Many people seem to have a love-it-or-hate-it attitude toward warehouse stores, but I am a proud card-carrying Costco member. With only two in our household, we don’t do all of our shopping at Costco, but some bargains keep us going back about once a month. The Costco Gold Star annual membership costs $55, while the Executive Membership is $110 and gets you 2% back on most purchases at the end of the year. If you don’t earn enough of a rebate to cover the cost of the upgrade, Costco will refund the difference.
Our Costco shopping trips are based on the monthly coupon book they mail to members. Many items aren’t a great deal without the coupons, which tend to repeat every three to four months, so by the time I run out of an item, it’s likely to appear in an upcoming book. With coupons, I find great deals on peanut butter, Starbucks or Kirkland (roasted by Starbucks) coffee, canned soup, Ziploc bags, Kirkland environmentally-responsible laundry detergent, dishwasher tabs, cooking spray, DiGiorno or Costco’s take-and-bake pizza (which can be frozen), and kitchen trash bags.
Other items, especially in produce, don’t usually have coupons, but are always priced great. A huge one-pound container of Earthbound Farms Organic Baby Spinach is $3.99 (the store also offers a spring mix). The same container in a grocery store runs $5.99 or $6.99. Bananas are a great deal, but we often find that they are too ripe for two of us to consume quickly enough unless I plan to bake with them. Six red, yellow and orange peppers are $6; the standard sale that I see in the grocery store is 3 for $5. Berries can be found for great prices at different times of the year.
Other great deals (prices vary by region):
- Butter: 4 pounds for $7.50, or $1.87 per pound vs. $2 per pound at the grocery store. Sticks of butter freeze well so I like having extra around.
- Shredded cheese: A 5-pound bag of mozzarella at Costco runs about $11.50, or $2.30 a pound. In the grocery store, an 8-ounce bag on sale is usually $2, or $4 a pound. When we get home, we divide the cheese into freezer bags and use 1 pound at a time. We make homemade pizza a lot, and the previously frozen cheese works and tastes just as good.
- Almonds: $4 a pound vs. $6 or more in grocery store.
- Nestle chocolate chips: $9.99 or $7.99 with coupon, which is the same as $1.75 per bag in the grocery store
- Baking soda: 13.5 pounds for $6.50, or the equivalent of 48 cents per small box in the grocery store. There are tons of uses for baking soda, so I like to keep a big bag around.
- Heinz white vinegar: $3.29 for a 1.32-gallon jug compared to about $1 for 16 ounces in the grocery store. I use white vinegar for cleaning, so this is a big savings and more convenient.
- Cottage cheese: 3 pounds for $4.99 vs. $2 per pound at the grocery store
- Organic olive oil: 1.5 liters for $9.99, which is half the price of comparable organic brands. Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil is one of a few brands not mixed with cheaper refined olive oil according to this article and the cited study
- Organic canned black beans: $6.79 for 8 cans compared to $1 per can at a grocery store; sometimes Costco offers a coupon on top of that price.
- Kitchen trash bags: 200 for $13.99 and I never have a problem with them. There are occasionally coupons in the Costco book as well.
- High quality cheese: prices vary greatly, but Costco offers some great deals on specialty cheeses, including a 19-ounce wheel of brie for $7-$8 that is perfect for parties
If this food talk has made you hungry, you might try Costco’s food court. My husband sometimes sneaks away for a hot dog and soda for $1.50. You can definitely feed a family here for less money than at a fast-food drive-through and it could be a bargaining chip to get kids to behave during shopping.
Some other Costco purchases we’ve been happy with: no-iron men’s and women’s dress shirts and sweaters for less than $20, 50 photo Christmas cards for $14.99, two heavy baking sheets with lids for $14.99, and the lowest price we could find for car rental for vacation in Hawaii. The store also offers some of the lowest-price prescriptions – even for nonmembers. Unlike most pharmacies, Costco puts prices of prescriptions online so you can find the best deal.
Everything isn’t a great deal at Costco, of course. I rarely purchase health and beauty items there because I can find better deals during drugstore sales using manufacturers’ coupons. We also haven’t bought electronics at Costco because we can usually find better deals online (though the store’s 90-day return policy on electronics is generous). And while Costco does have some decent deals on meat, I usually find better deals shopping the sales at a few different grocers.
Costco doesn’t display sale prices, other than on certain items in the coupon book, but there are ways to tell if items are discontinued or marked down. Check out the article Secret Price Codes Will Save You Money at Costco. The store also has a very generous return policy, 30-day price adjustment policy, and a Risk Free 100% Membership Guarantee — you can cancel for a refund if you aren’t satisfied.
What has your experience been shopping at Costco?
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