Is Costco worth it? I’ve often wondered if shopping at Costco — or any of the other big wholesale stores — is worthwhile after paying membership fees, driving the distance, and standing in long lineups with pallets of peanut butter.
So I did a Costco price comparison experiment to see if shopping at Costco is cheaper when compared to my local grocery chain, Superstore.
I tend to do this little Costco price comparison check every few months to make sure I’m getting the best value for my food dollar. If you’ve been checking out of your grocery store without checking in with the prices lately, it’s a good idea to run your own food bill price check — a better dinner deal may found elsewhere.
Price Check, please!
Now comparing Costco Wholesale Club prices to those at a regular grocery chain is akin to associating apples with oranges, and the variables are many. For starters, Costco offers fewer brands and sells their wares in much larger quantities than your average supermarket. Costco also supplies items generally not available in your grocer’s food aisle, such as diamond rings, flat screen TVs, and winter tires. Tasty!
So to do a fair price check, I had to do a little mathy math with some quasi-scientific rules.
Price Check Rules:
- Compare unit prices to calculate the best price per quantity.
- Use unit prices to scale items to meaningful quantities.
- Compare the same, or very similar brands.
- Only compare regularly priced items for a baseline.
- Don’t get caught snapping price photos in either store. 🙂
Sticking to these rules was pretty simple, but trying to photograph price stickers in Costco was a huge pain. So if you run your own ‘price check’ experiment, do yourself a solid by sticking to pen and paper. 🙂
Sample Shopping List
I’m not a very exciting food shopper. I don’t buy a lot of packaged products and my grocery list generally contains real food — you’ll never find a ramen noodle thingy in my cart. But I wanted to get a good sampling of fresh, frozen, and packaged food to determine (based on unit price) if Costco really offers a better deal to consumers. I even added diapers to my list ’cause I can’t escape Costco without seeing someone with a package of Huggies in tow.
Sample List: Comparing Costco to Superstore
Bottom Line: Follow the green cells to see the product winner in each category. Surprised? Based on my sample food bill, I would have saved $25.68 — that’s almost 21% on a near hundred dollar food bill — by shopping at Costco and skipping my local supermarket. But after studying my receipts, I came to some interesting conclusions.
10 Tactics for saving money at Costco
Not everything is a better deal at Costco. And depending on the size of your family, type of membership, and buying habits you may be better off shopping elsewhere. Here’s how to win the war on warehouse ‘deals’ at Costco:
1. Skip the fresh foods.
Costco’s fresh produce tends to be more expensive than Superstore, based on unit price. For example, Costco’s gala apples sell for $2.13/kg while Superstore offers the deal at $1.28/kg. I also found Costco to be more pricey for fresh vegetables, chicken breasts, milk, cheese, and coffee.
I’ll stick to buying local fresh veggies and organic chicken to stretch my food dollar. See 1 Organic Chicken, 22 Healthy Meals, $49 Bucks for the details.
Bottom Line: Your local grocery store may sell fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat for far less.
2. Frozen foods are a steal.
Consumers of frozen foods can save a bundle at Costco — especially on Costco’s Kirkland Signature Products. I was gobsmacked by the price and quality, of Costco’s Kirkland vegetables when compared to a similar mix at Superstore.
Costco Kirkland Brand: Frozen broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower are as advertised.
Superstore No Name Brand: Not only is the packaging misleading, but I hope you like a lot of lumber with your carrots. I see no broccoli and few cauliflower ‘trees’ in my bag.
Veggie Showdown: Don’t serve your chicken with a side of sad — Costco’s frozen veggies win for quality and price.
Any Californians out there? Please assure me that Superstore’s interpretation of ‘California-style’ mixed vegetables is bunk. I can’t fathom such a beautiful state serving these sad sad veggies to a bunch of hungry Canadians.
Bottom Line: Take a spin down Costco’s freezer section to save big on frozen chicken breasts, vegetables, and fish.
3. The more ‘packaged’ a product, the better the deal.
Stocking up on canned tomatoes, mustard, ketchup, and sandwich bread could save you up to 50% over similar brand name products sold at regular supermarkets.
Bottom Line: Three loaves of sandwich bread costs $6.99 at Costco, while breaking that same bread at Superstore costs $14.07. Products sold in cans, jars, and tubes all ring up the savings at Costco.
4. Don’t like the brand on Costco’s shelves? Don’t buy it!
Costco doesn’t offer a lot of brand variety in their warehouse, any many items are seasonal or sold sporadically. Buying a brand you don’t love is simply a waste of money, even if it’s cheaper or on sale. So, if you love swaddling your kid in Pampers, you’d better shop elsewhere ’cause Costco only sells Huggies.
Bottom Line: At $0.18 per Huggies diaper, you’ll save $0.07 on each crappy change by shopping at Costco.
5. Make a grocery shopping list.
Costco is a big place and it’s easy to get distracted by free food samples, live demonstrations, and seasonal stuff on display. To keep your budget in check, be sure to shop with a grocery shopping list and stick to it!
Bottom Line: Buying in bulk once a month and planning your trip with a shopping list could prevent impulse spending and save you hundreds of dollars each year.
6. Share the membership.
A Costco Gold Star Membership will run you $55 per year, including a spouse card. Based on my sample shopping list, it would take over two months just to break even on this hefty fee. If you’re a low volume shopper like me, it could pay to split this fee with a friend (or family member) and shop together.
Bottom Line: Break even on your Gold Star Membership sooner by splitting the fee with a friend.
7. Skip Costco’s Executive Membership. Maybe.
Whenever I check out at Costco, the cashier always tries to upgrade me to the $100 Executive Membership — it earns you 2% cash back on most purchases, after all. Last trip I asked my honest cashier why they give me the hard sell every visit. “We have quotas to meet,” she said. “And the Executive Membership builds stronger loyalty — customers try their best to get their fees back by spending more.”
Awesome! So before buying into that membership upgrade, do the math on your past purchases and make sure that the so-called ‘cash back reward’ pays out in your favor.
Bottom Line: You’ll have to spend $5,000 at Costco per year to break even on a $100 membership fee with a 2% cash back reward.
8. Go early in the morning.
Waiting to shop in the afternoon almost guarantees you’ll wait in a long Costco line up with the other late-rising fools.
Bottom Line: Save yourself time and a little sanity by shopping early — you’ll get outta there faster and have more weekend time to enjoy with your family.
9. Don’t get ‘pre-scanned’.
In an effort to ‘speed up’ those heinous lineups, Costco now offers to pre-scan your items right in the cart while you wait in line. In my experience, I’ve found this takes longer, especially when the cashier needs to count, and recount, your items to ensure you’re paying the right amount.
Bottom Line: If you prefer to watch your items scan and verify the prices, skip the pre-scan services. I find the whole process takes longer, and creates greater opportunity for mistakes since numberous cashiers are now scanning my items and taking payment.
10. Use the return policy. Order online.
Costco’s return policy is generous. Over the years I’ve heard friends boast about retuning wares MONTHS after the purchase without a problem. And don’t forget to check out Costco’s online offerings — over the years I’ve purchased kitchen appliances and consumer electronics for less, and shipping is always free!
Bottom Line: Don’t see your dream item in store? Go online for big discounts and free shipping — returning your wares (if you change your mind) is generally hassle free.
Just because something is billed as a ‘No Name’, ‘family sized’, or a ‘value club product’ doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Over the years I’ve learned to question product packaging, ignore fancy marketing, and rely on unit price comparisons to determine if an item truly is a superior product sold for a better price. Go ahead and do a unit price comparison on a few of your grocery bills, and then shop the store(s) that suit your family budget.
Your Turn: Is shopping at Costco worth it for you?
I LOVE Costco! Since I live in the US that may be the reason for some of our differences, but I have found that many of my food purchases are cheaper if not comparable at Costco. Milk, butter, bread, rice, beans, yogurt, salsa, vegetables (fresh and frozen) are usually cheaper. Fruits are usually comparable but the quality of Costco produce seems better than conventional grocery stores… I could go on and on. It’s my go to shopping spot for most “real” foods unless I can get a better price with a featured sale at a chain grocery store. Love the post though!
Michelle @ FTSN
Great article ! Glad to see that I am actually saving some money shopping at Costco. That was interesting about the fresh produce. I have really tried to shop at Superstore but honestly the place just sucks the life out of me. The one in our neighborhood is busy all the time and it’s old. I have never bought meat at SS and probably never will. We are just waiting for the farmer’s market to open for the summer and buy fresh produce from them.
We order all our big purchases on-line with Costco because it’s delivered to your door and you have more payment options that in the store.
Thanks again for the great article !!
One thing on the Executive member payback… actually, you only need to spend $2500 for a payback. A regular Costco membership is about $50, so you should be doing the 2% calculation on the difference between the two.
Also, you are right about the cost of their produce, but in January, check out the difference between the cucumbers or peppers at Costco compared with Superstore. Although not organic, the visible difference between the two is amazing. 🙂
Thanks for that. I have been told shopping at Costco was so much cheaper than shopping at Superstore or anywhere local. Considering I buy a ton of produce and other fresh options it would cost me a lot more to shop there. Also I would have to take into consideration the fuel to drive there and the wasted portion of my day. Time is money when you are working for your self.
Another thing to consider…Super store puts on great deals. Like if you spend over a certain amount you get a free turkey. I think it was spend over $250? The turkey was a $25 dollar turkey. I usually buy my meat from the butchers but I wont say no to free 🙂
Having briefly worked at Costco, I find it’s not the best value for a small family or for those who like to be adventurous with food. On a different note though, the pharmacy prescription prices are one of the cheapest in the city. A little known fact is you don’t need membership to fill a prescription there 😉
Best line: “hope you like a lot of lumber with your carrots”. We eat a lot of frozen broccoli, and I don’t mind a moderate amount of stalks, but some packages are ridiculous. I find the Green Giant brand pretty good.
The local grocery market here is strange. The best quality/lowest prices are at a pair of local chains. Less convenient than the Safeways and Save-on-Foods. There’s only 5 locations between the two of them, and one of the chains (3 locations) only sells produce. But the savings are huge, easily cutting a grocery bill by 40% over Safeway, without the quality tradeoffs that Superstore requires.
Neither of the cheap chains (Costco/Superstore) are convenient to me, so I see no reason to go fight the hordes when I can find similar deals with smaller crowds elsewhere.
This article was great! I can’t wait to show my hubby, who always wants to shop at Costco because more is better right? And we probably lose $ shopping there, because we get fresh everything (which appears to be more expensive). I’d also like to add that when it’s just two people, it can be tough to eat the bulk sized fruits and veggies before they go bad…and I LOATHE wasting food. Thanks again for doing the work for us detective!
Interesting as i was just at a FREE open house at Sam’s Club on Friday. These stores are NOT for me. I shop my fresh produce at local fruit/veg markets. I shop my bread stuff at outlet stores or the day old rack. I shop frozen & dairy at sales & Aldi.
Not only did I find ALL packages WAAAY too big for my single person household but they were NO bargain compared to my shopping sales paired w/coupons at my 2 local national chain stores, CVS, Walgreens, Dollar store and 2 independent local grocers. I even pass all these stores several times/week so no spending on gas to go out of my way to a Costco or Sam’s.
I agree — you need to compare prices and value in the stores where you shop. It doesn’t take long to be aware of say $5 may be a good price for coffee, $10 may be too much for a block of cheese, kleenex 1/2 cent each, ground beef $2 per lb may be good or maybe it will be better on sale somewhere else and you can stock up for your freezer. If you save a dollar on each item, imagine what you save over a year. It’s well worth your time to make a list of what you usually buy and where the best deal is. We bought a membership at Costco a couple years ago and I doubt we make the fee back — and you can’t tell how much you will get back — different percents on rising amount spent. Save-On has some items best, Fairway has good produce, Zellers had the best price on instant coffee on sale, Superstore may have good sales but they hate returns. Costco has the best price for prescription dispensing but they are so busy you really have to check what you’re getting and how much. You have to be careful with the large packages at Costco — they look like big Xmas presents — and they may well not be at a good price and you may well not need that big a size. Costco does have a good return policy, but you probably have to wait in line again.
Fantastic article, thanks!! We normally shop at Costco, Superstore, and when the weather permits, our local farmers markets. We’ll certainly skip the fresh isle at Costco now and load up on the frozen.
As you’ve pointed out with the frozen veggie comparison, there are some Kirkland brand items which are better quality than some store brands. I’ve found the same to be true with purchasing cheese at Costco… it’s a little more expensive than the brands I would get at SS (only referring to cheddar here), but it’s a whole lot better (my opinion of course!).
You started the article with including the mention of the time and gas spent to go to the store, but didn’t include that in the conclusion of the comparison. In my mind, if I’m paying a little bit more for a large quantity of something, which means I don’t have to return to the stores to get more very often (and bonus points if it’s heavy) we can walk to the local superstore and bring back the lighter items.
Another quick mention is that the online store is not the bricks and mortar store. They don’t have the same items, or the same SKU numbers, so it definitely pays to keep an eye on both.
Great job! Thank you so much. I like that you spelled it all out for us. I so want to do this at Sams Club This looks like a great homeschool project.
Great article, you’ve answered those burning questions. My issue with Costco is the lineups. Going early is a great idea, but the few times I’ve been to Costco, my wife wants to go as well, so that means early morning trips are out.
No. The closest store is over an hour away 🙁
I dropped my membership, which I shared with a son, when he started buying at Winco instead as he said it was cheaper for his family.
However, then my employer gave out free membership cards to Costco, so while I have a card, it’s a once a year trip now.
And I have only a Safeway and Fred Meyers in town, so I just shop ONLY the sales – and grow a garden 🙂
Great article! As a Californian, let me assure you that we do not lay claim to those sad looking vegetables.
Costco is a great deal for me. Cheese, bread, frozen veggies are the big ones. Also quinoa, organic peanut butter, almond butter, canned tomatoes. Costco does have coupons from time to time also.
We get most of our veggies from our CSA or the farmer’s market. However depending on the week, the amount we get might not be enough for our family. So I often supplement with frozen, especially when my spouse is traveling.
I for one, LOVE fresh broccoli stalks. Because I peel them.
