Costco Costs More: A Cautionary Tale of Bulk Buying Gone Wrong

Every year or two I revisit my assumption that I’m spending my money in an optimal way.  Sometimes this means shopping my home and auto policies to several new insurers to make sure I’m getting the best rates available. More recently, I questioned whether I could save money by buying in bulk at Costco or by shifting more grocery spending to Target or Walmart.

Enter the cost comparison.  During September and October 2017 I stealthily visited five stores near me in the Raleigh area to check prices on sixteen different staple foods.  I chose Trader Joes, Costco, Walmart, Aldi, and Target.

Going into the experiment, I assumed Walmart and Aldi would be the cheapest, with Target slightly more expensive than those two.  Costco would come in fourth place while Trader Joe’s would stand out as the most expensive.  This was exactly the results of my study (with the exception that Target was noticeably more expensive compared to Aldi/Walmart).  Walmart was the cheapest while Trader Joe’s was the most expensive with the other stores falling in between in the predicted order.

Here are the raw numbers with lowest cost for each item bolded:

ITEM: Trader Joes Costco Walmart Supercenter Aldi Target
apples, per pound $1.31 $1.00 $0.98 $1.10 $1.40
organic apples, per pound $2.00 not available $1.83 $1.83 $1.74
avocados, each $1.37 n/a $1.00 $0.95 $1.32
bananas, per pound $0.57 $0.46 $0.57 $0.44 $0.52
mac n cheese 7-7.25 oz $0.99 $0.72 $0.26 $0.33 $0.69
whole milk, per gallon $3.29 $2.45 $2.38 $2.49 $2.55
loaf bread, 20 oz $2.08 $2.15 $0.88 $0.83 $0.99
fresh chicken breast, per pound $4.99 $2.79 $1.99 $1.89 $1.99
pork loin, per pound $3.99 $1.99 $1.94 $1.89 $2.49
ground beef, per pound $3.99 $3.29 $2.39 $2.99 $3.09
eggs, large dozen $0.99 $1.85 $0.67 $0.74 $0.91
cheerios, 14 oz $1.86 $1.92 $1.15 $1.49 $2.50
peanut butter, 16 oz $1.99 $1.67 $1.16 $1.08 $1.20
canned pinto beans, 15.5 oz $0.99 n/a $0.57 $0.53 $0.54
spaghetti sauce, 24 oz jar $1.65 $1.25 $1.06 $0.99 $1.57
spaghetti noodles, per pound $0.99 $1.09 $0.74 $0.75 $0.76
TOTAL (except Costco) $33.04 incomplete $19.57 $20.30 $24.26
Vs. Costco comparison* $28.68 $22.62 $16.17 $17.00 $20.66
% More Expensive than Walmart 77% 40% 0% 5% 28%

* Since Costco only stocked 13 out of 16 items in the comparison, the total price for those 13 items is shown in the “Vs. Costco comparison” row

Results

Walmart is the clear price leader based on a comparison of these 16 items.  Looking at only the 13 items that all stores had on shelves (the “vs. Costco comparison” from the chart), Aldi was 5% more expensive than Walmart.  Target was 28% higher priced than Walmart. Costco was 40% more than Walmart, while Trader Joe’s was 77% higher priced than Walmart.

Aldi looks slightly better when it comes to comparing the cheapest store for each item. Aldi took the lead with the lowest prices on 8 out of 16 items. Walmart was a close second with 7 out of 16 items.  Target, not wanting to be outdone, came through on organic apples that were 9 cents per pound cheaper than Aldi and Walmart.

Nothing was cheapest at Costco.  However, Costco’s prices on some items like pork loin, bananas, milk, and apples were within pennies of the cheapest alternative. Though not on my comparison list, I went on a search for things that are great values at Costco. I mostly came up empty-handed but did notice a few things. Their store brand paper towels looked like a good deal (if you have a spare closet to store 16 huge paper towel rolls). Blue cheese and parmesan cheese were good values with prices similar to Trader Joe’s but both came in ridiculous two pound blocks.

Costco is the lone store studied that comes with a membership fee.  Yes, they charge you to enter their store and charge you for everything you buy (except the samples; they are free).  Though you don’t always have to have a membership to enter Costco.  Like ninjas, we snuck into Costco while the door attendant was distracted to complete our clandestine comparison shopping and scored some free quesadilla samples in the process.  Costco’s $60 annual fee for basic membership would add a 2% average surcharge to all items if you spend $250 per month (only 1% if you spend $500/month).  Paying $120 for executive membership makes sense at the $250/month spending level since the 2% cashback covers the added cost.  And after hearing from several hard core Costco aficionados, it’s impossible to spend less than $250/month at Costco (probably because they are 40% more expensive than Walmart!).

Trader Joe’s made a weak showing on prices with the highest or second highest price for each individual item.  This wasn’t a surprise at all since we never shop at TJ’s for regular groceries.  We do buy a lot of specialty items at Trader Joe’s that are very competitively priced for great quality items.  Things like frozen dim sum potstickers, frozen edamame, fancy/imported cheeses, $3 Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw) wine, other imported wines, craft beers, nuts and seeds, capers, and marinated artichokes.  On the bright side, TJ’s offers free coffee samples and the TJ staffers are super nice and friendly, plentiful, knowledgeable and helpful (things I mostly can’t say about Walmart staffers other than the friendly part).

$2.99 for a pound of delicious potsticker dumplings from Trader Joe’s.  Sauce is homemade from sesame oil, white vinegar, minced fresh galanga, sugar, water, and soy sauce.

 

A few notes on methodology

I tried to pick the most reasonable items that many buy for a fair comparison.  It’s not necessarily a representative sample in proportion to the categories of groceries people actually buy.  The totals in the chart don’t make any attempt to weight certain products more than others.  If you buy a lot of ground beef and mac n cheese, Walmart would appear much less expensive, for example.

I tended toward the larger packaging when that drove the unit price down.  For example, in the peanut butter category I priced out the 40 ounce container at Walmart, Aldi, and Target because our household can consume a jar of that size before it goes bad.  Costco only offered one size: a two pack of 48 ounces per jar.  Trader Joe’s only offered a 16 ounce container.  The cost data in the chart (above) reflect the unit cost, which was based on a 16 ounce container size in the case of peanut butter.  Costco was the only store that sold larger sizes than I thought we could reasonably use before the food expires or suffers from loss of quality (bread, apples, and bananas for example).

I didn’t look for organic, all natural, non-GMO, gluten free, free range, grass fed, vegan, kosher, halal, or other specialty designations except for the organic apples.  This reflects the way we shop and probably results in the least expensive basket of groceries.  Your mileage may vary if you have specific constraints on your grocery purchases.  I have, however, noticed that many store brand items at Aldi are now non-GMO, all natural, with no artificial coloring without any increase in price.

I looked for store brand or generic products when available.  This might partially explain why Costco was relatively expensive since all of their non-perishable items in this comparison were name brand (Cheerios, JIF peanut butter, Nature’s Own loaf bread, Kraft mac n cheese, Barilla spaghetti, and Prego pasta sauce) whereas the other four stores generally offered comparable quality store brand products.  I’m sure I’ll see some debate in the comments claiming name brand / Costco store brand is better than the other stores’ store brands and I’m okay with that – there might be noticeable differences between name brand and store brand in some cases, with the name brand not always being the best.

I left out local grocery stores like Harris Teeter, Kroger, and Food Lion. The main reason is that I already knew Walmart and Aldi were cheaper than the local grocery stores.  I didn’t visit Whole Foods because it’s all the way on the other side of Raleigh in the “nice” part of town. Not exactly in my grocery market area at 12-15 minutes drive and 6-8 miles away while most of the stores listed in this study are within 6 minutes and 2.7 miles.

 

Grocery Shopping Strategy

How does this cost comparison help me?  It affirms my belief in my current grocery shopping strategy.  In a nutshell, I shop at Walmart and Aldi for most things and supplement those stores by shopping the sale items at a regular grocery store occasionally.

For those more curious about my grocery shopping strategy, I summarized it a few years ago in a post:  “Extreme Grocery Shopping Without Coupons“.

Here are the main takeaways from that article:

 

Do:

  1. Shop at stores that are generally inexpensive
  2. Buy stuff that’s on sale that you normally buy
  3. If you see a great deal on non-perishable items, buy as many as you will use by their expiration date
  4. Plan your meals around fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats that are on sale
  5. Try something new occasionally
  6. Know what things cost and buy things at the store where it’s least expensive
  7. Skip juice, eat fruit instead.

 

Don’t:

  1. Buy more perishable goods than you can reasonably use before they will expire (unless you can freeze them with minimal reduction in quality)
  2. Drive long distances just to save a few dollars at a store with a good sale
  3. Focus too much time and attention on extreme couponing
  4. Buy a lot of prepackaged convenience foods
  5. Be afraid to spend money on expensive foods if it helps avoid dining at an expensive restaurant

 

To get a sense of how much we’re saving on groceries by frequenting Walmart and Aldi instead of Costco, let’s look at our grocery spending for a year.  Last year we spent $5,753 on groceries. Given that Costco is about 37% more expensive than the average of Aldi and Walmart, our grocery bill would be $7,880 at Costco, an increase of more than $2,100 for the year.  That’s what we spend on a week aboard a cruise in the Caribbean or two weeks in Europe (in other words, a substantial cost).

On top of $2,100 in extra spending if we shopped at Costco, I’d also have to have a larger refrigerator and pantry plus a deep freezer to store the much larger size of products.  Some of the food would still go bad (for example, what if we can’t eat the whole 10 pound bag of apples before they rot?).  I can’t quantify the added food waste and spoilage but I assume it would add at least 5% to the overall grocery bill.

 

Costco Isn’t All Bad, Right?

So many smart people love Costco.  I assume I’m missing something.  For some, I assume they have very poor alternatives to Costco.  Maybe there is no Walmart, Target, or Aldi nearby (the horror!!) and the regular grocery stores are too pricey.  It’s certainly possible that the 40% additional cost I observed at Costco could be specific to Raleigh and not broadly true across the US.

Costco sells a lot of products beyond groceries. I’ve heard Costco has great deals on travel and new tires, for example.  The times I have compared costs to my usual providers, Costco didn’t come out ahead.

It could be the customer service and ambiance that sets Costco apart. However I didn’t see very many available Costco associates walking the aisles when I was comparison shopping. The check out lines were long and the parking lot was full.  And this was mid-week while everyone was supposed to be at work!  Costco’s return policy is legendary, but Walmart and Aldi have been very kind to me on every occasion I’ve sought out a refund or replacement. In fact, Aldi offers a 200% money back guarantee – a free replacement product plus 100% cash refund of the purchase price. I’ve used this refund at Aldi many times but I refuse the cash back if there was nothing wrong with the product other than I didn’t like it.

I tend to make the assumption that everyone is like me and tries to optimize costs where feasible. However, I realize that some just might not care that Costco costs a lot more than their much cheaper rivals.  In other words, the ~40% premium for shopping at Costco is “worth it” (and I’m okay with that – I don’t optimize for lowest cost in all situations either).  I hope it’s not their decor people love because I found Costco to be more depressing than Walmart.  The huge warehouse shelving at Costco gives it a raw, industrial feel in my opinion (but then again, I didn’t see The People of Walmart at Costco).

 

Conclusion

Walmart and Aldi are the cheapest stores in my price comparison that also included Target, Trader Joe’s, and Costco.  In our case, Aldi/Walmart saves us more than $2,000 per year versus shopping mainly at Costco.

Though none of the sixteen items in my comparison were cheapest at Costco, I did find some bargains on items that I didn’t include in my comparison such as paper towels and imported cheeses.  Other items were within pennies of being cheapest at Costco.  With some effort, I could include Costco into my shopping rotation and buy only those few items that were actually cheaper (or better) at Costco compared to my usual stores.  Then again, I like the relative simplicity of having Walmart and Aldi as a default to take the thinking out of the equation.

After I completed the cost comparison research for this article, a new grocery store popped up next to the Aldi and Walmart in my little corner of Raleigh.  Lidl, another German grocery discounter like Aldi, began operations in mid-November here.  We visited the store on their opening day and after taking a quick look, their prices appear to be on par with Walmart and Aldi overall.  We revisited Aldi the day of the Lidl grand opening and noticed that many prices were slightly lowered to match Lidl’s prices down to the penny.  As happens so often in the grocery game, prices fluctuate over time so it’s good to periodically revisit assumptions on which stores are cheapest.

