There are many things I always buy at Costco. But there are also things I never buy there.
Not everything the warehouse club sells is a bulk bargain.
I’m not hating on Costco, though. I’m just using the beloved retailer to underscore the potentially high cost of being loyal to a store and failing to comparison shop.
I’m talking about not just comparing the price of one brand with another sold at the same store, but comparing the prices of one retailer with those of another.
I don’t do this unit-based price research for everything I buy, but I do it for items my household uses routinely. You’d be surprised by what you learn this way.
To illustrate, I’ve examined several types of purchases that I never make at Costco. Read on to find out where I do buy these items and why.
Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat, Special K — whatever cereal brand your household fancies, you’ll likely find it at Costco for less than it normally costs elsewhere. But that assumes you’re above generic and house brands.
Chains like Walmart and Aldi sell their own versions of a lot of big-name cereals. I’ve done the math on several that my household eats and always found them cheaper than Costco’s options.
Aldi has even better cereal prices than Walmart, in my experience, although I’ve only ever found generic Grape Nuts at Walmart. (The retailer’s Great Value brand sells them as “Crunchy Nuggets.”)
Wondering what else you might be overlooking at Aldi? Check out “My 7 Favorite Things to Buy at Aldi.”
2. Sandwich, storage and freezer bags
We use a lot of resealable clear plastic bags in my house, so it bothers me to reach for a box at the store and not know that it’s the cheapest option that’ll do the job.
I’ve done the math on several types and sizes of these bags. Walmart’s Great Value brand always wins.
As with cereal, part of the problem with buying plastic sandwich and storage bags at Costco is that my store only carries one brand, which is a brand name: Ziploc.
Ziploc sandwich bags from my Costco, for example, cost roughly 10% more than Walmart’s Great Value version the last time I compared prices. And the price difference widens for larger and fancier bags.
3. Manual toothbrushes
To be fair, not buying toothbrushes at Costco isn’t so much about price as it is about selection, and I do buy electric toothbrush heads at Costco because of their price.
I prefer manual toothbrushes that carry the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance, though. I’ve not seen them at my Costco store, so I usually order them online or grab them at Walmart or Target.
4. Trash bags
One of my household’s trash cans requires oversized trash bags — roughly 25- to 30-gallon bags — preferably with drawstrings.
The last time I checked, the cheapest option that fit the bill at Costco (33-gallon bags by Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand) was 2.5 cents more per bag than the cheapest option at Aldi (30-gallon bags by Aldi’s Boulder brand). That translated to Aldi’s bags costing 13% less.
For a list of Kirkland Signature products that are worth considering, check out “11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco.”
5. Shave gel
Shave gel, like manual toothbrushes, is something I never buy at Costco due to a combination of selection and price.
My sensitive skin prefers shave gel or cream with as little fragrance as possible. The most affordable such option I’ve found is the Therapeutic Shave Gel from Target’s Up & Up brand. It lists fragrance as its second-to-last ingredient and costs me $2.69 at most. (By federal law, cosmetics ingredients must be listed in descending order of prominence, meaning listed in an order that reflects how prevalent they are, with the ingredients that constitute the largest percentages of a product listed first.)
Suave’s Daily Clarifying Shampoo is about as basic as shampoo gets, but it does the job just fine for me. Not to mention I can buy a 30-ounce bottle for no more than $2 at Walmart.
Good luck matching that price at Costco. Even the chain’s house-brand option, Kirkland Signature Moisture Shampoo, costs several times as much for a 33.8-ounce bottle.
To be fair, though, I do buy conditioner at Costco.
My little household can’t always use up a 12-pound bag of rice or even a 5-pound bag of quinoa before its expiration date passes, so we don’t risk wasting food or money by buying it from a warehouse club.
The bigger rice eater of the household grabs that grain wherever is convenient for him, while I tend to buy quinoa at Walmart — which carries a house brand of organic quinoa.
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