Great article. A few points. I am a savy shopper, using price per unit, and store comparisons, and shopping sale items. I find the Kirkland brand to be far superior to the name brands. Costco demands the highest level of service from their name brand vendors for their customers satisfaction. The name brand packaging is lower cost per unit than most stores and wharehouses.The $100 membership includes a free AMEX card which I use everywhere possible, and it pays for my membership and also an annual cash back reward of upwards of $400 in my pocket besides. Not a bad deal. To me no one does it better tha Costco.
I agree that you need to shop carefully at Costco but find I save a lot – especially when the coupons – which come out really regularly now – get subtracted from the total. I saved $22 off $120 just two days ago. Also, I love to buy gas there except on the occasion when it’s cheaper elsewhere. Again, comparison shopping is essential and you need to know your prices and watch the other sales. I make back my membership fee fairly quickly and am glad of the savings. I also use the online items to further save. I’m glad to shop at Costco, superstore, and others with sale items but I definitely save at Costco.
We live in the U.S. and find that our Costco Executive membership pays for itself on the items that WE purchase. I like to serve as much organic food as possible to my small family: just one child still at home, but we often have company for meals. The items that are always on my Costco list are: organic chicken breasts, wild-caught salmon, imported Italian canned tomatoes, imported cheeses, coffee beans, organic eggs and butter, huge tubs of yogurt, frozen berries, frozen organic vegetables, organic peanut butter, organic olive oil, organic bottled lemon juice (<3 this item), balsamic vinegar, English cucumbers, organic spinach and salad mix in monstrously large tubs 😉 and gluten-free snacks and chips of various kinds for our youngest. (I also do resort to the Costco fresh peppers in the winter. Those organic ones are a killer on the budget!) I think you need to track what your family eats and compare costs, but for us it's a no-brainer. At least for now!
I want to point out that Costco prices are not all the same, they vary from store to store…especially on produce. I can do better and actually match a few of your Superstore prices making Costco an even better deal, even fresh produce. Bananas are $1.99 a kilo, the cocktail tomatoes on the vine which are the only ones with taste are 1/2 the price than at other local stores and lemons are 3.20 for 8 lemons. fresh Chicken is 11.99 per kilo and milk is at least 50cents less per 4 litre bag than any area groceries including discount chains. Costco rocks but u need to go in witha list and accept that u will not be able to get all your groceries there. You will still need to go to your local for a great variety of fresh produce.
As with many of you, I enjoyed the meat of the article. However, I do not use a car to shop, I think like Neil, based on his pic, and like a few others I shop as a single. However I’ve made a lifestyle choice none has mentioned and which I think really needs to be assessed in your calculations.
Shopping local, as local as possible buillds a better life for all of us. We are weaving a strong local economy and also fresh and organic contain a higher food value not to mention the quality of the products and the farms etc.
It’s been studied here by Farm Folk City Folk and the local CBC, that is PBS to the US, did have a show on air Saturday mornings in which they discussed food values, which were set in the 1920’s, on every item such as an apple or broccoli stalk have lowered with changing farm methods.
Mass production of food is a bigger issue with increasing world population but I use public transportation for big shops:) bike or walk/run for smaller.
I’ve compared prices and haven’t found Costco at all a good deal. All of the big box stores make me break out into hives. I raised a child this way and yes I made some trade offs however they were worth it.
Build a strong community without your car, live, work and shop locally. Walk for your health:) Live better for longer. If you’ve moved away from a cherished town, church etc feel the change and move on and build a new cherished community. Be a pilgrim of your much discussed heritage, sail into the future and live in your new life.
Reduce your dependency on a car and radically change your life!
Great article – one important note.. you cannot share a membership with just anyone – has to be a person 18 years of age or older who lives at the same mailing address as you. Some of the warehouses really stick to this, others do not.
Great article, however I would like to point out that you need look include the quality of the food as well. I would never buy any perishable food at SS (Stupid Store). Their quality just sucks. I remember buying nectarines there and they were so dry that I had to throw it out. I only live 5 minutes away from Costco, so commuting is not a problem. I also don’t like waiting in line at SS as it takes forever, whereas with Costco they will add additional tills if the line up gets too long.
We have the Executive membership, and I agree with Lisa’s comment: as long as your return is above $45 (difference between the gold and executive memberships), you are ahead.
With two kids, we go through homo milk like crazy and I save about $1 a bag. I figure our membership is paid just by getting milk there.
Also, we stock up on cleaning products, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. when they are on sale or when there are coupons.
I know the article focuses on groceries, but I wanted to point out that the Pekkle brand (clothes, pyjamas for kids) is very good and high quality, for a low price. We wash and wash and wash them and they stay in great shape.
Finally, prices on books there are unbeatable!
Great comments and I only want to add we find the produce at Costco to be mostly great. When comparing apples to apples we find we throw out less spoiled food over superstore. The quality of the pieces of produce also seems heads and shoulders above. Not everything is a great deal at Costco but I think that the standard they set reassures me about most purchases.
Another point for costco: price matching if an item comes on sale later (note, I don’t mean PM with other stores). For instance I am going to get $70 from Costco tomorrow as they just issued a coupon on the new tires i paid full price for 2 weeks ago.
One for superstore too: they do sometimes PM against Costco and with their no tax or other promotions these can be better deals sometimes.
All in all we love our costco shopping trips. If you are a small family like us you may also want to invest in a vacuum sealer and bags. This preserves some of those bulk purchases and gives you further value out of your membership.
Great article…….Has anyone shopped at Walmart? I am very impressed with many of their canned products eg
diced tomatoes 78c cnd, canned beans etc., their nn brand tea is great also at half the price of brand names also toiletries,
and I purchase my veg at a small market in my neighbourhood.
I gave up my Costco membership years ago as I prefer being
able to juggle my money and not to be a storage space for
the store – while they hold my money…….
I boug]ht the costo membership because I had to find a place with lower dispensing fees from the pharmacy & costco worked. You need to be careful with your purchases at costco and I doubt that that executive membership will ever be beneficial for me — you need a lot of big ticket items.
The only other thing that I learned is to be careful of electronics. I bought a sound-dock at what I thought was the same price as BestBuy, but the the one from BestBuy was a much better deal — at least two years newer in terms of technology.
As always, buyer beware
Foreign chicken..Peru = $6.13/pound! Canadian = $5.22/pound! bread = $10.56 for a 1 pound loaf!
eggs @ $3+/dozen!!! No offense folks but if you do some conversions & costing,then head to weis or giant, I think you’re going to be quite shocked! Prices I listed here are from converting what the author listed in above chart!
buyer beware & aware!
This is great – I have often wondered about doing a one-to-one price comparison but I shop with kids so it’s never going to happen. But since I shop – often – for a family of 5 I have prices of most regular items memorized, just gets tricky when the volume differs. I have a standard Costco shopping list – milk ($2.80/gal), sandwich bread ($4 for 2-pack), fresh pineapple (usually $2-$3), rotisserie chicken ($5), toilet paper & paper towels as needed, frozen veggies, block of cheese. Sometimes I get a few other things as needed or if there are coupons. It’s also a good way to build up a little food storage for the future – canned vegetables, dry pasta, broth, etc.
I think meat, including chicken, milk and eggs in my area are a better deal at Costco than grocery, but in many things it’s not so I try to stick to my list and NOT use Costco as a place to try new things – there is a huge box of frozen samosas in my freezer I bought MONTHS ago that we still haven’t tried…it was an impulse buy and now I just wish I had that money and freezer space back. Maybe we’ll have them for lunch today…
Interesting article, Kerry! We dropped our Costco membership here in Toronto after being here a year – the local branch just didn’t seem to have the savings and range of products that our old New York outlet did. Armed with data like this it might be more useful. I think any DINKy family without kids probably should share a membership though, for sure.
One other thing that’s important to me after a stressful work week is 24-hour opening and environment though, which costco falls down on. Heading out to Costco on a saturday morning to deal with crowds and the slowpoke sample-hooverers and the ill behaved kids ain’t worth saving 5% to me. At 25%? Maybe.
ill behaved children? I guess there is a reason they call you DINKS.
Ah behave yourself, add together being stuck in a car going round and round a full saturday-morning parking lot, a crowded store, parents focused on something else and long lines and, yup, the little angels round this way tend to be little demons long before the time they get to the checkout (and I don’t blame ’em really). The savings had better be good for me to choose that for my day off over getting quickly and painlessly in and out of Sobeys at 10pm. That is all.
Im just teasing. I am sure you dont think ALL kids are ill behaved. I know my little one has had a few fits in grocery stores. I do understand what you mean. In fact we often prefer to shop without our kids as it is faster. My husband has been away this week and I have avoided grocery shopping like the plauge lol
I think I would actually choose the experience of a shopping store and not always just the prices. Also the variety of products offered. I LOVE Quality Greens. It happens to be next to great butcher and COBS. Certianly not the cheapest…but I enjoy the shopping experience. It has a relaxed enviroment…and there is alot to say about lowering our stress levels. How much does blood pressure medication cost?? They say the more you spend on your food the less you will spend on meds when you are older.
Thanks for the analysis–I’ve been curious for a long time to see if what we’re doing pays off but have been calculating it mostly in my head. For us, the diapers are a huge deal, since we used almost 3,000 of them over the course of 12 months. Some quick math chalks that up to almost $200 in savings! 🙂
We’ve found the opposite to be true for chicken breasts in our area. They are notoriously expensive at the supermarket, and about HALF (not kidding) the price at Costco or Sam’s. A lot of the fruits and veggies are also less per unit here. Maybe it has a lot to do with location??
My kids are very ill-behaved, but we don’t shop at Costco.
That made me giggle Mike. Where do you shop? I dont shop there either.
I’ve already made my case for using Costco as a source of organic frozen fruit (I make my membership fee back in blueberries every year) but a few of the comments above reminded me of something I noticed.
Not all Costcos are the same. When I lived in California (Santa Rosa) I was able to buy lots of fresh food cheaply, but also locally brewed beer and wine. There’s no doubt I could save (as an individual) my membership fee just in wine and beer.
Here in Colorado we have psychotic liquor laws (as you do in Canada) and so the wine & good beer are off the table. But lots of other things (see blueberries above) are of value.
I think “is it worth it to shop at X,Y, or Z (now pronounced Zee, by me, after 20 years in the USA)” questions are local, and have local answers. I bought fresh spinach at the farmers’ market yesterday here in Boulder. It was somewhat expensive, but truly fresh and truly local. It is “worth it” to me to enjoy locally grown, fresh, spinach for a couple of days. But tomorrow I’ll be off to Costco for more organic spinach in a huge plastic box, because I use spinach every day and mine isn’t ready yet.
@Fiona: I’m single, with just one income, so I guess that makes me a “SINK” but I still try to plan my shopping for when the people with kids are not around. I hit Costco early, but Whole foods around 9pm. Crowds of bratty kids make the already annoying experience of shopping for food traumatic. I almost never go to stores on the weekends because of the people with kids. It’s not just the brattiness of the kids that is the issue. The parents are slowed down, the aisles are clogged with kids, and the whole situation is an MCF. The parents have become immune to how annoying their kids actually are, but we normal people find it unbelievable. Fortunately one can “accidentally” run one’s cart or swing one’s basket into the bratty kid as a training exercise for them. Or so I’ve heard.
All of which actually brings another factor into Kerry’s question about the “worth” of Costco. Or Walmart, or any other place. Who are the other people there, and do they disturb your calm enough to overcome any financial savings? After all, saving $5 isn’t a saving if it takes $10 worth of wine to de-stress from the situation…
Product prices couldn’t be the same everywhere because it would be based on shipping costs and availability.
I avoid shopping when ANYONE else is shopping lol Kids or no kids…I don’t think it is the children making shopping stressful…its the NEVER ending stores…lineups…huge parking lots…way too many products…When I am shopping I find all you Sinks and Dinks just as annoying to get passed lol I LOVE small grocery stores…I can zip around them and they tend to have all the REAL food I need. I probably pay a few cents more per item. But I save my sanity and time. I don’t buy pre packaged stuff and I never eat out so I don’t mind spending a little more on my grocery bill 🙂
I think we are discussing shades of difference. I too shop when the fewest other people are around. And get the best deal possible then. I’d much rather pay more for my food than get something cheap that isn’t quite what I want…. 🙂
I think that the most significant piece of data from Kerry’s comparison is that one needs to investigate the world around where one lives, and make choices based upon the rules of that world…
DINKs, or SINKs, or whatever 🙂
@Rob @Fiona – Have you two considered grocery delivery? It sounds like it might fit your styles.
But then I wouldn’t see what’s “on sale” at any given time.
I have actually considered grocery delivery, but so much of my shopping is spur of the moment that I know it wouldn’t work.
I acutally really enjoy grocery shopping and so do my girls 🙂 We love food and cooking in our house and so grocery shopping is a big part of that process. My favourite stores may not be the best deal in town but they work well for us. Even when they are “really” busy…its not actually that busy. With plenty of close parking…great service…I can’t go wrong. I can sneak off to SS once in awhile when we need pet food and other items like that…sans kids of course.So what am I called – our family is double income three kids lol
Great article Kerry!
Costco is a fantastic place to develop photos. Easy to submit online, cheap and great quality.
i do the majority of my shopping at costco and i’m a very canny shopper….i save a lot of money….and their return policy is the best and rated as such….one can buy with confidence….don’t like it….just return it….and quality products…it’s no walmart thank god…..cheese and meat by the way….is far lower…if you’re buying the best….anyway good article but not hitting all the facts right….norman golledge
if i have to moderate the article would you please give me some guidelines…thanks…norman golledge
hey folks….i save around 5 bucks every time i fill my car at costco….another reason to shop at one with a gas bar…..nrom golledge
To officially share a membership, the second person is supposed to live in your house, as mentioned in a comment above. How strictly the store enforces this depends on your store. The easiest way to “share” a Costco membership is to just have one name on it, and to unofficially split the cost with a friend.
Technically, *I* am the one with a (regular) Costco membership, but a friend paid me for half of it, with the understanding that she gets some of the benefit. We go shopping there together, and we put everything on one bill that I pay for and she pays me back for her items. Costco is very good about putting subtotals on the receipt when you ask them to, so as long as you separate out your items when you check out it’s incredibly easy to keep track of who spent what.
