Costco can seem like a bargain-hunter’s dream destination. Giant flats of toilet paper. Huge packs of butter. Oversized bottles of ketchup or jars of mayonnaise. Inexplicably large bags of spinach and salad mix. Inexpensive bags of dog treats. All of those sound like great deals. And many are. But for all of the awesome bargains Costco offers, some aisles in the cavernous store are stocked with items you shouldn’t buy.
One of the sections of the store where you can waste money as easily as you can save it is the food section. We aren’t going to stop you from buying a giant bag of frozen french fries or a huge pack of bacon. But we won’t let you waste your money on foods that are going to go bad before you can use them up, foods that aren’t likely to be good quality, or grocery items that just aren’t a good value.
Read on for 19 foods that are a complete waste of money at Costco.
1. Fresh meats
Fresh meats, such as chicken, ground beef, and steaks, often cost more at Costco than they do at the grocery store. And a good sale at the supermarket will beat Costco’s prices by a large margin. Plus, a large package might be a poor value. Raw meat doesn’t last long in the refrigerator. You can stock up on meat at Costco if you plan to portion it and freeze some for later. But if you can’t take the time to separate it into separate freezer bags when you get home, you might end up throwing out as much as you use.
Next: Bulk packages of produce
2. Bulk packages of produce
Fresh fruits and vegetables are one of the easiest kinds of food to waste. And if you buy them in bulk at Costco, you probably won’t use it all before it goes bad. Half of all U.S. produce gets thrown away. Some of that waste happens on the farm, in warehouses, or at the grocery store. But much of it happens in our refrigerators. Even if Costco offers great deals on a huge bag of salad mix or a giant pack of carrots, think carefully about whether you can use it all.
Next: Jumbo-sized condiments
3. Jumbo-sized condiments
Costco routinely offers huge bottles of ketchup, giant bottles of mustard, and oversized jars of mayonnaise. But many people struggle to use up a regular-sized bottle of one of these condiments before it starts to look weird or smell strange. Sure, many condiments remain safe to eat long after their expiration dates. But that doesn’t mean they’ll still taste or smell good. The Kitchn notes an opened container of barbecue sauce only lasts four months. Ketchup can last six months. Mustard can last for a year. And mayo only lasts two to three months after the use-by date.
Next: Large packages of nuts
4. Large packages of nuts
Many foods are safe to buy in bulk. But others make a poor use of your hard-earned dollars. You should always buy nuts, for instance, in smaller packages instead of in bulk. They contain large amounts of oil (from healthy unsaturated fats). So they tend to go rancid more quickly than you might anticipate. It helps to store them in an airtight container. But they’ll still only keep for a couple of months.
Next: Produce on sale at the supermarket
5. Produce that’s on sale at the supermarket
Costco offers good deals on some kinds of 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. Always look up seasonal sales, or bring the grocery store’s sales flyer, to compare prices when you shop at Costco. Costco probably doesn’t get better produce than your local supermarket. So don’t overpay for the same fruits and veggies.
You might be tempted to purchase soda at Costco. But you can probably find it for a better price at your grocery store. It’s one of the items that supermarkets mark down around holidays, major sports events, and any other time when people are throwing parties and holding cookouts. You’ll save money by stocking up during those sales instead of buying soda regularly at Costco.
Breakfast cereal is another item that can cost more at Costco than at your local grocery store. You should always compare per-unit prices, instead of giving Costco’s prices the benefit of the doubt. 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. A better bet than Costco? Looking for coupons to save on cereal at your favorite grocery store.
Next: Bulk bags of flour
8. Bulk bags of flour
You can stock up on flour at Costco if you’re a professional (or prolific) baker. But everybody else should steer clear. Flour doesn’t last nearly as long as you think it will. It absorbs moisture from the air, which eventually causes it to go rancid. There’s nothing worse for an occasional baker than thinking you have all the ingredients for that cake or batch of cookies and finding your flour, of all things, has gone bad.
Next: Canned goods
9. Canned goods and other pantry essentials
Packaged foods — such as canned foods, pancake mixes, salad dressing, and other items that you’d find at the center of the grocery store — are often cheaper when they’re on sale at the grocery store than they are at warehouse stores. Finding a coupon for these kinds of items can reduce the price to half the cost, per unit, of what you’d find at Costco.
