Are you a Costco shopper? The key to buying in bulk is knowing what’s really a good deal, and what’s not. Here are the best deals at Costco…and what to leave on the shelf.
I LOVE Costco. I can’t help it. I was raised in a family of five kids where “Costco Runs” (as we called them) were an institution. Early on, my mom taught me the joy of Costco samples, and I would usually ask to go with her to the store just so I could try out all the yummy foods I could snatch from those red-and-white-checkered tables.
Unwittingly, I passed on my Costco love to my three boys, too.
They know that Costco is “the sample store,” and I’ve learned to plan our trips at times of the day when I know the sample people will be out and about. It’s pretty tragic if we go and the boys don’t get any treats to try. Oh my. I’ve created sample-seeking monsters. Oops.
In any case, over a lifetime (literally) of being a Costco shopper, I’ve learned the ins and outs of shopping at this warehouse superstore. We take about one to two trips per month to stock up on goods (I try not to go more often or I spend too much money!), and it’s becoming increasingly necessary as our little family grows.
Now, before you think I’m over-singing the praises of Costco, let me be clear—NOT everything at Costco is a good deal. In fact, there are some things that I will probably never buy there because I can get them cheaper at my normal supermarket. Still, Costco has enough items that are killer prices that I come back each month to stock up.
Bulk stores sometimes get a bad rap for sucking your money into a giant vat of olive oil…or something. So, before we get to the deals at Costco, here are three things to keep in mind as you shop…
3 tips to make the most of your Costco shopping experience:
- Ask yourself how quickly you’ll use an item. You don’t want to buy in bulk if it’s going to expire before you can use it.
- Limit impulse buys. I love to eat the samples, but I hardly ever buy the items. I limit myself to one impulse buy per shopping trip.
- Plan ahead and stock up when things are on sale. There are several items that regularly go on sale at Costco. Check their monthly ad booklet and check your pantry for what you might need to stock up on. The following are things that regularly rotate through the ads, and I pretty much ONLY buy when they are on sale: Goldfish crackers, Craisins, Tyson breaded chicken, yogurt, fruit snacks, granola bars, potstickers, etc.
Here are some of my favorite things to buy at Costco…
The Best Deals at Costco
Note: The prices I compare in this article were accurate at my local Costco and Smith’s grocery stores in Utah in July 2017. Prices will obviously fluctuate over time and vary according to location. Still, I would wager that if you compare current Costco prices to the current prices at your local grocery store, you’ll find that the deals at Costco are comparable.
Costco price: $1.85/gallon ($3.70/2 gallons)
Normal grocery price: $2.20/gallon
I always love when I can save on the staples of my food supply. My normal grocery store has been selling milk for around $2.20 lately, so this is a significant savings over time. Especially if you have little ones who are drinking whole milk, the pennies really add up. Also, if you don’t drink that much milk, did you know that milk freezes really well? Just pop the whole jug in the freezer, and then transfer it to the fridge to defrost when you start to get low (just make sure you plan a day or two ahead).
Costco price: $2.24/lb. ($8.99/4 lbs.)
Normal grocery price: $2.99/lb.
Butter prices are really volatile, and it seems like it’s always super expensive whenever I’m totally out and have to buy it now. I’ve paid 3.50 before for a pound of butter and just about choked! Costco’s price is consistently reasonable, so I buy in bulk and keep a stash in the freezer to pull out as needed.
Garlic powder: $0.30/oz.
Whole pepper: $0.55/oz.
Spices are dirt cheap at Costco. I bought a huge bottle of cinnamon for $2.59 ($0.24/oz.). A similar bulk size bottle of McCormick cinnamon at the normal grocery store was $8.99 ($1.02/oz.).
They don’t have all spices, but it’s a great place to stock up on the basic ones you use most often, like salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc. I like to keep a smaller bottle that I use daily, and I refill it as needed from the Costco size bottle that I keep on the top (harder to reach) shelf of my cabinet.
Costco price: $0.10/oz. ($4.69/48 oz.)
Normal grocery price: $0.32/oz. ($2.59/8 oz.)
This is the best thing since sliced bread…really. I love using fresh garlic in my cooking, but it’s kind of a pain to deal with real garlic. I used to just use powder because it was easier most of the time. Then I discovered this minced garlic from Costco. Just keep it in the fridge and measure out a teaspoon or whatever amount as needed. It lasts forever!