 

 

Where do you shop for groceries?  Do you shop at Costco?  What items are cheapest (or best) at Costco – and give me some prices!! 

 

 

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251 comments

  • This was pretty eye opening. We do most of our shopping at Shop Rite. I’m not sure if you checked for sales/coupons but we tend to only buy items when they are on sale or have a coupon. There is always something in sale so paying full price is a little crazy. This analysis is eye opening though. May start to seek out the local Wal-Mart more often even if it’s a little further away.

    • We buy a lot of stuff on sale too and never pay full price for things that routinely go on sale. Produce is one – usually pay $0.67/lb for apples or less. For ground beef, $1.99/lb is the going rate on sale (vs $2.50-3 from this comparison).

      • Great post Justin! It always amazes me how cheap food is in your part of the US. Out here in the pacific northwest we pay a good 10-20% premium to the prices you see.

        A few months back I did a comparison of Costco to our other big bulk-food provider, Cash & Carry. (post is here: http://bit.ly/2sgmAvv ) My findings were very similar to yours — Costco is no longer the low cost leader they once were.

        Costco still price matches on certain items like milk and gasoline, but it’s deceptive. On sale I can typically find better deals.

        • Good point on the sale prices. I didn’t really dive into that in this article but we shop sales occasionally. Don’t think Costco could come anywhere close when factoring in loss leaders at other grocers.

        • That’s very interesting find for sure. I wonder it would be something similar in Canada as well. We don’t have Aldi, Trader Joe, and Target but we have similar low price grocery stores. I have done some comparisons in the past but maybe I should do a close direct comparison like you did.

          I have found that Costco is good when it comes to cheese (it’s expensive here in Canada) and organic eggs.

        • These bulk stores just don’t have everything I need. If I go grocery shopping at Costco or C&C, I’d need to go grocery shopping again at a different store later. In Portland, we go to WinCo and they have pretty good price. Safeway is moderately expensive. And we’ve got a ton of expensive stores here that sell premium groceries. Whole Food, New Season, Green Zebra, etc…

          • That’s the predicament we all face! There are clearly cheaper products at some stores, and I’m sure I could find a few at Costco but I’m already looking at 3-5 different stores every week and visiting the 1-2 that offer the best deal that week. Hence this cost comparison to eliminate Costco from consideration (at least in my case, where I live, in Raleigh).

  • For a relatively small city of 10,000 people Benton Harbor has quite a few grocery stores. We have Walmart, Meijer, Aldi, Save-A-Lot, and a Gordon Food Service. A long time ago we would go to 3 separate stores to ensure we were spending the least amount on groceries as possible. Add in a few more kids and going to 3 different stores is a real pain to save a few bucks. Now we only shop at Meijer, which is fairly competitively priced. It’s been years since I went to Save-a-lot, I should recheck to see what the differences are again. CostCo and Sams club are a 30 minute drive from us so I haven’t been able to justify the membership cost and the time when I have 5 grocery stores within 5 minutes.

  • My wife and I don’t have a costco membership and this probably affirms our decision to forgo one. Like you we do a bulk of a shopping at Aldi and when they put in a Lidl close by hopefully Lidl as well.

    I have to admit that I thought Aldi would beat Wal Mart so we’ll have to revisit shopping at Wal Mart 🙂

    • My guess is that you’ll get better tasting food at Aldi than the generic Great Value Walmart brand. So it may be worth the small increase in price.

    • I was surprised Walmart was cheaper too. I thought it would be a wash and they would be nearly identical. Though I’ve read that Walmart has recently started lowering prices to compete with Aldi and other discounters since they were losing market share. It’s clear at my Walmart/Aldi that they are directly competing since staples like milk and eggs are identically priced in general. Like 2 gas stations across the street from each other – gotta lower prices to keep em coming.

    • If you have a Walmart or Aldi nearby, you’re better off without a Costco! That’s not the case for everyone of course! We lack any of those low cost options in our area, so I’m always tracking Costco prices… they’re rarely the cheapest anymore.

      • There are areas of the country without Walmarts??!! What happened there? Local opposition to Walmart locating there?

        • We’re without a Super Walmart. The traditional ones have only meager food offerings, so aren’t comprehensive enough for a shopping trip. However, if I have to go to Walmart anyways, I’ll pick up some staples that I need.

          • I don’t think I’ve ever been inside a non-Superwalmart in 10-12 years (since ours was Super-sized). However on this price comparison mission I went to the closest Target and realized it’s a regular non-Super Target. Crazy high prices!! Like shopping at a convenience store. I had to go out to the farther away Target that’s supersized to get the good grocery prices.

        • Something like that. Walmart doesn’t have the best reputation out here. The only walmart I knew of in the local area closed after a year — they couldn’t bring in enough customers.

          No Aldi or Lidl either. The cheapest we have is probably Fred Meyer (a Kroger brand), or local asian markets.

  • As a married couple, our grocery spending might be a slightly lower percentage of our budget. I personally can’t cross the doorway on a Walmart’s because they treat their staff so poorly and do not support small farmers in anyway. I am concerned about the damage Walmart causes the business community when they put a store in and they shift all their employee’s healthcare expenses to the community. I know that I spend more at other grocery stores, but it is important to me that the employees are well paid and have benefits. I live in Olympia, WA and shop at the local co op, Costco, occasionally Albertson’s or TJs and a very local grocery store that I can walk to. I am also an environmental chemist and have chosen to eat mostly organic food. Money is important to me. I am 3 years away from being able to retire at 54, but for me, part of the joy of having enough money is voting with my dollars on how I want businesses to treat their vendors and their employers. It’s a tradeoff that I juggle daily and usually just being thrifty is enough, but with food it’s more complicated for me.

    • I’m pretty sure our walmart sources produce locally when it’s the best option (as does Aldi) but YMMV on that depending on where you are and what’s available locally. Around here, retail work doesn’t pay much so it’s likely that folks working retail will still be getting significant social safety net help from the government (and I’m okay with that). Nice to see Walmart offering low prices so those most in need can afford the groceries for their families (the other side of the Walmart coin).

    • I agree with you, Sherry. I don’t think it’s OK to produce low prices by pushing employees onto welfare/food stamps/Medicaid, so that people on welfare/food stamps/Medicaid have low grocery prices …

      • So you make everyone pay 40% more for groceries? I’d hate to tell a parent trying to stretch their $300 grocery budget to feed their starving kids that they can’t go to Walmart any more and have to spend $420 for the same basket of goods at Costco just so those fat cats can keep on earning $17/hr or whatever!

        • You don’t seem to take into account that “someone” at Walmart is making a very large amout of profit- yes they sell for less, but pay much less and offer limited benefits, so while those employees may at least have a job, their boss is taking great advantage of them and the social programs that have to be used by these employees. I believe another commenter noted that they liked Costco’s buisness model – which allows them to pay employees well and from what I understand those at the top of the company are not profitting so extreamly from their employees as those at Walmart does. you canfact this quote from an article “Costco’s CEO makes far less than most executives, with a total compensation package of about $4.83 million in 2012. In contrast, Walmart CEO Mike Duke made roughly $19.3 million during the same year. Walmart’s CEO earns as much as 796 average employees, according to CNN Money, compared to Costco’s CEO making 48 times more than the company’s median wage>”
          If you clearly are fooled by the “great prices” at Walmart and spending the least amount of money does seem to be your bottom line, as opposed to those of us who are thrifty but socially responsible. I do enjoy your blog, and as another commentator said, I hope that it is OK to voice a socially responsible opinion here!

          • Walmart is a $300B company, Costco is a $75B company. One is 4x as large as the other; one has a CEO making 4x the other. Seems pretty okay to me as is 🙂 The comparison to the entry level or median wage employee is nearly meaningless to me. If Walmart’s CEO gave up his whole paycheck it would amount to $10-20 per employee per year. They could save way more than that simply by shopping at Walmart (which most probably do!). The tens of billions of dollars saved by shopping at Walmart each year? Huge social good in that, no? Literally putting food on the tables of people that could otherwise not afford it.

            Re: comments at Root of Good: I’m fine with a broad range of comments discussing social issues or pretty much anything else that isn’t horribly offensive or insulting 🙂 No one has to agree with them.

    • I agree with you, Sherry. I just started becoming exposed to the FIRE world and saving for financial independence. One thing that I’ve noticed is lacking in these analyses across bloggers and blog posts is the moral implications of buying lower-priced goods that are either sourced unfairly, exploit labor, or else put people out of jobs or (decent-paying) work in America or abroad.

      I would love to shop at a place that is 40% or 77% cheaper than Costco or Trader Joe’s, but only if its company is well-regarded in providing decent-paying jobs and sourcing their products at least relatively morally.

      • Is it really immoral to drive prices lower and bring more goods and services to more people? I’m a big fan of making the lives of the least well off better, and lowering consumer prices, such as at Walmart, is a huge advantage to society rich and poor.

        • It’s not immoral to drive prices lower in of itself, but it would be nice if Walmart sacrificed some profit in order to pay their employees better. I think that’s their main point. Since Walmart’s employees don’t make enough from their job, the state (i.e. taxpayers) end up footing the bill through our social programs. Yes, Walmart’s low prices help the poor, but they’re also keeping their loyal employees poor.

          • They are paying market based wages. To pay significantly more means they lose their competitive edge: low prices. Lose customers, close stores, lay off employees. Employees lose jobs (and get on the govt dole completely!) and customers lose option for low cost goods.

      • Justin, I think it is fantastic what you have been able to accomplish, not only on a financial basis, but also it seems that you and Mrs. Root of Good are raising good, well adjusted kids, which is even more important.

        However, I do think that Nick and Sherry have a valid point. I have talked to a number of workers at both Walmart and Costco about job satisfaction. It is an inverted bell curve, with the majority of Walmart folks at the dissatisfied end of the scale and Costco folks on the other end. I realize that it is not my duty to make sure that Costco folks are kept employed, etc., but I do think there is a place for an altruistic view when shopping.

        Am I willing to pay a bit more at my small town businesses so that there still is a small downtown? I would, just to ensure that there still is a small downtown and not just a collection of big box stores on the outskirts with abandoned buildings at the core. Does my neighbor feel the same way? Maybe not, but that is okay. Each type of store and each type of shopper has their place. Neither is 100% right, and neither is 100% wrong.

        The information in this blog post is another data point that people can use to assist them when making shopping decisions. I think most people are aware that lowest price does not always = best value.

        • Putting aside the social aspect for a moment, I avoid Walmart as a lifestyle enhancement. I find it to be a stressful shopping experience because of the sheer size of the store, and frankly many of the customers disgust me. I see this elsewhere but not to the same degree. I’ve seen arguments over inane things like articles of clothing, shampoo, etc. Also people yelling at, and striking children. Morbidly obese people in those golf cart things, their basket full of lard and sugar, blocking isles. I once had to get some emergency medicine in the middle of the night for my infant, and at 1am the parking lot looked like desolation row. I felt lucky to get out of there safely.

          • The store size is a pro and con, I agree. Much simpler at Aldi where it’s 1/20th the size of Walmart 🙂

            Our walmart is much nicer than yours apparently (even though we live on the lower-income side of town). I can’t say my fellow shoppers bother me at all, but then again perhaps I’m a People of Walmart and just don’t realize it. 😉

            • I very much doubt you’re a “people of Walmart”. Ha! Perhaps my experiences there have been unlucky. But then when I look at some of those websites that feature photos and videos, I know I’m not alone.

    • I’ve heard things like this and I always wonder do you apply the same “standard” to your mortgage company, insurance company, electric company, cable/internet company, phone company or how about the brands you buy of goods (food, clothing, electronics, vehicles, etc.).. have you checked out each and every brand and made sure the company is only meeting your standards? If not, you are hypocritical.

      • I have the same question. I think I know the answer 🙂

      • Nikki, being imperfect at “social responsibility” doesn’t make someone a hypocrite. People do what they can with the energy they have. If I recycle 9 bottles and throw away the 10th, it doesn’t make me a hypocrite at recycling… it just means I could have done 10% better. But 9 is still better than 0!

    • Completely agree. Don’t care that Walmart is cheaper. I simply won’t shop there. I would rather my money be spent where it can do some good. Even if I have to spend more.

  • We do shop at Costco, but rarely for perishable groceries. We use Costco for:

    Dog food (40 or 50 pound bags, and it’s actually high quality food)
    Paper towels, toilet paper, toilet cleaner, zip lock bags, etc.
    Tires (they ended up being cheaper for us)
    Gas (almost always cheaper than local gas stations)
    Shampoo, conditioner, aspirin, cold medicine (I find large quantities of NyQuill, for example, are significantly cheaper)

    • Hmmm… I should have looked closer at non-groceries. I’m sure there are some deals there and for non-perishables the huge sizes don’t matter as much.

