Buying bulk doesn't always save you money.
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Costco is a magical place filled with free samples and bulk snacks that you definitely want to fill your pantry with. It’s home to our favorite frozen pizza and other tried and true items that we buy over and over again. Honestly, a trip to Costco is one of my dream dates. That being said, it's not shopping heaven and it might surprise you to learn there are some things you should never buy at Costco.
Sometimes these items are actually more expensive or aren’t great quality, or you actually end up wasting money by buying in bulk and not using everything before it goes bad. To help you avoid leaving the store with a giant cart full of regret, we compared Costco's inventory with what other retailers offer and found a bunch of things that are better to buy elsewhere, whether it's a better value or a higher quality. With this knowledge, you can shop smarter at Costco and make the most of your membership.
Here are 10 things you should never buy at Costco and where to get them instead.
Every Costco has a huge table of books that I’m always drawn to for my next beach read. But the selection is pretty limited, and you will often find better prices on newer and popular books (and a much larger selection) at places like Amazon. Plus, if you own an e-reader like our favorite Kindle, you can often find bargains on all sorts of books that way.
Buying snacks and dry goods in bulk is great—they won’t expire for a while so it’ll save you money. But produce is a much different story. Most fresh fruits and vegetables only last a few days before wilting or spoiling. Unless you have a big event or think you can scarf down a quart of strawberries in a few days, I would stick to buying most of your produce at the grocery store.
Plenty of other stores offer just as good a deal on diapers as Costco does. For example, Kirkland diapers cost $36 for a 198-count pack, but you can get a 210-pack of Parents' Choice diapers from Walmart for just $23.32. You can also find diapers for 20% off through Amazon Family, an offshoot of Amazon Prime that lets you buy baby items in bulk.
Whether you want to save on a few months worth of diapers or you want to save without buying bulk, Costco is not your best choice. But, you can make a case for the $36 pack if you're there for other items anyway and don't have time to stop at Walmart or order from Amazon. The extra money might just be worth spending to avoid more hassle in your already too-busy life.
Sunscreen and lotion only last up to three years before they lose their effectiveness. If you’re buying a multipack from Costco ($23.49 for three tubes) make sure you check the expiration date and that you’re going to be able to use everything up before time runs out. Otherwise, you’re basically just throwing money away. It might not be too much, but that kind of thinking can add up to a lot over time. If your family won't use all that sunscreen in those three years, we think you should opt for a single bottle of sunscreen at a time, which Walmart, Target, Amazon, and even drug stores have in spades.
While Costco flowers only cost around $40 for a bouquet, you can save even more money on a nice bouquet at Trader Joe’s. These TJs flowers typically only cost around $10, and since flowers typically don’t last more than a week anyway, you might as well spend less to bring fresh florals into your home.
Even though buying a big box of disposable razors always seems like a good deal, you can actually get cheaper prices at Walmart than at Costco. The members-only bulk store sells 14 Kirkland razors for $23 ($1.64 per razor), but you can get 10 Gillette disposable razors at Walmart for $7.97 ($0.80 per razor), and at half the cost per razor, we think it's a much better deal.
At $0.38 per ounce, spices from Costco seem like an affordable option. But unless you’re planning on consuming more than a pound of garlic in six months, it’s actually a waste of money because, according to Epicurious, spices start going stale by then. Stick to smaller batches of spices from your grocery store or on Amazon, where you can even use their Subscribe & Save program to save an extra 15% when you restock your spices every six months.
Less than $20 for 30 rolls of toilet paper sounds like a good deal when you're full of cheese and cookie samples, but you’re sacrificing a ton of quality with the Kirkland Brand. After testing a variety of toilet paper, we found that most bargain brands aren’t as soft or as strong and aren’t really worth your money. That goes for Kirkland toilet paper as well. If you’re trying to save money on TP, you should opt for Charmin Ultra Soft, our favorite affordable toilet paper, which you can get for $17 for 20 rolls on Amazon, and they're actually larger than the Kirkland ones and may last you longer (or at least be more enjoyable to use).
While you can find a good discount on TVs for sale at Costco, keep in mind that the selection is much smaller than you'd find elsewhere, so you might not always be able to buy what you’re looking for. Plus, sometimes you can find the same TVs for a lower price from other retailers. For example, the LG C8 OLED TV is “on sale” at Costco for $1,349.99, which is actually a great sale price for the best TV we tested last year that originally cost over $2,000, but you can get the same TV on Amazon for $15 cheaper and have it delivered right to your door. At the very least, we recommend that you shop around before you load a TV into your Costco cart to be sure you're getting the best deal possible.
Laundry detergent has a shorter shelf life than you think. It typically loses some of its effectiveness after six months, so unless you’re doing a ton of laundry, a jumbo-size container of detergent might "go bad" before you can use it all. Instead, get a normal-sized container of our favorite laundry detergent by Persil, which is at a great price at Walmart.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.