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Should You Buy Groceries at Costco?

·6 min read
ARTYOORAN / Shutterstock.com
ARTYOORAN / Shutterstock.com

With food prices soaring, consumers on a budget need to be extra resourceful when shopping for groceries. Clipping coupons is still a useful trick, as is shopping with a list to resist impulse buys and enrolling in the store's loyalty rewards program. Another proven practice is to buy certain items in bulk -- like frozen vegetables and canned foods.

Read More: 8 Best Food Products To Buy at Costco
Related: 10 Dollar Store Items That Aren't Even Worth the Buck

Speaking of bulk, thrifty shoppers want to know: Should they be buying groceries at Costco? The legendary big-box retailer has built its brand around being the destination for discounts, but rock-bottom prices and fresh, wholesome foods don't tend to go together in modern society. Additionally, there are plenty of instances when Costco is surprisingly not the most cost-effective choice out there. So is this retail giant really the best place to buy groceries?

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"It really depends on what you're shopping for, but usually yes, it's a great idea to buy groceries and food at Costco," said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst at DealNews. "Mostly you'll want to focus on purchasing groceries that you use often as that'll be where you're most likely to see significant savings. And by focusing on those types of groceries, you'll also be more likely to use them up rather than risking having to toss something out because it's gone off. Many grocery items at Costco can be frozen, as well, so as long as you have the room to store them, you should consider shopping for groceries there."

Here are more factors to consider when shopping for groceries at Costco, as well as a list of dos and don'ts when it comes to buying.

ARTYOORAN / Shutterstock.com
ARTYOORAN / Shutterstock.com

Check Unit Prices

Consumers should always check unit prices when buying in bulk to ensure they're getting the best deal.

"Buying in bulk won't always save you money, so it's a good idea to make sure that you're getting the best deal by checking the unit price," Ramhold said. "Remember, too, that though it may be more expensive to buy a huge box of organic macaroni and cheese mix, as long as the price per box breaks down to better than what you'd pay in other stores, you're still saving money, even if you're paying more up front."

Shutterstock.com
Shutterstock.com

Look for Best By/Expiration Dates

Consumers should always check unit prices when buying in bulk to ensure they're getting the best deal.

"Buying in bulk won't always save you money, so it's a good idea to make sure that you're getting the best deal by checking the unit price," Ramhold said. "Remember, too, that though it may be more expensive to buy a huge box of organic macaroni and cheese mix, as long as the price per box breaks down to better than what you'd pay in other stores, you're still saving money, even if you're paying more up front."

David Tonelson / Shutterstock.com
David Tonelson / Shutterstock.com

Know the Downsides -- Like Lack of Variety

Buying groceries at Costco is generally a great way to save, but there are potential downsides. Like, for instance, fewer varieties to choose from.

"If you step into a cereal aisle at a standard grocery store, you're going to be inundated with a number of choices, often for just one type of cereal," Ramhold said. "For instance, at Target, you may find regular Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Cheerios Oat Crunch, Multi Grain, Very Berry, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Frosted, Cinnamon, etc. But if you're shopping at Costco, while you may be able to find Cheerios, you'll be seriously limited on the flavors available. In fact, you'll likely only be able to purchase the most popular flavors -- in this case, Honey Nut, regular, and Oat Crunch varieties."

This possible lack of variety extends to many other items as well, such as juice smoothies and yogurt.

ARTYOORAN / Shutterstock.com
ARTYOORAN / Shutterstock.com

Items (Especially Produce) Can Go Bad Before You Eat Them

Another potential downside to Costco groceries is buying something that simply doesn't stay good long enough for you to get to it.

"Items that can't be frozen may go off before you can eat them," Ramhold said. "This isn't just things like fresh produce -- it could be other things like milk and cheese, as well. We always caution against buying fresh produce at Costco unless you have a plan for it. That may be to split it with friends and family, or turn 3 lbs. of apples into apple butter, or go on a salad eating binge with a 2.5 lb. bag of fresh spinach. However, if you don't have a plan for produce, it's best to not be lured in by the excellent prices. If you end up having to throw items out because they've gone off, you're just wasting money."

Photo Spirit / Shutterstock.com
Photo Spirit / Shutterstock.com

To Buy or Not To Buy These Grocery Items at Costco

So, what grocery specifics should you buy or avoid at Costco? Ramhold laid it out for us.

Astarot / Getty Images/iStockphoto
Astarot / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Don't Buy: Pastries or Bread That Can't Be Frozen

"There are so many delicious pastries in Costco's bakery section, but if you can't freeze any of them, you run the risk of them going off and having to be tossed before they can be eaten," Ramhold said. "In most cases, as long as you wrap them well, you may find it's fine to freeze things like the jumbo muffins, but when it comes to things like Danishes, the texture may change with freezing which means you may not get the same enjoyment from them later on."

calimedia / Shutterstock.com
calimedia / Shutterstock.com

Don't Buy: Name-Brand Alcohol

"In some cases, this may be your only option, and in those cases it's perfectly fine to spring for Fireball, Disaronno or Grand Marnier," Ramhold said. "However, if there's a Kirkland Signature version of it, you should definitely give that a try instead."

calimedia / Shutterstock.com
calimedia / Shutterstock.com

Buy: Rotisserie Chicken

"There's a reason why the rotisserie chicken lands on every Costco must-buy list out there: it makes such an easy dinner as-is, but you can also pull the meat off the bones to add to pasta, casseroles, or make your own chicken salad, then use the bones to make stock," Ramhold said. "And if you can't be bothered with that amount of work, you can also buy packages of the rotisserie chicken meat so that all you have to do is open the package and add it to whatever dish you're making."

CGissemann / Shutterstock.com
CGissemann / Shutterstock.com

Buy: Dried Fruit

"If you're looking for a healthy snack, or just need dried fruit for baking, you can't go wrong with the selection at Costco," Ramhold said. "From Craisins to dried cherries and blueberries, plus things like chili-dried mango and chewy dried strawberries, there are so many options. I've even seen dried watermelon there which I've never seen anywhere else."

top-kirkland-brand-items-only-costco-insiders-know.jpg
top-kirkland-brand-items-only-costco-insiders-know.jpg

Buy: Prepped Meals

"These may be a pricier investment, but they're usually plenty big enough to feed two with some left over or a family of four easily," Ramhold said. "The giant chicken pot pie is so good and filling, and can easily feed 8, while the ravioli lasagna is perfect for a family of four. There are also dishes like yakisoba, street tacos, enchilada bake, salmon with basil pesto butter, and more."

Shutterstock.com
Shutterstock.com

Buy: Honey

"Whatever you like to use honey for, you can buy a ridiculous amount at Costco for a pretty affordable price," Ramhold said. "And the good thing about honey is that it won't [expire] -- it may crystallize if it hangs around long enough, but in that case you just need to gently heat it up to liquify it again."

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Should You Buy Groceries at Costco?