5 Things Not Buy at Costco (Because You’ll Pay Less at the Grocery Store)

5 Things Not to Buy at Costco... Because You'll Pay Less at the Grocery Store

Costco can be a great source of savings. But it can also be a huge money pit!

We’ve talked before about the 7 things that I always buy at Costco – because they are truly a great deal, without ever having to cut a coupon or wait for a sale.

After years of falling into their “trap”, I’ve come to realize that shopping at Costco can give you a false sense of security.

Their legitimately good buys may lull you into thinking that everything is a bargain.

Unfortunately, this is far from true.

While prices, sales and deals vary regionally, I often get asked, “What shouldn’t I buy at Costco.” So with the caveat that you should consult your own price book to know for sure, here are:

Five Products that I (almost) Never Recommend Buying at Costco

#1. CerealA stockpile of cereal is sort of quintessential to a couponer. I don’t ever pay more than $2 per box, and the shelf price at Aldi is around $1.19 – $1.79 per box, depending on the type. Even if your price point is above $2 with a sale at the grocery store, you’re still probably better off to pass on the cereal at Costco. That said, if you’re running down the math, be sure to compare “apples to apples” — check the ounces per box and the price per ounce, if you want to accurately compare to your grocery store.

#2. Pasta – My target price is $1 per bag. I like to pay a bit less with a sale and maybe a coupon, too. But even at Trader Joe’s, I can pay $1 for their store brand–no coupon or sale required. Costco’s multi-packs of pasta will run you $1.50 per l-lb bag or more–definitely not a deal in my book.

#3. Toothpaste – I used to say that I would never pay for toothpaste again, but lately, I’ve noticed that the price (even with a coupon and sale) has creep up toward$1/tube range. Even still, it’s far less than you’ll pay for a four-pack of Crest at Costco.

#4. Body Wash – Again, I used to get body wash for free, but now I find that I have to pay $1 or even $2 for a big bottle. (Not sure how to do this? Read my weekly CVS deal posts.) Again, the prices at Costco – even for their bigger bottles – far exceed this.

#5. Avocados – This is a tough one for me. I love Costco avocados. Absolutely LOVE them. They are big and meaty and I’ve yet to get a bad one. But even during the peak of the season, you’ll pay at least $1 per avocado. And much though I love them, it’s hard to justify spending that much when I can get avocados at Aldi for as little as $.19 each on sale. Sure they are smaller and harder – so I have to plan ahead – but at 1/5th the price, I’ll make the sacrifice. (In the interest of full disclosure – I will admit that on occasion, when I’ve had some extra money in my budget, a few of those green mesh bags did make their way into my cart.)

To know whether the Costco prices are a bargain, you really need to keep a price book. The next time you’re going to stock up on mayo or ketchup or paper plates, consult your price book. You might be very surprised to realize that even without a sale or coupon, your grocery store or Target mayhave lower shelf prices on many items.

Of course, if you don’t have a price book yet, you can download my Costco vs. BJs “Cheatsheet” to get started.

This cheatsheet is my personal price book, showing how the costs compare on 35 items at the two big warehouse stores. Click the yellow button to get yours — I think you’re gonna love it!

Click here to get the Costco v BJs Price Sheet

What items do you avoid at Costco because the price isn’t right? Have you compared your price book targets to the shelf price at Costco? Any big surprises?


  1. Snack bars usually aren’t worth it (granola bars, cereal bars, Nutrigrain bars, etc). At the regular supermarkets (or Big Lots) I stock up when I find a good deal coupled with coupons. I’ve done the math and the the big pack at Costco winds up costing quite a bit more in comparison.

  2. The cereal at BJ’s at least is a huge box, way more than you get in the boxes available in drugstores.

  3. The avocadoes must be a regional thing, because here in the DC area, I’m excited to pay $1 each. They can run from $1.25 to $2.00 not on sale. I also don’t buy diapers or wipes at Costco, or toilet paper or paper towels.

    • Yeah, to clarify, that price is only at Aldi. The regular grocery stores (even Walmart) typically are around $2/each.

  4. I’ve found the cereal at costco is about $2/box and in stores with coupons it’s about $2.50.

  5. AVOCADOS FOR 19 cents??????????? wowwwww! Costco is the best price for avocados here, especially when they are 6 for $5.99– I get SO excited because in the supermarkets they are at least $1.99, NEVER below $1.25.

