Help us appreciate the magic of Costco
October 27, 2008 3:20 AM   Subscribe

What do you buy at BJ's/Costco etc.?

We got a Costco membership this weekend, thinking it would be a great idea for formula and diapers and other items, then discovered they don't carry the brand of formula we use, or the brand of diapers we use, or the toilet paper we use....etc. I didn't know--I thought they carried everything the supermarket carries. I guess it would have to be the size of a football stadium, but I mean, it kind of is.

We went ahead and got less-favored diapers and toilet paper.

I'm fairly certain this is the lamest paragraph I've ever written on the internet, which is saying something: I don't like most toilet paper brands because even though the price/sheet counts are competitive, you use more or less depending on the quality of the sheets, so I always buy Quilted Northern. And I didn't like the diapers, (Huggies) which the baby's grandmother has gotten for us and we don't think are as absorbent or fit as well as Pampers Swaddlers. Since I'm disclosing all our household brand preferences, the formula we buy is Good Start. They only have Enfamil, Similac, and Kirkland.

So, we spent $50. Let's say it costs $5 in gas money to go down there. We need to recoup the costs of the gas money each time we go, plus chip away at the $50 we spent without going down there every week. We can get there once a month. So far, even with buying name brands that we don't generally buy, it seems like the savings aren't that great (we figured out that the diapers we normally get from Target cost like a fraction of a penny more than the ones we bought from Costco, so maybe we saved a dollar or two, but we spent that in gas money getting down there.)

So....what are the best values at Costco for a family with two adults and a baby?
posted by A Terrible Llama to Shopping (57 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how old baby llama is, but I have two toddlers. We buy craisins and goldfish from Costco, a staple toddler snack. We buy boca burgers, which are significantly cheaper than at the grocery store. I eat a 7 grain, whole wheat sandwich bread from Costco that weighs about 3 lbs/ loaf and has no HFCS or hydrogenated anything.

Otherwise, we get bags of frozen chicken breast from there too.

I agree about Huggies. They suck. As our children got older, we started using Kirkland diapers (in sizes 4 and 5). They aren't bad. But stick with the Pampers for little babies. We use kirkland baby wipes.

I know this is disjointed but I should have left for work 5 minutes ago!
posted by beachhead2 at 3:31 AM on October 27, 2008

Trash bags. They have the industrial "oil drum" size that businesses use. They're bigger, tougher and much cheaper than grocery-store bags.

Canned/long-lasting foods in larger sizes (not just greater quantities) than usual. Spices. Cereal.

A lot of the "office supplies" are good for home and (older) kids: white boards, printer paper, those packs of 300 markers.
posted by rokusan at 3:39 AM on October 27, 2008

Have you tried asking for your membership fees back? Tell them you were dissatisfied with the selection. In the event that does not work, we save a lot of money on claritan reditabs, bottled water, soy sauce, paper products,cat food and occasionally ink for our printers.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:52 AM on October 27, 2008

For me: Tuna, gas, coffee, benadryl, contact lens solution, paper towels, trash bags, TP and occasionally milk. I don't mind the kirkland brand TP, other than that each roll is individually wrapped. That's annoying. The gas savings pays for the card.

For work: Coffee, disposable silverware, paper plates and cups, paper towel, granola bars, mixed nuts, string cheese. (Snacks for the group of teenagers I work with.)
posted by Stewriffic at 4:03 AM on October 27, 2008

Here's the stuff I buy over and over and Costco:

Kirkland kitchen trash bags
Hoodies peanuts in the shell (5 lbs for about $5)
Innkeeper's bread
ZipLock bags
Costco gourmet cookies
Bottled water
Almond butter
Herbal supplements
Potato Chips
Pirate Booty, which is new
Clothes - Socks, underwear, business casual wear

I buy these items because they're exceptional values or because I can't find them elsewhere (e.g. Innkeeper's bread). You may not find the best price on an item at Costco, but I don't think they gouge you on anything.

I think you'll find that the more frequently you go to Costco the more you'll enjoy the experience. I go so often, I know what to look at. I only go in the back if I need water and I always to through the bakery section.
posted by qsysopr at 4:11 AM on October 27, 2008

I actually tend to do a lot of my grocery shopping at Costco, as it's pretty competative with the other places around me. I live with my girlfriend, so there's only two of us, so a lot of their stuff is too big, but a lot of it works just fine.