      Have you ever tried generic medicines? We get the generic nyquil at Walmart and it’s .88 for a box of tablets or $3-4 for a big bottle (half the cost of the name brand). Lots of .88 generic medicine and healthcare items at Walmart (and dollar store carries many too). Haven’t noticed any quality problems so far.

      • For certain items like toilet paper and diapers, Costco is still quite competitive.

        One of the very few reasons why we still have a Costco membership — Costco’s diapers. They’re super high quality and leak less than the competitors.

        We’ll probably be finished with diapers in less than a year, and I highly doubt I’ll renew my Costco membership then.

        • I had a hard time finding generic brand diapers. Dollar General ended up having great generics (lots of trial and error) and great prices in bulk. Then they changed suppliers and they turned sucky. Ours were out of diapers right as that happened.

          • From what I’ve read, Costco sources their generic diapers from Kimberly-Clark (the maker of Huggies), and the two typically have very similar prices

            Based on our experimentation though, Costco’s design seemed to hold the…err… sediment a bit better.

            There’s other Costco generics that fall into this “higher quality” category too.

            • LOL, yes diapers aren’t an area where cheap is necessarily equal to the more expensive options 🙂

              I have a feeling that many of the high store brands are manufactured/packaged by the same big companies that sell name brand goodies. I’m kind of a nerd this way but I like to compare the packaging and many times it’s identical even down to the factory codes they print next to the sell by date. My guess is many products are literally the exact same thing with nothing more than a different label slapped on the front. I’ve verified this with some tuna and some salsas, peanuts, etc.

            • Diapers at Costco are definitely cheaper than other stores, especially if you purchase the Kirkland brand.

              Generally speaking the Kirkland brand is pretty decent qualities. I’ve heard Costco usually source from reputable suppliers and just stick on the Kirkland brand at the end.

            • I found that Huggies and Pampers kept leaking and caused problems with my boys. The Costco Kirkland brand kept everything in its place (ie. less blowouts) and was half the price as the name brands for the same amount.

              I agree with @Tawcan and @JustinRoG that the big boxes (Costco, Sam’s, BJs) repackage the name brand products with their logo. Because the big boxes buy so much (millions of items) at a time, they can get a steeper discount.

            • We had that problem with one of the brand name diapers. Luvs I think?? Didn’t do as well as a run of the mill store brand. And the generic store brand I settled on from dollar general was noticeably thicker than other diapers which seems to be the main determinant of how full they can get before losing absorptive capacity. Big YMMV on diapers even with name brands.

        • We too purchase a fair amount of non-grocery household items (e.g. paper towels, toilet paper) at Costco, though we do purchase some food items there that simply aren’t available anywhere else, particularly some frozen foods. We do the majority of grocery shopping at Fred Meyer and absolutely love it. The environment and staff are FAR superior to Wal-Mart (which we never go to unless absolutely necessary), and if you stock up on items that are on sale, it’s usually significantly cheaper than Costco and often cheaper than Wal-Mart. We tend to buy in bulk non-perishable items that are on sale, and this has really reduced our grocery spending over the last couple of years.

          We’ve tried Costco this year just for kicks (we’ll wind up not paying anything for membership), but I doubt that we’ll renew our membership unless we can effectively do so for free. We did score a couple of great leather couches there that are effectively lifetime warrantied, something that is difficult to get at most places.

  • Nice comparison, that’s a comprehensive list! That’s also about the conclusion we came to.

    We grow a lot of our veggies and buy most of our meat from the local farmers market, but for all the other stuff, we shop at Aldi’s. Our Walmart isn’t a super center, but we use them for toiletries and tp. The prices at our local BJs just don’t justify the membership fee.

    I did almost try and buy a wavestorm surfboard from Costco. They’re cheap, but decent beginner boards. For random stuff like that, I believe you can order off their website without a membership 🙂

  • We were trying to do more habit changes towards zero waste – we went to 6 places to look for bulk food (and that was after a looot of research) as the movement promises cheaper prices as a “win” too.

    A) whoa we have very little options to reduce basic packaging with ease in this realm
    B) it was way more expensive in bulk!

    Boo.

    We will continue our search though and find the right balance!

    • I’ve found that many times the cheaper products also come with less packaging. Bagged cereals that are generic vs name brand cereals that are bagged then stuck inside a box.

  • My wife and I always buy organic if we can and find Costco and Trader Joe’s very competitive. Organic chicken breasts for example. I refuse to shop at Aldi I don’t enjoy the experience the shop is usually dirty and that for some reason puts me off purchasing groceries from there. We love the fact that you can return anything to Costco.

  • Interesting, but some of the prices you list are different where I live (a HCOL area). I’ve been a loyal Trader Joe’s guy for many years now. I know Walmart is cheaper, but it’s way further away, and to be honest it takes me a lot of mental energy to go through a Walmart experience. I find it exceedingly stressful. As for Costco, same thing – too far away, too stressful.

    That said, they just opened a new Aldi’s near me – we never had one before. I’m slowly transitioning to them, they are impressively cheap!

    • Walmart isn’t fun but it gets the job done for us and it’s convenient. I still prefer Aldi because it’s a smaller store and easier to get in and out. And checkout is always quicker. 🙂

      Prices vary all over the country so it’s possible that Trader Joe’s is a reasonably priced option in a HCOL area where there aren’t discount competitors available (probably the case in the western part of my home county where it’s much higher income in general).

      Glad to hear you have an Aldi nearby. Huge game changer for groceries in my experience.

      • As a resident of the western part of your county I can confirm that the Aldi here is very busy. Not Trader Joes busy, but still very busy. Our Walmart stores are also much more pleasant now that a majority of the lanes are self-service.

        One key benefit of shopping at Aldi or Lidl is that someone else has done the hard work of finding you the best deal on a given product. Want ketchup? There is only one and it is competitively priced and is equal in quality to the national brand. At a regular grocery store I have to compare 5 brands each with 5 sizes to find the best deal. Very stressful.

        • Yes, I love the fact that Aldi is “good enough” in terms of price and quality. And if it’s not you return it and get a replacement and 100% cash back zero hassle in my experience. Ketchup is a good example (just bought it). A dollar for a large container and it took me 3 seconds to grab the best option (the only option, or maybe there’s a smaller bottle??).

    • Yes I was going to say that living in a high cost city, everything is far away. There’s no Walmart near us for 10 miles. Which is fine, Walmart is a complete wallet suck. Once you’re in you have to deal with all that makes Walmart…”an experience”…

      I don’t know when they would ever open an Aldi in the Pacific Northwest…I doubt it in my lifetime. I wonder how Aldi compares to a traditional Chinese/Asian market. Sometimes there’s crazy deals.

      • Aldi is better than the mom and pop Asian stores around us (and there are probably a dozen within a few miles). But the Asian stores carry a ton of stuff Aldi doesn’t (their inventory is somewhat limited but includes just about everything you need on a routine basis).

  • We just got a Costco and I’m reluctant to join it so this was nicely timed! We only spend about $200/month on groceries and household items for our family of two, so buying in bulk probably doesn’t make much sense. I will tag along with a friend once or twice for the free samples though to confirm my suspicions!

  • In addition to the price per item between the stores, “wholesale clubs” can also lead to spending on things you don’t need because of perceived value. While the price per ounce on 5 pounds of M&Ms may be lower at Sam’s or Costco, one generally does not really need that much chocolate goodness all at one time. When we were doing most of our shopping at Sam’s, it was not uncommon to come home with several things that were not on our list.

    • That’s definitely true and probably part of their business model at warehouse clubs. If they can sell you a whole lot more stuff, they can accept lower profit margins on goods in general. And you’re right, nobody needs 5 pounds of M+Ms (unless it’s the day after Halloween and they are 75% off on clearance, right? 😉 ).

  • Don’t forget some people purposely avoid certain options.My wife is very pro-union and will not let us go to Walmart. I go to Costco because Costco’s business model impresses me and I like what I see from the top of their corporate structure. Money is not always the bottom line.

    • It’s nice to have plenty of extra money to have options to shop at specific places based on social issues.

      I like Walmart because it’s much more affordable for those of limited means. I’m very egalitarian that way and think they bring a huge benefit to the working class by stretching the grocery dollar pretty far (and strong competition that leads to lower prices at surrounding stores).

  • Hi Root of God
    From your comparison,i think you did not take in consideration the quality factor (organic food).
    When it comes to quality , customer service and membership advantages ,IMHO, Costco is the best choice.

    • You know, I did. I specifically put organic apples in the product line up because I’ve heard Costco leads in that area of fancier “healthier” foods. Nope – our Costco didn’t even have any organic apples for sale whereas all the other retailers did. And many of the items at other stores now come with non-GMO, organic, all-natural etc without any additional cost (I’m thinking of Aldi specifically). That said, I’m sure there are some organic things at Costco that are cheaper than Walmart/Aldi/Target but I didn’t see any in my casual perusal. Pretty easy to find bio/organic stuff at any store now, though I admit it’s a recent development in the past several years.

  • This is an interesting post as I LOVE Costco, and find almost everything cheaper than my local grocery stores. As long as you are OK with large amounts, that is. We do occasionally toss old/bad stuff, but we try to be realistic about it. Here are some thoughts:

    -Their “warranty” -is- legendary. With the exclusion of most technology like computers, etc, if you ever aren’t satisfied you can bring something back and get your money back. That could be your $10 shrimp or your $200 pressure washer after several years (which I’ve done for both). For computers and more instead they add an extra year warranty – I’m typing on a 13 month old ASUS laptop (out of warranty) that I bought there for $20 cheaper than anywhere else. It’s got an issue, and they’re going to take care of it. I’ve got several new TVs (plural) because of that policy and they were “out of regular warranty”.
    -If you’re comparing name brand to store brand, store brand usually will win a price comparison. Having said that, I’ve found their store brand stuff is awesome and about 10-30% cheaper than their name brand counterparts. Drugs are often 80% cheaper.
    -Lastly, Costco.com. Just peruse that site for a few minutes and you realize how much they offer. From coffins to Super Bowl tickets, they have an immense selection.
    -If memory serves me right their actual markup rarely exceeds 15%.

    I wad born frugal and love analyzing these sorts of things. If I cherry pick I can usually find something cheaper -somewhere-. But if I had to pick one store to shop, they’re it. I
    typically spend $25k a year there because I own a deli/grill and they’re generally cheaper than even my wholesalers!

    Now I’ll put the pom poms down…:)

    • $25k/yr! Wow! That’s more than we spend on everything some years. I guess we are fortunate to have several stores that are consistently much lower priced in general.

  • One of the reasons I choose Costco is because of the positive way they treat their employees. For example, this link is to Harvard Buisness Review article from 2016 :
    https://hbr.org/2006/12/the-high-cost-of-low-wages
    states that Costco pays it workers 72% higher than Walmart ($17 v $10 per hour) and provides benefits to a much larger percentage of workers. As this article, and many other point out, “we” pay for Walmart’s low wages and benefits in our taxes and other ways, as someone ultimately has to pay for emergency room health care (higher insurance rates for the rest of us) and other federal and state programs that are necessary to support Walmart employees. So, for me it is sort of a moral/value choice. Am sure as a professional blogger you could find more recent figures and more information about – I would actually like to know more about this and hear opinions about balancing frugal choices vs what one feels is the “right” choice!

    Also, I get my Visa card via with my Costco executive member ship and receive various cash back benefits from a minimum of 1% up to 4% depending on what I buy (gas, groceries etc), for me this averages $6-700 per year, PLUS I get the 2% cash back from what I buy at Costco (2-300/year), so this covers my membership and gets me cash back.

    One of the reasons I like Costco is because they have a very, very generous return policy which works very well. I buy most electronics, a fair amount of clothing, rugs, bedding, sports equipment etc- for instance I bought my outdoor patio set from them this summer. I like knowing that I can return things even a year or months later, if I am unhappy with them. I bought some boxes of potato bacon soup and after trying one we found that no one liked it, and I was able to return the unused boxes with absolutely no questions asked

    Finally, I am a very price conscious shopper and do shop at Trader Joes and Aldi’s – so I know where the prices are best for the various items I buy. Costco is lowest for some things, Aldi for many others – but I have Trader Joes and a Stop and Shop (a major grocery chain in new england) within a mile of my house – so I sometimes balance price vs convince for certain items

    • Oops! that HBR article was from 2006, not 2016. I thought was more current, but am sure the general idea still applies!

