February 28, 2012

Costco vs. Coupons – What’s cheaper? Costo per unit price list

Is shopping with coupons a better deal than bulk shopping at your favorite warehouse store (Costco, Sams, etc.)? It depends.

The biggest challenge is knowing what you’re paying per ounce or pound. It’s hard to compare costs between the grocery store and Costco when the packaging and quantity is so different. So we scoured our local Costco and recorded nearly 300 prices of common products and put them into a comprehensive Costco Price List broken down per ounce or pound. Use the database to compare apples to apples (literally!) – and you can easily figure out what is the better deal. Prices are updated as of February 27, 2012!

Find Costco Price list here!


Here are some things to consider:

  • Costco does not take manufacturer coupons. They do release store coupons on a regular basis that come in the mail. You may not need the actual coupon to get the discount, it depends on your local store. Also, most manufacturer rebates do not count when you buy the product at a warehouse. We haven’t factored those coupons into the listed price because they change so often.
  • Factor in membership cost. You do need to figure in the annual membership cost of $50. If you have a business or you shop at Costco often, this generally pays for itself pretty quickly
  • Can you use it all? Bulk prices mean bulk quantities. If you are having to throw away expired or moldy food because you can’t eat it in time, than you aren’t saving money.
  • In general, good stock-up store sales will beat Costco prices. If you watch for a really good sale on something at a grocery store (that’s why you follow Queen Bee right?) – chances are it’s a better deal than Costco.
  • On the other hand, time is money. If you don’t have time to clip coupons one week, or you don’t even have time to look at the sale ads, maybe Costco is the way to go. You can count on a decent price and you don’t have to think about it. I think this is when we use Costco the most (and why most people do) – when I haven’t planned well enough for a party or I need a bunch of something and can’t wait for a good stock-up sale – then we head to Costco.

I’ll add that I LOVE Costco and I’ve had a membership there for years and don’t plan to stop anytime soon. I love the company, it has great products and you honestly cannot beat it’s customer service. I shop at Costco fairly often, especially for certain things.

I’d love to hear what you think about my Costco price list and warehouse shopping in general. Please, leave a comment!

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  1. You. Are. Awesome. Thank you, and yes, an app would be great! One that you could put other stores prices in too if they are better.

  2. Roxanne Karr says:

    Hi Heather, I’m just learning how to live frugally after a medical condition left me out of work, and my husband was just laid off from his job of many years… I love your site and will be using it extensively! I did notice that you do not mention WalMart pricing at all… We have a SuperCenter WalMart here, and although I do not agree with their business practices, I have to try and make my dollar stretch as far as I can. I have found WalMart’s prices to be better than Costco for many items. Just wondered if anyone else out there has info I could learn from?

  3. Patty Mets says:

    Hey Heather! Thanks so much for doing this. I’m a newlywed and new to all this couponing, Costco, etc. We live in a big city so this has been really helpful because I have to carefully plan my trips before I leave the house since the discount stores are all far away and I have to catch rides with friends, etc.

    Do you know if Target brand toliet paper/paper towels or Kirkland brand tend to be a better deal? I am having SUCH a hard time figuring out what’s a better deal in these categories because they are all different sizes, shapes, rolls, thicknesses, etc.

    Thanks so much! Have a wonderful weekend.

  4. Thank you for doing this! I considered doing this myself… but you just saved me SO much time. Thank you, thank you!

  5. My goal last may was to start couponing and drop Costco. The result was my car getting paid off nearly three years early. Costco, for us, meant buying a ton of stuff we didn’t need. I just wish I would’ve done it sooner.

  6. Mari Bochenek says:

    just a note, Heather. You’ve got Kirkland AAA batteries listed by the pound. Thanks for this great info!!!

    • I am always interested in diaper prices, and FYI, when Costco has coupons for Huggies, it is for $6.00 off, and for Kirklands, $5 off. Usually, Amazon lowers its prices when Costco is running its sales, so Costco rarely beats Amazon on diaper prices.

      Thank you so much for the hard work you did in accumulating this list.