My list:
Romaine lettuce
Giant bag o' onions (lasts forever)
Beer (decent selection, depends on what they have - I'm kind of a snob)
Wine (pretty awesome selection, especially stuff that scored high in wine spectator for under 10 bucks)
Canned goods (diced tomatoes in juice, Rotel, refried beans)
Fresh chicken breasts (freeze the ones I don't use, and they're individually wrapped, so I just throw them in the freeze and use one package at a time)
Pork loin - in fact, all of their meets tend to be pretty good.
Hand soap
Toilet Paper

There's probably more - in fact, I'm sure there is. Then again, it's equidistant to both Costco and our grocery store (under 5 minutes). A lot of the stuff will last forever, either frozen or just by its nature, and it gives you a chance to buy a bunch. We don't care about name brands - we just know that we'll never need hand soap again, at least in a year or two, and we got that for $7.

It's about looking at your routine, and figuring out what Costco has that you can supplement your grocery routine with. If you are super duper savvy when you normally grocery shop (visit multiple stores, etc.), then it's probably not worth it, but if you're the average person that goes to a single store to get their stuff, then Costco will save you quite a bit eventually.

Long answer to a simple question. Hope something helped!
posted by SNWidget at 4:37 AM on October 27, 2008

OH! And gas. It's about 10 cents cheaper than the stations around it, and I drive a pick-up truck (lol, Texas stereotypes), so that's easily going to build up to some large savings.
posted by SNWidget at 4:38 AM on October 27, 2008

You can get pretty good deals on car/homeowners insurance through Costco (with Ameriprise).
posted by brandman at 4:51 AM on October 27, 2008

You'll find more about the magic of Costco in this previous thread.

One way to earn back your annual fee is by using the Costco AMEX cash-rebate card (free w/ your costco membership). Effectively knocks 3% off your gas purchases, 3% off restaurants, 2% off travel, and 1% off everything else (including Costco).

The thing Costco does best for me is lunchmeat. The quality of a couple pounds of sliced tavern ham is miles above what I get from the local Acme (chain grocer), and it's $1.59/lb compared to $2.79 or so elsewhere.

You might find more opportunities for getting deals at Costco, and need to go there less frequently, by getting a small chest freezer. These are on craigslist all the time for $50 or so. I know, more $$ down the Costco rathole but you guys are a young family and you'll earn this back pretty quickly.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:19 AM on October 27, 2008

If you have to buy tires in the next year, the savings will probably cover the membership cost (also no labor charge if I remember correctly).
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:19 AM on October 27, 2008

We get our propane tanks for our gas grill refilled at BJ's.

Also we buy:
Paper towels
Bottled water
Snyder's pretzels
Chicken breasts

They have some good stuff in the bakery section, too.
posted by LightMayo at 5:59 AM on October 27, 2008

I usually buy:

toilet paper/paper towels
giant blocks of tilamook extra sharp cheddar
mission tortillas
cases of canned stuff: organic diced tomatoes, soup, etc
giant bottles of taco seasoning

The big one is gas -- it's several cents a gallon cheaper than other nearby stations. I replaced my tires for a very reasonable price, too.

I don't get produce because my husband and I can't eat it all before it goes bad.

Oh, and I second stupidsexyFlanders' advice re: chest freezer. I actually got one on freecycle and I don't know what I would do without it.
posted by sugarfish at 6:05 AM on October 27, 2008

costco has really good prices for tires, enough so that you should more than break even with the cost of the membership even if you never manage to make it to costco again that year (which is more or less what I did).
posted by advil at 6:10 AM on October 27, 2008

Frozen meatballs are the item that triggers the actual Costco run; I'll make do until I'm out of that specific thing. I usually also pick up pasta sauce, canned green beans, boxes of chicken broth, and frozen edamame (they have a big bag with several smaller bags inside, so they don't get freezer-burned). When I had a second freezer, I kept several boxes of frozen hors d'oeuvres on hand for emergency party supplies.

The selection varies, but they tend to have decent deals on bedding and clothing basics. They usually have the best brick-and-mortar deals on batteries, and also drugs. I haven't checked to see if they carry generic Zyrtec, but I know it's the best deal going for Claritin.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:16 AM on October 27, 2008

After Julia Child moved to California in her later years, she bought all her beef at Costco. The meat I've gotten there has been quite nice.