    • I would feel weird taking an item in for a return more than a year after buying it. I know the return policy is very generous but it just seems like a failure/defect a year or two out is “normal wear and tear” and not something to return an item for.

      Re: higher pay at Costco – that’s why the prices are higher! 😉 I’d rather our social safety nets catch people that need extra help instead of everyone paying 40% more on groceries. Those same low income people that need help can’t do that, after all. Unless they’re making $7/hr extra at Costco.

      • Yes, I agree about noral wear and tear, and I have not ever actually returned anything after more thatn an mont or two. I just like the security or it. Also, I bought a faucet for a bathroom redo that has not happened yet and it is likely that I may return the faucet eventually. I still like to feel good about where I shop – saving money is important to me but as other here have noted, I choose to put my money where my social values lie. And as many other have pointed out, Costco does save significant money if you know your prices and choose wisely. Sounds like you have made up your mind, though!

      • Costco isn’t throwing their money away on their employees. They are hiring a higher caliber of employee than Wal-Mart is, and it really shows.

        I’d far rather have someone in the private sector pay their employees rather than the “social safety net” (i.e. taxpayers) pay them an “entitlement.”

        • But what do we (as a society) do with the lower caliber employees? Working at Walmart is better than being unemployed (so they earn let’s say 80% of what they need to live on vs. 0% if they were unemployed). And do we need high caliber employees to do low skill jobs?

          • I completely agree that working at Wal-Mart is far better than being unemployed. The fact that many Wal-Mart employees are also receiving government benefits, contrary to how many interpret this, should not be taken as a slant against Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is paying their employees what they are worth in a free market (i.e. they are worth what the market is willing to pay them, not what their income ‘needs’ are).

            We don’t need high caliber employees to do low skilled jobs, but by offering a higher wage, Costco has been able to weed out many of the lower caliber employees. I’m not sure how skill is involved with working at Costco, but their strategy seems to have worked well for them so far. Wal-Mart’s strategy has worked as well, evident by their market capitalization recently hitting record highs.

            Do you think that Costco is throwing money away by paying their employees more than Wal-Mart does?

            • If Walmart can run Sam’s Club (a warehouse store similar to Costco) with employees paid much less than Costco, then Costco could probably lower wages and still run their operations just fine. And pass the savings on to the consumer and shareholder.

  • We actually got rid of our Costco membership because we weren’t seeing a return on the membership fees. Of course, now that we don’t have it, we’re remembering all the ways the membership used to save us money! I didn’t really buy food there, other than organic bulk meat and chicken, but I need to see if that’s a good deal per pound. I loved the printer ink refills they offered!

    • I think that’s where they get you – snag you with the membership fee then you feel like you have to buy more stuff there to justify the annual fee! 🙂

      I’d probably shop there occasionally if I didn’t have to deal with the membership but it’s just not worth the hassle as is.

      • If the % back you get on your purchases is less than the membership fee, Costco will refund the difference to you. It’s a win win.

  • No Aldi’s here in Colorado 🙁 I currently use Costco for Cruises as they seem to have better pricing with cash back on cruises that interest me, and their customer service is awesome. I also use Costco for auto/home insurance, and the pricing is hundreds of dollars different than anything else I have researched in my area. Costco gas prices are the best in my area, too. For grocery items, if you stick to just the stuff “on sale” at Costco, things are much less expensive; I can’t say the same for regular priced items! However, the crux is that I make up my membership fee just in samples. I have eaten well over the $60 fee in sushi, fresh cooked meats, cheeses, and lots of other goodies that I love to try. You don’t need to be a member to get the hotdog/soda deal for $1.50, but I take advantage of that, too. The key to shopping at Costco is to always stick to your list, try to only buy things on sale, and make a lunch out of eating samples. Even though you will have to go to other stores to get all the other stuff on your list, going to Costco is just plain fun.

    • I’ve heard about the amazing travel deals. I usually shop through ebates or similar shopping portal and get an extra 7-20% off all cruises that way. Hopefully I’m ending up with about the same bargain as what I could get at Costco.

      I was really looking forward to the samples but it was a disappointing venture for us. Tiny slice of quesadilla and a little piece of cheese. Other stores offer better samples (but that’s from a sample size of 1 visit at costco!). 🙂

  • I do want to point out that just because WalMart is cheapest, does not mean you are doing the socially responsible thing by shopping there. I realize this may not be important to some shoppers (or else we would all be vegetarians buying from the local farmers market), however WalMart’s long history of gender inequality, environmental irresponsibility and acts of unkindness to their local towns that they are built in drive me to never buy anything from WalMart. The movie “High Cost of Low Prices” is a good documentary on this however is quite a few years old by now.

    I love your blog and don’t want my comment to sound ungrateful but I did wanted to point out that there is also a social consequence to what businesses we all support and your blog post seems to gloss over that in the assumption that each business was equal in the way they treat their employees, source of produce (most from Walmart is imported from Mexico), and what they give back (Walmart is notorious for not donating anything whereas places like Target advertise and allow you to pick which school your money goes to).

    Thanks for allowing me to share my side of things!

    • I had a section in the blog post re: social aspects of where you shop but I deleted it 🙂 Too much to say and outside the scope of this article.

      I haven’t kept up with Costco/Walmart/Aldi/etc business ethics and labor practices but know they are all improving over time. As for sourcing of produce, it’s hard to really say what’s best. Growing in an expensive greenhouse locally vs. importing from Mexico. And Mexicans need jobs too (way worse standard of living there vs. here). I have no problem eating Mexican grown produce since I do that all the time when I’m in Mexico 🙂 And a lot of times it’s actually grown closer to me in NC than California produce so in a way I’m shopping more local-ish 😉

      The best thing I can say in defense of Walmart is that they are bringing low costs to millions of consumers that are struggling financially in America. And it’s not just the products they sell, it’s a knock on effect of competition. Stores around walmart also offer lower prices because they have to compete. And that’s good news for consumers, especially those in lower income brackets. Even if they don’t shop at Walmart!

  • We just bought a fancy touchscreen laptop that was $200 off with black Friday savings from Costco. I did a quick search, and it was $400-500 more expensive elsewhere. I used our Costco Visa, and that added 2 years additional years of full warranty to their already awesome 2 years of coverage.

    That said, we make sure to price check when we are there, which is rarely. Our regular grocery shopping is at WinCo, which is regional to the Northwest I believe. They are a low cost leader, and we’ve (by me I mean my wife) done cost comparisons – it’s much much cheaper, not even close, for most staples.

    • If you need a TV this year, there are some very good deals at Costco’s Black Friday (really about 10 days) sale. I find their computer prices variable and they tend to sell older models. I have shopped at WinCo in Arizona, the land of cheap groceries, and was not impressed with the prices or the quality.

      Before I forget, Costco has excellent prices on car rentals through their travel site. Beat everyone on a week’s rental out of state.

      • Yeah, up here in western Washington state groceries are not cheap. Winco’s produce tends to degrade quickly, but we eat it up fast enough that it’s not an issue. In eastern Washington, produce is practically given away.

    • That’s pretty good. I usually get electronics around Black Friday when everyone runs insanely good deals. Got $200 off the laptop I’m currently typing this on and it was tax free too (another $40 savings vs buying it locally). Only 1 year warranty but I’m handy with computer repair.

      No Winco’s here but it looks like the choice among frugal people out west. Sounds like they offer savings similar to Aldi.

      • Our previous laptop needed surgery to repair a broken power input jack. I was able to extract it, but didn’t have the soldering tools necessary to extract the part and solder on the new parts (my iron wasn’t strong enough). I brought it to work and had one of the techs take care of it, put it all back together and it worked! Except…for the keyboard. So we’ve been using an external keyboard since then. 🙄

        • That’s a bummer. I’m paranoid about losing the power jack on my laptop since my kiddo is constantly bumping/smashing it. And I know it’s soldered onto the motherboard 🙁 Lost an Amazon Kindle FIRE tablet that way already (but I frankenstein’d a new tablet together using a working mainboard from a smashed screen tablet plus the intact screen from the tablet with power jack broken).

  • Grace Silva-Santella

    Wow, great analysis!!!

    I’ve always suspected TJs was not a good deal but the brand lends itself to the ’boutique’ shopping experience for those who shun Whole Foods.

    In my part of California we have a fabulous store called Grocery Outlet. They get many items nearing the expiration date. The owners are local residents and give back to our community. And their employees are super nice. They are my first go-to for food shopping.

    There are items at Costco I find are cheaper. As you stated the paper towels and TP (I do have the space to store), the Parmesan cheese, garbage bags both for kitchen and yard waste, coffee, large bags of nuts, eggs. Occasionally I find really good deals on men’s jeans and sweat shirts and they have wonderful warm weather socks. I have horrible medical insurance so Costco’s in-house discount on prescription drugs is very helpful.

    Since Costco is a convenient stop for me I will continue my membership but each year I do wonder if the “membership fee” is cost effective. As a small business owner I am able to expense that fee.

    Thanks for sharing the comparison shopping.

    • I really like the shopping experience at Trader Joe’s but wouldn’t want to pay almost 2x the price by shopping there all the time (in other words, it’s not worth $5,000+ to shop there only). And it’s slightly further away than Walmart and Aldi.

      I wish we had something like Grocery Outlet here in Raleigh. There’s a similar type store near my relative’s house in the mountains of NC and we scored some serious bargains when we visited there. Like granola bars for $.05 each. It was mostly junk food though, very little in the way of fresh, whole ingredients.

  • I can’t speak to Walmart in North Carolina, but I don’t shop much at the Walmarts in the Bay Area. Walmart has a serious supply chain problem. Frozen items are often old and freezer burned. Produce is limp and overpriced. The lines are long and the clerks rude. Walmart is fine for the $0.98 window cleaner, house brand dishwashing detergent, and oddly, an occasional item of clothing. Paper towels are generally cheap, except when Costco has a good sale. We use maybe a roll a month, so it’s an annual or semi-annual purchase.

    Costco is good for gas, tires, cat litter, the occasional rotisserie chicken, and this year, strawberries. Paper towels and toilet paper are cheap on special, average the rest of the year. The vanilla extract is very good, but has become pricey. They are moving to a lot of expensive prepared foods, which, based on the samples, are just awful. Expensive and full of sodium and other things you probably would prefer not to eat.

    Trader Joe’s is good for some cheeses, nuts, olive oil, natural no-salt added peanut butter, and chocolate. 20 years ago, they were inexpensive. Now they are trendy and expensive. Lots of questionable prepared foods there as well.

    We have Sprouts, which has a lot of specials that are very inexpensive. Hands down, the least expensive and best tasting boneless, skinless chicken parts anywhere. Produce on sale is a bargain.

    Safeway has good sales and “Just 4 You” targeted specials.

    Shopping frugally is complicated by the cost of gas and the distance to the stores. Wednesday mornings are a good time to make the circle of stores here in the land of 24 hour traffic jams.

    • That’s too bad your Walmart doesn’t have better fresh produce and frozen stuff. Ours seems okay but not the best for fresh produce and I usually get my produce at Aldi or a regular grocery store when it’s on sale. Especially leafy veggies that go bad quickly like kale. And in general their prices at Walmart on produce aren’t as good as Aldi, so I skip that at Walmart. Non perishable or refrigerated/frozen stuff seems totally fine at our local store however it gets a ton of traffic (low/moderate income area).

      • The Walmarts here are always crowded. It doesn’t matter which one you go to, they all get their stuff from the same warehouses and suppliers. I wasn’t impressed with the stores in Arizona, either. I forgot to mention FoodMaxx, which is like WinCo but operated by a regional chain. They are all in seedy areas, but if I find a few things worth buying, I will stop there on my rounds. Last year they had very good small navel oranges at 49 cents a pound for months. Other stores had them on sale at $0.89. This ad they have frozen turkeys for 29 cents a pound with an additional $25 purchase, a ten pound bag of russet potatoes for $1.49, Knudsen sour cream for $1.59, Granny Smith or Red Delicious apples for $0.59 and jumbo yams for $0.39.

        Justin, you would go nuts here with the Asian and Hispanic/Mexican grocery stores here. San Jose has the second largest Vietnamese population of US cities, but we also have Chinese, Philippino, and Indian supermarkets. Whatever you want, you can find it here.