Costco price: $0.14.oz. ($4.49/2 lb. package)
Normal grocery price: $1.37/oz. ($5.49/4 oz. jar)
Buying yeast at the normal store is SO expensive, but I love making homemade bread. Costco, however, carries 2 lb. packages of Red Star yeast for $4.49–a fraction of what it costs in a typical store. Worried it won’t keep? Did you know you can freeze yeast for a LONG time? I pull it out to refill a smaller plastic container I keep in my fridge, and it’s still going strong over a year later! I’ve never had a batch of yeast fail storing it this way, and it’s so convenient.
Costco price: $0.23/lb. ($5.69/25 lbs.)
Normal grocery price: $0.35/lb ($3.49/10 lbs.)
Bake much? I keep my flour in big buckets in my pantry, and I refill them as needed with these 25 lb. bags of flour from Costco. My store caries a high-quality local brand, and it’s still cheaper than buying the bleached, store-brand variety at the grocery store!
Costco price: $2.25/lb. ($4.49/2 lbs.)
Normal grocery price: $3.99/lb ($7.99/2 lbs)
We make a lot of quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches around our house, so we go through a lot of cheese. Costco’s Kirkland brand consistently has the cheapest price for block cheese I’ve found. If you are feeling a bit more splurgy, Costco also has a great price on some excellent premium cheeses: Tillamook cheddar cheese and Jarlsberg Swiss cheese.
Costco price: $1.17/lb. ($4.69/64 oz.)
Normal grocery price: $3.18/lb. ($1.99/10 oz.)
Do you love Asian food? I’m constantly using soy sauce for marinades, stir fry meals, my favorite Instant Pot honey garlic chicken, etc. Those little bottles at the grocery store never lasted long enough for me, and they are pricey! When I realized you could get a huge bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce (64 oz) for $4.69 at Costco, it became a regular item on my shopping list. My husband raised an eyebrow at the large bottle in our fridge the first time he saw it, but he’s never complained about the good dinners I make with it or the money I save.
Costco price: $0.24/oz. ($7.99/2 lbs.)
Normal grocery price: $0.67/oz. ($3.99/6 oz.)
I love using these almonds as a garnish for salads. We do spinach salads several times a week, so we go through these pretty quickly. They are such an easy way to dress up a side dish, and they’re a good way to sneak a little extra healthy protein into your family’s diet, too.
Costco price: $2.24/lb. ($8.99/4 lbs.)
Normal grocery price: $3.99/lb. ($5.99/24 oz.)
I LOVE Craisins, but they are ridiculously expensive…unless you shop at Costco. They sell a 4 lb. bag regularly for $8.99, which is already much cheaper than the grocery stores. However, Craisins are one of the items that show up on a regular basis in the Costco discount ad booklet, so I buy 2 packages when they’re on sale. Last time I was there, I got each bag for $4.99 each! That’s only $1.25/lb–serious savings.
Costco price: $1.67/box ($6.69/4 boxes)
Normal grocery price: $3.69/box
I’m not usually a brand snob. I’m happy to buy generic of most things, but there are a few things where I think the name brand versions actually taste better. Graham crackers are one of those items. I can’t handle the cardboard crackers that pretend to be graham crackers. I want my Honey Maids.
I hate paying more for a brand, but I realized a year or so ago that Costco’s price on my favorite graham crackers is comparable to or cheaper than the generic version in the grocery store. Yay! I get what I like, and I don’t have to spend extra money. This is another item that shows up in the discount ads from time to time, but even the regular price ($6.69 for 4 standard boxes) is pretty good.
Better than Bouillon
Costco price: $0.37/oz. ($5.99/16 oz.)
Normal grocery price: $0.59/oz. (4.79/8oz.)
I love this stuff. It really is better than bouillon, and it’s good for recipes that require less than a full can of chicken broth. I just add 1 tsp. of “bouillon” to one cup of hot water (the heat helps it dissolve), and that way I don’t have to open a can of broth and then wonder what to do with the leftovers. It’s $5.99 for a 16 oz. jar.
Real Maple Syrup
Costco price: $0.33/oz. (10.99/33.8 oz.)
Normal grocery price: $0.62/oz. ($19.89/32 oz.)
When we went to New England a couple years ago, I really wanted to buy some real maple syrup. It was my main souvenir from the trip. Imagine my surprise when I came home and found almost the same exact-looking bottle on sale at Costco for almost half of what I paid for it back east. Agh. Lesson learned…buy syrup at Costco from now on.
Side note: The Costco near me has AMAZING fruit syrups, too, made by a local company (Kodiak brand in case you’re Utah-based and want to know). Costco is a great place for exploring goods from local companies. Who knew?