Flour, sugar, and other staples. Pasta. Frozen veggies and fruit. Frozen chicken breasts for "OMG it's dinnertime" nights. Soft drinks. Paper towels. What everyone else said, basically - Costco is a pantry/freezer-stocking dream, and I need to join up again.
posted by catlet at 6:31 AM on October 27, 2008

We get some prescriptions filled at Costco. One in particular is significantly cheaper than it would be at our local chain drug store. We also regularly buy:

paper towels
frozen chicken breasts
bottled water
organic whole milk for our toddler
wine (there are some good deals on excellent bottles)
garbage bags
books & dvds for Christmas presents
frozen burgers
batteries - lots of batteries

Also when you're shopping there, pick up a rotisserie chicken or a slab of their awesome ribs, ready to eat. We like the samples - you can sometimes make lunch from the stuff they have to taste.

There's always something different there. It's sort of fun to go and just look around. Some of what I buy there may not be a lot cheaper than in the grocery store on sale, but the convenience of always having paper towels, garbage bags, and toilet paper stashed in the pantry is worth a lot.
posted by Kangaroo at 6:33 AM on October 27, 2008

You can get two whole chickens for like $8 at my Costco -- that's a steal! Now all you need is a Coke and two pieces of white toast and you'll be in business.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 6:56 AM on October 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

nthing paper towels, presuming you're not brand picky.
If the toddler eats it, invest in a big old tub of peanut butter.
Razor blades never go bad...
Price-check meats, compare to your normal store: I recently found the beauty of ground turkey and how CHEAP it is in bulk compared to my supermarket
posted by knile at 7:09 AM on October 27, 2008

Organic milk
Orowheat whole wheat bread
cheeses - fresh mozzerella, cabot low fat snack cheese
tomatoes - good year round
hearts of romaine - last a long time and tasty
paper towels/tp/kleenex/napkins
e v olive oil
party food
bottled water
dish/laundry detergent
beef jerky/nuts
free samples
posted by mgogol at 7:19 AM on October 27, 2008

Things we get at costco:

(we stock up when they have coupons too)

Their brand diapers and wipes... We prefer them to others.
My engagement ring
Toilet paper
paper towels
dog food (best buy for quality dog food)
wine & beer
birthday cakes and cupcakes (ohmigod thier cupcakes!)
spices are an awesome buy there
food for entertaining
big ticket items (TV, washer & dryer), camera, bathroom vanity
Gift baskets online.
their cooked chickens- big -great buy
almost all of their cleaning products (they often gt best buy or even mest in general in consumer reports)
dress clothes for hubby- great quailty dress pants and shirts
photo paper
maybe wedding flowers when the time comes
and when the time comes- my casket!
and lots online

Their return policy makes it worth it even if they are a little more expensive sometimes. No restockin and on most items they take bback when ever no questions asked
posted by beccaj at 7:56 AM on October 27, 2008

Canadian selection might be a bit different than in the US but:

Paper Towels
Baby Wipes
Body Wash
Detergents (laundry and dishwasher)
Bakery items (cookies for the office, bread for home)
Soy Milk

Costco is also fantastic for party planning. Huge, cheap fruit and veg trays, lots of quick things to toss in the oven like potstickers and samosas.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:57 AM on October 27, 2008

Oh, hit the website too. Got our bedroom furniture and elliptical trainer there!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:58 AM on October 27, 2008

I have never successfully "linked" but here's a try at one because here's my baby with a COSTCO cupcake. HUGE cupcakes - HUGE I say and i think 20 for 15.99 in New Hampshire in the US
posted by beccaj at 8:02 AM on October 27, 2008

They have a satisfaction guarantee. You can cancel your membership and get a full refund.
posted by jclovebrew at 8:21 AM on October 27, 2008

Echoing JohnnyGunn, I want to emphasize that if your goal here is damage control (recouping the $50 you already "wasted" on a Costco membership), then you can just ask for your membership fee back. I'm pretty sure it's Costco policy that if at any point you're unsatisfied with your membership, you can get a full refund.

