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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

My Trip to Costco

On Monday, my daughter-in-law took me along with her on her shopping at Costco. This was the first time in over 2 decades since I'd be in a Costco, so I was very curious about what I'd find there. I had a budget of $30 cash that I could spend. With the super large packages at Costco, I knew $30 would not go far. Here's what I bought and some price comparisons with my regular stores.

Brussel sprouts -- 32 oz bag, Costco $4.99 or $2.49/lb. This week at Fred Meyer -- $3.69 for 24-oz bag or $2.46/lb.

2.5 lb bag pitted dates, Costco $7.99 or $3.20/lb. I'm not certain on WinCo's price for pitted dates in bulk, but somewhere around Costco's. WinCo's bulk section is where I buy pitted dates.

brown mushrooms -- 1.5 lb container whole Baby Bella mushrooms, Costco $5.99 or $3.99/lb. Fred Meyer has fresh, whole Baby Bella mushrooms in 16-oz containers for $5.69.

40-oz uncured turkey bacon -- Costco price $10.59 or $4.24/lb. Fred Meyer has cured turkey bacon for $2.79/12-oz package or $3.72/lb.

So, some products were more expensive at Costco and some were less expensive. The bacon wasn't really an apples to apples comparison, as the uncured bacon is considered to be a premium product compared to cured bacon. Mushrooms were absolutely a better deal at Costco, over $1 in savings. I lost a few pennies on the Brussel sprouts and probably came out even on the pitted dates. (I'll be going by WinCo later this week and for my own curiosity, I'll be checking their price on pitted dates in the bulk bins.)

My thoughts on shopping at Costco

You have to know your prices and package sizes for calculations. For example, turkey bacon at Fred Meyer comes in 12-oz packages, while the turkey bacon at Costco was sold in a bundle of 4 10-oz packages. So, to simply find the price per package for comparison wouldn't work. Costco does provide unit pricing, but sometimes the units are less helpful, such as price per ounce when I'm recalling price per pound from other stores on most food items. I would still need to multiply by 16 to get the per pound price for making comparisons. The inconsistent unit pricing is not just a Costco thing. I see this often in Walmart.

I was surprised at the limited selection within each category. At a traditional grocery store, I might have  a dozen or more choices in a category. Whereas at Costco, there may be 1 to 3 choices in a similar category. I'll use fresh mushrooms as an example. This week at Fred Meyer, there are 23 different kinds and sizes of packaging choices for fresh mushrooms (sliced, whole, brown Baby Bella, brown crimini, whole/sliced white, portobello, organic, shitake, mixed gourmet, 4-oz, 8-oz, 16-oz, 24-oz, or bulk). At Costco, (if I remember correctly) I had my choice of 3 types of mushrooms (white whole, Baby Bella whole, Shitake, whole) each in 1 size. With pitted dates, at Fred Meyer, they carry 5 choices in brands/sizes of whole pitted dates. At Costco, I found 1 choice for whole pitted dates. This limited selection reminded me somewhat of the selection at our restaurant supply, but is very different from traditional supermarkets.

My daughter-in-law tells me that Costco stores in different regions carry different selections. Some items in my area stores may not be available in other locations across the country and vice versa. I was surprised to find so much organic and natural/specialty foods. For example, Costco carries a ghee (clarified butter) baking spray. I've never seen this product before. They also carry Waygu beef, both the Japanese version ($99/lb -- yep, you read that right, almost $100 for a pound) and American Waygu beef (much, much less, but I'm not sure I read the package correctly, it may have been under $20/lb). My Fred Meyer doesn't carry Waygu beef products at all. Costco also had a large selection of packaged products that were made with alternative ingredients for specific dietary needs, such as gluten-free and keto friendly. 

Would I want a membership? For me, I would have too much envy of others who buy the items I would like to have, but are out of my budget. And I'm talking beyond the foods. I would love to have a good single-cup coffee maker, like a Keurig. However, even if I received a Keurig as a gift, the k-cups are pricey and out of my grocery budget. Even with a refillable k-cup, I wouldn't be satisfied, as the time-savings of having a Keurig would be minimized if I had to spend time filling and emptying the little plastic cups. I also saw a computer monitor that I thought was beautiful, as those items go. Every time I passed that section, I know I'd have a feeling of longing for that item, even though the computer I have is a laptop and having a separate monitor would negate the primary benefit of a laptop -- high portability. 

The shopping carts are huge. What makes a trip to Costco so expensive are the large packages of everything. I bought 4 items and spent $30. These were treat purchases. I wouldn't normally buy 1.5 pounds of mushrooms at a time. I would buy an 8-ounce package of mushrooms for less out of pocket, and we would eat lesser expensive foods when the mushrooms ran out. Ditto on the pitted dates. I'm guessing we'll go through those dates fairly quickly. If I were buying dates at WinCo, I'd buy a small baggie of dates. When we ate them all, we'd switch over to fresh oranges (which are inexpensive right now) or home-dried or frozen, home-grown fruit (which is basically free to us).

