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The Best and Worst Deals at Costco

I read an article in the Financial Post about the best and worst deals at Costco.  While the writer certainly had her opinion, I’m going to one up the list with my own, and with more specifics.

As Costco has captured a large part of our grocery and shopping budget over the years, here is what we have found to be the best and worst deals at Costco.

Financial Post 10 Best:

1. Dairy products
2. Gift cards
3. Fresh produce
4. Glasses
5. Baking necessities
6. Wine (in the U.S.)
7. Meat and poultry
8. Gas
9. Bakery and deli products
10. Hot dog and a soda at Costco’s famously cheap food court

My List of the 10 Best Deals @ Costco (at least in Eastern Canada)

From our shopping at Costco, this is what we have found to have better prices that other big box stores.

  1. Rotisserie chicken ($7.99) – For the price, you cannot buy the same size uncooked chicken around here.  For $7.99, Costco offers a tasty (they use an injected saline solution to keep the meat moist) and large rotisserie chicken.  Who needs to cook when you can buy a versatile and instant protein for a great price.
  2. Fruit and Veggies – Being on an island (we live in Newfoundland), our supply of fresh fruit and veggies can be quite pricey at the grocery store.  Bananas, apples, grape tomatos, cucumbers, celery, sweet potato, and peppers are almost always cheaper at Costco than at the local Loblaws.
  3. Milk and Eggs -With two young kids in the house, we consume a whole lot of milk and eggs on a weekly basis. A 2L carton of milk in a local grocery store is $4.17, the same carton at Costco is $3.49 (20% savings).  Extra large eggs are typically around $4/dozen, at Costco it’s $3.09 (30% savings).
  4. Gasoline – Gas at the local Costco averages between $0.05 and $0.08 cheaper per liter than surrounding gas stations. However, such low prices come with a catch – the endless line ups filled with large pickup trucks.  If you also use Costco to fill up your vehicle, a trick to get through faster is to pick the line with the least number of pickup trucks.
  5. Ground Pork and Beef – While not all meat is cheaper at Costco, some ground meats, especially ground pork is much cheaper at Costco.  Locally, Costco’s ground pork is about half the price of the grocery store.  The only thing is that the ground pork packages are massive and you’ll likely need to subdivide into reasonable meal sizes, then freeze.
  6. Eye Glasses – When my wife needed a new pair of glasses earlier this year, we decided to give Costco a chance.  We typically shop at the local buy-one-get-second-pair-free shop, and they inevitably simply over price their first pair.  What really set Costco glasses apart from the other stores was their Kirkland frames which were really great value for the quality.  In the end, we ended up getting two pairs of glasses for about 15% less than the quote provided from the other local shops.
  7. AA Batteries – While Costco offers slightly better prices for big battery names like Duracell, where they really excel is with their Kirkland brand batteries.  The Kirkland batteries perform surprisingly well, so much so that they are competitive with the big names.  Big performance with a low price, you can get 48 AA batteries for $11.80 which is about the same as what you would pay for a 12 pack of a competing brand.  It’s likely though that the Kirkland battery is simply a rebranded Duracell or Energizer.
  8. Kids Clothing – For parents of young kids out there, Costco can be a mecca for quality kids clothes for a reasonable price.  When the kids were younger, we picked up quality pajamas and onesies for a steep discount.  Even as the kids get older, we often find clothes quality brand name clothing for a fraction of the full retail cost.
  9. Kirkland Paper Towels and Toilet Tissue – For whatever reason, we go through a boatload of paper towels and toilet tissue.  The Kirkland brand of each are very comparable with leading brands, the Kirkland paper towels even have the select-a-size feature.  On a per square meter basis, the Costco brand items are significantly lower in cost that the leading brand.
  10. Kirkland K-Cups – I’m the only coffee drinker in the house, and I usually only have one in the morning which is why a Keurig coffee machine works for us.  While its ability to produce one cup at a time is a real bonus, the cost of the k-cups can get to be pretty insane.  For example, Starbucks k-cups can get up to almost $1 a cup in grocery stores (why not go to Starbucks for that kind of price).  While I like to use my reusable filter with freshly ground beans, there are times where it’s convenient to use a k-cup.  Costco branded k-cups work out to be about $0.40/cup or even less when they have sales.  From my research, anything under $0.50/k-cup is a good deal.