        • Those ethnic stores sound pretty sweet! We shop at the local Asian grocer all the time but not really for their produce. Great prices and selection on everything else. Don’t hit many of the local Hispanic grocers just because the regular grocery stores here have great selection/prices on hispanic grocery items. We’re lucky to have over a dozen ethnic groceries within a mile or two so it keeps the prices honest 🙂

  • We grow a lot of food in our garden, have chickens for eggs, and raise chickens and rabbits for meat. Yet, we shop for cheap quality food at all the options locally available. Costco does have cheaper mild chedder cheese, uncooked organic tortillas, vinegar, baking soda, olive oil (although this is going up substantially), and organic coffee. We also shop for bulk items at Winco, though they don’t accept credit cards (bummer for us travel point accumulators). I am also frequently in the 99¢ store as occasionally they carry 99¢ organic salads, 2/99¢ organic yogurt, and other great deals. Don’t forget to consider discount grocery stores that may have some great deals on paper products, meat, cheese, etc. Regardless, trying to score cheap good eats at great price is fun and sometimes not where you assume them to be. A price list to compare is great to have. We do shop sales and use coupons to stock up on certain things. Don’t be afraid to check out more uncommon venues; it might save you some money.

    • Sounds like a good mix of stores and you know where to go for everything! I wish our dollar store had better grocery deals as we don’t buy more than a few things there (like big boxes of animal crackers for kids’ snacks).

  • We had a Costco membership for a year back when a really nice new one opened up just down the road from us, right over the border into DC. Pallets of liquor and gallon shampoo deals were amazing.

    But we let it lapse.

    Turns out the only stuff we need on a regular basis can be had via their website even without a membership: stretch-tite cling wrap (1500 square feet every few years), giant bottles of Excedrin (but not so much now that I telecommute!), that sort of thing.

    If we ever really need to go to a Costco for something, I’ll procure a gift card and use that to get in the door and make the purchase.

  • Interesting comparison and somewhat surprising results. We’re also in Raleigh and have found that Aldi tends to be a little bit cheaper than Walmart for the things we buy.

    We also have a Sam’s membership because it is very close to our house. I’ve been tempted to switch to Costco because of how popular it is among our friends/relatives, but the added distance has made me resistant to change and your comparison settles it. No need to switch.

    We don’t buy a lot of groceries at Sam’s – skim milk, coffee, peanuts, ground turkey, salmon filets, protein bars. The membership pays for itself through savings on other items like tires, glasses/contacts for 3, prescriptions, and gas.

    • It seems like Sam’s is cheaper than Costco but I haven’t done the comparison either. Sam’s is much more convenient for us than Costco too (I’ve walked there before) but still another stop in the grocery routine.

      As for Aldi vs Walmart, they are close enough that I would pick whichever one is more convenient. And I feel like Aldi has great sales on produce and meat that makes it slightly cheaper overall vs. Walmart where they don’t run that many sales.

  • Ok, I got sucked in by the click-bait title :). We’ve been doing the bulk (sigh) of our grocery shopping at Costco for over a year now (maybe 85%). The remaining 15% is spent at Target, Publix, and Walmart. But for those of us that also buy gas often, there’s usually been a $0.10/gallon savings at Costco that is worth mentioning.

    You seemed to see a savings elsewhere in the test you did for your particular items, though I will say that in our experience it is usually cheaper (and/or better quality) for what we buy. Milk is $2.09/gallon at Costco and *80%* ground beef was $2.99 in Apex NC. My wife keeps a spreadsheet of what she buys over time, so she has a very good idea of what is and isn’t a good deal there. I think that’s basically the point that you were trying to make in the article: re-evaluate your spending habits periodically and see if you can do better.

    If you want to save the most though, it still pays to shop sales and coupons — getting Cokes for $0.15/can at Target recently was clearly a better deal than anywhere? else ever? for instance. So I’m definitely not saying that everything is cheaper at Costco or even that it’s possible to get everything one wants at Costco. But when we do find things that we like there, we have been very happy with them. And that includes items besides groceries that have more than made up for the membership cost.

    Sure the crowds can be a bit frustrating at Costco sometimes, but so far we still like shopping there. Unfortunately, the first time I went into an Aldi, I thought it was the most depressing store I’d ever been in (which is probably why we never go).

    • Groceries are location-dependent. Where you are in Apex for example, Costco might be the best option if you don’t have a good Walmart/Aldi/Target (our nearest superTarget is superGross for produce, for example, and not that cheap and it’s farther away than all the other stores in my comparison).

      As far as Aldi, give them another shot 🙂 They’re renovating a bunch of stores and the one we visit a lot is really nice inside. The clientele now looks more like the Trader Joe’s/Costco crowd (because it’s a mile from TJ/Costco probably) and we’re paying much less there. Quality has improved a lot in the past 10 years. After my first visit 10 years ago I didn’t go back for several years because I was unimpressed and produce wasn’t great. They’ve changed a ton.

  • We do the vast majority of our shopping at Kroger’s here in our small TN town. They have some great deals if you are a loyalty card holder, large discounts on certain items that they did not sell enough of such as baked goods, and they count gift card purchases towards their gas discounts, which are substantial in our case since we buy gift cards for almost everything.

    That being said, we still shop for items at times at Wal-Mart here in town, and Aldi’s and Sam’s Club about 30 miles away. I have a good idea of prices and will buy in those other stores when I see deals (think cereal and yoghurt at Aldi’s as an example). Sam’s Club does have good prices on items others mentioned such as paper products and mixed nuts, but they tend to do best in the health department for such items as vitamins and allergy pills. They have their own Sam’s brand items which are substantially under the prices of the larger, better known brands for the same ingredients, and most of the time are lower than what you can get online as well.

    • We buy a lot of Sam’s/Walmart generic meds and healthcare items. I think it was Zyrtek or some other allergy med – $13 for name brand vs $0.88 for the generic. Same active ingredients. Craziness!

      Kroger is okay here for their sale items but the farthest away of all the stores I frequent (like 2.8 miles instead of 0.3-1.5 miles 😉 ). So I usually skip Kroger unless I’m driving right by there anyway.

  • I’ll have to read the comments above me, but I’m also one of Costco lovers. I cannot stand WM, it’s like a different culture whenever I enter WM. It’s a good thing that it’s not on our way wherever we need to drive, so it would be inconvenient to drive. ALDI and Lidl are OK for produce if I happen to go their on the delivery day of perishable goods. They’re definitely cheaper than a lot of items at Costco. However, the taste and quality of say strawberries or blueberries is not satisfactory to me as compared to Costco. So, I’ll happily pay a higher price at Costco. I sometimes wonder one kind of gas Costco uses to ripen berries in their shipping containers. However, my DD and I now prefer Brei cheese at Aldi vs. Costco, though it costs more per weight unit.
    My DH wants me to buy Starbucks dark coffee beans when Costco gives a discount. Supposedly they’re the best. I don’t drink coffee, so I care less. He buys noodles and sauce at Harris Teeter when on sale.

    TJ’s is totally out of our way so we drive there perhaps 2-3 times a year for wine and nuts mostly.

    I must say that prices for produce are quite flexible at Aldi (Lidl is also quite inconvenient for us). Avocadoes can cost $1.40 one day, but $1 or even $0.67 on some kind of special days. So, it really depends. I never saw chicken breast cheap at our Aldi. Costco was cheaper for us. For curiosity, I’ll take a look at Aldi today to compare.

    So, it really depends what you buy. Another example. We like salami (not the cheap stuff), prosciutto, smoked salmon, lobster tails (for special holidays). Costco definitely beats the other shops.

    • “We like salami (not the cheap stuff), prosciutto, smoked salmon, lobster tails (for special holidays). Costco definitely beats the other shops.” That seems like the stuff that would be cheaper at Costco but the portions kill me! Smoked salmon (something we buy occasionally as a treat) is slightly cheaper for example, but comes in a single 16 ounce package vs 3-4 oz at Aldi or elsewhere. And it has a limited shelf life once opened (if you want maximum freshness). So while we could save a few dollars per pound, we would end up spending more on smoked salmon overall.

  • It would be great if Aldi could open up in Colorado. Costco is great for organic peanut butter, Starbucks bulk coffee, organic fruit and vegetables, bananas, organic meats, specialty cheeses, contact lenses, refilling ink jet cartridges, seasonal gifts, socks, bulk saran wrap, garbage bags…. can you tell I’m a fan? I only go 2x a month to limit the damage, but with 2 teenagers in our house, we do go through everything before it expires.

  • We are avid Costco shoppers, but only for certain items. We see huge price savings on the following items: 1) Whole bean coffee. 2) EVOO/Coconut Oil/Avocado Oil 3) Plant based protein powder 4) Charcoal 5) Organic Carrots.

    Another thing to consider is that the quality of certain items at Costco can be better, for example, the beef that they sell is top choice. Other grocery stores in our area don’t even offer that quality of meat. If they do it is much more expensive. Costco brand peanut butter is organic and has no added sugar.

    • The coffee looks like decent prices when I visited but the size was huge (would go stale before we could use it all!). I haven’t had a big problem with non-costco meat but I’ve heard this many times from others too. Guess it’s YMMV in terms of quality. At our Costco, I didn’t see any costco/kirkland brand peanut butter at all (or anything beyond the one variety of JIF in fact). Honestly I was disappointed in the lack of Costco brand goods since I’ve heard they are high quality and have great prices vs. name brand stuff.

  • We shop aldi alot. Our prices seem to be cheaper. Milk was $1.25 and eggs were $.48 a dozen these are our normal prices. For us its aldi,meijers,sams and sometimes kroger. Walmart in this area priced equal to kroger and the stores are dirty. Meijers often has a weekend ad that make stocking up a good deal. I find stores seem to operate on six week ad cycles.

    • That’s some cheap milk! We seem to have high milk prices compared to the rest of the continental US as it’s always $2-3/gallon and for a while was closer to $4. The $2.37 or whatever is the lowest regular prices I’ve seen in 20 years probably. Eggs are variable as we get .49/dozen eggs sometimes. Now it’s back to almost $1 most places (0.85 at Aldi). It changes every month or two.

      Agreed on the stocking up on grocery sales and we do that too.

  • I always felt the same way about Costco (or similar stores – Sams Club, BJ’s, etc.) prices as you. However, once we got our dogs we found the price of dog food alone essentially pays for our membership. I also like some other things like coconut oil, rotisserie chicken ($4.99, and I have yet to see big birds anywhere else like the ones Costco carries!), and other limited time items I have purchased.

    I also found Costco Optical is far more inexpensive than anywhere else (for astigmatism, for non-astigmatism, online retailers can be cheaper). We also use their Pharmacy quite a bit (for humans and dogs), however, you don’t need to be a member to buy from their Pharmacy, but it allows me to combine my grocery shopping together with my prescription pickup.

    Another benefit is gas (including 4% cashback I get with their credit card). Now that we travel a lot in our RV, saving on gas at Costco whenever we can (not always possible) has come in handy – although this wouldn’t be my primary reason for holding a membership! I also found tires to be more affordable at Costco (but I’m sure I could have got the same price elsewhere if I had shopped around). The one stop shop is nice, especially when you’re nomads!

    Having said that, I never lived near an Aldi before, but over the summer we spent some time near several Aldi’s and LOVED it! Although, I find that inventory varies A LOT from location to location – so YMMV.

    • All good reasons to shop at Costco 🙂 We have no pets, no glasses, and minimal prescriptions (about $10-20 worth most years) so that’s the big difference for us. Gas is cheaper but the lines are ridiculous and I rarely go by the store (and it’s only a few pennies if I’m willing to drive elsewhere for gas anyway). Plus we only fill up 1x/month so won’t save much on the $35/monthly spend on gas. Glad to see you found an Aldi. You are right – products and prices vary a lot, even in the same town.

  • We dropped our club membership years ago in favor of Aldi’s and Walmart. Most of our shopping is at Aldis because it is a smaller store I tend to spend less and just focus on groceries. Walmart you tend to get sucked in so I order the stuff online and ship for free or pick it up in the store.
    Peace,
    DFG

    • Sounds like a good plan 🙂 I like Aldi for that reason too – I can be in and out in 20 minutes whereas Walmart always seems to take an hour no matter what we’re getting. And there’s the inevitable walk through the store that leads to higher spending in some area.

  • Costco quality usually seems to be really high. Having 4 children it’s easy to get through all of their food. Their gas is always the cheapest. Having said that we do most of our shopping at Sprouts as we eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Costco is definitely a splurge for us.

  • We usually buy groceries at Walmart, as it’s the most convenient. The good prices are just a bonus.
    The only time I really shop price is when buying large quantities.
    No Costco around here, but I do occasionally stop by SAM’s and pick up things like paper towels, toilet paper, condiments, and other stuff that will keep a while.

