The One Thing You Should Never Buy at Costco

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Costco is known for its amazing deals and bulk buying opportunities, but bigger isn’t always better. While there are plenty of great products to stock up on at this wholesale wonderland, some items are best bought elsewhere. From perishables that go bad before you can use them to products that are actually cheaper at other stores, there are a few things savvy shoppers should think twice about before tossing in their oversized Costco carts. The one thing you should absolutely never buy at Costco? Condiments! Read on to find out why, along with a few other items to skip on your next Costco run.

1. Condiments

Those giant bottles of ketchup, mayo, and mustard may seem like an incredible deal, but unless you’re feeding an army, you’re unlikely to use them up before they go bad. Condiments have a relatively short shelf life once opened, so buying them in bulk often leads to waste. Stick to smaller bottles from your regular grocery store and save the bulk buys for things you’ll actually use up.

Even unopened, most condiments only last about a year before they start to lose their flavor and texture. So unless you’re going through gallons of ketchup, it’s best to buy smaller quantities more frequently. You can find reasonably priced condiments at most grocery stores, often on sale. Stock up when your favorites are discounted instead of being tempted by the jumbo sizes at Costco.

Another issue with bulk condiments is storage space. Those massive bottles can be a pain to squeeze into your fridge, especially if you have limited room. And once opened, they can be awkward to maneuver and pour from. Save yourself the hassle and stick to smaller, more manageable bottles that easily fit in your fridge door.

If you do get tempted by the low per-ounce price of bulk condiments at Costco, be realistic about how much you’ll actually use. Stick to condiments your family uses regularly and in large quantities, like ketchup for cookouts or mayo if you make a lot of sandwiches and salads. Skip anything too specialized that will likely languish in the back of your fridge.

2. Produce

Those big packs of fruits and veggies at Costco may seem too good to pass up, but they’re often a recipe for rotten produce. Unless you have a huge family or are planning a big event, it’s unlikely you’ll get through that giant bag of apples or multi-pack of avocados before they start to spoil. Stick to smaller quantities of produce you know you’ll eat quickly to avoid wasting food and money.

When it comes to produce, freshness is key. While Costco does sell high-quality fruits and veggies, the bulk sizing means it may not be as fresh as what you’d find at your local grocery store or farmer’s market. Produce starts to lose nutrients and flavor as soon as it’s picked, so the sooner you eat it, the better. Buying smaller amounts more frequently ensures you’re always eating fruits and veggies at their peak.

If you do opt for bulk produce at Costco, have a plan for how you’ll use it up quickly. Freeze extras for smoothies, cook big batches of soups or sauces to use up veggies, and be realistic about how much your family can eat before it goes bad. Only buy what you know you can use in a week or two to keep your fridge from becoming a produce graveyard.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some hardier produce like potatoes, onions, garlic, and squash tend to last longer, so you may be able to buy these in larger quantities without worrying about waste. Stick to your grocery store for more perishable items like greens, berries, and fresh herbs that are best consumed ASAP.

3. Spices

Those big bulk packs of spices may seem like a great way to save, but they’ll likely lose their flavor before you can use them all. Ground spices only stay fresh for about six months to a year, while whole spices like cinnamon sticks and peppercorns last closer to three years. So unless you’re a spice fiend cooking up a storm daily, those Costco-sized jars will go old before they’re empty.

Instead of buying giant quantities of spices you won’t realistically use up, stick to smaller jars from your local grocery store. You can often find great deals on spices in the bulk aisle or ethnic grocery stores. Just buy what you need and refill as needed to ensure your spices are always fresh and flavorful. Having a well-edited spice collection full of spices you use regularly makes cooking more efficient and delicious.

Proper storage also helps maintain freshness. Keep spices away from heat, light, and moisture in airtight containers, ideally in a drawer or cabinet away from your stove and oven. Spices sold in bulk bins are often cheaper per ounce, but only buy this way if you know you’ll use that spice up quickly. Otherwise, it will get stale before you can use it all. For the freshest flavor, grind whole spices in small batches as needed in a spice grinder.

Organization is key with spices, especially if you like to keep a variety on hand. Store spices in uniform, labeled containers and group them by cuisine or frequency of use so you can easily find what you need while cooking. Not only will this make your spice drawer or rack more visually appealing, but it will ensure you’re using up spices while they’re at their peak freshness and flavor.

4. Cooking Oils

Those big jugs of cooking oils may look tempting at Costco, but they can go rancid before you have a chance to use them up. Most cooking oils like canola, vegetable, and olive oil have a shelf life of about one to two years unopened. However, once you crack the seal they can start to oxidize and go bad within a few months, especially if exposed to heat, light, and air.

Rancid cooking oils not only taste bad, but they can also be detrimental to your health. Oxidized oils are higher in harmful compounds and free radicals that can contribute to inflammation and disease. So it’s best to use cooking oils when they’re fresh to ensure the best flavor and nutrition.

Unless you’re deep frying every day, it’s unlikely you’ll use up a gallon of oil quickly enough to prevent spoilage. Stick to smaller bottles from your regular grocery store and store them in a cool, dark place to maximize freshness. For oils you use less frequently like sesame oil or walnut oil, buy even smaller bottles since they can go rancid more quickly.