That being said, I think Costco is awesome and it saves my tiny "family" (of two people) plenty of money every year. Gallons of milk are very cheap; canned goods are also cheap. The biggest savings might be on medicines: I got a bottle of 300 Zyrtec for $15 the other week, which is the same price I paid for 30 at Walgreens. So basically, if you take Zyrtec, that right there will recoup your membership cost in... four months?
posted by pluckemin at 8:27 AM on October 27, 2008

This summer, they had awesome chocolate-covered pomegranate ice cream popsicles/banjos.

I've bought the following from Costco:

Gas (usually the cheapest gas around) My tv (slightly less than elsewhere), a nice purple orchid, tissue paper, restaurant-sized aluminum foil which is awesome, my good printer and printer ink, halloween candy, books, cds, frozen pot stickers and tequila lime chicken wings (which the company has since discontinued, the jerks), a lot of strawberries, a lot of oranges, butter, sugar, and nuts for Christmas baking, beach towels, Cat Food, lots of meat, foodstuffs for parties, nice plastic containers and paper goods (plates, napkins), wine, sharpies, spring bulbs, pretty good cheese, a big umbrella for my patio - and a heavy iron stand. I even got a small chocolate fountain there a few years ago.
posted by julen at 8:30 AM on October 27, 2008

I don't know whether or not the excellent and extremely low priced photo lab services we have at our local Costco span across the entire chain, but if so, you're in luck for film and digital print services.

Both the former (original) and current managers of the local Costco lab have run a tighter ship on their lab machines' calibration and maintenance than even many custom pro labs I've used over the years.

Plus, you can send them digital files online and pick up the prints in the store in very short order.

Also, the Costco food counter serves the best hot dogs I've ever eaten. At $1.50, including a large fountain drink, I'll visit just for a cheap, quick lunch.
posted by imjustsaying at 8:40 AM on October 27, 2008

I get my glasses (eyeglasses) at Costco, and it is such a deal.

We also get: tires
paper towels
toilet paper
bottled water
body wash
olive oil (so cheap!)
breakfast cereal

And nthing the party platters, so convenient and cheap!
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:00 AM on October 27, 2008

Last I checked, Costco does have Quilted Northern. Maybe not in your area though.

I can't help with the baby thing (me and Bro are all grown up, after all, with no kids), but my mom would buy iced tea, body wash, vitamins, office supplies, sometimes bagels, buffalo wings, sometimes instant coffee, Swiffer sheets, sliced meat... and some other stuff that I would need whenever I visit my parents. Costco might be a better deal with your kid gets older.

Oh, and if you go on the weekends, best of all Sunday, Costco will have samples at almost every aisle. You can have a decent lunch just with samples alone. Not sure the baby will be satisfied... yet.
posted by curagea at 9:13 AM on October 27, 2008

trash bags
certain electronics (90 day return policy + 2 year warranty)
baby wipes
protein powder
"flat out" brand multi-grain wraps
annie's brand mac and cheese
artichoke hearts
hearts of palm
coffee (in Austin they sell Ruta Maya, which is locally roasted)
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:26 AM on October 27, 2008

I get photos printed there (this is what motivated me to get a membership and keeps me from giving it up).

Batteries, especially rechargable ones in quantity, are fairly cheap there.

We buy TP and paper towels and other bulk consumables, but we're not picky about brands so we go with whatever's on sale.

OTC meds are very cheap at Costco; I try not to buy them anywhere else. The only thing they don't have is true "over the counter" ones, like real Sudafed (not that new castrated stuff they're pushing). Although I think some stores may have pharmacies, ours either doesn't or we never go when it's open so I've never noticed it.

Wine is also pretty cheap there, and I've been impressed by their selection. In states where they sell liquor I've heard from friends it's a good deal as well, but here in VA it's just beer and wine. (I don't think their beer prices are that impressive.)

Meat is a good deal there, if you're willing to buy in quantity. I've been tempted to get a whole beef tenderloin on many occasions, and we pick up 'freezer packs' of chicken breasts fairly regularly. (These are packs of boneless chicken breasts packed up in individual bags so you can freeze them and take them out as-needed, saving you the work of breaking them up yourself.)

Canned soda is also cheap there, although I don't know why they don't sell 2L…just cans. That's obnoxious, IMO.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:39 AM on October 27, 2008

They do have tomato soup! It's tomato basil and it's in the refrigerated section, usually near the meat for us.