My List of the “Not So Great” Deals at Costco

Financial Post 10 Worst

1. Hygiene products
2. Diapers
3. Dry goods, like cereal
4. Laundry detergent
5. Books and DVDs
6. Feminine products
7. Designer clothing
8. Condiments
9. Snacks
10. Paper goods

As a regular Costco shopper, I will say that most things in the store offer good value.  However, some items may be at market value and not cheaper than competing stores.  I had to think hard about this list, and could only come up with 8. :)

  1. Electronics and Computers –  This is perhaps where Costco is the weakest – their competitiveness on consumer electronics and computers.  The Costco business model revolves around buying everything in bulk.  So when a particular electronic item is not quite up to speed anymore, they are slow to reduce pricing to compete with other big box electronic stores.  So if you find an item from their electronic section that appears to be a good deal, make sure to shop around online first.
  2. Packaged Food and Baked Goods – Although Costco has a bakery section, they don’t bake everything on the bakery section.  Pre-packaged sweets like snowballs and lemon squares are outsourced from local bakeries.  As a result, their prices are good, but not great.
  3. Protein Powder – Workout junkies who use protein powder on a regular basis will know the sources to get a decent deal on protein.  First, the cheaper Costco Leanfit stuff foams up and does not mix as well as it should.  However, the higher end Kaizen whey protein isolate mixes and tastes good, but it costs almost $50 a tub.  Good quality protein can be found elsewhere for lower cost – like at local supplement stores (but not GNC).
  4. Orange Juice – We went through a phase where we consumed quite a bit of orange juice with the Tropicana stuff being our favorite.  Costco regular price is $12.99 for 4 cartons which works out to be $3.25 each.  The grocery store regularly has it on-sale for $2.99/carton.  In Costco’s defense, they occasionally have sales on juice bringing the price down to $2.75/carton.
  5. Chips and Bars – We find that these “junk food” items are not competitive with the local grocery store.  First, they are sold in bulk so you end up eating more “junk” than you would with a smaller bag.  In addition, this type of food goes on sale often in regular stores, so you are usually better off picking up a smaller portion at the local store during a sale.
  6. Fruit – While fruit at Costco can be the best deal, there is also some fruit that can be quite pricey at Costco.  For example, I find their melons and mangos generally to be more expensive than competing grocery stores.
  7. Gluten-Free Pasta – While Costco has a decent selection of gluten-free (GF) products, their gluten free pasta is one product that is overpriced.  1kg of their GF pasta costs $8.99, the same amount at a grocery store will cost around $5.
  8. Home Appliances – On the same vein as the Electronics and Computers, there are some home appliances that are not cheaper at Costco.  For example, their Dyson Vacuums can often be found at Bestbuy and other stores on-sale for less – even their regular prices are very close ($579 vs $599).  Same goes for pots and pans (except the Kirkland brand), cutting boards, knives, and blenders.

Ok back to you, what do you think are the best and worst deals at Costco?

 

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FT About the author: FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 33 comments… add one }
  • Cold Truth August 31, 2015, 10:16 am

    Amazing Costco deals can be had on their furniture. It is usually much better quality than Leons/TheBrick.

    Only problem of course is very limited choice, and when you see something really interesting (like a new soft or dining set) by the time you get home, take measurements, talk it over with the spouse, show pictures you took with your phone, hum and haw, sleep on it, then you make the decision to pull the trigger (say 2 days after your first visit to the store) they’re all gone.

    This happens so often with featured items we use it as a verb; Costco’d. Even if it happens at another store. As in, “I saw this awesome recliner, but when I went to pick it up I got Costco’d.”

  • JoeTaxpayer August 31, 2015, 11:39 am

    There are three tricks to a good Costco experience. Knowing unit cost, your consumption rate (i.e. will the item spoil before you finish it?) and valuing your time.

    Costco pricing for the laundry soap my wife prefers is cheaper than supermarket, but more expensive than when on sale at CVS. So if I can stock up on CVS sales, I can go a year and not run out. For us, it’s the same with TP, paper towels, and a few other items.
    Some produce items are so cheap that if we use half, we’re still ahead of the game.
    In the end of the grocery list, there may be a few items a bit more expensive, but is it worth the gas and time to make an extra trip to the grocery store? Or is the grocery store the regular visit, and Costco a monthly stock-up?