  • I enjoyed reading your comparison. I find that Costco is a great deal for our circumstances but there are a couple of caveats:
    1. We live a mile away.
    2. We get gas at Costco.
    3. Costco is not our main grocery store but is the go-to for a bunch of grocery items that I see fared well on your report including:
    Romaine lettuce
    Red peppers
    Bananas
    Snap Peas
    Pita Chips
    Cashews
    Beef sticks…
    Sharp Cheddar Cheese
    these are the things that are ALWAYS in my pantry and we eat a lot of fresh veggies. My experience is that they really manage their produce well and it is very fresh.
    4. I buy quite a few over the counter meds including Kirkland brand ibuprophen and acetiminaphen. Both my husband and I are on allergy medicines and I can buy a years worth of generic Zyrtec and Claritin for about $18. In comparison, the 30 days at the local grocery is about $8. So that goes a long way toward that cost.
    5. We get all our tires at Costco and have saved a lot that way, as well.
    6. I also buy quite a few personal items and many of our paper goods, as necessary.
    7. Wine is sometimes a great deal. Great big handles of Kirkland Vodka are always a great deal for the Moscow Mule parties.
    8. Our Costco has incredible buys on very high quality and fresh choice and prime grade beef as well as pork shoulder. We have a freezer and manage those large purchases. I can get prime sirloin at Costco for the same price as hamburger in many other grocery stores
    9. Personal bias – I hate Walmart. I would never buy fresh meat, fruit or vegetables there….I would be very suspicious of where it is from and what has been done to it. They have terrible personnel practices in our area.
    Our Aldi is very close, has very sketchy vegetables and is very dark. Weird. It is across the street from the Trader Joe’s which is super bright, has the most beautiful veggies in the world and makes you feel like you are having an “experience” when you are shopping. Coincidence? I think not.
    In addition, we have room in the house and in the freezer for those bulk purchases and I am pretty happy with the Kirkland brand.

    I think it’s really important for people to do their own comparison based on their shopping habits and preferences. I may take another look at what is available at Aldi. It is only 1.5 miles away. We live in a grocery oasis as opposed to a grocery desert. I think there are about 10 groceries within 5 miles of my house.
    Thanks for the analysis!

    • I checked the alcohol at Costco and wasn’t impressed. Prices didn’t seem particularly good but I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. They can’t sell liquor (only in state run liquor stores here) but I’m sure they would be competitive in that if they offered it. And half gallons of vodka don’t go bad 🙂

  • Hi Justin, Thank you for all these interesting information – I nether visited the US but in Germany it is said that groceries are MUCH more expensive than in Germany. Most of Germans try to safe money in groceries … this is the reason, why these two Albrecht Brothers (founder of ALDI North and South) are the reachest men in Germany. Earlier it was not so nice to do the purchasing in ALDI and it was hidden by a lot of customers that they buy their stuff in ALDI (because they are so cheap …). Today it is totally common. LIDL started their business later but I think they are stronger now in German market compared to ALDI. WALMART had started their European adventure in Germany – but they failed completely; it was a new experience for them I believe.
    Due to this strong retailers ALDI and LIDL, the German market changed completely the last 30 years. A lot of supermarkets exist here – and they can survive because every supermarket offers the same price than the big 2 (often as special home-brand). For sure, in every store for most things you can find one product same priced than LIDL/ALDI. So LIDL and ALDI changed their business model and they are offering not only their home-brand but also brand-name products. Regularly, you can trust that you always get best prices in ALDI / LIDL.
    I read that ALDI is investiong 2 Billion USD in your market in 2017 and they want to be No 3 in the US and it is said that ALDI will grow yearly 10% untill 2020. Trader Joe’s is owned by ALDI North.
    Because LIDL starts their business in US – ALDI is ready to fight for this strong US market, also with Wal-Mart (why Wal-Mart reduces prices to be competitive as German FinNews reports).

    Congratulations … it is a good way to safe money and to get good and fresh products. And maybe they will change US-market as they did in whole Europe. I compare prices since 35 years (really regularly) but in the meantime I do groceries mostly in Penny market (a German brand); they offer same prices but it is not so dangerous to take another cheap thing … 😉

    Bad News for investors: ALDI and LIDL are family-owned (as a lot of German companies are not on the stock market) and it is not possible to buy their stocks.

    I hope, all these informations are not too boring for you; but it is so funny for me that now also German groceries find their way to the big US market – as German cars did already. Decades ago it was the American way of life (and products …) which jumped over the ocean.

    Cheers. Maresa

    • I find it fascinating and had a similar conversation to this with an American in an Aldi/Hofer in either Austria or Germany about where they shop. Aldi has a reputation here like it used to in Germany apparently – very low cost and didn’t used to offer great quality at least where I am (now they are good in general).

      You guys in Germany are fortunate with all the discount grocery stores (and the bigger ones that offer the Lidl/Aldi prices on store brand items). I definitely took advantage of that while in Europe. It hurts coming back to the US and paying 2-3x the price for many of the same goods! I think we visited a Penny market outside of Koblenz – very similar to Aldi/Lidl and similar prices. One thing I love is the bakery in our new Lidl. Very nice prices on fresh baked goods and high quality. Unless you pay several dollars for baked goods here, it’s kind of mediocre quality “fresh” bread. Now I can get fresh baked breads and pastries for 0.19-.99 in general (not too much more than European prices). I just wish we had the automated bakery machine like Aldi in Germany – press a button and out comes a hot fresh pretzel 🙂

      You are right – Aldi and Lidl are investing huge amounts in the US and I hope they make the grocery market more efficient. So far it’s working as you can see in this cost comparison. We are lucky to have an Aldi, Lidl, and SuperWalmart all at the same intersection near our house and they seem to be matching prices (Lidl just opened last week and prices dropped ~10% overnight at Aldi!).

  • The one thing that I would say about the difference between Costco and Walmart is how they treat their employees. If you see the Costco folks making a more than fair wage and getting benefits as something you value contributing to, then shopping at Costco might be the better choice. For that reason, I do shop at both. Especially when hosting a party, getting the bulk items makes sense so I go to Costco knowing that I am supporting a company that values their employees and I am ok paying a little more for that.

    • Walmart may pay less but I’m glad the folks there have jobs. Perhaps Costco has more stringent hiring standards and won’t give the folks that end up at Walmart a chance (pay higher wages, get better employees). It’s not magic though – Costco comes with a 40% higher price to pay those above market wages. Fortunately for the low income folks, they have Walmart providing low prices so they can feed their families!

      • Good analysis but it’s wrong to say Costco is 40% higher. There are many items, especially non-grocery items, that Costco has good prices. They double the warranty on many items too. I’ve used it and they handled it efficiently. In terms of wages, it’s obvious Costco employees care, and they help customers. Just observe how fast they move vs. walmart employees. They are more efficient.

        Costco is not the lowest price, but their quality, especially Kirkland brand stuff, is better than Walmart or Aldi. For some staples that are commodities, WM is a better deal, but if you are looking for quality, Costco is generally better.

        I read somewhere Costco targets families with ~$100K income and Walmart is more like $50K, therefore, the difference in quality and pricing. In the end, it’s about value.

        Asian groceries, like H-Mart and Grand Asia are good for certain produce. H-Mart uses some of their produce as loss leaders. Some of the other stuff are expensive so if you want produce, Asian grocery stores are good. Check out H-Mart if you haven’t.

        • I haven’t made it to H-mart yet as it’s almost 30 minutes away! It’s on the to-do list when we’re on that side of town (maybe over Thanksgiving??). I’ve been to Grand Asia many times and agree they have some great deals, especially produce. I forget what I got last time but one amazing thing was fresh snow peas for 0.99/lb which I’ve never seen anywhere else (in fact they are kind of rare at stores in general).

          I know Costco has a reputation for higher quality but I’m not sure how accurate that is today. Walmart/Target/Aldi etc have stepped up the game on their store brands too (and I wouldn’t be surprised if they all use the same supplier for many goods). I didn’t see that many Kirkland brands for the items I compared, which was a surprise. However, I have no doubt that if I spent enough time shopping at Costco I could identify the best products there through trial and error. It’s funny when you find store brand stuff that’s better than name brand. Aldi has a couple that come to mind like their version of oreos and their refried beans.

          For the non-grocery stuff, I guess they might be cheaper and/or higher quality at Costco. I don’t spend a ton on non-groceries so it’s probably a waste of time for me to try to economize in that area (and if I did spend more time shopping around I’d probably end up spending and buying even more stuff!!). However sometimes I just need a $.99 item and don’t really care about quality.

  • Thanks for your analysis. I’ve always been a fan of Walmart and we do our grocery shopping there. We only buy what we need every week or week and a half based on a list. We don’t do bulk grocery shopping because I feel like sometimes you waste more when you have more. Walmart in general has the best prices and we have an international store close by that offers cheaper fruits as well.

    • We sort of buy in bulk if there are really good sales, especially on non-perishables (come check out our 10 jars of spaghetti sauce, for example 🙂 ). But the perishable stuff that must go in the fridge or freezer, or produce with very limited shelf life – no way! We only have a bit of space for that and can’t eat but so much during the week (even with 3 hungry but sometimes picky kids).

  • The closest Walmart to my house is about 14 miles away. Getting there requires driving through downtown Seattle and across a lake. Needless to say I don’t shop there. There’s also no Aldi in this state.

    I’ve compared Costco prices to pretty much every major grocery store near my neighborhood and the prices are lower for most items at Costco. We head up there once every couple of months to stock up on non-perishables. We always buy our flour and sugar and microbrews there. They have some fancy cheeses for much cheaper than the local stores. Canned goods are cheaper as well.

    We tend to buy our fresh produce closer to home. The prices at Costco are a bit lower, but the quantity is usually too high for us to reliably use it all before some of it goes bad.

    • I wouldn’t shop at your Walmart either even if it was 40% cheaper! That’s crazy!

      I imagine in markets like yours where there aren’t any low cost grocers around Costco comes out looking pretty good price wise.

  • We recently went on vacation to Florida as an extended family, 12 in all. Cooking meals was to be a way we all saved money and spent time together…my family loves to cook. I planned meals around good buy’s I have found at our Costco. For example: 10lb of ground beef to make meatloaf, pasta sauce, and burgers. I quickly learned Costco’s wisely vary in layout, product availability, and pricing. No pizza fresh baked for everyone to eat after our day of travel, no butcher’s department, no rotisserie chickens!!! It was cases and gallons everywhere. I could have bought a 3 gallon deep-fryer or milk by the case, but no PB smaller than a gallon tub. I ended up re-planning meals according to the local Winn-Dixie sale flyer and took what has to be one of the most unsettling trips to a WalMart I’ve ever taken. It was after midnight, there were people everywhere (it felt like Black Friday) and I didn’t finish until after 2AM.
    Our closest Costco has hands-down the best prices on lamb along with comparable prices on paper goods, no sugar peanut butter, lettuce, and so much more. That along with their specials makes up for about half our grocery/cleaners/dry goods budget. We spend around $175 a week for our family of 4 student athletes plus Mom and Dad only eating out 2x a month.

    • Sounds like my local Costco. Pretty disappointing experience and the peanut butter was only available in quantities greater than 1 gallon (who buys that much?? 😉 ).

      Walmart is usually an interesting experience even in the middle of the day. I figure I’m rubbing elbows with fellow millionaires and homeless people when I’m in there.

      • Sounds like this may have been one of Costco’s “business center” stores. They have these and they are primarily aimed at restaurants, schools, etc., people who need to buy in serious bulk. A “regular” Costco will have a butcher, pharmacy, optical, photo, etc., and more reasonable sized portions.

        • I’m pretty sure it’s a regular full service Costco and the items on sale (and the clientele) certainly make it look that way. The peanut butter was actually a little under a gallon. 2 jars of JIF, 48 ounces each. For some reason I thought it was 67 oz x 2 (that was the spaghetti sauce) but I had to check my research notes 🙂 So I stand corrected, they do sell in quantities as small as 3 quarts and it’s in 2 separate jars so we might be able to work our way through that before it goes bad. We usually buy the 28-40 ounce sizes and don’t have a problem with those.

  • We love Walmart because you can get all of your groceries, clothing, office supplies, electronics, etc. all in one place for about 30% less than other stores in our area. The fact that some people hate Walmart for political reasons makes me even more motivated to shop there!!