We get:
Tomato Basil Soup
Humus (we eat a lot of it, this pays for our membership alone)
Kitty litter is a MUCH better deal than anywhere
Cheese - in blocks
Croissants - best croissant I've found in the States
Chick Peas
Laundry detergent - I don't like the smell of the Kirklands brand, but it saves a ton of money so I buy it anyway
Mouth wash
Toilet paper - anyone notice Scotts is actually cheaper than Kirklands?
Chicken breast
Canned tuna and chicken

omg we must save so much money... I need to calculate it...
posted by hipersons at 9:59 AM on October 27, 2008

I'm sure I've earned my money back in photo printing services. The quality is awesome, uploading online is convenient and easy, but I really like being able to pick them up immediately (i.e. not mailed to me).

They also occasionally have photo albums that I like much better than any other I've found.

Ditto the kitchen trash bags mentioned above. I'm ruined for any other bags.

Rotisserie chickens - maybe not cheaper, but better than anywhere else.

Sheet cakes, cheesecakes, bags of lemons, BEER.
posted by peep at 10:01 AM on October 27, 2008

I second the lunch meats and pre-sliced cheese. I'm saving an absolute fortune by packing my own lunch every day instead of buying lunch in NYC during the work hours. I realized I was spending up to $15/day just on lunch and coffee. So, I pack a 32 oz Nissan thermos of Dunkin' Donuts coffee (from Costco) and a ham and cheese sandwich each day. Total cost is easily less than $2/day.
posted by camworld at 10:03 AM on October 27, 2008

We don't have much freezer room, so tend to go more for snack-type items that we can take to work and school (husband and I had both gotten into the habit of visiting the vending machine daily, so buying small packages of chips or fruit snacks saves us a ton), and then paper products, water bottles, and feminine hygiene items. Plus, I really like to buy croissants or muffins from the Costco bakery and freeze half of 'em when I've got the space.
posted by alpha_betty at 10:07 AM on October 27, 2008

The thing to remember about Costco is that not everything is cheaper, in fact, some things are significantly more expensive. I actually have a chart listing the prices of Costco and the 3 major grocery stores in my area. I can't decide if this is completely Dorky or just Informed Consumer.
That said:
Chicken in bulk is about 50% cheaper at Costco than any of the other stores.
I make my membership fee back in one or two trips a year just by buying a ton(not literally) and freezing it.
Meat products of all kinds from the case. It's generally better quality and a $1 or 2 per pound cheaper. Not a huge savings, but it can add up.
Milk. Probably won't help you since seem to be farther away from yours than I am from mine, but those 2-pack gallon jugs are about 60% of the price in a grocery store.
Clothes. If you know your sizes, you can get good deals on "designer" pants. This week, my Costco had Ralph Lauren, Lucky and Dockers for much cheaper than a department store.
Printed Photos. Does it have a Photo center? Having prints/cards/posters made is a decent deal. You can upload them online, have them printed at your local store and pick them up when you shop. You can also have them printed at another Costco for the grandparents.
Razor blades. When they carry your brand, it's a deal. Unfortunately, they often carry the razor + blade packages, which isn't as good.
Vitamins. Bulk packages pennies to the dime compared to grocery stores.
Gas. Runs an average of 10-15 cents/gallon below other stations. Some folks will tell you horror stories about Costco gas, but in my area it all comes from the same place anyway. Just fill up if you are shopping for other things and there ya go.
Chocolate Chips. Generic Toll House bag for less than half the grocery price. Awesome.
Hersheys in the giant jug with a pump? Probably not a bargain, but again, awesome.

Oh, and the $1.50 hotdog/drink is, by far, the best bargain for lunch in town. It's not quite as good since they switched from Hebrew National to Sinai, but still, $1.50?

As I said above, Costco takes careful shopping just like any other store, but if you have space for bulk purchases and a bit of time, you can easily make the membership pay.
posted by madajb at 10:07 AM on October 27, 2008

Luckily, Costco does carry our brand of TP (Scott), so we always get that, as well as Kirkland paper towels (I'm a compulsive hand-washer and wiper, so we go through a lot of paper towels.) We also get the Kirkland trash bags.

