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15 Items That Aren’t Worth the Trip to Costco

When you think about ways to save money, one option that many consumers choose is joining a warehouse club like Costco. Sure, that Costco run may be a hit to your wallet, but buying in bulk can also save you money in the long run.

That is, of course, if you buy the right items. So before your next shopping trip, here are a few things to consider not picking up at Costco.

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1. Fruits and vegetables

Buying perishable items in bulk can be a risky proposition. Costco may have apples and bananas aplenty, but if you don’t eat them at a speed befitting a bulk buy, that package of apples may go bad more quickly than you think.

Also, seasonal fruits and vegetables could be cheaper at a local farmers market or nearby store compared to Costco, which may not be as willing to drop prices depending on the season.

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2. Baked goods

Those apple crumb muffins or buttery croissants may look enticing, but don’t put them in your cart just yet. Like Costco’s produce, perishable baked goods may not stay fresh as long as you think they will, especially when you’re buying a large package of breads and muffins. Again, stick to smaller quantities that you or your family is more likely to consume before the best-by date.

3. Condiments

You may be surprised how long mayonnaise can stay in your fridge before going bad. While you can keep sealed ketchup or pickle relish in the back of your cupboard for several months, the clock starts ticking once you break the freshness seal. Instead, reserve a Costco condiments purchase for big affairs like that summer barbecue or graduation party.

4. Diapers

Yes, it may be more convenient to buy diapers in bulk, especially when your kids go through so many a day. But on a per-diaper basis, a box of them may actually cost you more compared to a local store or ordering online. You also may be stuck with unused diapers in the wrong size if your child goes through a growth spurt and you’re only halfway through a box.

5. Gel dishwasher detergent

While Costco’s Kirkland Signature products could be a good value in some cases, it may also be a brand to skip when it comes to dishwasher detergent. Consumer Reports listed it as one of its lowest-rated detergents when it came to getting dishes clean. In this case, perhaps consider spending a little bit more for a name brand or seeing if you can get it cheaper per ounce at a different store.

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6. Coffee

Coffee connoisseurs may tell you that coffee starts to lose its strength and flavor shortly after it’s ground — and you just bought a bulk-size container of it from Costco. How fast are you going to get through all that coffee before you’re reaching for a second cup to wake you up on a weekday morning? If you still want a Costco-coffee fix, the store sells whole bean coffee as well as affordable coffee grinders.

7. Toilet paper

Some Costco shoppers may like buying a staple like toilet paper in bulk so they don’t have to worry about constantly restocking it in the bathroom cabinet. But on a per-roll basis, you may be better off buying your toilet paper at the grocery store rather than a bulk warehouse.

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Toilet paper is also one of those Kirkland Signature products that may fall short of its name-brand competitors, which could be why Consumer Reports gave the Costco-brand rolls a thumbs down.

8. Soda

You may be surprised to find out that your local grocery store already marks down soda on a regular basis. If a store has a sale on certain beverage products, which could be often at some grocery stores, you could end up paying more at Costco for it. So leave soda purchases for your local places, especially if you want more of a selection than just a few basic brands.

9. Mattresses

You spend about one-third of your life sleeping, so it’s important to find a good mattress to sleep on. But Costco may not be the best place to go. As with other items, Costco’s selection can be limited, and they may not have the space on their floor to showcase a mattress, so you won’t know if it feels right for you.

Instead, do some comparison shopping at local mattress stores. They may have a better selection and more competitive prices compared to Costco, especially during sales (and we all know mattress stores are always having a sale).

10. Spices

Spices are a kitchen staple, but they can also lose their flavor more quickly than you might think. A small container of cinnamon or sea salt may be all you can go through before it loses flavor, so you may end up wasting money by tossing out flavorless leftovers.

11. Books

If you’re looking for a specific book or edgy new release, you probably aren’t going to find it at Costco. The retailer’s book selection is usually limited to certain authors or only the more popular books that have been released. Instead, you may be able to find a better deal at an online retailer like Amazon or a better selection at a local independent bookstore.

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12. Something new

Did you see something enticing on the Costco shelf that you’ve never tried before? Then maybe let it stay on the Costco shelf. Experimenting with a new food or trying something different may not be the best idea when you’re buying in bulk. That being said, the warehouse retailer has a generous return policy if you do decide to get something at Costco and find out you don’t like it.

13. Deli meat

Deli meat also has a pretty short shelf life once opened. For regular, day-to-day use, you're most likely better off buying smaller amounts from your local grocery store or butcher to minimize wasted food (and money).

14. Flour

You might not think about flour expiring, but it doesn't actually last forever. Even when sealed well, it attracts moisture. White flour tends to last around a year, while whole wheat or almond flour can expire after just a few months. Unless you're on a serious baking spree, you'll likely lose money on those bulk bags of flour.

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15. An executive membership

Costco’s basic “Gold Star” membership is $60 a year, while the “Executive” membership is $120 a year, but with an enticing 2% money-back annual reward.

To make up for the $60 price increase, you would need to spend $3,000 annually at Costco. If you have a large family or plan to make a lot of big home improvement purchases this year, it might be worth it. But for most people, the cashback incentive would either be nominal or a waste of money.

Bottom line

Costco is a great place to be a member if you’re looking to save money on groceries by buying items in bulk or getting deals on certain things. But not everything at Costco is a great deal.

Break down costs by unit and compare them to grocery stores and other retailers to see if you’re really getting the best bang for your buck. And remember that perishable items could go bad before their best-by date if you buy them in bulk.

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