Caitlin: I’ve shopped with friends who were taking advantage of my membership, and I’ve found that the cashiers don’t mind if you check out two piles of stuff separately.
Kerry: One thing you didn’t mention (perhaps this isn’t in Canada) is that Costco will let you apply for a co-branded American express card and assuming you qualify you get the Amex card for nothing beyond the Costco fee. This is useful, as Costco (in the US) only takes (or took, last time I looked) American express, *or* cash/check. If you’re a person that carries an Amex card anyway, it might be that the combined Costco/Amex membership will save you the annual Amex fee.
I don’t have a Costco card, and while I shop occasionally at SS, I won’t buy any perishables there. The quality is not very dependable, and there was a CTV news report a few months back about them changing the expiry dates on fish and deli meat…HORRID!
My SO has a Costco membership and shops there about once a month. Her rationale is that she saves more on hearing aid batteries than the membership cost.
My own impression of Costco after a couple of visits was that there was little there that was worth my while.
I’m a Superstore fan, but I’m not blind to its defects, but at least it’s a Canadian operation, and I collect points redeemable for groceries using the President’s Choice credit card. I have bought several hundred dollars of groceries over the years with PC points.
The best time to hit the SS is between 8 and 9 AM on a weekday. After they have all the discounted items out, and before the mothers who dropped the kids off a school hit the place. Obviously not a convenient time for the working crowd.
The SS also gives you a break on the price of petrol if you buy it with a President’s Choice credit card.
I’m fortunate to live in an area where I have easy access to two other grocery stores, Calgary Co-op and Safeway, so I can cherrypick weekly. It’s not an approach convenient for everyone, but I do it on a bike, so I treat shopping as a form of exercise.
I have watched the Wally-mart prices since they began to sell groceries. I don’t see any savings there.
My random observations on Costco.
1. You never touched on the meat products. I can buy a 3 pack of rib steaks for $20-25. I single steak at the local butcher runs the same price. I can’t tell the difference. I pack of back ribs are pretty similar to Loblaws on a per pound, but the amount of meat on the bones at Costco is much more.
2. If your local Costco has a gas station, you are looking at about $0.10/litre less.
3. First thing in the morning has less crowds. But even at peak times, the lines at the cashiers move fast (and more are open).
4. Electronics may be a few months behind, but Costco provides a two year warranty versus the standard one year.
5. Prices can change weekly (not talking about sales either). Products can disappear without notice, especially seasonal items. Products can be moved to the other side of the store.
6. No mention of clothing. I have bought plenty of slacks and shirts in the $20-30 range. Hard to beat that.
7. Service is pretty crappy if you are trying to find something. If you are lucky enough to run into someone that works there, they usually don’t know where anything is. (Returns are no problem.)
8. Tires are competitively priced, especially during their sales (best to order them online and pick up in the store to ensure you get your set).
This is an interesting comparison for sure and I am shocked by some of your findings mainly because I know your findings don’t match up with the situation in Atlantic Canada where I’m from.
For instance, cheese is MUCH cheaper at Costco than anywhere else I’ve encountered and believe me I’ve looked. High quality cheeses have even bigger savings.
Fresh produce I find to be about the same. It could swing either way. But for produce that is priced by unit instead of by weight, Costco would almost always win because everything there is bigger, including the honeydew melons! But here, we don’t have bananas selling for $0.58/lb either. You might find $0.69/lb if you are really lucky, but most times it is up near $0.89/lb.
As far as meats go, fresh or frozen are typically cheaper at Costco as well. I should do my own comparison for Atlantic Canada to see what I come up with.
Thanks Kerry, this is a great article and I like the pictures.
You have made me reconsider my Costco renewal of membership! 🙂 I had always thought that Costco isn’t that cheap etc. but it sounds like it just might be worth it, stocking up on the nonperishables and electronics.
I was aware their return policy was excellent, my friend returned a camera YEARS later and got a new model apparently at one Costco in California.
Kerry, The main savings in costco is the meat. And greens. We go through tons of greens at out home for our morning smoothies. About 3 big boxes a week. superstore sells smaller boxes for 5.99. Costco sells bigger box between $3 – $3.79. The prices varies seasons to season, but never above $3.79. We also buy Almond butter – Maranatha, big bottles which cost about $7.99 at costco, but $10.99 elsewhere. Same for eco laundry detergent..
Though we don’t buy meat at costco (we prefer all natural meat), but we buy there occasionally if we can’t get to our regular meat place. Boneless skinless chicken thighs are much much cheaper in costco than superstore / no frills and need much less cleanup. The other stores have yucky fat clinging to them that I need to trim off.
And nuts. I can go on. Even for a person who doesnt eat any processed food, costco is still big in savings. If you know what to buy. And to avoid temptation.
Costco is my favourite store. Everything is high quality, especially the meats and produce (hence it’s not fair to always compare with lesser quality elsewhere). While Superstore may be price competitive on many items, Safeway and Coop in Calgary are definitely not. The only thing I won’t buy at Costco is car tires because of the long installation wait (not appointments allowed).
I’ve done all the price comparisons also and never go without a list. Although the fresh meat is somewhat expensive there is nothing better for a treat than their filet mignon steak. Have never found a better one elsewhere. The low cost on dispensing fees is great for the budget and you don’t need a membership to use the pharmacy. Of course now the gas bar also helps.
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I think Costco is worth it if you have a family or a lot of people living in your household
Though Costco’s fresh vegetables are more expensive, I find the quality typically better than what I’d find at a local supermarket. The challenge I have is waste. I often end up throwing out 20% of the veggies I buy.
This is a wonderful article, but it’s not accurate if applied to most American supermarkets. We performed a series of similar price comparisons between Costco and A) HEB in Austin, TX, B) Albertsons in San Diego, CA, C) Safeway in the San Francisco Bay Area and D) Publix in Miami, FL and in each and every instance, fresh foods and produce were significantly less expensive at Costco.
We love Costco and shop there all the time. A few things to watch out for, at least at our warehouse: Eggs tend to contain a lot of breakage at Costco, and you can’t open the package to check. No non-fat organic milk, I can’t see why. Produce in the cold room is ok, berries and other delicate produce stored on the warehouse floor without refrigeration are usually moldy or half spoiled.
How do you account for berries and other fresh produce like corn and asparagus being nearly 1/3d the cost at COSTCO than it is at the grocery store?
@Mike: Don’t forget that Kerry is in British Columbia, Canada, and people reading the article are from all over Canada and the USA.
Each Costco is different, each local/national grocery chain is different, and what people BUY is different.
As an exercise in comparison shopping it was excellent, for what she bought in her area. YMMV.
“So if you run your own ‘price check’ experiment, do yourself a solid by sticking to pen and paper” Hahahah, that’s funny. Reminds me of Seinfeld.
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The costco folks definitely watch for card sharing at my store. My roommate and I made separate purchases the fist time we went together and as I passed her my card the cashier reprimanded me, saying I could not share my card with others.
I explained that we were roommates and that we always split our grocery bills this way. The cashier wasn’t satisfied (“you have to be in the same family!”) so I asked to talk to a manager, who quickly understood that as roommates we share the same address so our card sharing was OK under their policy.
The next few times we went to Costco it was the same deal from the cashiers. Can’t share cards, have to be family. I got tired of it so now I just say we’re sisters and no one has bothered us about it. Nevermind that we’re both in our 30s, have different last names and it would be rare for two 30-something sisters with different last names to still live together.
Curiously, I have some good friends who are sisters, share a house and are in their 30s. Same last name, though 🙂
[…] Squawkfox does a great shopping comparison between Superstore and Costco […]
I think some Costco prices vary by location; bananas here are $1.32 for the package; also I have seem much better prices on wine at Costco compared to our local BevMo store.
Since we are a family, the 24pak of hamburger buns for $1.99 makes sense for us, as does 2 large loaves $3.57; my local food store is over twice the cost.
Choose carefully 🙂
One more comment for the US comparison. I think that Kiplinger personal finance magazine did a food comparison a few months back between Costco, Safeway and Wholefoods.
Costco was the cheapest by about 1/3 vs. Safeway and close to 1/2 vs. Wholefoods.
Your price comparisons are obviously skewed and hand picked to show a particular bias. Unless you are in a financial position where you don’t need to watch your budget you are not going to spend $14 for three loaves of bread and 8$ a pound for chicken. I buy my bread for $1.25 a loaf and chicken for $1 a pound on sale. If you want boneless & skinless “premium” you will pay premium prices. For those of us who prefer not to throw our money away, we learn where the food is the best value and skin and debone our own chicken.
Why compare with Superstore. I find that most regular grocery items (eggs, milk, yoghourt, veggies, meat, ..) are less expensive at No Frills or Price Chopper than Superstore.
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I find prices at Costco and other warehouse stores for fresh vegetables and fruits quite high compared to our neighborhood supermarket.
I shop at Costco for cereal, some frozen vegetables and occasionally cans of soup.
Costco, BJ’s and Sam and the supermarket are all in the town not too far apart from each other. There are all on the same road so I don’t have to drive a big distance for each.
I’ve been practicing the same things the author of this article has. I noticed right from the start that there were definitely certain things that were priced worse at Costco.
The one area of your article I disagree with is cheese. You said Costco was more expensive, but that is not at all what I’ve found. Goat cheese is 25% what you’d find in a grocery store, and mozzarella is half.
Also, I question the frozen vegetables you purchased from your grocery store. First, I’ve never seen that brand before (I’m assuming it’s from a store in Canada?), and second, every time I’ve purchased a similar product from a store near me, it’s looked just as good as the Costco product. I don’t know the price difference, though, because I didn’t even know that Costco sold that stuff…
Honestly, Costco is great when it comes buying in bulk. Keep an eye for the dollar stores around though. 10 trash bags you will get for $, not only that buy they are very low quality bags. I paid $8 for a pack of 500.. That’s 62.5 bags per dollar, and the’re also a lot more durable.
To save money, my wife and I use a “Only what we can carry rule.” If we can’t carry it, we don’t need it. This keeps us to the 2-4 things we wanted. Of course this rule worked better before we had two kids to chase.
[…] There are tons of things that are well worth the membership to buy at Costco but what isn’t worth it are Produce and Fresh Goods, need more proof check this article out HERE. […]
Could you do the same kind of comparison with Walmart?
A side note on the Executive Membership – when you use your no fee Costco American Express you also get a percent cash back on the card – you get double savings AND with gas prices going up the Costco gas bar is always the cheapest in town and you have to have a membership to use it.
One more note about the Executive Membership- Costco guarantees that you will at least earn back $50 (the cost of the upgrade)at the end of the year. If you earn less, bring your check to the service counter and they will give you the difference. Upgrading to the Executive Membership is a no risk situation. The first year I was an Executive Member, I did not earn the $50 and they refunded the difference to me (which I then applied to the next year’s Executive Membership.) The second year I got a check for over $100. I Love Costco! Try the Executive Membership, what’s to lose?
As for the fresh produce in MN- Costco’s prices are better per item than Walmart, Super Target or Cub (our local grocery chain) but the downside is that you have to buy huge packages. I have found that Trader Joe’s offers competitive fresh produce pricing to Costco, but I can buy smaller quantities at Trader Joe’s.
My family (3 adults) does meal planning 30 days in advance. Got a new Costco membership at the beginning of last month and stocked up on enough non-perishable food to make our month’s worth of meals. We were pleased to find apples from our own province which tasted twice as crisp and fresh as the same variety of local apples at Sobey’s. Great price on a case of Florida oranges which is our nearest source. The meat we bought, especially the sausages, was excellent quality. The price on organic whole bean coffee was better than we can get elsewhere. The frozen vegetables in our Costco were mostly from Europe so we declined. We don’t have a chest freezer so can’t stock up on baked goods. Overall, it will be well worth stocking up on non-perishables every 1-2 months.
I had no idea you weren’t allowed to photograph prices in Costco. The very first day we got our membership I used my Blackberry to snap dozens of pics, and I wasn’t trying to hide it…either I was lucky or the St. Catharines store staff were slacking that day!
I think your best advice is to have a list and stick to it – Costco is a perfect place to make impulse buys that totally eat up any savings you might have made on the groceries.
Thanks for a great post.
I used to shop at costco but found that I can buy same things cheaper price other stores when it goes on sale. Most of the items go on sale 6-8 weeks.
Great read!! I do find that the produce at CostCo is fresher than at SuperStore. The one area CostCo really shines is the optical dept – I need high index lenses and they cost me $200+ less at CostCo than anywhere else in town.
In regards to SS,(we also refer to it as Stupid Store) you failed to mention the games they play with their ” limit 1″ or “buy 6” for the “special” price. I can’t stand these games and the location of their price stickers are often hidden or in front of the wrong item, making it almost impossible to figure out with our a magnifying glass.Takes me forever to shop there! I shop at both places, because SS has some of the items I just can’t get at Costco, but I hands down prefer Costco for ease of return-ability, for customer service,for no games on prices, for way cheaper BBQ propane,etc.,etc. Line ups are bad everywhere(I won’t even get started on Hell-Mart)but for me, with all things considered, I’d rather shop Costco any day!
This article proved what I already suspected – frozen and packed products will be cheaper in the warehouse store, fresh products more expensive. In addition, you get the advantage of ‘bulk buying’ of those non-fresh products. Try the farmer’s markets for your produce if you can! It’s defintely better and you may end up paying less for it…
Costco is great when they have deals with a reasonable quantity. If not I go elsewhere. I indulge in the 2 for 1’s at Publix. I can usually find the cheapest OJ and milk at the CVS or Walgreen’s. it’s a game you have to play if you want to save a little money.
We would always buy our chicken from Costco, now knowing that its more expensive there, I’ll be looking at other stores for a better deal.
Thanks for the info!
what you should buy at Costco:, granola, olive oil, sugar substitutes, vanilla, yeast, relish, soy sauce, actemetaphin/aspirin/ibuprophen, allergy meds(w/o decongestant, cold meds, hydrocortisone cream, tums(generic) trash bags, dried cranberries, dried mixed fruit, pickles (very lg jar) rice, taco seasoning, white viegar. DON’T BUY: cooking oil (cept olive) powdered sugar, beverages, canned chicken, canned chilies,, frozen meatballs, icecream, multivites, yo name a few
I can’t find milk cheaper than costco , there produce is much better quality. Have you checked the prices on there clothing. I bought a kids wagon there for 80 bucks. The same wagon at toys r us was 129. You also have to take the quality of the meat into cosideration. Costco beef is AAA. The best. There chicken is a air chilled and trimmed ready to eat. I find it the best place to shop.
