Costco seems like a bargain hunter’s dream. For all the awesome deals the big-box store offers, however, you shouldn’t buy certain items. You can easily waste money in the food section — but we won’t let you. These are the foods you shouldn’t buy from Costco, including one popular item to avoid at all costs (on page 10).
1. Fresh meats
Why: Fresh meats, like chicken, ground beef, and steaks, often cost more at Costco than they do at the grocery store. And a good supermarket sale will beat Costco’s prices by a large margin. Plus, a large package of raw meat won’t last long in the fridge.
The exception: If you properly portion the meat and freeze it for later, you might get your money’s worth.
Next: Not even vegetarians can keep up with these items.
2. Bulk packages of produce
Why: You likely won’t be able to eat all of the bulk fruit and veggies before they go bad. Half of all U.S. produce gets thrown away. Think carefully about whether you can use it all.
Next: You don’t want this on your burger.
3. Jumbo-sized condiments
Why: Most people struggle to use up a giant bottle of ketchup before it starts looking or smelling strange. Some condiments are safe to eat after they expire, but that doesn’t mean they’ll still taste good.
The real expiration dates: Ketchup can last six months. Mustard can last for a year. And mayo only lasts two to three months after the use-by date. An open container of BBQ sauce only lasts four months.
Next: Don’t go nuts over this bulk snack.
4. Large packages of nuts
Why: Always buy nuts in smaller packages. Bulk nuts contain larger amounts of oil (from healthy unsaturated fats), so they tend to go rancid faster than you think.
Storage tip: Even if you bought bagged nuts, always store them in an airtight container.
Next: Buying this item is all about strategy.
Why: It’s tempting to buy soda at Costco. But you can find it for a better price at your grocery store. It’s one of the items supermarkets mark down around holidays, big sporting events, and any time people throw parties and hold cookouts.
Instead: Stock up during those grocery store sales, and save the extra bottles and cans for later.
Next: Buy your milk at Costco but not its counterpart.
Why: Breakfast cereal costs more at Costco than grocery stores. Plus, you should be wary of buying a huge box of cereal, particularly if everyone in your household doesn’t eat the same cereal each morning. A jumbo box of cereal can go stale before you have the chance to eat it all.
Instead: Always compare per-unit prices and look for coupons on cereal at grocery stores.
Next: A baking essential, but not in bulk
7. Bulk bags of flour
Why: You can stock up on flour at Costco if you’re a professional (or prolific) baker. But everyone else should steer clear. Flour doesn’t last nearly as long as you think, because it absorbs moisture from the air.
Next: Don’t fill your pantry with this Costco basic.
8. Canned goods and other pantry essentials
Why: Packaged foods, like canned foods, mixes, dressings, and other items you’d store in your pantry, are often cheaper on sale at the grocery store.
Instead: When you see a sale or coupon on canned goods, take advantage of it. It could reduce the price to half the cost, per unit, of what you’d find at Costco.
9. Spices you don’t use frequently
Why: Costco famously offers great deals on spices. You can buy a large bottle of cinnamon, for instance, for a lot less than a tiny bottle from a grocery store. If you season many meals with a specific set of spices, large bottles can save you cash. But spices you use occasionally? Stick to smaller bottles.
Next: America runs on caffeine, but not at Costco
10. Large bags of coffee
Why: Ground or whole, coffee won’t taste fresh once you’re halfway through a giant bag from a big-box store. The beans aren’t meant to last that long, so shoppers should sip cautiously at Costco.
Instead: Buy a smaller container of better coffee on sale or with a coupon at a grocery store.
Next: Buying this cooking essential is a numbers game.
11. Giant bottles of vegetable or olive oil
Why: Unless you constantly fry food for large gatherings, you don’t need Costco’s giant bottles of cooking oil. The USDA says not to keep olive and vegetable oil in your pantry for more than six to 12 months. And most people won’t use the whole bottle during that timeframe.
Next: Get a reusable version of this instead.
12. Bottled water
Why: Costco offers great deals on bottled water. But spending money on bottled water will hurt your bank account and the environment. You don’t need bottled water unless your water has been contaminated.
Instead: Get a filtering pitcher to keep at home, and use a water bottle on-the-go.
Next: Another reason to get excited about sample day
13. Large packages of food you haven’t tried
Why: It may seem like common sense, but it’s important to sample new foods before buying a huge quantity. A craving or flashy packaging may make you rethink this tip, but we suggest going with a smaller box of a new food before investing in it.
Next: Leave it at the warehouse unless it’s Halloween
14. Huge bags of candy or caloric snacks
Why: When you’re pushing a heavy cart around Costco, those giant packages of cookies or candy look tempting. But having them around basically guarantees you’ll reach for them instead of a healthy alternative. Indulge in the occasional cookie or bag of chips, of course — just don’t buy a giant package.
Next: Foods you could make yourself
15. Foods you can make yourself
Why: Costco offers plenty of salad dressings, guacamole, salsa, cookies, and pre-made pasta dishes. And they can save you time in a pinch. But you’ll waste a lot of money by regularly buying foods you can make at home.
Next: Your health isn’t the only reason to avoid this popular Costco item.
16. Oversized bags of chips
Why: Large bags of potato chips or cheese puffs are tempting. But another concern? They’ll likely go stale before you can eat them all.
The exception: If you’re throwing a big party, it may make sense to buy a couple Costco-sized bags.
Next: Items that aren’t on your list
17. Things that aren’t on your shopping list
Why: Another secret to avoid wasting money at Costco? Stick to a strict shopping list. Shoppers know Costco as a big-box store with tons of samples to try. It’s tempting, but if you don’t need these random goodies, don’t get them.
Next: Bookworms should avoid Costco.
Okay, so this item isn’t food. But it’s worth remembering to buy books elsewhere.
Why: Amazon usually has better prices on new releases, independent bookstores have a better selection of lesser-known authors, and used bookstores and thrift stores are the best places for older titles.
Tip: There’s always the public library, which has plenty of books available for the best price (free).
Next: Supermarket prices can’t be beat in this department.
19. Produce that’s on sale at the supermarket
Why: Costco offers good deals on some fruits and vegetables. But when produce is on sale at the supermarket, it’s almost always a better deal there than it is at Costco.
Tip: Look up seasonal sales, or bring the grocery store’s sales flyer, to compare prices at Costco.