  7. I’m not sure if you are aware but not all Costcos charge the same prices. Prices are set by the store’s manager. There can be quite a difference between locations. It’s something we found out about 5 years ago. I asked my son to pick up something because he was close to the Kirkland Costco. It was $5 higher than the Southcenter location. When I questioned the manager at the Southcenter store, he told me that the manager sets the prices at each location based on what they thing the traffic will bear. So YMMV on almost everything.

  8. Dawn R Vensel says:

    Thank you so much for this! I have only been couponing for about 3 months. Before I was ALWAYS shopping at Costco. About a month ago I put together an excel list with a few of the items that I purchased all the time, (toilet paper, ziploc bags, milk, capri sun, yogurt) but found it was cheaper to use coupons. I will DEFINITELY be using this list!

  9. Wow! What an amazing list!
    I’m glad to see the comparison with the batteries.
    I always get our batteries at Costco because we go through them so quickly.

  10. Side note: Excel is not the only option for opening the spreadsheet. My work uses OpenOffice and LibreOffice, and they are AWESOME!! (I guess they’re the FREE competition to Microsoft, written by some programmers who knew they could do it better).
    Just thought I’d share that savings tip 🙂

  11. Thank you so much for all of your hard work in creating the spreadsheet! Costco should hire you:)

    Thanks again!

  12. Trevor Livingston says:

    Concerning the membership fees, we upgraded to the executive about 4 years ago and have always gotten more back than the $50 difference from the regular membership, this year we finally broke the $100 mark at $104 and change more than paying for the whole executive membership. now we only have to factore in actually prices 🙂

  13. This is AWESOME, thank you. I’m sure this was a tremendous amount of work. Now I know that organic frozen veggies and chicken broth are definitely cheaper at Costco than Trader Joe’s – which is wear I traditionally buy them.

  14. First off I wanted to say thank you for sharing this list. I referred my blog readers to your post & list back when you first posted it and I referenced it today when I was trying to decide if the upcoming drugstore deals for Head & Shoulders were good deals. I didn’t see that price in your spreadsheet so we went to CostCo to find out. FWIW – the deal at Walgreens (2) 27oz bottles for $9 is a good deal… the deal at CVS, not so much.

    I wanted to give you a few prices I checked while I was there on things we have typically purchased at CostCo (I haven’t checked your list to see if any of my others were included).

    Head & Shoulders 40oz bottle for $9.88
    Dove beauty bars (go fresh Cool Moisture) 14 bars for $12.70
    Ground beef $2.59/lb (one thing I like is that they pre-patty /divide it for you with no extra charge).
    Pork Loin (Swift) $3.79/lb (comes already divided into 4 small pork loins within the package)

  15. I live 4 mins from Costco and we buy a few staples there, bread, milk and almond milk. These USUALLY have a lower shelf price then my local stores. Occasionally I can get better deals at the grocery store, but since you can only “stock” so much of these items I am thankful for my Costco membership. As a note, my mom lives with us so we share a membership which cuts our costs also. Also, DH keeps careful track of gas mileage and has found that we get better mpg with Costco gas. He figures that the savings is about two tankfuls a year, more than enough to pay for our membership.

  16. In addition to what others have mentioned, we enjoy the benefits of CostCo when we’re traveling. We usually rent a home or apartment when on vacation, and our first stop off the plane is often CostCo. I love my coupons, but the binder is too bulky and heavy to take on vacaton.

  17. Awesome worksheet. Thank you for sharing it! We are Costco shoppers but I’m also a couponer. There are definitely some key items that I get at Costco, mostly for the bulk qty nature more than price.

    The S&W beans and veggies are certainly a decent price at Costco and we go through so many cans of beans here that I can’t possibly “stock up” enough with the infrequent sales that go below the Costco price.

    We also love the giant bag of Tillamook shredded cheddar. There just isn’t anything comparable in qty at the grocery, and the Tillamook is so much yummier than store brands. I typically freeze half of the bag and my cheese loving family gets through it all (it lasts much longer than stated on the package…not sure why they limit it to a few days!)

    My final favorite Costco purchase is the Jimmy Deans fully cooked turkey sausage links, not included in your list but one to check out. At the grocery these come in packs of 8 or 10 little sausages. My kids plough through 12-18 links in one breakfast. The 48 pack at Costco is vastly cheaper, and I’ve never seen a decent sale at the groceries to compete.