Fantastic article, being both a costco and superstore shopper I agree with everything. My only comment would be to watch Costco online prices versus in store. We purchased an office desk last fall instore costco for under $400. The same desk was offered on costco online for $900. So shipping is obviously built into the online prices and many are already available in store.
I worked at Costco for many, many years. I worked in various departments. I live an hour away from the closest Costco but will still drive there to shop. Costco tailors each and every store to the region/city/town that it is in. If you can’t find the product that you found at one store just ask ANYONE who works there to check if they can find it at another store. There meat is above any grade I have seen anywhere else and yes that goes for the butcher too. My rule of thumb for Costco is to not bring in a cart because they are so over sized that you can’t properly judge exactly how much you are really getting.
You do not have to spend $5000 to break even on a executive membership since you already spent $55 for a normal membership. So $45 more to gain 2% is a no brainer. Plus they will refund you back the difference in the first year if you don’t gain enough back. Again you cannot loose.
A note about the Executive membership: If you do not spend enough in a year to earn the difference between the cost of the Gold Star membership ($55) and the Exec ($100), you get the difference back. ie: you paid $100 for your membership but you only earned $40 with the 2% cash back, so you go to customer service and they will give you $5 credit towards your next year`s membership cost. So, for the next year, you redeem your $40 cash back cheque and get a $5 credit, and only pay $55 for you next year`s Executive membership fee. So, really, you only pay the $100 once! I`ve done this for 5 years now, you just have to know to ask for it.
I agree with most of the comments here, although as others have mentioned, you have to know your local prices and what constitutes a good deal.
Here are a couple of my observations that I didn’t see mentioned by others:
If you have a dog, you can save a huge amount by purchasing the Kirkland Signature dog food. It’s excellent quality, and about $25 less per bag than I used to pay from Pet Smart or other pet stores for an equivalent dog food.
On the other hand, soda pop is quite expensive at Costco compared with a sale price at any other store.
whoa! bananas at upwards of .69 cents? Wall Mart has them for .39 cents a lb, but as for the rest Costco is my choice!
Just a quick note regarding Costco. The Costco closest to me has a gas bar that offers between 3 to 7 cents a liter lower price than all other gas stations. I typically save $4.00 per fill up per week which equals approximately $200.00 in savings per year. That’s almost 4 Costco memberships. Additionally Costco’s tenderloin steaks are fantastic! I have never been a fan of Superstore meat.
Just a quick comment about the meat and produce. Just like your frozen vegetable experience, there is different grades of meats amd produce. Have you seen the size of the apples? The meat also is of the highest quality. So prices do not show this
Costco’s Kirkland Brand Balsamic Vinegar is exceptional, as well… It gets a ‘four leaf’ rating, which is as good as your going to get without buying a $100 bottle…. It’s not that expensive, either.
I get the executive membership. I never make the full amount back, but it saves me enough that I only pay $25 membership(I renew with the savings check). Most of the savings comes from purchasing gas. I don’t spend much there at all overall, but the gas price is great, automatic savings, and I get 2% back on it.
I agree, some of the Kirkland products are exceptional, including the balsamic vinegar. Excellent for making your own thrifty and delicious salad dressing.
We don’t think of Costco as grocery shopping but as a monthly trip. It’s fantastic for items such as paper towels, napkins and toilet paper, paper plates and cups, garbage bags, and other disposable items which you know you will always use and won’t mind buying in bulk. Paper towels especially are SO much cheaper at Costco.Cleaning products such as dish soap and laundry detergent are at MUCH lower than retail prices provided you can store;handle the large containers this is unbeatable.
I also go to Costco for Eggs, egg whites, and milk. For holiday baking, I buy a 50 lb bag of flour there for a very cheap price. I also buy sugars and butter there, though with the butter and cream cheese a very good sale at the grocery store may beat that price.
The produce can be as expensive or more expensive than normal stores, but the quality is generally excellent. I love it for bags of spinach, kale and salad. The only issue is when the packages are larger than what we need. Then it’s not necessarily a good buy anymore.
Olive oil is also a great buy at costo. It’s half what you’d pay at the grocery store
Yeah the break even on the executive membership is total spending of $2,250 a year ($187/month) as this will result in receiving a cheque for $45 at the end of the year. The executive membership is $45 more than the Goldstar membership.
A few other tips, not sure if they may have been mentioned, as I didn’t have time to read evrything.
I go in the afternoon rather than the morning, for the free samples! You can make almost a meal out of them, and you can go back for seconds if you want. A great way to try out brands you may not be familiar with.
Sign up for their email. It often comes with info about what will be on sale this week in-store. That way, you can pace your trips for best results.
If you live in a big city, try out the different Costco stores in your city. In my city, there is one store that has a lot more frozen product items, so i go there every 6 months or so to stock up.
In Quebec, Costco crrries wine apparently. A good place to check out when travelling! Your membership is good anywhere in the world.
My favourite items, for price and quality: Kirkland chocolate-covered raisins, fresh humus, crackers, Michelin windshield wipers.
I agree that the produce is kind of expensive, as is the fresh meat, although often the quality is better and fresher than supermarket (not always). On these items, the price does not tend to fluctuate so much from week to week as it does in supermarkets.
For best prices on produce, I find that the ethnic grocery stores are often best, especially the Chinese ones, but you have to examine the quality closely for quality etc. Among supermarkets, we find T&T is best for price and quality in produce, although they are only available in some large cities – now owned by the Loblaw conglomerate..
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I should note that CostCo has always had better prices on dairy goods than our local grocery stores, from Connecticut to California. There *was* a brief period when Walmart was cheaper on milk, but those occasions have been few and far between.
I notice that no one has mentioned the biggest negative about (Costco’s and everyone else’s) cash-back cards: there is a category called “Warehouse Stores” that pays only 2% or less back, compared to “Food Stores” that pay up to 5% back. If you shop mostly at Costco, you miss this (True especially for the Costco/American Express Card).
Re: buying meat. I can’t eat beef, so I tend to buy Costco’s ground pork. It’s a much better deal at Costco than at the local Superstore. It’s about 50% the cost.
What about the Good Food Box program? Here in Toronto it’s a non-profit fruit and veggie box. I think other cities have such a program. $17 gets us a large tub of seasonal/local-where-possible fruits and veggies. That’s pretty cheap, isn’t it?
we also did a comparison with Superstore,and it literally came within pennies of Costco. Now all of costco was American brand while Superstore was Canadian. that works better for me.
Interesting article, but it fails to take into account the regular discounts Costco places on products (this drives prices even lower), the fact that a lot of their produce and other products are now organic and the fact the meat is usually higher quality than the superstore variety. In the end it really depends on you and how frugal a shopper you are.
I don’t know if this was posted up above yet or not but, I was told by a Costco customer service agent that at the end of the year if you don’t recover the cost of your executive membership – present yourself at the desk and they will give you the difference.
Costco’s computers, Tv, ect. have pretty good prices and they come with a 2 year warranty. Where Best buy will try to sell you that a extra couple hundred. Costco customer service is second to none. Superstore’s is terrible and quality of the product is bad too. Costco only sells quality products. If you don’t like it take it back. They usually don’t even ask why your returning it.
I am the only person I know who doesn’t worship at the Costco church. I overspent every time I went there and came home with books, movies, clothes, etc.
Read a fascinating book called Mindless Eating. They make a good case for the fact that when you have large quantities of something, you use it up about 25% faster. So even if the stuff costs you less in the store, you will go through it faster, so it isn’t really a good savings. I did a great post about it.
I LOVE Costco! Since I live in the US that may be the reason for some of our differences but what you should buy at Costco:, granola, olive oil, sugar substitutes, to name a few, any advice would be appreciated
this is a very interesting article and some can save a lot shopping in large amounts. however for me I am alone and so buy buying family size frozen veggies I can use from that bag all month. also I am fortunate that I have a farmers market just down the street where I can get fresh organic grown veggies at half the cost of what they are in the store.
Corporate Chef for 100 restaurants here:
I’m not sure if this is has to do with the source material being from Canada or not but there are some issues I have:
Milk, butter, cream, cheese, and dairy in general are significantly less expensive at Costco. Higher quality cheeses and specialty cheeses are often less than half the price. Not to mention a much better selection.
Beef (fresh) is always a savings and much better quality. I wouldn’t buy ground beef anywhere else besides Costco or a specialty butcher.
As for fresh foods… lettuce, spring mix, broccoli, bananas, grape tomatoes, potatoes and onions are ALWAYS better from Costco both is price and quality. Other items vary but at least comparable.
With $2-300 in monthly auto gas bills, shopping w/AMEX issued by them (3% return f/already cheapest gas at their stations + 2-3% savings on all other stuff), card always paid monthly, makes shopping @ Costco a no brainer.
So – aside from the pure / on the spot potential for savings this article mentions, I get back at the end of the year usually at least the cost of my executive membership.
What about the quality of the produce? Sure, a flat of peaches is more expensive at costco but they come in a flat, where the fruit is separated to prevent them from bruising and are, in general, big beautiful, tasty specimens. Same with their apples. As opposed to grocery store peaches, which I don’t even bother with anymore as most of them go bad before they ripen. Ditto the quality of the coffee- the Seattle Mountain blend they carry is one of the best brews I’ve bought in a grocery store- leagues better than grocery store brands and costs pennies a cup. The costco rotisserie chicken is also hands down the best deal in down- larger birds for 30-50% less than you pay in the grocery store!
This what I really wanted to see!
I’m often in an in-store debate with my better half about what is good value for the money. This confirms a lot of what my numbers were saying— check before you buy. Cheap is one thing, best bang for the buck has been my motto.
Anyone else accept “you can’t get out of Costco for less than a hundred bucks.”, even if you’re just going in for a three pack of bread.
I agree with your assessment of apples, bananas and chicken (and some other fresh foods), but you really need to look on an item by item basis (and seasons can play a role as well). I generally find berries to be MUCH cheaper at Costco, and things like avocados to be on par with supermarkets (but much larger at Costco). Also, the customer service is wonderful. It is great that I am saving money, but their Customer Service is the best, and that has value in shopping there as well.
I haven’t been in a CostCo in years; do they offer any organic products?
You are right that you need to spend $5500 to break even on the executive card, but you really only need to spend $2750 for the executive card to be a good deal. A normal membership card costs $55 and once you spend $2750 you make back that amount.
Also if you’re not sure how much you are spending you can always ask at the membership counter and they will be happy to look up your account and tell you how much your rebate check would have been if you were an executive member.
Finally Costco does have their membership satisfaction guarantee. If you do sign up for the executive membership and your check is not for at least $55 they will refund you the upgrade cost, this actually happened to my grandparents and the employees were very nice about it.
Not sure how you came up with Chicken being cheaper at a Supermarket. Guess it matters on quality. I purchase the Foster Farms Bulk fresh chicken (12 breasts) for $2.99lb. The stores sell the same chicken for $4.99lb. Pretty big savings if you ask me. Everything else I pretty much agree with.
Been shopping at Costco every Sunday morning for years and then head to my local Ralphs to pick up the other items I need.
You can’t unilaterally say some of this stuff.
“Skip the fresh foods” isn’t accurate in my state. Cucumbers and romaine lettuce at my Costco, for example, are waaaay cheaper. So is milk.
Also, you left out a) “ask for coupons at Customer Service”, and b) “check other places besides your Superstore and Costco”. Sometimes Walgreen’s is the cheapest place to find milk on the planet.
We go to the butcher for our local organic meat and we get our vegetables delivered from local farmers. For our frozen foods and bulk items, we go to costco. For items that we don’t use a lot of or that you can’t find at costco (like asian or indian foods) we go to the grocery store.
Found it interesting that you state that you have to spend $5K per year at Costco to break even on the executive membership. You earn the cash back on every purchase, just not those at Costco – we use our Costco AMEX everywhere, for everything that we can – it’s less hassle, one payment to make each month, and our rebate check averages $600 to $800 a year, depending on expenditures outside of Costco. We average $300 a month at Costco, but with restaurants, groceries, etc…. outside purchases add up fast.
Good article. How about gas prices? That’s why I originally got my membership. I get frozen food and pantry stuff there sometimes, but mostly just gas. It’s always cheaper at the membership stores. Sometimes even by 20¢. Most of the time it’s about an 11¢ difference though
A Canadian article on Lifehacker, good for you!
Your math on the executive membership is incorrect. You say that breaking even requires spending $5000 but that doesn’t take into account the Gold Star membership price you would otherwise be paying (half of the executive price) . So instead, breaking even on an executive membership requires spending $2500. Still not for everyone, admittedly. In 2011 I spent $6k at Costco so my $55 investment turned into a $135 rebate (excluding the gas station).
Also, Costco guarantees the price of the upgrade under their return policy . If you sign up and don’t get a $55 rebate check, they downgrade you to Gold Star and refund the difference.
In my local Costco, these 2 are the greatest steals:
1lb block of “Precious Mozzarella” for $4.5
2 pack of Large Nutella cans for $8.99
For American (USA) readers, I will add to this the following.
1. The fresh chicken in my local costco comes in premeasured 2 skinless boneless breast halves per pack, and 6 packs per overall package and it is always the flat price of $2.99/lb. That is cheaper than ANY grocery store or big box store even if coupons are taken into account.
2. Bananas and apples – get at the grocery store for sure, but Grapes, Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries and Blackberries are always 40-50% less per lb. at my local Costco than anywhere else I can get them. Yes, the package is large, but my wife and I eat a lot of fruit.
3. The exec membership policy may be different in Canada than it is here in the USA. Here, the price difference is $50 dollars, which, to earn back with a 2% reward, a little quick math says you need to spend more than $2500 to make any profit. However, if you don’t meet the minimum spend to break even, USA Coscto will simply send you a check for the $50 dollar difference. Basically, it’s a no lose situation.
That’s my two cents, and hopefully it helps people thinking about a costco membership here south of your borders.
