8 Things You Probably Shouldn’t Be Buying from Costco
Bigger isn't always better! Here's what not to buy at Costco if you want to avoid waste.
What not to buy at Costco
If you’re a Costco cardholder, you probably spend more time thinking about what you’ll buy at the store than what not to buy at Costco. And we get it: When it comes to great deals, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better retailer than this big-box store. Even if you’re not privy to the sort of Costco tips frequent shoppers share, it’s still a great place to score deals on things you can’t buy anywhere else.
Not only will you find deals on premium brands, but according to RetailMeNot shopping expert Kristin McGrath, Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand has earned its large following by selling high-quality products at affordable prices. Costco shopping perks don’t stop at the product selection, though. McGrath points out that “Costco is known for its extended warranty and generous return programs—there’s a lot of consumer trust there.”
While we could go on (and on) about all the reasons you should invest in a Costco membership, it’s not always the best place to find what you’re looking for. In fact, there are a handful of items you probably shouldn’t buy at this warehouse store. If you’re trying to figure out how to save money, McGrath says that focusing on paper products and nonperishables will get the best bang for your buck. “You get your bulk discount, and you don’t have to worry about wasting anything,” she says. As for what not to buy at Costco? Read on to find out which products McGrath would pass up.
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Fresh fruits and vegetables
Shoppers love Costco for bulk goods at great prices, but McGrath doesn’t typically recommend shoppers purchase items in bulk that can go bad quickly. Fruits and veggies are a prime example of what not to buy at Costco. “Unless you’re buying them for an event or party, where they’ll get eaten immediately, be cautious about stocking up on them,” she advises.
If there’s one perishable item you definitely should be buying, it’s the wildly popular Costco rotisserie chicken. You’ll have better luck eating the whole thing before it goes bad, especially if you reuse the meat for lunches and dinners later in the week. Rotisserie-chicken-topped salad, anyone?
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Bread is another item McGrath discourages shoppers from purchasing in bulk unless they can eat it before the expiration date. That doesn’t give you much time. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), commercially baked breads and rolls can be stored at room temperature for two to four days and in the refrigerator for seven to 14 days. And since bread can go moldy, it’s definitely one of those foods you’ll want to toss after their expiration date.
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Baked goods and pastries
If you’ve never had Costco muffins, drop everything and go grab some. These delicious Costco bakery treats are huge, cakey and only $10. The catch? They’re sold in packs of two, with each pack containing six oversized muffins. So unless you’re going to devour all 12 muffins before their expiration—like bread, they last about four days at room temperature—McGrath doesn’t advise buying in bulk.
While this is an example of what not to buy at Costco, there’s a workaround if you just can’t resist adding a few of Costco’s bakery items to your cart. Certain items, including the muffins and croissants, freeze quite well. Just follow these tips for freezing pretty much any type of food.
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Did you know that flour can go bad if it’s not used within a year? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. According to McGrath, “flour is just one of the many items that can go bad if not bought and used in time that shoppers don’t typically think about in the moment.”
So although $11.99 for a 25-pound bag of flour sounds like a great deal, you’ll likely end up tossing most of it. And you should toss it—according to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, porous foods like flour can be contaminated below the surface, so you’ll need to trash the whole bag even if you see mold only on top. (In case you’re thinking I’ll just grab some eggs at Costco and set my sights on baking one of these days, know that eggs last for about three to five weeks in the fridge.)
You can find huge savings on spices at Costco. For example, you could spend upward of $1.90 per ounce of ground cumin at your local grocery store, but only 57 cents per ounce at Costco. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you’re likely to keep these pantry items for too long—well past their expiration dates. The fact is, you’re more likely to use up a 2-ounce jar from your grocery store before it expires than you are to use a 14-ounce container from Costco. While ground spices last for two to three years at room temperature, most shoppers won’t finish a Costco-size jar in time, says McGrath.
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While there are plenty of nonperishable foods with a long shelf life, cooking oil is not one of them. In other words, leave those 3-quart double-packs of canola oil and olive oil right where you found them, because cooking oil is another product McGrath discourages people from buying in bulk. According to the USDA, you should keep olive and vegetable oils in the pantry for only four months.
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Cold and flu season is upon us, which means there are certain medicines you’ll want to have handy. And there’s no doubt that you’ll get a great deal on over-the-counter medications at Costco, especially if you buy the Kirkland brand. But while there are a bunch of items you’re probably not buying from Costco when you should, from gas to glasses to mixed nuts, meds are another example of what not to buy at Costco.
According to McGrath, there’s a good chance you won’t use up the medication before the expiration date. Remember, a good deal isn’t so great if you’re wasting half the product—or more.
This one may come as a shock—many shoppers think of bulk containers of soda as one of the more practical Costco membership perks. But as personal finance site Kiplinger notes, supermarkets often sell soda below cost to entice shoppers into the store. The way they see it, the money they lose on soda is worth it, and they easily make up for it with everything else shoppers buy. So instead of buying soda in bulk at Costco, buy it in bulk at the grocery store when it’s on sale. Expect deep sales around the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Superbowl Sunday. Additionally, check your local Sunday paper for coupons, and don’t miss any two-for-one deals happening in the store.
About the expert
- Kristin McGrath is editor of The Real Deal by RetailMeNot. She has spent the past six years honing her deal-hunting abilities in order to bring readers the best products, deals and saving hacks.
- USDA: “How long can I store bread?”
- USDA: “Molds on Food: Are They Dangerous?”
- USDA: “How long can you store eggs in the refrigerator?”
- USDA: “Will spices used beyond their expiration date be safe?”
- USDA: “What is the expiration date for cooking oil?”
- Kiplinger: “12 Things You Should Never Buy in Bulk”