    • Ha ha, yep. The walmart hatred is hilarious! I’ve mentioned to lower income people how the upper-middle class hates walmart and they get so pissed. Rich and/or white folks trying to take away the only affordable grocery option in town! I feel even better supporting our local walmart.

      • I can’t support a store that costs society ~1million/store/year because they are too greedy to pay their employees properly and provide them benefits. Sorry. Spin it how you want if it makes you feel like Wal-Mart is doing these people a service by their business model! I’m lucky enough to have options (Aldi, Costco) that treat their employees properly, pay them well, and don’t use me (the American taxpayer) to subsidize their business model.

        Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/04/15/report-walmart-workers-cost-taxpayers-6-2-billion-in-public-assistance/#6ab56e30720b

        Also, as someone earlier mentioned: “The high cost of low price,” an excellent documentary:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wal-Mart:_The_High_Cost_of_Low_Price

        Anyway, possibly subject material for another post on your blog!

        • I have a hard time with the methodology they’re using to come up with the million(s) per store in cost to taxpayers. That’s a criticism you can lodge against every employer that pays under $15-20. That is, their employees may be living under the poverty level and might qualify for public benefits. Their average associate salary is well above the minimum wage around here (which is the same as federal min wage), yet I’m sure those employees with families to support still qualify for governmental assistance. Same story at grocery stores, retail outlets, and any business that doesn’t pay 2-3x the minimum wage. Walmart is easy to target because they have been so phenomenally successful at gaining market share and they have over a million employees.

          This criticism of low wages also ignores the huge benefit of saving money at Walmart. Consider that each store sells about $50 million per year. If the 40% savings vs Costco (or other higher price alternatives) is accurate across all products, that means the $50 million of goods would cost an extra $20 million (!!!) at a higher priced retailer. So they cost the community a million in governmental benefits but save the local folks $20 million? Give me MORE WALMARTS!!! And my quick (possibly error-riddled) math ignored the knock on effect of forcing other nearby retailers to lower their prices to compete with Walmart. Many millions more. Also consider that some walmart employees might not be able to find work elsewhere and end up at Walmart due to this. At least they can find some gainful employment.

          • Watch the documentary, it’s interesting, to say the least. I think it’s even available on YouTube.

            • I feel like I watched it a long time ago. I’ve certainly read several detailed criticisms of Walmart. Rarely do they mention the huge benefit of lowered consumer prices for the least advantaged in society.

              edit: yes, already seen it a long time ago. Found it on youtube just now.

  • “$3 Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw) wine”

    HA HA. Whenever we’re in the States, we load up on that stuff. I love Trader Joe’s. It’s probably not the best in terms of price for general groceries, but I LOVE their specialty items. And the free samples.

    I’ve never gotten a Costco membership in my life so no idea whether the prices are good. Walmart surprised me as the winner in this case. I generally just buy groceries in Chinese grocery stores so that tends to save us a ton of money. Not sure if it works well for bulk but we don’t have enough people to eat it all before it goes bad. I can see how a family of 5 like yours would be very suited to shopping in bulk. And only 5000K on groceries a year is amazing! I think I spend around that much and there are only 2 of us! Plus we spend WAY more on eating out. Can’t help it. I love good food and I’m too lazy to cook all the time. Luckily, my go-to places are Asian restaurants and hole in the wall places so it tends to be pretty inexpensive.

    Super awesome and detailed comparison! I feel like they should make a show about this (like a sister show for “Extreme Couponing”)

    • $3 buck chuck is killer 🙂 We’re still trying Lidl’s new wines to see if there are any contenders to the $3 Buck Chuck throne for delicious wines under $3. Of course anything in the US will be cheaper than Canada’s wine prices.

      Though your restaurant prices are awesome. Got to go back to that Korean place in downtown TO next time we’re there. Just spent $9 USD on 5 tiny Korean fried chicken tenders with mediocre sauce here in Raleigh at “the best place in town” (which is right across from our neighborhood).

  • RunningWithScissors

    I shop at Costco but keep an eye on prices. Your analysis is correct, but for non-perishable staples such as paper goods it’s still lowest. And, the weekly specials on meat and cheese are sometimes worthwhile. The real trick is to stay away from the rest of the aisles with processed foods and consumer goods! There’s no point saving a few pennies on cereal, only to splurge on a new outdoor furniture set.

    In our corner of the world (Western Canada), we don’t have Aldi, Targets or Trader Joes so Costco is still a good option. But FIREcracker’s suggestion of shopping at ethnic supermarkets is spot on! And if you’re willing to do a bit of hands-on work, buying bulk meats and doing some of the butchering yourself can result in super-low costs. You just have to be an informed consumer, which your price comparison exercise helps with – thanks!

    • At our Costco, the prices on paper goods were just okay vs. Walmart/Aldi. I often get paper goods on sale at the grocery store when they are half off (half off their normal higher prices!) and that works out to be even cheaper than Costco for similar quality (they’re name brand at the grocery store).

  • We have all but Trader Joe’s within a half mile of one another, about two miles from our home. There are also a couple regional chain stores.

    Since Aldi came to town, we find ourselves going to Costco less and less. We go to Walmart when we want a specific brand item, and to the regional stores out of convenience or to stock up on ad items on occasion.

    As others have pointed out, Costco excels in areas other than grocery. Also, their products, including the Kirkland store brand, tend to be high quality. A bag of salmon at Costco might cost $2 to $3 more per pound compared to Walmart, but the filets are much thicker and taste so much better. The fresh produce and veggies are always high quality at Costco, and you can get prime beef for a very small premium over choice.

    I think every store has pros and cons, but Aldi is now our go-to store. The others we go to with a specific need.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    • Aldi is my go to store, too. Walmart is a special trip kind of place though I feel like it could get back in the rotation. Good exercise too (I should track how many steps a typical Walmart shopping trip takes…). Re: the things like salmon, if you add a couple bucks to the frozen salmon prices aren’t you paying the same as buying fresh salmon (usually $7/lb around here)?

      • It usually costs a bit more in the midwest, but a lot of it is frozen first no matter where you get it. Or so I’m told.

        Strap on the Fitbit before the next Walmart run. Or MMM it and bike your way to and from (and perhaps within) the store.

        Cheers!
        -PoF

        • You’re right about the previously frozen salmon. It still seems like the previously frozen stuff is a couple steps up the quality ladder vs the bagged stuff you buy frozen. And I’d be suspicious if you’re buying fresh fish anywhere that’s not within a couple dozen miles of where it’s caught. Flash frozen soon after catching is better than fish a few days old 🙂

          I don’t even own a bike! But we do walk the 3 mile round trip to Walmart (and now Lidl) occasionally and bring a backpack. I also find that forcing yourself to carry what you buy on your back reduces how much you spend at Walmart 🙂

  • I like your price comparison list, that really tells the story. Thank you. I usually get grocery from WalMart and ALDI. I like ALDI, the price for many items are good. The ALDI checkout is so fast, I love it. Just the variety is limited in ALDI.

  • We generally grocery shop at Jewel, a chain in Illinois. We have all of the options you listed in your post as well as several others. We find the Jewel prices competitive and try to only buy when items are on sale. They offer up to $0.20 off per gallon of gas at the Shell stations in the area. We also use their app that allows for digital couponing. I know, couponing…..ugh. However, we can quickly scroll through the coupons and or filter by category. We then click the clip button and done. If we purchase that item, the coupon is automatically applied when checking out. I always had a hard time wrapping my head around paying a membership to shop. I understand there are some great prices on various items at Costco but I seem to be able to find very good deals by shopping around. This allows for various stacking for additional cash back opportunities, travel rewards, etc. I have been eyeballing the Aldi store lately, I may need to stop in. Thanks for great post!

    • I get sucked into the digital coupon thing too. Not that I try very hard to use them though… I figure it takes 1-2 minutes to click several dozen coupons on stuff I’m likely to buy and I might save a few bucks in the process. Then I forget what I clicked and end up saving the few bucks at checkout anyway.

      I’m the same way re: the membership places. I end up shopping around if it’s a decently expensive purchase and rarely would it be cheapest by paying retail at Costco (considering all the stacking opportunities you mention). I guess if you really don’t want to click through a shopping portal, travel consolidator, or deals site, then you pay the $60/yr and call it good enough by going through Costco and probably pay within 5-10% of the lowest price.

  • I’m in the bay area so our local Wal-mart (10 mi away) are very urban and not the cleanest places or best clientele, therefore, my husband refuses to go there. If we lived further inland, then yeah, walmart would be a great. We do have costco memberships (actually closer to us than going to Walmart) and we generally buy non-perishables there because of quality and price. For grocery items, we stick with safeway or trader joes. Perishables items at costco are tempting in price but we can never finish that 2 lb salad bag mix or 10 big peaches…etc and they just go to waste.

    • I can’t figure out the produce sizes at costco. How do people eat all that stuff? I’d rather have 2 pounds of bananas, 3 pounds of apples, 1 pound of kiwis, 2 pounds of grapes, etc for the week. Costco sizes are 2-5x that big for all that, so for us it would be either waste waste waste or eat the same few things every day for a week (big knock to quality of life).

  • It’s horror here. We don’t have Walmart or Aldi. The only thing we have is Traders Joe and Costco (and it’s not close to us). I know we spend more on groceries than other people with an Aldi. It’s depressing! What’s even more depressing…we don’t even live near a good Costco. That store branch is awful, everything is even more expensive than the average Costco. Oh management…

    But…that Costco food court…it makes the abuse almost worth it.

  • We used to buy gas with our Costco membership when we were employed nearby, but figured out after a while that the savings didn’t justify the membership especially if not conveniently located. We LOVE Aldi’s!! Thanks for the great comparison!

    • I’m the same with the Costco gas. It’s usually one of the cheapest in town but it’s a few miles extra round trip to get there from my normal stomping grounds. Just took a look and it’s 2.26/gallon now but the downtown gas stations are all 2.27/gallon (and Shell has their 3 cent off card now). Also no lines at the Shell downtown. Save money, skip line, skip $60 annual fee? Yep.

  • The main Seattle area doesn’t have a Walmart or Aldi. We do have Winco just outside of the city, Fred Meyer (Kroger store), and Trader Joe’s in better neighborhoods. There are only a few Target stores.
    Costco is our local company and a big employer, so of course we support it, and they do have great deals–they also only promote to management from the bottom up, pay decently, and give good benefits–something that Walmart cannot claim at all. We do have Cash and Carry and Grocery Outlet stores. Your article is fairly good, but it missed a lot of other things that we buy on a regular basis, though for the items listed, I see what you mean! We’re new empty nesters, so with just the 2 of us, I can totally relate to not wanting to buy too much of anything before it spoils…at the same time we are trying to eat as healthy as we can. We buy the $5 roasted chickens, bananas, salad mixes, baby spinach, hummus, Mike’s Killer Bread, rice, tilapia fillets (we freeze in portions), Kirkland detergent, dishwasher gel, batteries, garbage bags, ziplocs, & great clothing deals most often, Regal/AMC Movie tickets, Premium Cat Food, Shipping Tape & Tissue Paper for eBay business, oh–and nuts like raw almonds & pecans–it just can’t be beat! Lunch meat can be a good deal, but it can go bad if you don’t make a plan! And I think the LingLing chicken potstickers are a better deal than TJ’s, too. Deli stuffed peppers, chicken alfredo pasta, and shepherds pie are amazing–and a good deal! Is it worth the annual fee? We think so, as we also tend to buy small appliances there too as needed: Crockpot, Nutribullet, and the best vacuum cleaner, the Shark Navigator (on sale now for I think $115). The vacuum I researched first, and read all the reviews both on and off Costco and Walmart websites. Bras, socks, underwear (sometimes), gloves, rolling suitcases, shoes, boots, long underwear, warm coats, and gasoline–after a while you tend to get spoiled and just know that you are getting a great deal–and if you change your mind you can return it(not gas!). We buy gifts for friends and family there too. I would say the clothing prices are good compared to even the Thrift Store prices around here–which are also surprisingly expensive, considering! We also belong to Sam’s Club (2 in area)…they do a good job, if not quite the selection of Costco. It’s closer and the Northend one is never very crowded–a plus! But then the foods & produce tend to sit around a lot longer, as do their roast chickens. We do like the TP at Sam’s over Costco, and buy clothing there too. I guess since Costco is closer than any Walmart, with the added social consciousness benefit, we shop there and enjoy it too. We tend to buy other veg/fruit from local stores like Safeway, Fred Meyer, Grocery Outlet, or Winco for bulk or grocery items cheaply, like pasta, tortillas, canned items. We do wish Aldi would come to the area. We also go to Asian stores like 99 Ranch for speciality items or produce. We just don’t automatically buy everything at Costco, just the things we know are a great deal!