Oh yes… the fresh produce is always better quality than all but the most expensive local grocery stores. they turn over so much and the room is so cold that it arrives at the store, leaves the store and gets home fresher, and keeps longer.
I am not sure why everyone said return is no hassle. I bought a bulk organic cereal bar which expires in end of April some time in Nov 2011. I opened it in middle of Jan and the nut was stale.
I brought it in at the Issaquah Costco and the person told me this is the last time she will do the return since you bought it some time ago. I pointed out the expiry day it in April and I just opened it and it is already no good. She did not really answer anything and said “yeah this is the reason why I said I let you do it this time”.
Honestly if I buy bulk food and the items only last 1/2 of the time span it should be, I am going to bring it in.
For those who think Costco is great place to return things, try PCC or WholeFood. They charge more. But you don’t waste food. And the most important part, if there is soething wrong with the food they sell, the refund it hassle free and no verbal disagreement.
In Southern California, Costco actually has MUCH cheaper (and better!) produce than the grocery stores typically do! (It’s one of the main reasons I go to Costco at all!) Just goes to show that there are regional differences as well 😉
And maybe it’s only if you get the Executive Membership AND the American Express Card, but if you don’t earn back all the money you spent upgrading to the executive membership (so, $50 or so) they’ll refund your upgrade 🙂
That’s great K but if that’s the case then most people will be eating fresh green peppers for six weeks a year, tops.
I buy local AS MUCH AS I CAN but I’d also like my kids to have bananas on their granola and raisins in their lunch.
If I was ‘buying local’ right now I’d have turnips and apples to choose from if I had put them in my noexistent cellar myself.
as many of the commenters here have said, you didn’t adequately compare the quality of the some of the grocery items. I guarantee you that if you opened up the boneless skinless chicken breasts you’ll find that costco has trimmed a lot more fat than the store brand. if you look at the meats, it’s the same. heck even the canned meats from costco are head and shoulders above their competitors. costco is definitely worth the membership.
SHOP LOCAL! Wonder why the Green Peppers are cheaper at Costco, who is getting the shaft on that stick, most likely the farmers who grew it for you. Check to see if produce has been grown in your own city or country.
I think it depends on the market. I’ve compared Costco to our local Albertsons and Costco was hands down cheaper in fresh foods as well. We’ve introduced friends of ours who previously only shopped at grocery stores and they were amazed at the savings. I’m still sticking with Costco! This article leaves out some details when comparing prices and expects us to assume that the comparisons are spot on.
Here in the Seattle area you can’t beat Costco’s price on meats, nor can you beat their quality. For example, the Costcos here sell Washington grown chicken for about half the price of any other grocery store. Sure, if you want to get the gross Southern grown chicken at the grocery store you will likely match the Costco price, but you’d have to be brainless to compare the fresh Washington chicken to the Southern grown. Also, the beef at Costco is significantly higher quality than what the regular grocery stores get, yet it’s also significantly less expensive. Obviously though, in both cases, you have to be able to either use large quantities or freeze them. Anyway, it’s wise to know and shop YOUR market area because they are not all the same. We also buy most of our cheese at Costco because it is generally about half the price. And oh yes, the frozen veggies at Costco are WAY better! The only thing we have to be careful about are the fresh veggies because of the package sizes. We do use our regular stores for most of that.
Someone else mentioned it, but I will say there is one produce area where, if you need quantity, Costco is a by-a-mile winner: lemons and limes.
It’s no deal if you buy the 5lb back and many go bad, but if you’re cutting lime wedges for a party or, like us, freeze a bunch of wedges to drop into water glasses, it’s a big savings.
Foods I like are typically 25-30% cheaper at Costco than at any of the local grocery stores. However, there’s things I’d avoid because price doesn’t offset…”damaged in processing” of certain things.
I heartily endorse Costco’s fresh tomatoes, romaine hearts, fresh baked bread, San Pellegrino (seltzer water), Gorgonzola, lemons, organic milk or soy/almond milk.
Costco’s parmigiano reggiano is bitter, the cut flowers die before opening their blooms, baked chicken is injected with salt and gelatin–and has made me sick. I’ve yet to have a bunch of Costco bananas ripen to be edible, and the mushroom box has lots of rotten ones covered by pristine firm beauties. For these items, I’ll pay 25-30% more to get from the local stores (Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyer, PCC Co-op, TJs).
Sometimes the avocados turn to mush on the outside, yet are unripe 1/8th inch in, indicating they were ‘cooked’ in transit. I think the same thing happens to the bananas.
Costco is one of my favorite stores to shop at, and I consistently save money there. I find fruit to almost always be more expensive (individually wrapped apples cost more), but veggies are a good value. Plus one more thing I take into consideration when buying veggies is “how fresh are they?”. Costco produce is always so fresh, and kept at a very low temperature, so when I get it home, they last a LOT longer than SuperStore. I also have the Executive membership and Costco credit card and easily make back my dues. I earn 3% on gasoline purchases (doesn’t have to be bought at Costco) and that alone makes it worth it for me. I always pay it off monthly, otherwise you can get in trouble.
First time I went to Costco (with a friend) I noticed that I could buy most things for the same price or cheaper at other stores on sale. I stock up when on sale and never bothered with Costco. Recently, I switched to Kirkland Dog Food for my 3 dogs. It is a great dog food, a fabulous value and worth the price of the annual membership. Now that you pointed out the difference in the frozen veggies, I will probably start buying them at Costco now. Thanks for the info.
I noticed that at the Cstco in Fresno CA where Costco has a lot of competition (Sams Club etc), their prices are much lower than where I live in a neighboring state. If they are able to sell their product lower in Fresno then they should lower their price for everyone else. Costco is not always the bargain it seems to be. And there is one worker in particular who harasses customers about returns even though “satisfaction guaranteed” is Costco’s policy. I have complained to no avail
[…] Is Costco really worth it? Some comparison shopping before you head out and get your grocery’s for next week. What’s cheaper to buy where? […]
Also note, this was a Costco vs. Canadian Brands. In the states, it is a different story. Wish they would do a US Comparison
I like Costco because it sells a lot of organic products. We are two in our household and usually spend enough to get the full amount back ($100 executive membership). You just need to buy what makes sense for you…not everything is a good price.
I drive an electric car, so I can’t really count the cost of gas to drive there. The cost for electricity for the trip is about 35 cents so I’m not concerned about that (2.2 cents per km).
I love shopping at costco but don’t love all of the plastic that comes with their fresh fruit & veggies. So I usually pass on that stuff…
Costco HAD a great return policy, but it has changed over the years and has become a lot more strict. We have had issues returning basic items to costco that were not even a month old. They were returned due to defects, but we had to fight with the local manager and make many calls to Costco before it was resolved. This has happened at both of our local Costco’s here in the Reno NV area. We used to shop at Costco for all our needs, but after our latest problems with returning items at Costco, we only buy our food there and little else.
[…] to save some coin when traveling, but they aren’t all created equal. Use this as a reference.Price Check Experiment: Is Costco Really Worth It? [Squawkfox] Buying in bulk can seem like a great idea, but is it worth it? Check out this […]
Interesting comparison. I would agree with some other commenters above that the thing for me that grants Costco the upper hand in this debate is the consistent quality of certain fresh food items. Take avocados for example. They beat out any other avocado I can buy in the Portland area. They are always top quality, restaurant grade avocados. I feel the same way about the apples. These items may be cheaper at another store but, for example, 1 out of 3 avocados might be bad from Safeway, so that makes the cheaper argument kind of moot in my mind. Anyway, interesting read. I always tell people “Costco is great because they don’t stock crap.” I feel like they have high standards for what they stock.
We live in Alberta, Canada.
This is a good comparison, however I would also add that for places that have a Wal Mart, it might be good to add them to the mix.
I find that on fresh produce, and some meat (such as fresh chickens) it’s pretty hard to beat Wal Mart.
Also items such as snack foods are in a lot of cases hard to beat. Wal Mart’s Great Value chips are almost half the price of Lays at the Super Store and the quality is just as good.
We get weekly flyers from Wal Mart, Super Store and Safeway and with Safeway’s Club Card sometimes that’s also a place to find great weekly specials.
Between the three, good deals can be found on most items without ever having to go near Costco.
For two of us, we just never found that a Costco membership was really worthwhile.
I have no idea how old this article is, but excellent work. You do have to be careful but there are some excellent buys at costco.
Re. the executive membership (which I don’t have) there are actually a couple of things that could help pay for the membership much more quickly.
1) More cardholders are allowed on the same membership (can’t remember but I think it is 5). More people using the same card could help rack that 2% up more quickly.
2) The big one – executive member exclusive savings. I saw a flyer that an exec member had and while I can’t remember the prices, fusion shaving blades were some ridiculous cheap (relatively speaking). I don’t know the other deals but that sounded like it could make it worth it.
I found out that if you don’t earn that extra $50 in the 2% back they’ll give you the $50 you spent upgrading back.
Prices on items in all franchise stores vary according to the area that you are shopping in. For example, a store in a more well to do area will charge higher prices for the same item than in the same store in a lower income area. For example, a bottle of soap in a more upscale area will likely be priced higher than the same bottle of soap in the same store in a different neighbourhood.
[…] I don’t own an espresso machine, I went to Costco and bought a bag of Starbucks Pike Place roast to best mimic the Frappuccino recipe. Brewed […]
I did a similar price-comparison experiment with BJ’s, a warehouse club we have out here in New Jersey. I concluded that, for the way we shop, the savings at the store were minimal and would not cover the cost of membership. (You can read the whole story at http://www.stretcher.com/stories/06/06jul24f.cfm.) But for those who have big families, run small businesses, or are loyal to specific brands, the savings could be significant.
I’m quite surprised that your savings with Costco were so big, though. A certain consumer magazine, which shall for legal reasons remain nameless, recently did a cost comparison on a “market basket” of foodstuffs, and they found that while Costco did offer the best prices for a few items (diapers were a big one, and trash bags, and peanut butter), overall you’d achieve bigger savings by buying store brands at the supermarket. But maybe the equation is different north of the border.
i JUST DONT UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE PAY A STORE AN ENTRANCE FEE SO THEY CAN SHOP THERE.costco does this because people feel they are SPECIAL with their card which makes me laugh. Costco sucks in these fees to pay for their staff. They have no labour overhead. You are not saving money. Your savings you gave away by buying that card.
what people would say if you had to pay 1 dollar everytime you entered walmart.
Went in a costco store in the chicago area the other day. Walking thru the door ,i didnt make it in time to pull out my card to make that magical entrance and the guy at the door said in a sarcastic way OH YOUR NOT GOING TO SHOW ME YOUR CARD” I said yes I will . And as i was pulling it out I said. WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL IF I WAS A LITTLE LATE IN SHOWING YOU< WHAT IS THIS FORT KNOX OR SOMETHING.
His responce was WELL WE HAVE TO KEEP OUT THE RIFFRAFT. I said what??? He said YA ANYONE WHO DOESNT HAVE A CARD IS RIFFRAFT.
I Was chocked. Here was a store calling AMERICAN CITIZENS INCLUDING VETERANS RIFFRAFT. This store is getting an attitude. NEEDLESS to say, I went to the counter, threw my card down and demanded my membership After taking to the manager.
This post has taken on a life of it’s own. Well said Frank.
I’m glad to see that someone else sees Costco for what they really are.
I refuse to pay them any form of membership or “ransom” fees.
If people really do their homework and don’t just take Costco at face value, it doesn’t take long to realize that you really don’t save much (or possibley anything) by shopping there – just compare and see.
I guess that makes me riffraff too but this riffraff won’t be buying anything at Costco.
Here we have the Great Canadian Super Store and the Great Canadian Wholesale Club, neither of which have any sort of membership fees and beat Costco’s prices hands down – and you don’t have to buy a 5 year supply to get their best price either.
And for those devoted to the big American chains, yes we have a Wal Mart here too and even they can show Costco what it’s all about.
Now if we could just figure out why Starbucks thinks their coffee is worth it’s weight in gold???
I experienced the same” riff-raff” attitude from the costco in the western suburbs of chicago. I gave Exec. card to my 18 yr.old daughter so that she could do our shopping while I was finishing up at work. I went to the store to meet her 20 mins.after she had arrived. the greeter had taken my card from her,took her to the customer service counter. “customer service” wouldn’t look at her I.D. to see that we lived in the same house and have the same last name. they told her that they were trying to” protect” me and other club members from unwanted intrusions by outsiders.
What a great article and some very interesting information. For me, there are a few differences. The fresh Chicken in our Costco is actually a fair bit cheaper that what we pay in our local grocery store. The biggest difference for me, is the local Superstore. Long ago I quit shopping at the Superstore because the fresh produce was of such poor quality, it only lastest a couple of days; I have had to return a number of packages of fresh meat due to bad smells and the biggest reason is this: while shopping in the superstore one day, I noticed that almost all of the cheese in their dairy case had mold on it. When I mentioned this to the section manager, he just shrugged his shoulders and said “oops”. Oops, what is that?
I have also done comparison shopping between my local grocery store and superstore and found that my local grocery store was cheaper. As for Costco, I believe it is like shopping anywhere else; you need to know your prices. If you know your prices, then you can great deals no matter what store you are shopping at.
Thanks for all of the work you have done to bring all of us this great information.
Interesting comments regarding your local Superstore.
I’d be curious as to where this is Trish.
Our Superstore (Lethbridge, AB) has none of the problems you’ve mentioned in your post – in fact they have excellent produce and meat.
What you say about Costco is true and you do have to know your prices to do any comparative shopping – however the very fact that you have to pay a membership fee simply for the “privledge” of shopping there is what sticks in my craw and I refuse to do it.
As for our local grocery store (in Coaldale, AB) they are a smaller store in a smaller town and due to lack of any competition, seem to feel they can get away with charging ridiculous prices.
They’re not even in the running as far as competative shopping is concerned and I only shop there if I happen to run out of something. Otherwise I shop in Lethbridge at the larger stores with more choice and much better prices.