I enjoyed the time with my daughter-in-law and getting a peek inside a Costco. I'd love to go with her again in a few months, perhaps just before my husband's birthday. I did see some special food items that would make a great dinner at home for him, perhaps not the $99/lb Japanese Waygu steaks, though. 

I'm glad I got this chance. I now know what I'm missing and what I am not.


  1. We used to have a Costco membership and while we found good deals for Christmas gifts for our grandchildren, tires, and other things, like butter, we overspent every time we shopped there. We have found that we stay within our budget if we shop the sales at our regular grocery stores. Two of our daughters have memberships, so we can go with them if we want to do some shopping there.

  2. It's interesting to read your observations. I had to think, when reading your comment about your local store having 23 kinds of mushrooms, that I can't imagine have a grocery store with that kind of choice! Amazing! We live in an area with very few options: the big W-mart, Sam's, a regional chain called Homeland that is very pricey, a Target that is not a super store (there are groceries, but meats and veggies and such are all pre-packaged and the selection is very limited), and Aldi. Oh, and the health food store. Across town in a scary area, there is a place called Discount Foods. I also have access to the commissary, but find the prices have risen substantially in the past several years and are not good except on some frozen items. Costco is 90 miles away for us, so we typically have combined it with trips to OKC for medical appointments and such. With Costco's prices very similar to Sam's, but having many more organics, we find we are buying much more there these days and much less at Sam's, to the point where we intend to drop the Sam's membership next time it expires. The bulk of our shopping is done at Aldi, Sam's, and Costco. However, I know we're also at a different stage of life, with three teenagers constantly home and another popping home from college (and our daughter and SIL over for dinner at least weekly). They have big appetites, with two of them very involved in athletics.

    Things we typically purchase regularly at Costco:
    -whipping cream (is actually slightly more expensive but not ultra-pasteurized like the brands I can get locally, and so good!), used primarily in our coffee
    -fresh veggies
    -fresh fruits
    -frozen veggies
    -fozen fruits
    -Better Than Bouillon
    -almond flour (I have celiac and need to be GF)
    -rotisserie chickens
    -generic Flonase nasal spray

  3. I overspend the two time I went with my brother. I don't have a membership but he does. I also don't need the large quantities they offer for my small 2 person family. I bought toilet paper there in April and they were huge rolls and don't store well in the spot I have designated for them but I just can't get through them fast enough due to the large quantity I had bought. No, Cosco isn't for me at this point in my life. I'm trying to cut my grocery budget not increase it!

  4. Costco can be very dangerous, because like you said even a couple impulse buy can be $20+. You do need to know your prices too, which is trickier now since they go up so fast. I like the convenience of buying some items in bulk, and other things I buy because they are cheaper. The produce and meats are typically more expensive so I don’t buy much of that, besides mushrooms and potatoes. I buy otc medicines, garbage bags, and dw soap there all the time, I buy a pack of PT a year. I buy coffee when it’s on sale. There are food items I buy on sale too. I buy quite a few clothes there for dh, but I wait for them to go on clearance. I love Costco clearance, and that’s where most of my impulse buys are. A person really needs to show a lot of restraint when going to Costco. Sometimes I’m successful at that and other times I’m not!


  5. I have shopped at Costco for over 20 years and find these generalities. Their merchandise is usually towards the higher quality than lesser quality, and sometimes I can do with a cheaper version. You will never get a bad price for what you buy there, but you can perhaps get a better price with a good sale somewhere. We don't have a Winco, so I can't compare that, but Aldi's competes favorably. Many foods/prepared foods you can make cheaper from scratch, but if you're going to buy a prepared food, you can't beat their prices. My parents particularly liked their fresh chicken pot pies, so we always took one to them. And if you want a big cake for a special occasion, you can't beat their price or quality compared to a regular or grocery store bakeries. Costco is also a great place to buy electronics with the caveat that sometimes they are bundled with more things than you might need. Over the years we have gotten TVs, cameras, furniture, rugs, mattresses, clothes, plants, and lots of food. If you want to send a gift box of fruit, candy, etc. you can't beat their prices for that. I have occasionally shipped them to people across the country. So like any where else, you have to pay attention to what your buying and weigh the factors that are important to you for that purchase including the size of the package and whether you have room to store it or can use it up in timely manner.
    We probably go to Costco more than we should, but since we moved they are more convenient than they were, and since my son started working for Costco, we get a free membership. Oh, I almost forgot the thing we get there the most-their rotisserie chickens for $4.99. The chickens are large and good. They are a loss leader for Costco, and they sell so many of them that they have have their own chicken farms. And they usually have the cheapest gas prices around.