    We find the saving are worth the membership fee.

  • nobleea August 31, 2015, 12:07 pm

    It’s weird. I spent a weekend this year walking through and writing down unit prices on regular items at Costco and Superstore. Same brand or house brand equivalents. On the whole Costco was about 2-3% cheaper. But some items varied by 20-30% with one store being cheaper than the other. The general conclusion was that fresh food (including milk and eggs) was cheaper at Superstore and packaged food was sometimes a wash depending on what it was. Costco really shined on household cleaning things like detergent, garbage bags, etc.

  • Gael James August 31, 2015, 12:44 pm

    Feminine hygiene (tampons and pads) are much cheaper at Costco. They well these items in very large packages saving me money and meaning I only have to go shopping for them every three or four months. And now GST free!!

  • Jill August 31, 2015, 1:38 pm

    It’s funny this was posted today as I just watched this last night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOwJ4PXt3GM

    My main Costco purchase is for Premier Protein. A ready to drink protein shake only available at Costco in Canada. Tastes like chocolate milk and with 30g of Protein 1g of sugar and 160 Calories I’m OK with spending $28 for 18 of them. They also have bars, I’m not a fan but hubby is. We don’t have kids so on average we spend about $150 a month there. I used to be a deal chaser but I kind of like picking up 600 rolls of TP and not having to worry about it for a very long time.

  • Jeremy August 31, 2015, 3:56 pm

    I like how SquawkFox provided price breakdowns of individual products and which were better at Costco vs Superstore. It would be good to see this updated, and compared with NL vs ON vs BC.

    Her link is at: http://www.squawkfox.com/2011/04/15/costco/

  • LifeInsuranceCanada.com August 31, 2015, 9:35 pm

    Best deal at Costco? Free Lunch!

    Well, they call it samples, but hey – Free Lunch!

  • Cool Koshur September 1, 2015, 1:02 am

    Not everything is cheap at Costco. There is limited choice. Average Costco has 3000 items as compared to Walmart with 25000+ items.
    Best deals
    1) Pharmacy (Dispensing fee is $3.95. No one beats this)
    2) Laundry Detergent (There is usually deal on liquid detergent. For $10 you can find 110 loads)
    3) Photo Center (Passport photos are $7.99. One of the cheapest places)
    4) Food Court (Hot dogs for $1.99, $1.50 for ice cream)
    5) Butter & Canola Oil ( Sealtest butter sells $3.50 or less whereas Canola Oil is $15.99 for 15L / 18L
    6) Walnut Banana Cake $5.99 and Carrot Cake $9.99
    7) Milk and Eggs
    8) Kids Ciricullum books ($9.99 each. Bookstores sells them for $16.99
    Worst Deals
    1) Paper Towels & Toilet Tissue ( I usually find them cheaper at No Frills)
    2) Frozen Fish
    3) Electronics (limited choice, One upside they provide additional year of warranty)

    Shopping Experience:
    1) Checking every customer at exit. They are within their rights but I find it intriguing keeping in view no other big box store does it.
    2) Parking spots are wide but it is hard to find parking
    3) Only cash accepted at Food court
    4) They keep moving things around except diary, bakery, pharmacy and meat section
    5) Limited payment options ( Mastercard is accepted now)
    6) They wont accept manufacturer coupons
    7) Most important $55 membership fees.

    Finally it is just me that whenever I shop at Costco I tend to spend more than I would at other big box store. My bill is typically big. May be I need to keep my impulses in check.

  • FT FrugalTrader September 1, 2015, 9:12 am

    Thanks for the feedback guys and some good ideas.. keep them coming!

    As mentioned above, although I don’t eat them, the hot dogs are a crazy deal. Locally, it is $1.50 for a large hot dog and a soft drink (free refills). There is no way there is any margin on that.

  • nobleea September 1, 2015, 11:57 am

    IKEA used to compete with them on hot dogs. They used to sell for 50c each, as recently as a couple years ago. Granted they were smaller. Also have free refills, and their cinnamon buns are cheap too.