Rick, you have very good points. Having to pay a membership to shop is a point that also sticks in my craw. My way of getting around that is having one membership and taking each of my extended family members shopping when they need something. I know that is not how things are supposed to be done, but it is our way of saving on the membership fees. As for our local superstore, it is in Langford, BC. Not a great store if you ask me. Our local grocery store is Thrifty Foods. I always shop by the sale flier and manage to get items cheaper that way. As far as I am concerned, I don’t know how families can survive if they don’t shop by sales, no matter where they are shopping.
Well, thanks so much for your feedback. It is nice to know that others have the same issues as myself and my circle of friends. Keep shopping sales and standing up for what you believe in. That’s how we manage in this great big world of ours.
Trish – that’s the way to “stick” it to Costco. Our “Family Food” store is not the greatest place to shop – and I too will only shop there for flyer (sale) items or if I’m really pressed (out of something) I’ll shop there.
Wow – hey Trish – small world.
Lived on Metchosin Road for years and View Royal before that – graduated from Belmont High in 1962 then moved away in 1963. Came back for the Belmont graduation in 1964 (girl friend).
I know this is off topic for this forum but just had to get back to you and say hi.
Used to have a ton of friends in that area in the 1960’s when Langford Corner was just a blip on the map. I assume that it’s all “grown up” around there now. I don’t even think there was a traffic light at Langford Corner.
The lagoon used to be our favorite “parking” spot if you catch my drift.
This really is a small world. Yes, Langford has changed a lot since you were here last. So has Colwood, Sooke and Victoria. If you came here now, you wouldn’t recognize a whole lot. I have lived in the Western Communities most of my life and there are still areas that are hard for me to recognize.
Thanks for responding and saying hi. Nice to know that there are some really nice people out there.
I have a BIG question, at my place there is an argument, they tell me the food from Costco is $100 for a MONTHS supply at Costco per person, and I am certain it’s got to be higher. Now, the meals are basically common food, (eggs, bacon, tuna sandwiches, PB & J, cheeseburgers, pasta, Asian rice and veggies with chicken or beef, cereal, ham and cheese, mayo, mustard, fried chicken, and the like-to name most of them) and it’s pretty standard. Is it possible that $100 MIGHT be a little to short, after all this is a group home of 7-10 people, and I find it hard to believe that Costco’s prices are THAT cheap! I would go shopping with AT LEAST $150-$175 for the whole month for myself at ANY produce super store.
I agree with the article fully, we save a lot shopping at Costco. However, we do tend to buy a lot of our fresh produce there for a few reasons, much like their meats it tends to be better quality than most grocery stores (maybe because there’s fewer people manhandling it). But it also tends to last longer, which means we waste less of it. Just something to think about.
Costco can definitely be a money-sucker, but one definite money-saver that no one has mentioned is the incredible savings on baby formula. A 660g (approx) container of Enfamil, for instance, runs about $25 at Walmart. The 1.46kg container of Kirkland brand is also $25. That’s more than twice as much formula and, after comparing the nutritional info, they were virtually identical. The savings from this alone more than pay for a membership. Oh, and just to avoid any lectures, I had to wean early due to illness.
I live in Northern California and I had to laugh at those vegetables. I’m sure the name is just a name. lol Like Marcia said above, we do not lay claim to those sad vegetables from the super store. I also must say that here our Costco has milk, butter, cheese cheaper than other stores. The only other place I’ve found a good deal on two gallons of milk is at 7-11 (a gas and convenience store here). Also, I share my membership with a previous co-worker that lives two cities away from me and it’s not a problem. I’m the primary on the membership and the bill and coupons come to me. Thanks for the article.
Love Costco! Saves me lots on money here in Southeast AK! Thank goodness we have one 🙂
If you get the Costco American Express card, you get the rebate on all purchases, not just those made at Costco, ie 3% on all gas stations, 2% restaurants (& some other stuff), 1% on everything else! It is not too hard to make back the entire executive membership costs…
You forget what every American (unfortunately) forgets. Gas! Costcos are usually a number of miles further away than a local grocery. We can walk to several local groceries in our area (we have 3 within a half mile) and the Costco is 14 miles away. That adds the cost of a gallon or gallon and half of gas to each trip and therefore reduces the savings by $3 to $6 per trip at current prices. It is not a lot, but it cuts the saving in your example by 20-25% and we should all be conscious of the gas we use. And shopping locally is better for the environment, keeps stores locally available for our convenience and saves the time of going to Costco. We can be in and out of our local grocery in 20 minutes with the items in your example. At Costco, that is nearly an hour, car door to car door.
Another problem with Costco is their “supersizing”. We have a lot of fresh food spoil before we can use it and have to buy volumes of things like toilet paper that mean we have to find a place to store it for the year it takes a family of 2 to use it up.
And the final comment is that Costco is a master at getting people to buy what they don’t need. If the shoppers stick to their shopping list (and don’t mind the other negatives), there are savings. However, as soon as you get suckered in to some other item, your savings are loss…and then some.
I’m doing some back reading, so I realize you posted this a year ago!
Costco now offers gas, often at $0.07 cheaper per litre. For us that translated to $5 less per fill up, so a couple hundred dollars a year (my husband’s commute is 2.5 hours each day). Because of the gas, we upgraded to the Executive Membership for the 2% cash back because its easy to break even and actually get some cash back when you’re adding your weekly gas to the mix.
Thanks good read. I go for Diapers.. and nobody seems to believe me that the Huggies brand is cheaper there than at Walmart.
Don’t forget to check your receipt for the tax calculations as well. When you buy in bulk the taxes are calculated differently on grocery items and usually you will end up paying more for your gst/hst/pst.
Costco USED to have some good deals. Not much any more. If you have to have a specific NAME brand packaged product and can store a gallon of mayonnaise, go for it. The price is usually lower than at a supermarket, BUT the store brands are consistently cheaper. The meat prices are OUTRAGEOUS and Kirkland isn’t much of a bargain either. A ladder, TV, car battery or something like that MIGHT be a good deal if you want the top of the line with little choices. As with anything else, you pay for convenience and if you shop around you can more often than not get a better deal elsewhere.
I have been an employee at costco for over 15 years and i would like to state the fact that you are sorely misguided about our executive membership. What the exc. membership is 2% on all purchases at costco excluding gas and stamps. Two months before your membership is due you get a notice in your mail that your membership will be expiring soon and you get your rebate check along with it. What you can do with this rebate check is to get it refunded up to $55 dollars if it shouldn’t equate that, secondly you can renew your membership with it at either the cash registers or at membership, finally you can cash it out at membership for plain old cash.To go back to the fact of refunding your check, $55 dollars is always refundable that way your ONLY paying the gold star price of membership should you spend a little less one year. Also you can get the membership for cheaper to start out if you do it in the middle of your year of membership due to the fact that its prorated. To break it down if your half way through your membership year you could upgrade for about $23 dollars and start earning money that day on that purchase; the only catch to this is the fact that if you were to earn lets say $40 dollars if you had the exc. membership at the beginning of the year you wouldn’t get that money back since you didn’t start with the exc. membership right away. The other great benefit that you get from the exc. is there is far more savings on costco services like travel or car rentals ect.
We find the quality of the meats to be better at Costco so we will buy in bulk and then freeze in smaller quantities with our foodsaver. I find a lot of the produce to be over priced but as a foodie I find that they sometimes have hard to find items like fresh figs or champagne grapes. All in all I think I’ll keep my membership.
I shop at Food4Less (otherwise known as Kroger in some areas) and they have better pricing for food than Jewel and Dominick’s. I have shopped in the past at Costco and it just doesn’t make sense when you are living by yourself. It isn’t worth it. I’ve had several people recommend that I shop there and once I explain it from my view they agree.
Otherwise I shop at Walmart (since that is an actual superstore) and am able to find mostly everything I need there.
Something that doesn’t seem to have been mentioned is how employees are treated at each place. Some years ago, Wayne Cascio (Professor in Human Resources at University of Colorado School of Business) got curious as to how Costco was able to stay in business when competing with Walmart and Sam’s Club(also owned by the Walmart folks). He found that the top folks at Costco get paid a lot less and those savings are passed on to cover benefits for the Costco employees, who also get paid a lot more than Walmart/Sam’s Club employees. Costco saves money on recruiting and training, because they promote from within and KEEP the same employees. I’ve never had someone be rude and, at this point, I know many folks by name since I’ve been smiling at them for the past ten years as they check my card (which I always have ready when I walk in). We’ve returned all kinds of stuff with NO hassle…our small business had a barbecue fundraiser a while back that was poorly attended. I checked in advance about returning the food, because I knew they couldn’t re-sell it…they DONATED it to a local food bank and returned our full $400 plus dollars!) Nice to know that we’ve been getting good deals (and lower priced gasoline) and I do shop our local King Soopers (union labor)(a Kroger store now) for smaller amounts of organic spinach and celery,onions and mushrooms, because we just don’t go through fresh food fast enough to use it all. The avocados, though, make wonderful guacamole!
I can’t speak for Costco because I joined SAMS for proximity to home….but I have noticed something over the years that is a bit puzzling and troubling.
I’m now wondering if a tactic of these stores is to pass along the better pricing because the products are seconds or generally being liquidated.
Packaged lettuce for instance seems to go bad very very quickly and though your purchasing a larger package, most of it goes bad before you can use it.
Same with Potatoes, onions etc….I would estimate that 25% of my onions go bad before I can use them, and the potatoes too. I never experienced these issues when I shopped at regular chain stores. Another thing is the large packages of pre cooked sliced bacon. My wife bought some from the regular supermarket not knowing I had purchased the larger package. I then noticed how much nicer hers cooked, and how thicker it was. The thin sliced bulk package also went rancid after 2 months in the freezer, while her package was just fine after the same time frame.
Other items; I have noticed other issues such as Mayo going rancid only after a few months, and another item is the chunk tuna in cans. I found it watery and mostly in pieces. I went to the supermarket and purchased the same brand and same can and opened it to find that it was indeed in large chunks.
Same with Salsa, I noticed it being much more watery as compared to the supermarket.
Anyone one else had similar experiences? Yes I’m a foodie and quality is very important.
PS – I am comparing the exact same brands to the same brands at the regular supermarket and all are NAME BRANDS!
Here, in a single sentence taken from a recent Wall Street article, is all you really need to know . . . “Membership Fees Lift Costco as Revenues Fall Short of Estimates.”
Here’s a quote from that Wall Street article.
“As usual, Costco’s membership fees provide more than 100% of the company’s profit.”
So in otherwords without the membership fees, Costco would be unable to compete in the “real world”.
Now I know why I’m glad I dropped my membership – people are paying their membership fees simply to keep Costco afloat.
I found when I was a member that my grocery bills were always higher simply because of the fact that I was forced into buying “bulk”.
For a family of two, this just isn’t practical.
So they sell their gas a little cheaper, but I can match their price with my Safeway Club Card.
I guess for some Costco “might” be the answer but I certainly don’t miss shopping there and I can find prices at several outlets either the same or in many cases much less than Costco offers – especially when it comes to hardware or electronics.
With our weekly paper, we always receive flyers for groceries and pretty well anything a person would want to buy and I can always find them cheaper than they are offered at Costco.
Future Shop, Visions, Wal Mart and even Canadian Tire beat the pants off Costco each and every week on computers, tablets and television sets and in the case of Canadian Tire – tools that are often on sale for half price.
I will never be convinced that Costco is a “good thing”!
I disagree about the best time to go – go at dinner time – but, of course, eat first – 5-6:30 – NO LINES!!!
I’m moving to Vancouver in just under 2 monthes, and stumbled on your blog. And am I ever thankful I did! You’ll get me through frugal student times!
Good new thing at Costco here in Ancaster.
They are now selling Caskets at $800 per.
Only problem…you must buy 6 of them.
i have shop at costco when it first open in my area about 18 years ago.1 bought 3 items which i figure was a good deal.all 3 items cost about $8.oo . after checking the prices they had over charged me $1.20.i tought i made a mistake when i looked at the prices,so i when back and check the price on the sign in front of the items.i had seen right.i mentioned that to the clerk who contact one of the manager.she went to check the prices and after about 20 minutes(no exageration)she came back and refund me the over charged.i am pretty good with numbers so how many people don,t really check their slip.i have never been to costco since.
Alot of supermarkets often charge the wrong prices or fail to charge the right prices if something is on sale. I have had this experience often at Walmart. I am a conscientious shopper and will often just look around to check on in store specials, etc. A few times I have gotten items for free because they charged me the wrong price at the cash. This has also happened to me at the Supercentre. Now if I don’t get to watch the cashier ring it in, I always check my bill before leaving the store. I think that the stores are so big, they can’t keep track. And young kids at the cash often don’t pay attention anyway. Or they purposefully do not put the right price in the register, thinking that most people will walk out without noticing. These days every penny counts, you have to watch whats going on at the checkout.
We just joined Costco a week ago, because they have the best prices for Contact lenses and they are covered by my insurance. I expected to have to submit for reimbursement, but it wasn’t necessary, and they even had to contacts on hand.
I love It comes from years of shopping there with my mom while I was still living at home and now for my own family. Up here in Northern Alberta Costco offers the best produce; period. They have a growing number of good organic products and their hams are the best you will ever have!
The last two sets of glasses I purchased were from this store and I saved over 150 $ on the same pair from an independent optical place here in town. The selection isn’t as good; but the prices are excellent.
It is true that Costco doesn’t have the greatest food selection but I know what my family uses and buy the same items every time.
I am an executive member and always get cheques of 150-220$ return. Not too shabby.
I love Costco. It comes from years of shopping there with my mom while I was still living at home and now for my own family. Up here in Northern Alberta Costco offers the best produce; period. They have a growing number of good organic products and their hams are the best you will ever have!
The last two sets of glasses I purchased were from this store and I saved over 150 $ on the same pair from an independent optical place here in town. The selection isn’t as good; but the prices are excellent.
It is true that Costco doesn’t have the greatest food selection but I know what my family uses and buy the same items every time.
I am an executive member and always get cheques of 150-220$ return. Not too shabby.
I do not know if available in Canada, but in the United States, if you get the Costco American Express Card w/ the executive level, you get back the rebate% on all purchases with the card, not only at Costco! And for buying gasoline, you get 3%!!