We often take my parents (seniors over 70) with us. Mom likes to buy those large jars of Kirkland mixed nuts or cashews. She also gets their antacids and baby aspirin, and does love their hot dogs/sausages in the snack bar.

Mr. Adams gets six-packs of tuna there, as he likes to make and keep a large bowl of tuna salad in the fridge (we work from home and it's something he can munch on during the day). I usually get a big box of Marie Callendar frozen pot pies to keep in the freezer for those late nights when I don't feel like "cooking."
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:24 AM on October 27, 2008

it's just me & mr medusa, but we do a huge amount of shopping at costco.

they sell a food vacuum sealer. get one of these, they rock.
then you can buy the great selections of meat, seafood, cheese etc., they sell, break them down into appropriate size packages, seal them, freeze them. boom. they stay fresh and non-freezer burned for a long time, it's cost effective and convenient.

we also buy trash bags, ziplocks, printer paper and other office supplies, black peppercorns, wine, booze (great prices!!) ciabatta (also freezes amazingly well!) granola-type bars, laundry detergent (they finally carry a fragrance-free HE brand), ibuprophen, shampoo, dental floss....

once you get into a more "costco mentality" about how you shop you'll probably find it awesome. also costco is an industry leader in high salaries and happy employees (ie the anti-walmart) :)
posted by supermedusa at 10:36 AM on October 27, 2008

Costco sells Cambozola for $9 a pound. That's enough to get me in the door.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:56 AM on October 27, 2008

I actually belong to both Costco and BJs, which is something for me because I'm really thrifty (read cheap). I shop almost weekly at BJs because it's closer and they have good prices on stuff that more closely matches my weekly shop:
Milk, prewashed romaine, OJ, yogurt in quarts, eggs, instant b'fast, and I never leave w/o a rotisserie chicken. They carry good quality olive oil (Colavita) at a good price. I also get tampons and such there because they're priced well. Generally the quantities for ibuprofen, vitamins, etc are offputting, but I did get a big bottle of vitamins for my husband there for a good price. They also take manufacturers coupons. Additionally, they have a good selection of books priced much lower than list. The fruit generally sucks and is overpriced. Cold cuts are good if you eat them, line is usually stupidly long.

I go to Costco less frequently but I do find their prices a little better on some things. They're great at fruit bowls, which I bring pretty much everywhere we're invited. I like their Kirkland brand laundry soap, which Consumer Reports rated as good as Tide but is way cheaper. Nobody in my family can pour milk from their new gallon containers without spilling. I never leave Costco w/o a rotisserie chicken, either.

At either place I buy bottled water, paper towels, TP (try their brand and donate it to a pantry if you don't like it). So try it for a year and try the store brands. You'll probably at least break even.
posted by Breav at 11:06 AM on October 27, 2008

Kirkland Signature Fruit & Nut Medley. It's worth the membership fee on its own. But be warned : this stuff is the crack cocaine of trail mix.
posted by essexjan at 11:16 AM on October 27, 2008

Costco sells a superior plastic wrap (used to be Stretch-Tite, now Kirkland) that comes with a slide cutter.
posted by parudox at 11:46 AM on October 27, 2008

We always buy the Pork Loin and then cut it into "pork chops" Mmmm Mmmm

Soft drinks are a big one. Mrs. Megafly drinks criminal amounts of Diet Coke and it would bankrupt me if I didn't have costco.

Ground Beef,

green beans

We don't normally buy fresh things that can't be frozen. We can't eat a 10 pound bag of potatoes without spoilage.

We also rock the executive membership so even if we stopped shopping day one, we'd get at least our hundred buck back from them.
posted by Megafly at 12:01 PM on October 27, 2008

What I always buy at Costco:
Gasoline (our Costco has gas pumps and it's always at least 9 cents less than any other gas station)
Cat food, wet and dry (we have 5 cats)
Paper towels (even though they cost more, I prefer the Kirkland paper towels)
Tillamook sliced cheese (2 lbs)
Tillamook brick cheese (2 lbs)
Sliced Swiss cheese (low fat, 2 lbs)
Photo printing
Large quantities of South Beach bars
Trash bags
Batteries, especially AA's, AAA's, D's & 9V's
Printer paper
Photo printer paper
Kirkland glucosamine-chondroitin tablets
Salmon burgers (when they have them)
String cheese

What I sometimes buy at Costco:
Maraschino cherries
Chinese chicken salad kit

Note: the nearest Costco is 21 miles from my house. The prices of the things I always buy there make it worthwhile for me to drive there to get them.
posted by Lynsey at 12:02 PM on October 27, 2008

Cereal. Mr. Informed eats enough of this (1 good-sized bowl per day, 7 days/week) that cereal alone makes up for the price of membership, for us. FWIW, he favors Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Shredded Mini-Wheats, and the occasional box of Cinnamon Toast Cruch, all of which are available in our Costo--name brands, not store brand.