    For us the Costco membership really pays as long as we are discriminating in our purchases.

  18. We have cut back on what we buy at CostCo in some ways, there were a handful of items we regularly bought there that I’ve since realized I can get cheaper matching sales and coupons. We still find the membership worth it for several reasons:

    1. Gas
    2. Glasses
    3. Electronics – we saved about $40 on my husband’s “cheap” cell phone by buying it there (over the after-rebate price at the cell phone store).
    4. Prescriptions – I just discovered this one in the last few weeks and found out that prescriptions are 50-75% cheaper there. I have to pay OOP for my prescriptions and then get reimbursed so it’s well worth it for us, for someone who has a flat co-pay it may not be a big deal.

    There are a few other small items we buy there like plastic spoons/forks, toilet paper (their brand is the ONE brand we’ve managed to agree on in my house), and Splenda (their brand over the real thing – much cheaper).

    Thanks for posting this database, as it will help to better shop & compare on a variety of items. I just posted a more fleshed out thought on our CostCo savings on my blog – http://moneysavingmode.blogspot.com/2011/01/costco-savings-vs-coupons-elsewhere.html as I realized this was the second time tonight I’d posted something along these lines as a reply to someone else’s blog.

  19. Thank you so much for providing this! I, too, love Costco…but I was thrilled when my last monthly Costco trip was $130 less than my typical Costco budget! I am new to couponing, and this was an exciting experience to be stocked up on so many items that my list was shaved considerably. Thanks for all your hard work helping us save money.

  20. Heather, thanks SO much for the spreadsheet. This will help immensely when we work on our church’s 12 Days for Christmas project where we provide groceries for the 12 days of winter break for 25 families in Tacoma. Will you be updating it periodically?

    This was a huge amount of work for you and we appreciate it!!

  21. Heather F. says:

    Wow! That must have been a lot of work! Thank you so much for doing that! I have been wondering lately about how this all breaks down and it’s exciting (sadly?) to see it all laid out on paper! Love it! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  22. http://www.facebook.com/DelightfulWhimsy?ref=ts

    Your site has just been posted to our FB page…. thanks for the great article, we hope our family and friends will benefit from this.

  23. BTW::: You are a New Blog for Us… we are subscribing “today”

    take care!

  24. I experimented with this idea about 5 years ago and I’ve found that I do better with my coupons combined with the sales at my local grocery store.

    Costco is great for movie tickets, electronics, housewares, gifts and some clothing items. If we are having a large family gathering, then I’m okay with buying my meat and other items from them as well (cheese, pastas, fruits and vegies) – depending on the menu I’ve created for the family gathering.

    I prefer BevMo for my wine.

    For the family that works full time, Costco is perfect.
    For me, the stay at home mom, who works only part time and is concerned with our blended family of a total of 5 kids… Coupons and Sales are the way for us.

    I believe this is a “personal” choice and has to do with the time you have alloted to do shopping.

    The week before Christmas I entered the “Tuesday Morning Store” 45 minutes before closing to return a robe that did not fit my 17 year old daughter. I went on the day they offered 1/2 off all yellow tagged clearance items and was able to buy 5 shrits, 2 sweaters and one pull over wind breaker jacket for my husband. All top brands like Polo, Haggar and Chaps, sizes large and extra large, my checkout cost was approximately $62.00 for $359.00 worth of top quality men’s clothing in great colors. “Merry Christmas Daddy!”

    I really don’t have a lot of time to “hunt” the sales and you will rarely find me out on a Black Friday sale. But I will take the time to go through the “clearance” sections online of my favorite stores and then hunt for a free shipping code. You will find me reading my blogs, like The Coupon Project, …. which takes about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes every morning.. I read through about 11 blogs, choose what I need (printed coupon, buying online)… get it done asap and “delete” the email and move on to “My Day” with my 3 year old and teenagers :)… By the time my husband is off work, done with bible study and home.. I always have great news to share with him on how WE saved our money today!