I realize the post (and most responses) are quite old, but wanted to chime in. First and foremost, KNOW your prices! Costco is a great deal on many things, but not on everything. I live on the Central Coast of California, near Santa Cruz, and I find MOST things that I purchase at Costco to be much less than the same items at the supermarket. Some items are so much cheaper that even if I end up throwing some out, it was way cheaper than the same item (in a smaller package) from the market.
In our area, dairy products in general are a better deal at Costco, unless on sale elsewhere (that’s where it pays to watch the sales and know your prices). Costco butter is less than $2/lb, $3-4/lb at the market. Lettuce and fresh broccoli florets are screaming deals! Again, even if I end throwing some away (well, it gets composted), it is way cheaper than buying the same products at the market.
Kirkland brand items – I have never been disappointed! Price savings – significant! Their mayo passed the “potato salad” test in our house (otherwise, it must be Hellman’s/Best Foods). Juices (bottled) generally beat even sale prices outside. Kirkland balsamic is awesome – very smooth and excellent price (any balsamic I have bought in the supermarket is way too acidic, no matter how much I pay). Kirkland ibuprofen – 1000 caplets (2 bottles of 500 each) – around $10!! The brand name of the same product is cheaper at Costco than anywhere, but why buy the brand name when the product is exactly the same! Even the gel-caps (which work in 10 minutes instead of 30) are unbelievably cheap compared to anywhere else (360/under $15).
Multi-pack bacon? Never had a bad pack – EVER!
TP, paper towels, garbage bags – can’t beat the price anywhere!
I watch the sales at the local supermarkets (Safeway, Raley’s, local independent) and shop where I can get the best price, regardless of the item.
I have also observed that shopping at or after dinner time is the best – unless you are checking out close to closing time, the wait is minimal. Of course, as someone previously mentioned, DON’T shop hungry!
I found that sticking to the basics at Costco helps, then buy other stuff like fresh produce/laundry soap at other places. Fresh chicken wings, about $18/$20 for a tray that I later divide into 8 portions and freeze. So 8 times in a month I can have wings for $20! And also the good quality breads. 3 for $7. At Walmart or Superstore, they run about $3.98 per loaf. So I can see you saving for sure on bread at any major wholesale outlet. Frozen berries and other mixed fruit too. Save $$$.
Also what I found was the oatmeal that comes in a big box. It’s roughly $3 a box of 9 at Walmart. But just pay $12 for 90 packs at Costco.
For someone out there that’s new at shopping, buying everything you need at Costco is probably not a good idea if you want to save money…
Regarding TP – the Kirkland rolls have more sheets per roll than almost any other brand, and have maintained 425 sheets per roll for years.
Premium Brand TP at Great Canadian Super Store
36 – 2 ply rolls – 500 sheets per roll.
Great price and pretty good quality TP
Great article, however, I did not see the word “Quality” mentioned. I think that this is one of Costco’s strong attributes.
Steve has a great point! I feel very confident buying almost anything from Costco because they provide QUALITY goods! Kirkland brand products, specifically, have never disappointed! They are always excellent quality.
Great article but I do find that Costco is better than Superstore/Sobeys for produce both in price and quality.
Your site is evil! I have clicked on far too many of your blog posts tonight. Ya, know, I have things to do, Kerry. 😉
Great site, lots of good ideas. Newbie who learned about you from David Chilton’s newest book “the Wealthy barber Returns”.
Do most of our grocery shopping at local Superstore. They PRICE MATCH all of their competitor’s flyers. Takes a bit of time, but one stop shopping and for a family of two I figure we save $10 – $25 weekly!
Wal Mart does the same thing – they will price match any competitor’s flyer. Sure save a lot of running around especially when it’s only for a few items that happen to be on sale.
We are a married couple with two babies and hoping to have more, so Costco saves us a lot more it does for small households. The savings on diapers and milk alone pay for our membership several times over.
I am a big Costco shopper… love the place, yet you do need to be careful. I do comparison shop by unit as well, and found your generalization of fresh produce not correct.
Take for instance bananas, by me it’s $1.69 for a 3lb bag, while Walmart and No Frills are $.57-$.59 a pound. Equal you say, the 3lb bag at Costco can weigh up to 31/2 pounds and add my 2% executive discount.
As with avocados, $5.99 for a bag of 5 is usually more expensive than the local stores until you examine the size of the avocados. Though I have seen (on rare occasions) descent size ones for cheaper prices at the others
But the best deal of all are the frozen baked goods, not known by many, sold in the bakery dept. The ciabatta bread and apple turnovers are great and super cheap. You will need a chest freezer at home to store it, as the box sizes are substantial.
I think it really depends on what your other local grocery stores offer in terms of price, quality and quanitiy. We have found that buying meats in bulk is a better deal at Costco. Specifically ground beef, and chicken on the bone is a great deal when you buy in bulk. Chicken legs are 99 cents per pound, which is a very decent price. We also buy bread, frozen foods, sliced cheses and fruits. Its crazy now how expensive fruits are at your local grocery store or even walmart. At Costco, we we will buy a couple bags of fruits that last for 2 weeks at least, and its great quality and doesn’t go bad…and guess what, if one isn’t good, you can return it very easily. We haven’t encountered poor quality produce though. We are slowly comparing prices and making sure the unit cost is cheaper than what we find at the regular grocery store even with sales. I will say we do find specific sales for things we must have at Harris Teeter and buy them in bulk there which is cheaper, but those sales only occur every few months or so. Costco has been a great way to buy quality food for us. We just now have started looking at the costco clothing too…not bad prices or quality.
I have a family of 5, 4 of them are boys (1 is a man). They all have big appetites and I find myself at Costco weekly. If your okay with freezing food and buying dry products then Costco is the place for you. But I don’t just frequent Costco for food, I go for other miscellaneous items. I’ve bought computers, laptops, televisions, vacuum, mini fridge, pots/pans, wine refrigerator, back splash, flooring, costumes, clothes, books, games, and others. I pay into the executive membership and the cash I get back pays for a new membership and some. I do spend a bit at Costco but their return policy can’t be beat. Lastly, I don’t buy fresh vegetables at Costco too often unless their organic. I go to farmer markets.
I think that with the cheaper gasoline (usually 4 cents a liter) that tipped the scales for me, but the Costco gas station is on the way to work, so it is easier for me to take advantage of this part of the membership.
We end up buying a few staples all the time and that alone makes the membership worthwhile for our family.
1) Costco gasoline:
Is their gasoline a brand-name or “no name”? If no-name, beware: a mechanic told me that it usually contains a lot of water, which means a degraded quality, which – when used all the time – causes premature engine wear.
A customer’s engine seized and a replacement was NOT covered: the dealership had 3 independent mechanics examine the internal wear and they proved he had been using lesser-quality gasoline. Ouch! Those pennies-per-litre saved added up to an expensive $3000 ‘mistake’.
2) Annual fee:
Mine is the basic $55: I have to use a certain product to digest certain foods, which is almost daily. The cost of it at a drugstore is $20, while Costco’s price is the same for more than double the quantity. There is my membership fee within the first three months.
3) Special products:
At holiday times of the year the store is great at bringing in certain items. At Christmas they have Italian low-sodium anchovies at $6/jar, whereas elsewhere prices are closer to double that. I buy a few, some for my own use and others as stocking stuffers for the foodies in my family.
4) Free advertising:
Next time any of us shop at the store, keep an eye out for this column being printed and posted somewhere…
Costco does not water down their gasoline. It is actually illegal do this. I often find many mechanics are full of it. There’s enough cars rolling through their gas station if they even did such a thing they would have a large law suit on their hands.
We buy our milk at costco weekly. It costs a dollar less then at Walmart.
We also bought flooring there which is an amazing price. It was less than $2/sq ft for 15 mm flooring when it went on sale.
I often see a lot of furniture for really good prices. Which reminds me we bought my desk on sale there for $300 (I think) but the same desk any where else would have been $800 to $1000 easily.
I’m probably going to buy my big screen there, just waiting to see if it goes on sale.
As suggested above, not all stuff at Costco is cheaper. You just have to know the price you would pay at the stores you regularly visit.
I don’ t like the idea of having employees from Costco waiting for me at the exit to see if my ticket have the correct items or products I just bought (employees counting the items) that’s a shame. The pharmacy is a total waste of time, bad service and can’t get my prescription ready. The supervisors and manager are arrogant and they always have a way to excuse their employees, I had experience several times the cashiers scanning twice the same item. Customer service employees should work in a model store or somewhere they don’t have to answered any questions, well I still like the products in the store, better than Sam,s, Walmart or any other store.
I know people that work at Costco and I know people that work at Superstore. I do some of my shopping at Costco and none at Superstore. The best difference between the two is that the Costco employees are full time employees making decent wages and benefits, while the Superstore employees are all part time at very low wages and no benefits.
In addition to savings on grocery there are many other savings at Costco. We have large dogs and quality dog beds are expensive. Costco and Sams both have great dog beds for $45.99. The cheapest comparable dog beds we have found are over $120. We buy 3 or 4 beds a year. The saving on one bed alone pays for our membership. We need to replace our garbage disposal. Costco has a 1.25 hp disposal for $99, the equivalent disposal at a chain home improvement store is $199. If we buy one larger ticket item a year, I consider the rest a bonus.
No matter what I fail to see who does a MONTHLY shopping spree for no more than 100 dollars per person, in a house filled with adults (say group home or other housing situation) NO ONE can fulfill the dietary needs on that low of a budget, people eat a whole lot more on their plates than they recall, sorry to burst your bubble guys…PRICES ARE HIIIGH!
Great article. Only inaccuracy concerns the break even point of the executive membership. The incremental cost over the standard “gold star” membership is $55, so the break even point, assuming the time-value of money within a one year period is negligible is $2,750. The $5,000 mark is if you compare an executive membership to no membership at all.
Great article, we have been shopping pretty much exclusively at Costco for years now, glad to hear your research backs up our decision. I think when I first became a member in 1990, just the savings in buying milk alone there for a year paid for the membership. We were a family of 4 then.
On the subject of Executive Membership, I was told during the sales pitch while waiting in line (this many years ago), that if your 2% savings does not pay for the membership, just stop at the front desk, and they will makeup the difference. For instance, if your rebate check is $67.00, they will give you the $33.00. I don’t know if that’s cash or store credit, but they will make it pay for itself. I haven’t tested this, as our rebate is always over $100.00! Yes, we shop a LOT at Costco 🙂
This Blog was really informative! Thanks!
Really helped me to break down my shopping list necessities and I’m saving about $80/month now thanks to your information!
I buy all my fresh food at Superstore weekly so that I am not wasting and throwing stuff the goes bad away and buying all processed (very few), house necessities (cleaning supplies, shampoo/conditioner, toilet paper, tissue, laundry), and bulk items (rice, quinoa, protein shakes/powders, vitamins) at Costco! It is great! Thanks again!
Where I’m from, Costco is ALWAYS cheaper on coffee, milk, cheese, and fresh meats. If you want organic meat, the organic lean ground beef is at least $1/lb cheaper than the leading big brand organic (Amy’s). The chicken breasts are ususally the same. With increase in coffee prices lately, coffee is dramatically cheaper than any of the big brands like folgers, and it tastes much better. Milk is often 1$ less than other stores and sometimes 50% cheaper. However, I agree with the fresh food being much more.
If you buy guy on the day or day after the prices jump in the area, you are often paying .20-.30 per gallon cheaper.
In terms of the executive membership, you are not really consistent with your math. You say for you it will take 2 months to break even on the $55 dollar membership, then say that in order to break even for the executive you need to spend $5000. This is just wrong. Around here the executive is $110. Assuming you break even on the normal membership in 2 months, then the 2% back needs to add up to the difference of $55 to “Break Even”. This is much less than your dramatic $5000. In reality this is only ~$200 a month, which is not that much.
I purchase eggs, frozen veg and fruit, coffee. dog food. I use the grocery flyers for price match at superstore where I buy all my fresh meat at best price advertised also canned tomatoes and chicken broth. I sometimes buy the salad packs at Costco as they are bigger and cheaper. I buy canned tomatoes and broth when on sale at Costco. I would say I am a very savvy shopper and know my prices before I shop. I do have the executive membership and Costco guarantees that you won’t pay more than regular membership by year end. So if I haven’t spent enough for it to be free they pro rate and I usually get half back if not all. I also shop on line at Costco and am always satisfied with my purchases.
The executive membership is worth it for me because I save hundreds of dollars on my car insurance buying through Costco. Then again the state I live in has strange car insurance rules and most companies have the same price. In another state it might not save me money going with their car insurance.
with the up grade keep in mind the 2% back does not include your gas purchase so we have stayed with the $55.oo membership as far as some of ben;s comments some things do go up and down in price like coffee but my main point is you need to price check all your local stores to see were the best deal is before going out to shop in arizona the price can go up and down daily .
Shipping is not free. It’s built in the price. For heavy items like furniture you might see quite a difference on the website vs in the store.
If your 2% back on executive membership does not cover the cost difference between it and gold star membership you can get the difference between your rebate and the extra cost at the service desk. An honest checker shared this with me a couple years ago.
I found your article interesting and entertaining, thank you for it! So, we are only a couple in a too small apartment so sadly, we suffer for space when we go to Costco. But their produce is amazing – it’s always fresh and delicious. The prices seem about the same as in the local superstores. The packaged goods are definitely much cheaper and we order and buy all of our celebration cakes and desserts from Costco. They are incredible! Some of their seasonal offerings are very nicely priced, and they are usually things you may not find anywhere else. We have an Executive Membership and we have a Costco Amex card, which I think you have to have with an exec membership, not sure about that. You earn 3% on some things, 2% on some things and 1% on everything else that you purchase using the Costco Amex, so we charge everything we can, even rent and household bills. We get a rebate on all of it! This year we got a check for nearly $400 in these earnings! Now that $400 we do have to spend at Costco and it expires after about 6 months.
Did you notice? Costco has increased their prices lately. I’m so surprised at the margins. Eg. Packet of frozen prawns from $17+ to $19.99 now, Box of coconut water (6 packs) from $12.99 to $15.99, packet of pistachios from $17+ to $21 ….. The list goes on… Guess a lot of shoppers are too busy to notice. I will not renew my subscription.
It would seem that somebody used your pictures a year later for their own (crummy, tbh) post with the same subject: http://lifehacker.com/5883360/what-to-buy-at-costco-versus-your-grocery-store
Good article, but $55 membership, so over $2,250 minimum spending to be worth it.