    The closest Costco to us happens to be the third busiest in the world, which is another disincentive to shopping there (for me).

  • Cool Koshur September 1, 2015, 2:18 pm

    @FrugalTrader , @nobleaa
    Ultra Cheap hot dogs are basically a bait to get crowd into the store. With membership fees inside Costco’s pocket. Once shopper eats the hot dog it creates a feel good reaction and sees hordes of people on buying spree. This arouses impulse ghost within the shopper and go on buying spree. Well rest shows up on Costco’s quarterly profit reports. For poor customer, it is altogether different reaction when he/she sees the monthly credit card statement.

    • FT FrugalTrader September 1, 2015, 8:56 pm

      You could be onto something! I wonder just how many hot dogs they sell in a day.

      • Cool Koshur September 1, 2015, 10:10 pm

        Costco reportedly sells more than four times the number of hot dogs sold at all Major League Baseball stadiums combined each year. According to a 2012 documentary on Costco, the chain sells in excess of 300 million hot dogs, pizza slices, and other ready-to-eat items annually.

        Check this link…. this will answer most of your questions
        http://time.com/money/3901655/costco-rotisserie-chickens-hot-dogs/

  • Joe @ Dumbbelldaddies September 1, 2015, 9:56 pm

    Hey there. You mentioned protein powder. Cheaper and better variety found online. Cosco use to carry a brand called Muscle Pharm that was $10-15 cheaper then online or in the stores. Some locations don’t carry it anymore. Great post. Cheers.

  • Sarah September 2, 2015, 8:50 am

    Sometimes I think our house should be in Costco magazine since so much was bought from there! But we always know our prices before we buy anything there (I cringe when I see people buying soda – c’mon people, check the grocery flyers first!)

    Electronics aren’t necessarily cheaper, mainly because they always seem to make some sort of “bundle” out of everything. But, their free extended warranty and their additional warranty are awesome. We paid $99 for a 5-yr warranty on a giant TV – it covers literally anything that could happen to it AND they come to our house to fix it. Same for my laptop. You mean I can spill coffee on it and then throw it in anger and you’ll replace it?! Sold!

    For Huggies diapers, just this month I price compared sizes 1-4 with Amazon.ca/ Walmart and found that Costco is cheaper (with their $10 off coupon) on size 4. Amazon/Walmart won every other time.

    We make up our entire $110 membership on gas, org milk, org strawberries and yogurt. The rest is just free money.

  • Andrew September 2, 2015, 11:09 am

    Math error on the O.J… $12.99 for four carton comes to $3.25 each, not $3.75.

  • BeSmartRich September 2, 2015, 1:00 pm

    I cannot imagine our grocery shopping without Costco. I found their meat is a bit more expensive than other places but when I eat their AAA beef, it just blow my mind on how fresh the meat is. Not to mention their fresh produces such as vege, fruits, milk, eggs etc…

  • Sean September 3, 2015, 8:14 am

    I have to disagree on the electronics. Overall, I find that the electronics Costco carries are as good and as up-to-date as its competitors, and often at excellent prices. But where Costco beats its competition is its extension of the manufacturers’ warranties to two years at no extra cost. I’ve bought a few electronics items at Costco after careful comparison with its competitors and haven’t regretted a single one.

  • Big Cajun Man (AW) September 3, 2015, 8:11 pm

    You forgot the $1.50 Hot Dog lunch!

    On the electronics side of things, their Valet service which doubles the laptops warranty has saved my bacon more than once (don’t buy HP Laptops ANYWHERE).

  • cannon_fodder September 4, 2015, 12:00 am

    Since you mentioned GF pasta, I had to point out that their GF pizza has been a real treat for me since I was diagnosed. My wife got me an electric pizza oven as a gift, and I can finally enjoy really tasty pizza whenever I want.

    My wife also prefers to buy all of our meats at Costco because she believes that the quality is better – and she is a sucker for the soft ice cream and the hot dogs, too.

    Some things we only buy at Costco – blueberries, grapes, cherries, potato chips, hard cheese, frozen shrimp, bar soap, Kirkland wrinkle reducing face cream (it must work as my wife looks EASILY 10 years younger), luncheon meats, Haagen Dazs (sp?) ice cream bars, ribs (better than any Rib Fest I’ve been to and even a guy who has worked at an award winning joint for a few years agreed), canola margarine, Kirkland Probiotic yogurt, annual flowers… and I’m sure quite a few other items, too.

