasionally there’s a manufacturer’s rebate on the feta cheese. That’s when I stock up.  They carry the feta cheese in the plastic containers and in sealed two packs.  We purchase the two packs because they’re usually a better deal per pound.  We then break up the cheese and put it into a large glass mason jar.

FIVE

Frozen Blueberries:

The frozen blueberries are the only frozen fruit that’s a stellar deal.  It ends up being $1.99 lb or less. I can’t buy blueberries and freeze them for that price! The blueberries are really large and tasty.

We add them into pancakes and green smoothies.

 

So there you have it. I hope this list makes Costco shopping less confusing.

Start paying attention to the prices of the products you buy at Costco and compare them to the regular grocery stores. You may be surprised that you aren’t getting as good of a deal as you think.

What are some great grocery deals you buy at Costco? Please comment below…

7 Comments

  1. Tiara

    I agree with everything here. I’ll add that dog and cat food is definitely worth buying at Costco, so is the organic maple syrup, almond milk, butter and I believe so is the Kirkland brand TP… But that’s the thing- I’ve noticed that the Kirkland brand is often where the savings will be but name brands aren’t ever cheaper than anywhere else. Also, I strongly feel that unless you have the executive membership then you really aren’t saving money. I’ve never paid for my membership because I get 2% back on purchases and although it’s never surplus it ALWAYS covers the cost of renewing my membership each year. And that’s with very modest Costco shopping! Great post, Amberlee!

    Reply
    • Amberlee Rich

      Thanks for those add-ins! I do buy my TP there too. I’ll do more articles later on what to buy in different areas of Costco, plus how to know if an item is on clearance. They have a secret code;).

      Reply
  2. Janie Morey

    Thanks so much! We learned lots from you and the humor is fun!

    Reply
    • Amberlee Rich

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I hope you save a lot from it!

      Reply
  3. Geno Johnson

    The Jasmine rice is a very good deal. Less than $1/lb.

    Reply
  4. Connie

    I think it might be different in Alaska because we have insane local grocery store prices. You’ve inspired me to take a closer look.

    Reply
    • Amberlee Rich

      I’m sure location plays a factor. I’m glad you’re inspired to start comparisons shopping. Hopefully you’ll be able to save more through it!

      Reply

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