Frozen strawberries (and other fruit)
Costco price: $0.13/oz. ($12.49/6 lbs.)
Normal grocery price: $0.25/oz. ($3.99/lb.)
I buy Costco’s frozen strawberries and blueberries to make smoothies for my family. Especially if you can catch them when they’re on sale, they’re a great deal, and they are super convenient for adding healthy smoothies to my family’s diet.
Update: I have now also tried and regularly buy their mixed mountain berries. It has raspberries and blackberries as well as the strawberries and blueberries and it SOOO good.
Which package I buy depends on what’s on sale at a given time, but I usually buy at least one large bag of frozen chicken each month. It’s sometimes a little more expensive than buying fresh chicken at the normal grocery store, but I really don’t like touching raw meat, so it’s worth it to me to not have to trim, package, and freeze it myself. The quality of Costco’s frozen chicken is much higher than what I’ve gotten at most grocery stores, too.
What I really love is the Tyson breaded chicken tenders. They are real chicken (not processed chicken nugget stuff), and they make a great quick dinner paired with some pasta or roast potatoes. I usually only buy them when they go on sale, but keep your eye out for them…they make dinner so doable on crazy, busy weeknights.
The #1 underutilized awesome deal at Costco:
Costco may not be the first place you think to book a car rental, but it should be! They have–hands down–the best deals at Costco on car rentals. In the past several years, I’ve shopped around over and over again to see if I can find anything cheaper, but Costco always comes in cheapest. Plus, when you book with Costco, you can add an additional driver for free, which most rental companies charge extra for otherwise. You can search on their travel website here.
A few more favorites…
…because apparently I can’t stop talking about deals at Costco.
- Rotisserie Chicken: Most people already know what a good deal these are, so I didn’t include it above, but I often will plan this chicken for dinner on Costco shopping days. It’s just so cheap, easy, and delicious…and the leftovers are great for using in soups.
- Baby/kid clothes: No matter what 50% off deal Carter’s is running online, buying sleeper sets and baby/toddler clothes at Costco is usually a better deal. A month or so ago, I bought Little Man some awesome glow-in-the-dark dinosaur jammies (3-piece set) for $7.99. From Carters, they would have been $16.99. Yes, I could have played the promo code game and gotten them for close to Costco’s price, but this was SO much easier. Plus, I could hold up the sizes to my son and really see what size he needed.
- Pot stickers: I don’t buy a lot of pre-packaged food, but I really love the Ling Ling pot stickers from Costco. When they go on sale, I usually pick up a bag.
- Flowers: I don’t actually buy flowers at Costco often, but it’s my husband’s go-to place to buy flowers for me, which I LOVE. I love having fresh flowers, but I hate the thought of him spending $30-50 on a single arrangement. At Costco, you can get big bunches for under $15 most of the time, and they’re gorgeous!
What I DON’T buy at Costco:
- Diapers: They are almost always cheaper through Amazon with subscribe and save shipping. But, if you didn’t calculate correctly how many diapers you need for the month and run out before your next shipment arrives, Costco isn’t a bad back-up, especially when they’re on sale.
Update: (9/17/19) I’m back to buying diapers at Costco most of the time. Amazon just isn’t having the same deals they used to for the quality you get at Costco.
- Cereal: It’s usually better to just buy whatever is on sale at the grocery store on any given week.
- Canned goods: Because Costco pretty much sells brand name items (or their own Kirkland brand), it’s cheaper to buy your normal grocery store’s brand of canned goods like beans, broth, tomato sauce, etc. Unless you’re brand loyal, buying the generic is usually your best bet to save some pennies. (exception: black olives)
- Pasta: Costco has great varieties of pasta all packaged together, but they’re really not the best bang for your buck. Especially if you stock up on pasta when it’s on sale at the normal grocery store, I usually only pay between $0.50-$1.00/lb. for pasta, which Costco can’t beat.
- Fresh produce: Most of the time, I don’t buy produce at Costco. If you have a really big family that will go through the produce fast enough, Costco sells in bulk (duh), which is convenient, and their quality is usually high. However, I usually get better deals elsewhere, and I can buy in smaller quantities that make more sense for my family. Occasionally, I will buy fresh berries when they are a really good deal, and Costco does have the largest, sweetest pineapples ever. (Update: Now that we’re a family of six, I buy Costco produce more often, but I still compare it with the grocery store prices before buying.)
Oh, there are so many more things I could talk about, but that’s enough for now… it’s your turn…Are you a Costco shopper?
What are your favorite deals at Costco?
(other than the free samples, of course)