  • Beth September 5, 2015, 4:05 pm

    Plants! At least in Ontario, you can get some nice planters for a good price. They last a while too!

    I’ve had good luck with some of their clothing too — well, the loungewear at least!

  • Ian warren September 6, 2015, 12:04 am

    Best batteries for someone with small kids-rechargeable
    The wasted energy/resource used to produce AA batteries is criminal. Do yourself your kids and the planet a favor use rechargeable batteries today

  • Garth September 6, 2015, 12:46 am

    If you are looking for a good GF pasta at a great price, check out the Barilla products at Walmart. Italian made GF pasta!

  • Triton7o7o September 6, 2015, 10:45 am

    Just to let you know Tropicana and most of the other main brand orange juices use flavor packets in their juice, but Costco’s orange juice is fresh squeezed. Research the full story about orange juice and flavor packets.

  • Jess @ Best Credit Cards Canada September 7, 2015, 3:17 pm

    We live in the core of a big city so there are no Costcos close for us to visit. However, we do ask my inlaws to pick us up double packs of Frank’s Red Hot sauce when they go. It comes in 2 huge bottles and is way less expensive than what we pay at a downtown grocery store. We love that stuff so it is worth having someone pick it up for us :)

  • Mandy Katz September 7, 2015, 6:04 pm

    Costco has never promised its customers the lowest price. Their goal is the best value. We’ve been Costco members for more than 17 years and even held on to our membership for three years after moving, waiting for a reasonably close by warehouse to be built. And we’re thrilled to be only a 63 mile drive away.

    In the interim, we’ve been Sam’s Club members — what a downer THAT place is. Nothing among Sam’s house brand even comes close to the quality of Costco’s Kirkland brand items. And Sam’s employees remind a friend of mine of when she taught high school English: a bunch of sullen faces staring back at you, obviously longing to be anywhere else on Planet Earth.

  • Melric September 9, 2015, 10:23 am

    When we went vegan 3 years ago I worried Costco wouldn’t be worth it anymore. However we found the following best deals (we are in QC):
    -nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans)
    -bread 3pack for price of 2 at grocery store + the loaf is longer
    -seeds (chia + hemp)
    -fresh produce (baby spinach and mushroom especially)
    -gas (at least 4cents cheaper and store not out of our way)
    -dates
    -kirkland peanut butter
    -cocoa powder
    -frozen fruit

    Those are regular purchases weekly/biweekly. Occasionally we also get good deals on clothes/gifts etc.

  • Tony @ Investing Track September 13, 2015, 11:32 pm

    Can’t comment on specific deals at Costco, although I gotta say that I love the return policy and the warranty. I had two bikes with gear problems, and Costco took them back no questions asked.

    However, I don’t use Costco as much as I used to. A lot of their grocery prices skyrocketed last year. No idea what happened.

  • Sustainable PF October 14, 2015, 2:58 pm

    My wife likes to bake. The large bags of white flours are a good price per unit.

  • Alex November 12, 2015, 11:34 pm

    It’s convenient. Yes the juice is often on sale at IGA or Metro or wherever. But its not predictable.

    One thing I never buy at Costco is oil. I’ve never seen any olive oil in anything but plastic bottles. I know that’s all the rage in North America but I like to have my oil in glass bottles. So I stock up on olive oil in small glass bottles whenever I see it on sale while at IGA anyway and I just buy 5 or 6. It’s weird. IGA has the small bottles made of glass but the bigger ones are plastic (same brand, same oil) while I used to buy the same oil (same brand) back in Europe in the big bottles made of glass.

    We spend about $110 per week on food (family of 4) and most of it at Costco.

  • Susan December 30, 2015, 3:08 am

    Marketplace (I think it was them) just did a comparison on batteries and Kirkland came in at #1 or #2 for best choice.

  • Cas77 October 18, 2016, 7:55 am

    Costco is NOT as great as its made out to be. With sale prices, Manufacturer cpns ( which Costco doesn’t accept ), other stores are often much cheaper.
    I know lot of people, who have cancelled their membership fees.

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