    • To clarify, I can only get that price at Aldi. The regular grocery stores here typically sell them for $1.50 – $2/each.

  6. I also never buy Ziploc-type bags, dish soap or plastic wrap, even for Pesach; I find the store brands are just as good and cheaper, and if I want the name brand (I love Dawn!) I buy it on sale with coupons, which are doubled in our local supermarket. It’s also easier to store and use smaller containers of these items. Other “never-buys” include condiments, peanut butter, jelly, and any fruits or vegetables I won’t use such a large quantity of, because I HATE throwing away food!

    • We eat a lot of lettuce, so we buy that at Costco, along with their mini peppers. But a lot of their fruit, while typically good quality, is more expensive that at the grocery store – especially if I’m buying loss leaders!

      • Regarding the Ziploc bags, I find that especially the quart and gallon freezer size, you cannot beat the Costco price! I have on occasion done better than Costco price on the zipped sandwich bags, but really hard bec their box is 4 x 125 @ 7.99, while reg stores boxes are only 100 per box, would need to be less than $1.60 each and lately the best sale I’ve seen (@ Target) was 2.89 and they just have $1/2q’s, which comes to 2.39 …. costco wins the ziploc best price!
        Also, despite trying I cannot beat Costco’s price on Reynold’s wrap- its $15 for 2 – 250 sq ft which is 75cents for 25 sq ft (your avg small size in the grocery store).

  7. The Costco avocados are an incredible value in our city. Excellent quality for $1 a piece. We can’t beat it.

  8. I shop at BJs, which is similar, but the plus side is that they accept manufacturer’s coupons in addition to in-store coupons, so the savings there can be more.

  9. Does Sams Club count? Because I can unusually get avocados for less than 1$ each at Sams Club. Same goes for pasta. I can buy a box of 6 1pd bags for 5 dollars and change.

  10. The absolute best place to buy pasta: Publix! They always have at least one brand name pasta on sale for buy one get one free. It usually comes out to about 75 cents a box.

  11. The 2 things I always buy at either Sam’s or Costco are my bread flour and my yeast.

  12. I find pretty much all toiletries are too much at Costco. You can get much better deals from drugstores, Target, etc…

  13. I used to buy many things at Costco. In the last couple of years I decided to be more budget conscious (with a lot of credit to you, Mara!), and I buy only a couple of items there now. My in laws supply me with a card from their business, or I wouldn’t go at all. Our Costco is about 3o minutes away and once I started comparing prices, I saw it really isn’t worth it. I go when I need yeast or vanilla, or if there is a “treat” item on sale in their booklet. This booklet has Fuze drinks in it–a big weakness of mine, so I’m thinking of going for that. When I wrote down the prices, compared them at the butcher, I saw that even the kosher items were not different enough to warrant a trip. Also, the one time I bought gas there, my bank charged a fee (like a foreign ATM fee) for using my bank card. It completely negated my gas savings!

    • FrugalEngineer says

      The ATM fee is the reason to use your cash (or check book) in the store to buy a costco gift card for yourself. You have to plan ahead, but we put some of the gas budget on the card so it’s available.

  14. its funny you mention cereal because I just noticed that today before I read your post! They want to charge for the large boxes almost $8! In general, I find good cereal deals at walmart.

  15. It actually took me until last year to invest in a Costco membership b/c I was unable to find enough deals for my family that could justify the membership cost. I knew a lot of people who shopped there merely for the convenience factor, but I needed more reason than that feel it worth my while–especially since it was located nearly 4o mins out of my way. Now I live nearby a Costco that sells a lot of kosher products so it’s absolutely worth it!

    That said-I LOVE their avocados! I agree, you can get them cheaper elsewhere but the problem I run into is that they often get wasted b/c when I get home they mold way too quickly, or don’t have much meat to them to begin with. After experimenting I realized we definitely get the best bang for our bucks with the Costco Avocados because of the waste factor. (Though my grandmother in Florida about had a cow that people pay more than $.20 per avocado when she can just pick them off the tree in her back yard lol.)

  16. i never buy bounty and charmin at costco. i wait for a sale at shoprite or any other local store and use coupons. i get it much much cheaper that way.

  17. I have purchased Avocados from Aldi yesterday for $0.49/ fruit, reasonably big. I have not seen the items below $ 1 in other nearby stores.

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