    Thank You for taking YOUR time to write this blog.
    YOU make OUR lives “happy” and we dont feel the contraints of a very poor economy like we used too…

    Tere in Northern California

    • Tere – Thanks for you nice note. I agree with everything you said. Angela over at the Coupon Project does rock, doesn’t she?! I am glad you are finding the bargain blogs are saving you money – makes us feel good about all the work we pour into them. Take care and happy saving!

  25. Heather – I love you. That is all. 🙂

    Seriously, thank you SO very much for doing this…its something that I keep MEANING to do, and now I don’t have to!!

  26. THANK YOU, thank you, THANK YOU for doing this! I am new to the coupon game but am enjoying it so far… we live 2 minutes from our Costco in Oregon and won’t give it up because we buy all of our gas there. Between the ease, the rebate (we use the AmEx and pay it off each month), and the fact that my daughter likes all of the samples I know we’ll still shop there…I was JUST jotting down prices the other day wishing that someone had already done it for me! One more time: THANK YOU!

  27. I’m not inclined to mess with coupons (and a lot of the electronic ones won’t print on our computers), and I like to buy as much as possible organic, anyway, so my grocery shopping is usually spread between Costco and Trader Joe’s, with an occasional venture into a regular grocery store to shop meat sales. Soon, we’ll get a freezer set up again & buy a quarter of a beef, so I don’t have to do that much, either.

  28. THANK YOU! As my fiance and I recently decided to cancel costco as I’m finding everything cheaper on coupon – its great to have this list – its my ‘stock up price’ if it falls below costco I consider it good (except yoplait – seriously? 75 cents?)

    Thank you thank you!

    • That is not correct… I always buy yogurt there when I need some and there are no sales because it is cheaper than grocery stores. $10.79/24 is $0.45 a piece. It is even cheaper now with the current coupon for $3.50 off making it $0.30 a piece. Store sales are usually better, but it is not always on sale when I need it

  29. Celia Husmann says:

    Oh yes, don’t forget Cash & Carry (for those who live nearby)! I just LOVE that place!

  30. Celia Husmann says:

    Thank you Heather! A couple of things to consider for everyone… you can’t price TIME and ENERGY! Sanity is important and it might make sense to get everything in one place. At least for me right now, that is the case! 😉

  31. Great spreadsheet, I just wished it wasn’t locked, i would love to be able to hide what I don’t buy. For example…baby items. I haven’t had kids in diapers for years! =)

    Thank you, Heather for all your hard work!

  32. I can’t seem to get the Excel to open properly…help!

  33. Love it! Thanks for the comprehensive list. I definitely don’t buy as much as I used to…but with the Executive Club rebate, It’s still worth it. We bought a camera there last year, so the memebership will pay off. I still like their toilet paper. It’s too much effort to chase the deals on toilet paper…after all who can truly figure out price per square foot and 1 vs two ply etc. I like it, I just don’t coupon for toilet paper. And their dried fruit is cheap.

  34. I use coupons and have a Sam’s club membership. I have a spreadsheet of Sam’s prices vs my local groceries store so I know what the unit price is at each one. I can easily look at the ads and my spreadsheet to see if it’s cheaper for me to use my coupons at the local grocery store w their sale prices or Sams. I love saving money!!

  35. A friend told me that people often give her Costco gift cards which allow her to shop without having to have a membership. Haven’t actually tried this, but it could work out well as long as you had a friend to get you the gift card. Personally the rebate I get between the Executive Membership and using my Amex more than pays for the membership. Just a thought. But you are right – some things are a better deal elsewhere. Thanks for the spreadsheet!

  36. Really great work, Heather! Have you ever thought about developing something like this into an iPhone app?

  37. I had a Costco membership for quite a long time, but discontinued it because I hated how crowded our store always was. The thing I miss most about Costco, is that you CAN buy in bulk, where as a store might say limit 10 cans. That limit means if I want more for my stockpile, I have to make more then one trip to the store (or do more then one transaction if the store will let me). I enjoyed going there for lunch with my kids, and sometimes they had really great snack/party items. But the overall chaos with how crowded our store constantly was, is not worth it to me. If they ever had another store, where it was not quite as busy, I would go again. Thank you for this post though, it’s nice to be able to compare the differences.


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