Yoplait yogurt. Ditto.

Frozen chicken breasts. I don't remember the last time I bought fresh. Way cheaper than at the grocery store, and this way I've always got some on hand.

Butter. Especially around the holiday season (for the baking of the cookies). I think it's about $7 for 4 pounds at my Costco.

Frozen chicken dumplings (sauce included!) and pierogi. For when I don't feel like cooking.

Rotisserie chicken--$5 each (compared to $8 at my local Shaw's), two meals' worth of chicken, usually tender enough that I don't even need a knife to get the meat off, plus bones to make stock out of afterwards. Totally a steal.

Contact solution, toothpaste, dental floss, Aveeno lotion. If you compare quantities carefully, Costco usually sells large-sized containers than at the grocery store (e.g., 16 oz. vs. 12 oz.) for less money total.

Razor blades, for both me and Mr. Informed. Still expensive, but less than at Target/etc.

Canned tomatoes. I use these in everything--chili, marinara sauce, soup. Also tomato paste.

Pizza! Our Costco has 18" ready-to-bake pizzas, with big hunks of fresh mozzerella, fresh sliced tomatoes, and fresh basil.

Beef tenderloin. Okay, I haven't bought this yet, as we're a 2-person household and I am hesitant to buy THAT MUCH BEEF. I'm waiting until I throw a dinner party. But the price is insanely cheap--something like $9-15 lb, as compared to $27+ at my local Shaws and Whole Foods--you get a whole tenderloin, and tenderloin=yum.

My basic rule of thumb with Costco: If I'm picky about brands, and they carry mine, I *always* buy it there; I've done the math and it's always cheaper. If I'm picky about brands and they don't carry mine, I'll try the store brand once and then go elsewhere for that item if I don't like it. Life is too short to use toilet paper you don't like. And I save enough on the items I do buy to make up for the cost of membership.
posted by Ms. Informed at 12:04 PM on October 27, 2008

Oh yeah, 2 other things:

1. Diamonds: I've never bought a diamond there, but my cousin has--you can select the quality and size stone you want, and they'll send one to the store for you to examine, with no obligation to buy. The prices are quite good and the stones are very purty.

2. Piggybacking off supermedusa, for those who care about such things, Costco also ranks high (93 out of 100 points) on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, "the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s annual report card on corporate America’s treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, consumers and investors."
posted by Ms. Informed at 12:10 PM on October 27, 2008

Breav, I meant to bitch about those milk containers in my earlier post.

We have the same problem with them. It makes one wonder whether or not anybody in Costco QC evertried to pour milk from them.
posted by imjustsaying at 12:14 PM on October 27, 2008

Their Kirkland espresso coffee beans are good.

I also buy:

Disposable razors
Shaving foam

The great thing about Costco is that they offer hidden "Easter eggs". If you look around hard enough you can find hard-to-find or quality items sold at 30% their normal cost. Playmobil is one example, as are iPods, etc
posted by KokuRyu at 1:04 PM on October 27, 2008

I love the Basha brand hummus. I think it tastes better than most store brands. I also get frozen stuff to reheat later.
posted by reenum at 1:06 PM on October 27, 2008

Their canned tuna is the best I've found ANYWHERE. Very little liquid filler in the can and the whitest solid meat I've ever seen come out of a can.

I've recently taken a liking to the Parmesean crackers they have in the Bakery area.

Their rotisserie chickens are huge, cheap and nicely seasoned. I usually heat it up in the oven once I get home so it's definitley cooked all the way through.

Other items -

3 Cheese Tortellini
Romaine lettuce - large pkg of 4 or 5 heads
laundry deterget
Although I've never gotten one, they have the biggest chocolate cakes I've ever seen! That and a gallon of milk could turn around the worst ho-hum day!