Just the bbq tank refills pay for the membership .At local gas stations $30.00 vs Costco $12.00. Gas savings for car. The way I figure it if Costco can sell it up to 12 cents a liter cheaper,there is something wrong with the other guys.
Want to REALLY save money @ Costco? I tried it las trip and it worked.
Go straight in to the ‘restaurant’ and order a hot dog and a pop. Best price on the planet. Now you are ready to shop for food on your list, and are far less likely to impulse buy because your stomach sez “I’d like some of that”.
I was actually able to walk out after paying just under $100 instead of the usual $200. That my friends is true ‘savings’.
I agree with Bud about eating first. The biggest Costco advantage is their quality. In over twenty years I have never had a problem with anything they sell. Their bananas last longer than their competitors. Where the heck where they when we were raising three kids with hollow legs??
One thing to note about the Executive Membership…if you don’t spend enough in the year to earn your membership fee back, they will give you the difference, so your membership is actually free, and if you spend more, then you’re getting money back. This is what was told to us, but since we shop at Costco for weekly groceries as well as birthday and Christmas gifts, we’ve always spend over the amount, and have never had to put this promise to the test.
Another thing to consider; this test was on groceries only. Look at Costco with a broader perspective. Their prices on electronics, household stuff, building supplies are way cheaper than Future Shop, department stores or Home Depot. We built our house last year and I got bamboo hardwood floor from Costco for less than half what it would’ve cost at a flooring store, or Home Depot. Saved myself over $3,000 on flooring alone. We also bought our toilets, shower unit and lights there too as well as other stuff. Have also bought tools there too.
Add their return policy and it’s probably the safest place to shop.
One major problem with your methodology: You forgot the membership fee. It has to be included as a weighted average into your prices for Costco since your Superstore (I assume) does not have a membership fee. It is a cost of shopping at Costco and should have been included.
My best Costco savings comes on pet goods. The Frontline and Adams flea treatments are much less than ANYWHERE. And during Christmas I bought a 60″ multi leveled cat furniture/scratching post for only $70 which would have cost $199 on sale at pet stores. Cat furniture deal had been on my shopping list for 2 years as I have 4 cats so I was ecstatic.
Don’t eat on weekends before you go as they have lots of samples – of you are comfortable with it.
The also carry Vitamix and Ninja Mixers. I have had and used heavily a Vitamix for 17 years so much so that I had to replace the pitcher. Vitamix will give you a smooth smoothie. Can make soups, ice creams. nut butters. I love it.
Ninja is a courser grind. It’s smoothies are often gritty. But Comes with a food processer function that Vitamix doesn’t have.
But If all you want is a Smoothy maker – look into the Single server blenders like magic bullet – is nice easy and less mess.
I did a comparison of Coscto and my Local Kroger’s as my membership comes up this month. I determined I save over $600 in Coscto with my usual shopping – frzn veg, a tank of gas, fzn chicken breasts, pet supplies, Signature Premium ice cream, Granola bars, etc.
But many things are not under the executive membership and they are not always clear on what is and what isn’t. Be very clear when you buy a service if it is covered or not – gas, food, and many of the auto care services are not included. I got a lot of work done through Costco contractors – new garage doors, home insulation etc, and it was not included in the 2% payback. So I will not be an executive membership again.
Late 2014-15 40% rise in Costco bread prices: $4.99 double loaf whole grain+others replaced with $6.99 single round loaf (Silverdale, Wa.) Bread and Kirkland dog food are staples in our house.
I guess it’s dog food on the table for us and less than !%er Costco members. Too bad. Time to switch to Safeway, Trader Joe’s … for decent bread.
Costco is on average better quality and price, period.
Great article thanks. Regarding the executive membership, I’ve been told by the employee that if by the end of the year you cash backs are less than the amount you paid for the membership, you’ll get that difference in cash back.
Kevan is correct about the Executive Membership – if you don’t get a refund of at least the 50.00 difference in the regular/executive membership they will pay you the difference. This happened to me and they gave me cash at the customer service desk. It has only happened to me once, as every other year I get a larger refund check which pays for my membership. I currently shop for a family of 3 and easily spend enough, I also have a single friend who mostly buys organic and fresh foods and he also gets a refund check every year, so it’s not difficult to do.
The problem with Costco is they try to sell everything in giant packages when I only want a small amount making it significantly cheaper to shop at a grocery store. Say I want a apple I can spend 70 cents on it at the grocery store or I can buy a giant bag of them at Costco for $6.
You are missing the point a bit…take the chicken pricing for example. If you did the same thing with the chicken breast that you did with frozen veggies you would see something similar. Costco’s chicken breast is individually vacuum packed and has very little “back meat” compared to the other stores. The back meat is poor quality and inflates their weight. Everything is specked that way. The gala apples will be larger than what you find in the store, etc…
High quality? I don’t know what these people are talking about. My father uses it for bulk and I shop there when he goes sometimes. I wonder even what he gets out of it. The optical place is not bad if you shop carefully although on food heres what there is – bland pasta (which they love to emphasize at taste tests – talk to the women at the Costco food samples test about food and see what they know about food which is AMAZING, all the ready made meals – I mean in terms of selling that microwave pizza – look at what people put in the cart there and talk to anyone who works there they don’t value quality merchandise I know it I spoke to many of the employees and the shoppers. Look at the fact that you can not buy coffee beans though the ground is OK – you cannot buy loose tea or organic produce (not that I trust it much always) and one or two main commercial brands of products and look at the energy bars in the whole front. They love quantity and thats that. Good for bulk shopping when you want economy goods at a high quantity for reason although quality, I dont think so. I cannot believe some people think thats what they get out of it. Mind you if you want milk, butter, eggs, cheese and certain meats at a good amount its may be good although skip the pasta and microwave foods there and you’ll be OK. That however is 85% of what it is
I enjoyed your article. Except for skipping Costco’s fresh produce, as it’s more expensive. I disagree! I buy all my fresh produce at Costco. Why? Because it lasts! Everything ripens beautifully (especially avocados) and doesn’t go rotten the minute I bring it home, like other grocery store produce. I will drive across town for Costco’s produce because I very rarely have to throw any of it away.
The exec membership is worth it for big families. We got 134 dollars back this year so that is our membership free plus some. I don’t mind paying the little bit more for the fruit/fresh when it is better quality. Maybe it is just the stores around here but I find most of the fruit at other stores last only a few days where as stuff from costco lasts 2 to 3 times longer. We don’t buy everything from costco but fruit, chicken, pork loin and baking stuff is our must haves from costco. 🙂
There is not a store on this planet as GOOD as Costco. There is only one minor problem. The bananas are sprayed with a chemical to keep them from ripping to fast and sometimes they use to much and they won’t ripping at all. I was an original Price Club member 40+ years ago. Costco came from Price Club.
I’ve always been a believer that Costco is overpriced on some things and this proves it, although it would be more meaningful if the calculations were in pounds and gallons, rather than kilograms and liters, especially when the pictures show price/lb for example.
Please enough with the milliliters and kilograms.
We still use lbs and oz’s.
So what if we ate still living in the dark ages? It’s what we use… so please…
Look: … It’s 106 degrees outside and I can’t think straight until I get a new fuze for the fancy new contraption that just got installed. So clever these refrigerated air conditioned installation installers at.
Would ya just stick with lbs and oz’s already? Noone in America can make sense of this website. On the other hand.. Maybe this is a Canadian site…if so…my bad.
Costco is great
it takes only 2500 to break even with the 2% cash back vs regular membership. executive membership is 100 vs regular at 50.
so if you spend more than 2500 a year it’s a better deal, esp. if you buy any big ticket items.
I’ve found that Costco is worth it, but only if you can make up the annual membership fee. It takes us about six months to accrue enough savings to cancel out the cost of membership. Then for the other half of the year we reap the benefits of bulk buying. I don’t think Costco is worth it if you don’t shop there regularly enough to make back your money.
If you don’t save the equivalent of the $55 markup during the year with the upgraded membership, Costco will refund you the fee at the end of the year to make it the price of the general membership.
I think the Executive membership is SO worth it! Even if you don’t earn the $55 difference in a year, they will REFUND what you don’t make up but you have to remember to ask for it! And you can downgrade any time you want if you don’t feel that it’s worth it.
If you’re already spending a lot at Costco, I’d upgrade to the executive. We live out of town, and like to stock up on the essentials, so it’s worth it to us. Plus, if you don’t get back at least what you paid to upgrade, they’ll reimburse you the difference.
Considering the executive membership. You should really see it as 45$ if you’re already paying 55$ for your regular membership. In reality, it pays itself back with less than 2500$ spent. Factor in gas and you’re laughing.
Great write up! Kerry (that’s my name too 🙂
I don’t have to drive far to get to Costco so that isn’t a concern but I shop there for the quality of their produce, both fresh and frozen. Their organic oils, sugar, fruits and veggies also makes for nice additives in my organic skincare and dental products. This being said, if I didn’t split the basic membership fee with my daughter, I would not spend enough to make it worth wile based solely on cost.
Fast forward to 2018. We are located in SE Wisconsin. The prices on many produce items are highly competitive. As an example, fresh strawberries are always the least expensive at our local Costco And they are almost universally of the best quality. Likewise for most fresh berries. During the winter season, Costco is very competitive on citrus fruit, chopped lettuces and a number of other things. There were very few items that they were not at least competitive on. Most of the meats we commonly purchase, chicken breasts, and the beef products we buy, are either USDA Choice or a few USDA Prime, and priced well below most local mega stores, or are within similar price range and are of much better quality. By far, they are much more competitive on fresh orange juice, and without question, most frozen foods such as vegatables and frozen pizzas are of higher quality. We don’t get everything there. But the list of things that Costco isn’t most competitive on grows smaller every day. It has now become more a matter of not wanting to buy items in quantity that there is now way you will ever use before they will spoil, regardless of how good a deal they may be.
I live in south western Ontario
I don’t know where you are but 3 loaves of bread will NOT cost me $14+ at Superstore. Not even close. That’s way too high.
Eggs are $3.99 at Superstore where you live, are you kidding me? I rarely pay over $2.50 at the most and this is May 2019. Those prices make absolutely no sense.
I have a membership at Costco and primarily buy gas, frozen meats/vegis, bathroom tissue/paper towel, sometimes printer paper. I try to shop there at Christmas for some people – to help justify the Cdn $60+tx cost of membership.
Do I think it’s worth the $60 membership fee? That’s a good question – I’d say for me, barely – but I do enjoy their frozen meats/vegis.
Clearly you save more, if you have a large family and naturally eat/shop more. Yet for single people, or couples it’s questionable aside from just enjoying it for what it is – a unique environment to shop for massive items.
I still love Superstore (Loblaws) and will continue to shop there as deals do pop up frequently.
I wanted to leave one more comment: I think the best weapon you have in price comparison shopping is $/unit.
The packaging will always change, for the purpose of catching your attention and/or hiding the fact that they are giving you less, yet charging more. Example – a box of crackers may look taller, yet the width has decreased (total volume decreased), yet the price has increased. I see this all the time with just about any items.
A classic example I’m sure anyone will recognize is toilet paper. Not only do the marketers change the number of rolls (or equivalent value rolls) but the sheets per roll. The only way to effectively compare is to multiply the rolls x sheets per roll, then divide that number into the price of the package. That gives you price/sheet. This assumes that the sheets are of same width/length, which is usually the case.
So, yes – ignore the fancy new packaging and get down to the numbers game – if you really want to be sure you’re stretching your dollar.
A good app is Flipp – that will compare prices from all different flyers (except Costco of course). That will save you much driving around and wasting time/gas.
Just found this article and thought it was interesting. I’m in the UK and have been a Costco member for years now. I usually spend overall the same on the Costco items v supermarket but the quality is generally higher, particularly comparing own brand products, but even on things like washing powder and fabric softener as Costco sell the professional versions which are more concentrated so you actually use less for the same effect. Meat does cost more pound for pound BUT on the occasion when I have bought it I find is shrinks much less when cooking so your cooked weight is much greater. I suspect this is because supermarkets are injecting with water or saline at some point in the production process to make the product heavier!
We are creatures of habit, so I continue being a Costco member – in Canada.
I enjoy buying their rotisserie chickens and frozen berries/veg/chicken cutlets/anti-pasta jars.
Having said that, the membership keeps creeping up which I’m not thrilled about.
Lately – the gas is really not that much less, if at all, than other nearby gas stations. So I’m not exactly seeing savings there.
I continue going to regular grocery stores as well, because usually they aren’t mad houses like these warehouses.
It isn’t worth the price of a membership for us. First, there is the annual fee. Second, they don’t accept our cashback credit card. Also, the loyalty or membership programs at competitors are designed to award points for purchases that can be exchanged for goods. The more your purchase, the greater the points and savings. Bonus points or bonus redemptions are awarded at specific times. Coupons tailored to the purchasing habits of customers are also awarded for items commonly purchased. When price comparing, it is reasonable to include these factors. A clever shopper can maximize the loyalty program to get much lower prices. In our experience, a little thought and planning results in better prices elsewhere more often than not.
Also, many customers buy products at Costco & may buy at a lower price but because they end up throwing out around half the product they actually are losing a lot of money. If you could track how much people throw out I think you’d see a high percentage of customers waste both the product & their money. Most customers are NOT smart when they buy in bulk.
Your logic with the Exec membership is flawed. The Exec membership costs $50 more than the regular membership so if you spent just $2500 a year, you got your extra $50 back and you broke even. If you spent $5000 you get a FREE membership, which is a savings of $50
I wrote this post in 2010.
I paid $5 for a membership at CO-Op 40+ years ago (only once not every year) and get a similar rebate as my neighbour who pays for a membership every year . He also has two senior teens and ours are grown up so only two in our household. He drives about 15 km to shop while I drive about 3 km (probably difference of 3-4 litres of gas eaach time)- savings there plus I don’t drive around the parking lot looking to get close to the store. Saves time and gas money.
Our fruit seems better selected and more is local in season thus probably fresher. Never saw any value in Costco – more hype than reality in my opinion. Even when I compared refund cheques with my neighbour he still believes. Faith I guess.