Next: Large packages of food you haven’t tried
10. Large packages of food you haven’t tried
Costco offers tempting deals on all kinds of food, particularly when you buy a huge package. But you should always try out new foods by starting with a smaller package, rather than a huge quantity. Thinking about trying a new kind of granola bars? Go with a small box, instead of a three-pack of jumbo boxes. That way, if you (or your family or housemates) hate it, you can cut your losses.
Next: Huge bags of candy and snacks
11. Huge bags of candy or caloric snacks
When you’re maneuvering a heavy cart around a crowded Costco, those giant packages of cookies or candy look especially tempting. But anyone who wants to lose weight should steer clear of those mega-sized bags of candy and sweet snacks. Having them around basically guarantees you’ll reach for them (instead of a piece of fruit or another healthy alternative when you want something between meals). You can certainly indulge in the occasional cookie or bag of chips. Just don’t buy a giant package.
Next: Oversized bags of chips
12. Oversized bags of chips
Large bags of chips can tempt you to reach for an unhealthy snack just like candy or cookies do. But another concern with those giant bags of chips on Costco’s shelves? They’ll likely go stale before you can eat them all. A huge bag of potato chips or cheese puffs can be a good purchase right before a party. But under normal circumstances, you won’t be able to eat the entire bag before they start to taste stale or lose their crunch.
Next: Large bags of coffee
13. Large bags of coffee
You can save money on your morning cup of joe by buying a large package of coffee grounds at Costco. But will you really drink that coffee if it stops tasting fresh? When you get halfway through the bag or tub, you’ll start to notice the quality dip. A better bet? Just buy a smaller container of your favorite coffee on sale, or with a coupon, at your local grocery store.
Next: Giant bottles of cooking oil
14. Giant bottles of vegetable or olive oil
Unless you constantly fry food for large gatherings of people (Don’t you want to try a healthier cooking method?) you probably don’t need Costco’s giant bottles of cooking oil. The USDA recommends against keeping olive oil and vegetable oil in your pantry for more than six to 12 months. You can keep them for an additional three to five months after they’re opened. Most people won’t use a huge bottle of vegetable or olive oil in that window.
Next: Bottled water
15. Bottled water
Costco often offers great deals on bottled water. But routinely spending money on bottled water will have a negative effect both on your bank account and the environment. You don’t need to drink bottled water unless your town’s water has been contaminated. If you just don’t like the taste of tap water, you can drink filtered water. Just get a filtering pitcher to keep at home, and use a filtering water bottle at the office and around town.
16. Spices you don’t use frequently
Costco famously offers great deals on spices. You can buy a large bottle of cinnamon, for instance, for a lot less than what a tiny bottle typically costs at the grocery store. But spices don’t stay at peak freshness forever. If you season every meal with a specific set of spices, large bottles can end up saving you money. But as for spices you use only occasionally? You might want to stick to smaller bottles.
Next: Foods you could make yourself
17. Foods you can make yourself
Stocking up on appetizers or desserts before a party can save you tons of time. But don’t make a habit of it. You can easily waste a lot of money at Costco by regularly buying foods you can make yourself at home. Costco offers plenty of salad dressings, guacamole, salsa, cookies, and pre-made pasta dishes. They can save you time (and help you get dinner on the table) in a pinch. But you’ll end up wasting money if you routinely purchase these items.
Next: Items you haven’t shopped around for
18. Items you haven’t shopped for at the grocery store
The secret to saving money, not wasting money, at Costco? Always compare Costco’s prices to the prices you can get at your local grocery store. Things aren’t always cheaper at Costco. Soup, cereal, milk — always check for sales (and coupons) at your local grocery store to ensure you get the best deal. If you buy these essentials at Costco without comparing prices, you might end up wasting money.
Next: Items that aren’t on your list
19. Things that aren’t on your shopping list
Another secret to avoid wasting money at Costco? Stick to a strict shopping list. Foods you spot on endcaps and at sampling stations often look tempting. But you should always try to make rational choices about how you spend your grocery shopping budget. When you stray from your shopping list, ensure that you pick foods you’ll actually use. Anything you buy and don’t use is always a waste of money.