The Best Things to Buy at Costco Are Daily Essentials, Not TVs


Traditional grocery store advice is to stay out of the aisles and shop the perimeter to spend less and eat healthier. That’s harder to do at Costco, says Addie McHale, a Denver-based certified financial planner.

Each visit is a treasure hunt. You get there, take it in and want to walk the whole store to “hunt down those values,” says McHale.

Jenny Martin, the writer behind coupon website SouthernSavers.com, says Costco knows what it’s doing. Tall ceilings, big open aisles and tons of products create a sense of awe as soon as you walk in.

At a minimum, you have to buy a $60 annual Costco membership (the lower of two membership tiers offered) to enjoy the grandeur. Big fans of the warehouse chain will say good buys justify the cost. Let this list of the best things to buy at Costco help you decide.

Organic frozen berries

McHale appreciates Costco’s selection of organic foods.

The big bags of frozen berries are an essential purchase for smoothie lovers, she says. “They have a good selection of organic frozen berries, and they’re significantly cheaper than buying those little bags at other stores.”

Authentic Italian ingredients

McHale also says the Italian offerings at Costco are on point. You can find good olive oil from Italy, she says. The Costco brand Kirkland Signature EVOO is a product of Italy, and comes in a two-liter bottle for a relatively low price.

Some items are more elusive. McHale swears by the giant jar of organic Castelvetrano green olives she found. She bought two because the super low price made her think they wouldn’t be restocked. Treasures like it are what make you walk through every aisle, she says.

As for marinara sauce, the r/Costco subreddit makes it clear: Rao’s Homemade is a solid pick and priced well.

Before you build a budget

NerdWallet breaks down your spending and shows you ways to save.

Baking supplies and real maple syrup

Martin finds treasure in the baking aisle. “Bulk flour, sugar, spices and baking chocolates — those are some of the best prices you will find in town,” she says.

Another item that’s better to buy in a bigger size at Costco is 100% organic maple syrup, which Martin says is good quality at a great price. We spotted a 33.8-ounce jug of the Kirkland brand for $14.99 online at Costco versus $25.99 for a similar-sized bottle (32 ounces) of Whole Foods’ version from Amazon at the time of this writing.

Pick up some pure vanilla extract in the same aisle.

Nuts

Almonds, walnuts and mixed nuts are among the more expensive items at a grocery store. But you can probably get more nuts for less per pound at Costco, or any other warehouse club for that matter.

Take almonds, for example. At the time of this writing, we found a 1-pound bag online at grocery chain Safeway for $7.99 versus a 5-pound bag online at Costco for $17.99. That’s some serious per-pound savings, and you can freeze what you don’t eat right away.

Discounted gift cards

Costco offers discounted gift cards for many retail brands, restaurants and even airlines at times, says Martin. Gift card deals are generally $79.99 for $100 of value.

And just because they’re called gift cards doesn’t mean you have to give them away. If you know you’re going to buy from or eat at a participating place, you could save a few bucks upfront by buying yourself a reduced-price gift card.

Over-the-counter medicine

Martin buys the generic version of Zyrtec allergy medicine at Costco.

It just makes sense to buy the bottle of 365 tablets at Costco for less than $20 instead of a bottle of 30 tablets in a drug store for around the same price, she says.

Use Ibuprofen regularly? We saw two 500-tablet bottles of the generic version of Advil at Costco for less than the price of one 500-tablet bottle of another generic version at a popular drug store chain at the time of this writing.

Tires and gasoline

McHale says the savings at Costco’s Tire Center are worth it. She recently compared the price of four new name-brand tires at Costco with the price offered by a retail tire chain. Costco had the same set for a few hundred dollars less, she says.

Martin says to top off your gas tank each time you hit Costco to maximize membership perks, if your local store sells gas. The per-gallon price can be better than the local competition.

Keep your next Costco visit cost-effective

With so many treasures under one giant roof, it’s easy to go over budget on a visit to Costco.

A great deal on a TV doesn’t mean you should impulsively add a several-hundred-dollar purchase during a Saturday supply run. Take the time to ponder, research and compare prices on big-ticket items first, says Martin.

You can also plan meals in advance and set a limit for groceries to avoid a $400 receipt for pantry items. Use your phone’s calculator to tally up the total as you pick items. Or zero in on the fresh food section and leave after.

McHale likes to shop after dinner, about an hour before closing. “You’re not hungry, you’re not lingering,” she says. “You can just go to get your stuff and get out.”

But if you are hungry, you can still count on the $1.50 hot dog and soda after all these years.



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