Of course, some oils last longer than others. Saturated fats like coconut oil and ghee tend to have a longer shelf life since they’re more resistant to oxidation. Refined oils also typically last longer than unrefined oils. So if you do opt for a larger size, choose something more shelf-stable like refined coconut oil over unrefined extra virgin olive oil.

5. Skincare & Beauty Products

Buying skincare and beauty products in bulk may seem like a good way to save, but these items can expire before you have a chance to use them up, leading to waste and potentially even skin irritation. Most skincare products are marked with a Period After Opening (PAO) symbol that tells you how long they last after being opened. This is typically 6-12 months for things like cleansers, moisturizers and serums.

Using expired skincare and beauty products isn’t just ineffective, it can also be harmful to your skin. Over time, active ingredients degrade and preservatives lose their effectiveness, creating a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Expired products can cause redness, irritation, rashes and even infections, especially if you have sensitive skin. So it’s best to use up products while they’re still fresh.

Unless you’re going through products very quickly, it’s best to buy skincare and makeup in standard sizes rather than bulk-buying jumbo bottles at Costco. Look for products in pump bottles or tubes which expose the contents to less light and air than jars, helping to maintain freshness. And store your skincare away from humidity and heat in a cool, dark place like a drawer or cabinet.

If you do have products that are getting close to expiration, there are a few ways to use them up quickly. Use more generous amounts, share with family or friends, or even use them on your body instead of your face. You can also look for travel sizes or product minis if you want to try something new without committing to a full size that may go to waste. The key is buying only what you can realistically use in a few months for the health of your skin and your wallet.

6. Diapers

Diapers are one of those things that seem like a no-brainer to stock up on, but buying in bulk can actually be a false economy. Babies grow out of diaper sizes so quickly in those first few months that you may be left with an oversupply of too-small diapers if you buy too many at once. You’re better off buying smaller packs more frequently so you can adjust sizes as needed without ending up with wasted leftovers.

Costco does have great deals on diapers, but you can often find comparable prices on Amazon by using Subscribe & Save which also offers the convenience of home delivery. This service lets you set up recurring deliveries of items you use frequently, like diapers, and offers a discount of up to 20% depending how many subscriptions you have. You can easily change sizes or cancel anytime, making it a more flexible option.

Buying diapers online also gives you more variety in terms of brands and features to ensure you’re getting the right diaper for your baby. Costco only carries a few brands, mostly their Kirkland Signature line, whereas sites like Amazon carry all the major diaper brands like Pampers, Huggies, Luvs, and Honest Co. You can also more easily find diapers for sensitive skin, overnight diapers, or ones with specific features you’re looking for.

If you do opt for buying diapers at Costco, only buy one box at a time in your baby’s current size. Don’t buy larger sizes until you’re sure your little one is close to size up. And consider donating or giving away leftover too-small diapers instead of letting them go to waste. Many daycares and women’s shelters will happily take open boxes of diapers off your hands.

7. Over-The-Counter Medications

Those bulk bottles of pain relievers and cough syrups may seem like a smart purchase when cold and flu season hits, but they have a limited shelf life and lose potency over time. Even something as simple as ibuprofen only lasts about one to two years after opening according to Harvard Medical School. So that economy bottle may expire before you can use it all, wasting money and cabinet space.

To ensure maximum safety and effectiveness, only buy over-the-counter medications in quantities you’ll realistically use in the next year or so. Once meds hit their expiration date, it’s best to dispose of them properly so there’s no risk of reduced potency or changes in chemical composition. In general, solid forms like tablets and capsules last a bit longer than liquids.

Proper storage also helps maintain the integrity and shelf life of medications. Keep them in a cool, dry place away from heat, humidity and light. A high cabinet, closet shelf, or dresser drawer is ideal. Avoid storing them in the bathroom medicine cabinet where heat and humidity from showers and baths may degrade them more quickly.

Of course, buying generic versions of name brand drugs can help you save at any quantity. But instead of buying the Kirkland Signature versions at Costco, look for sales and deals on generic meds at your local drugstore or big box store like Walmart or Target. Pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens regularly run promotions on store-brand medications. With a little comparison shopping, you likely can find similar prices on smaller quantities that you can use up while they’re still fresh and potent.

While it’s tempting to stock up on everything from soup to nuts at Costco, some things truly are better bought in smaller sizes elsewhere, even if the per-unit cost is higher. By avoiding bulk buys on things that will go bad before you can use them, like produce, skincare, condiments and medicine, you’ll end up wasting less and saving more in the long run. Instead, focus your Costco hauls on products your family uses frequently and in large enough quantities to consume while still at their peak freshness, flavor, and potency.

Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan
Alex Morgan is a seasoned writer and lifestyle enthusiast with a passion for unearthing uncommon hacks and insights that make everyday living smoother and more interesting. With a background in journalism and a love for research, Alex's articles provide readers with unexpected tips, tricks, and facts about a wide range of topics.

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