A trip to Costo is definitely worth the drive. The only thing I need to be careful of is not buying things that I won't be able to use before they go bad. There's a lot of tempting things there!!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 2:26 PM on October 27, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everybody. I can't mark a best answer since there are so many good ideas, but it sounds like there's a lot we could explore.

I especially appreciate the people who mentioned 'get your money back', because for some reason that failed to occur to either of us, but I think we'll give it a go and check out mainly the repeat items a lot of people mentioned like garbage bags, toilet paper, paper towels, and drugstore type stuff. Maybe we'll go and just haul back as much as we can at once.

Part of the problem is that thanks to the infant and our pets and a long commute for both of us, we don't want to add any additional complexity or clutter to our lives, so as appealing as I find the ideas of a separate freezer unit and vacuum sealer, I think it'll have to wait until somehow we free up some time.

Beccaj--cute baby--and that is indeed an awesome looking cupcake.

(Also, re the earlier Costco thread and those who mentioned it here, it is nice to know that their corporate policies aren't revolting.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:43 PM on October 27, 2008

Costco will start sending you coupon books, and if forget yours at home, you can ask for a spare at the membership desk. Keep an eye on what's on sale (which is never labeled on the shelves, just in the coupon books), and also know that what they carry rotates. There are some brands they seem to always carry, but many items change.

Consider splitting the cost of a membership with extended family or friends. I frequently pick up items for friends while I'm at costco, and share a membership with my best friend.

I regularly buy: paper towels, gas, huge multi-packs of sponges, oil-eater biodegradable cleaner for grease spots and spills, laundry detergent, excedrin, hydrogen peroxide, dental floss, toothbrushes, handlotion (which I go through like mad).

Things I prefer not to buy at Costco: pet food and litter, any kind of food (I think the quality is generally inferior), or fabric softener sheets (I prefer unscented).

For clients I buy at Costco: paper towels, kleenex, toilet paper, toilet bowl cleaner, simple green cleaner, swiffer refills, and laundry detergent.

I end up going about once a month, or every two months, since it's a bit of a trek for me too, but it's still worth it to me. Don't expect to use Costco like you would a grocery store. Think about using it for bigger ticket items, too. I bought a mattress at Costco once, and it was insanely comfortable and I saved a heap. I've never bought tires there, but I know people who have, and who have been happy.

So, my tips are: Buy things you can store, keep an eye out for coupon sales and brands you like, consider buying large items, share costs with family and friends, and identify the areas where decent quality is just as acceptable as premium.
posted by tejolote at 2:52 PM on October 27, 2008

@imjustsaying : Thank you... I was beginning to think my family was missing a chromosome related to the pouring of odd milk containers.

I also meant to 2nd batteries, regular and rechargeable. Lightbulbs are a good price, too.
posted by Breav at 3:02 PM on October 27, 2008

By the way, this wasn't a lame question at all; in fact it was really fun and even though I'm a long-time Costco shopper I learned about a few things I'd like to look for. I'm glad you asked.
posted by tejolote at 3:08 PM on October 27, 2008

Big-ass folding tables. $20 for like a 6 foot table, plastic and metal. Always handy.

Sentence fragment.
posted by ostranenie at 5:46 PM on October 27, 2008

I was pleasantly surprised by the softness of the Kirkland toilet paper. I would keep on buying it if I actually had enough room to store it all. I am particularly happy with their chicken (in the refrigerated aisle, not the bulk frozen), esp. because it comes in sealed packs of 2-3 breasts each, with a total of 6 packs per unit. I also think their frozen shrimp is a good deal, esp. since most supermarkets in my area sell previously-frozen "fresh" shrimp anyway. I am a big fan of the dino nuggets but I guess I might eat like a 5-year-old. You might also want to check out their selection of inkjet cartridges if you need them.
posted by puritycontrol at 6:36 PM on October 27, 2008

I made back my entrance fee on a single coupon there for blank dvds. They have silly deals sometimes. We don't really eat many canned things but the deals on them are good.. they have these frozen all vegetable burger things (Dr. Praegers) that are oddly addictive and delicious I also get there.

electronics prices are pretty decent if you are in the market.
posted by zennoshinjou at 7:58 AM on October 28, 2008

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