  6. There are no Costos or Sam's anywhere around me. I would need to drive 1 1/2-2 hours 1 way to avail myself of their stores so that wouldn't make any sense. But my mother does have memberships to both of them, right now. (One is expiring which she won't renew). I hadn't been in either in years either so my husband and I went there recently while visiting her, just to see if there was anything we needed that could be found there.

    I would up buying some plain bulk walnuts and almonds, which I have bought in the past. I think I spent about $15-18. They were a good price. I keep them in the freezer to prolong their use since the bags are so big. I had gotten my husband some large bags of Blue Diamond almonds in a special sale at my local store. I saw these same nuts at both places. While also using a coupon, the bags at my store (Harris Teeter-Kroger affiliate) I bought were quite a bit cheaper than the everyday price at either place. But, that HT sale hasn't come around again, so for every day, Sam's or Costco would have been the better price. We walked around both stores and that's all we bought.

    As Alice says, the large size of most items are prohibitive for a family of 2 like she and I have. I was at a NYE party and the hostess had a large bag of pretzel thins from Costco to use with dips. Were I to do a lot of entertaining, I can see how a membership could be helpful in that case. When my sister and I had a 60th wedding anniversary party for my parents, we got the cake from Costco and it was delicious and a good price. One non-food purchase from Costco that was well worth it was a set of 4 beach chairs by Tommy Bahama. We have had them for over 10 years, used them extensively living here at the beach, and they remain in great shape! Incidentally, Sam's has the lowest gas prices in my mother's area. I guess when I run out of nuts (which won't be for a while!) I'll accompany my mother again.

  7. I have a Sam's membership. We got it 15 years ago when we were buying for our small business. I think the only reason having it makes sense is that we NEVER go inside. We purchase from our regular purchase list and pick up. I remember going inside was rough on my impulse spending.

  8. I like Costco clearances and often find insanely cheap prices. This past Friday, uncured spiral ham with honey glaze was .97/lb, so we bought several for our children and grandchildren. Produce is marked down when the store wants to move out the merchandise. There are clearances everywhere in the store so we walk down most aisles as a form of exercise to get in our 10,000 steps (more like 8K at our age). Yes, we do spend more than budgeted because of the cheap prices but I think we can't go wrong either. We may overbuy, but I'm careful not to throw food away or overeat so I hope we're still saving and eating better quality. Also, their return policy is so good. It's nice to know when you're not completely satisfied you can return. We returned our Keurig almost 1yr after the purchase date because we couldn't get a decent cup of coffee no matter what we tried, including buying a new filter replacement (as long as we all don't abuse the privilege!) Also I love the samples. In Hawaii, I think the whole island population shops there, parking lot is full at store opening, even on weekdays.

    Have a wonderful day,

  9. I've never been to a Costco. I never felt like Sam's was cost effective for my family and suspect I would feel the same about Costco. We don't have one close by, so it's not a consideration for me. Interesting to read about other's experiences.

  10. I have a Costco membership. No Sam’s club here. I shop for almost the same items as Cat. Vitamins are a good price. I watch the sales and stock up on dry goods.
    Chocolate chips are better price than the name brands and they working on ethically sourcing their chocolate products.
    I wait for the coffee to go on sale , they have a great selection of Fair Trade.
    They are the world’s largest seller of organic foods.
    Purchased a pair of lined ankle Pendleton rubber boots. I wear them in the snow.

    About 5 years ago I had exterior led solar powered lights. A few burnt out and I was unable in contacting the well know manufacturer to find the replacement fixtures. The fellow at the returns desk said “Take them down, I can see they have been purchased in the last few years . We will refund your money.” I took them down and returned them, they were definitely used . They refunded me all my money.
    I went back and purchased that years exterior solar powered LED lights and they have been no problem at all.
    When my children were young, I purchased games, puzzles and the most adorable outfits. ( dresses and coats) for my three daughters two years apart.
    My daughter and SIL purchase clothes for their nieces( birthday/ Christmas) that their mother gives sizes and requests. She does not have a membership. They live rural but everyone likes to do a shop once in awhile on the member card.
    My daughter who lives in an apartment in downtown Toronto has for years used my membership and her CC to order toilet paper and various non perishables. They deliver right to her apartment door.
    I think if you are aware of your shopping patterns and prices you can find bargains.

  11. Thanks, friends, for sharing your experiences and thoughts about Costco. It's interesting to read what everyone finds works for them and what items are particularly good deals at Costco, and why Costco/club stores don't work for them.
    I did see the rotisserie chickens and considered one, but I have several whole chickens in the freezer right now and have found a way to prepare them that we really, really like (brined for a day before roasting). What we didn't have time for me to check was the dairy. I would like to check their whipping cream carton and see what they add to it (if anything). I have digestive issues with some additives. I was very grateful my daughter-in-law offered to take me with her. I have wondered over and over what I would find there that would work within our budget.
    Thanks again for sharing, friends.


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