    • Mike’s Killer Bread is really good. I do recall seeing that at very good prices at Costco (given that it’s close to $6 at regular grocery stores). I haven’t tried Aldi’s version of Mike’s yet but it’s still $3-4 and doesn’t look quite as tasty. Fun fact, we used to get tons of Mike’s for free from my in-laws neighbor’s friend (long story there). You know it’s preservative free because it doesn’t last long past the expiry date before it molds (a perverse sign of good bread 🙂 ).

  • Like everywhere else, you have to know what to buy at Costco to get the good deals. I was just in the Apex Costco over the weekend, and their milk was $2.09 per gallon. Our Walmart is $3.xx. I also buy Polly-O string cheese there which is 48 strings for $8.xx which is better than the grocery stores (except maybe Aldi’s string cheese, which we have tried, and my kids don’t like), and the sell-by-date is a couple months out. Other good deals for us include butter which is currently $10.xx for 4 1-lb. containers. Yes, Harris Teeter just had theirs on sale for $2.50 (limit 4), but it’s not a consistent price.

    Other very good deals come in baking supplies – flour, sugar (way cheaper than WalMart), cinnamon, yeast, etc. Vanilla used to be a smoking good deal but that’s out of control with the vanilla market now. Great price on real maple syrup, too. Their 1L jug is about $10 compared to $13ish at WalMart. We also LOVE their uncooked tortillas that have FIVE ingredients. 36 tortillas for under $6. You can’t find tortillas with so few ingredients anywhere else. Check the ingredients in the Mission or any other brand; they are gross. We also like their refrigerated cheese tortellini which is $10 for about 10 servings (2 meals for our family) and great quality.

    The other thing knowledgeable consumers do is buy their sale products and stock up. The sales seem to be on a yearly rotation. A few months ago they had a Paisano Organic Pasta sauce on sale which is a high-quality sauce and was a great price (and it was normal sized, sold in pairs). I bought 8 of them. They sell a large bag of Calbee Snap Pea Crips which is a much better price per ounce, especially when on sale, than the 3-ounce bags sold for $1.50 everywhere else. Their frozen hors-d’oeuvres type items like spanikopita and mozzarella sticks also go on sale at hard to beat prices. Even without a sale, the prices are decent. We also like their frozen french onion soup that goes on sale every winter. They sell the same one at Trader Joe’s for more money.

    Christmas time has lots of holiday items on sale like Nestle chocolate chips, and it’s great to stock up then. They also offer gourmet products like cheesecakes that make nice hostess gifts. Summertime has GREAT buys on popsicles. Last summer we were buying Outshine bars. They sell 6 bars at WalMart for $3.xx. At Costco, they were 24 for $8.xx. They also sell organic Philly sorbet bars with no artificial colors/flavors. Can’t remember the exact price but about $10 for 24 of them. You cannot buy organic Philly sorbet bars anywhere else. They are only sold at Costco. The Philly brand ones in Walmart are regular and have artificial colors in them, which I won’t buy. Also in the summer, they also sell 3-packs of Speedo goggles for a great price, which I cannot recall. And they sell girls and women’s Speedo bathing suits for under $20.

    For non-food products, we love the Kirkland brand dishwashing detergent. 115 pellets for $9.99. 30 rolls of Kirkland toilet paper is about $16. It is bigger than almost any other brand and its quality is better than Cottonelle. I also like their clothing items. I regularly buy their Gloria Vanderbilt jeans for about $15, and sometimes they are on sale. And my husband buys our tires there (with lifetime free balancing and rotating). We also buy their gasoline but not on Saturday! Some deals I got last weekend were $100 worth of Apple I-Tunes cards for $85 (limit 2), the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book for $7.99, cheaper than anywhere else, and women’s pajamas on sale for $12.99 that are about $20 at Ross, and a winter coat for my son for $18. .

    Having said all that, I shop at Aldi, Walmart, and Harris Teeter, too. And there are products that I prefer to buy at those stores, too. For example, we buy pistachio nuts only at Aldi. They are an excellent price there and taste good. (The ones from Lidl are not good, and Costco and Walmart are more expensive.) They also have great buys on German chocolates, guacamole, and produce. Their bread products, though, are full of preservatives, so I won’t buy bread there. I also tried their canned black beans, and they were terrible (Costco and Trader Joe’s are much better and offer low-sodium options, which I buy). I also like their organic popcorn which is an excellent price compared to WalMart. They also have good seasonal products. I haven’t liked their cereal. Those are just some examples of what I purchase at Aldi.

    Anyway, while I appreciate your analysis, I don’t think it goes deep enough. Each store has its strengths and good deals. You have to really dig in and familiarize yourself with the products to know what is worth it to buy at each place.

    • You really dug into it here with this post, and thanks for that! It’s hard to boil it down to a bottom line but I made a feeble attempt here by looking at some pretty basic staples that are pretty common purchases. I’m the same way where I buy certain things at certain stores (see the long list of specialty items we only buy at Trader Joe’s for example).

      And I do the grocery store sales, too. We got a dozen really fancy imported pasta sauces ($6 at retail) from Kroger for $0.50 each, a ton of prosciutto, parmesan, mascarpone, and other Italian imported goodies for pennies on the dollar when they clearanced out their Taste of Italy products. We were eating like royalty (or European commoners LOL) for a few months there.

  • Great post, as usual, Mr. Good. Thanks for doing all this leg work for us lazy folks. I was moved to try shopping for groceries today at our local Walmart. It wasn’t a totally bad experience and to be fair I really need to visit a few times to get familiar with the layout of the huge store. Parking was just as bad as Costco but inside the store there seemed to be more space in the grocery section. Definitely great prices on several of the staples we buy most weeks such as milk, eggs, veggies, and fruit. Now our kids are grown up Costco membership doesn’t make any sense at all even for low gas prices. Next year, I’ll be cancelling membership and pocketing the fee for some more Mai Tais during our next trip to Hawaii ;>) Happy Holidays to all!!

    • Enjoy the mai tais. 🙂 I can’t say I ever have a really pleasurable experience at Walmart but it gets the job done and saves a whole lot of mai tai money. Midweek at 10 am seems to be pretty slow at ours and the grocery section is never crowded even when the parking lot is full.

  • I haven’t done a study so intense as this, but I just know the prices at Aldi are much better. I have to work hard to get a bill over $30. I don’t do much shopping at Wal-Mart, because the selection for groceries is better at Aldi. If I’m in a Wal-Mart for something else, I’ll do grocery shopping while I’m there. (Full disclosure: I own stock in Wal-Mart.)

    At our Shaw’s (an Albertson’s chain member I think), I can stock up on meats and “loss leaders” that I don’t find as often at Aldi. It takes a minute to look at the front page and pick out the 4-5 items that are good buys and another 5-10 minutes to stop and pick them up one day a week.

    I also supplement with the nearby military commissary. It has Aldi-like pricing, but on name brands. I’m not a big name brand guy, so it’s mostly for convenience or for the rare items that don’t have a generic equivalent.

    I used to like Costco, but that’s when I lived only near a Safeway, no Wal-Mart/Aldi/Commissary. Armed with a chest freezer, we could do better on some items (notably shredded cheese in 5lb bags). Now, there’s no Costco near me, just a BJ’s Warehouse which is smaller and limited.

    So essentially, I agree with everything you wrote here.

    • Your Aldi has more selection than your Walmart? Is that a SuperWalmart? Because ours is huge and has even more stuff than a regular grocery store I think (or at least the same amount).

      We do what you do for Shaw’s (except it’s Food Lion and Kroger here). Every Wednesday when the sales papers come out I’ll make a list of potential buys at the 2 local grocers plus Aldi and then figure out if I want to hit the local grocers in addition to (or instead of) Aldi during the week. Meats, produce, and sometimes non-perishables make that a worthwhile endeavor.

      Interesting you mentioned the commissary. I used to have one at the command center I worked at (as a civilian) but it was mostly junk food plus ramen a little fruit. Prices were like a convenience store and nothing special at all. I think the only advantage was that it was tax free (a whopping 2% savings since food tax is only 2% here). Never bought anything, though it was admittedly a tiny PX and the only one I’ve ever been to.

      • It’s probably one of the smallest Wal-Mart’s around – in a strip mall. I think island ordinances and traffic don’t allow for big, big stores. Even our BJ’s Warehouse (similar to Costco) is about half the size as a normal warehouse store.

        Bigger (or even average size) military bases have a much different commissary experience you described. Sounds a little like what is at our gas station. The one I shop at is comparable to any regular grocery store. There’s a write up at Military.com (http://www.military.com/spouse/military-benefits/commissary-101-how-to-shop-at-the-commissary.html) that explains:

        “By law, the commissary must sell items ‘at cost.’ They negotiate this cost with the various manufacturers and then pass that price on to you, the shopper.”

        It’s a lot like Aldi pricing on name-brand stuff. There aren’t a lot of specials, but just consistently low prices.

        I know it’s not an option for most people, but it should be a top option for those who can use it.

  • I’m not sure where I fall on the Wal-Mart vs. Costco issue, but pre-early retirement my spouse worked in the food industry making private label stuff. Target and Costco use quality ingredients in their stuff. The Wal-Mart “Great Value” had a special extra cheap main ingredient that no one else would use. They also squeeze suppliers unmercifully. It not just what they pay their employees (in my current location they have better pay than the other two chains in town). It is also the pressure they place on every supplier they buy from

    • I don’t have a problem with them squeezing suppliers – that’s the advantage of shopping at a $300 billion retailer! They do the price negotiations for us.

      I’m curious about the private label product you describe as being inferior. Can you share what that is? I’ve been fairly impressed with their Great Value brand items overall and can’t recall anything that was unsatisfactory lately. But I’d like to avoid really crappy stuff if possible 🙂

      • But that price squeezing comes on the backs of the wages of people making your food. Most of the people were my husband used to work made about $10 an hour which was not a living wage even in the small rural town we used to live in.

        The make less than my son’s 16 year old friend does working at wal-mart.

        The Great Value item in question is oatmeal.

        • I guess I’m not understanding why the workers at the food place work for less than what they could get at Walmart. Better benefits? Better schedule? Overtime pay? Why not move over to Walmart for a pay bump or get a job at a place that pays more than $10/hr? I have a theory, but I’m curious what you think.

          As for oatmeal, how can you use an ingredient cheaper than “oats”? 🙂 I usually buy the Aldi brand oatmeal but I’ll have to take a look at the GV brand to see how it is different.

          • First, the food place employed 900 people while the nearest Wal-Mart was 15 miles away and only had 150 total jobs. They couldn’t exactly all jump ship nor can you commute 150 miles a week for free. Lots of people had spouses working a different shift so that they could avoid child care costs. Which appears to be a crappy way to live BTW. They did offer full-time work and ok health insurance.

            They made lots of flavored instant oats. Lots of places to cut corners. Cheaper cinnamon and way less of it. Apples dyed blue vs actual dried blueberries. But the actual oats are crappier too.

            • I had to take a look at that crazy instant oatmeal today while doing my shopping at Walmart 🙂

              Turns out the name brand Quaker instant oatmeal and the Walmart Great Value brands are nearly identical in terms of ingredients and nutritional info. I looked at the blueberries and cream for name brand and GV store brand. Both have “blueberries” that are really dried figs with artificial coloring and blueberry juice concentrate. I’m no food scientist but I bet the dried figs offer a better texture and mouthfeel when rehydrated vs dried blueberries. Maybe they’re cheaper and maybe not, but it’s the same thing the brand name uses, so it’s not like the Great Value brand is inferior or “cheap” (other than the fact that it’s literally half the price!!). Maybe they used to use a different set of ingredients that were inferior quality but the store brand certainly appears to be a near-exact copy of the name brand in this case. The main difference is the packaging and the cost.

              If I wasn’t such an oatmeal aficionado (I LOVE making my own from the whole oats, adding cream/milk, cinammon, honey, and some fruit), I’d go for the Great Value brand and save a buck or two per box. And I’m glad to know that hard working families who need to economize have that same option at Walmart where they can pay 40% less than at the more expensive Costco for a basket of staples.

  • I’m sure this was already said, but we split our Costco membership with family and Executive Membership rebate pays most or all of the membership premium. Gasoline is cheaper at Costco than most anywhere else I can find. Tires seem to be ok deal But really Costco has the best return policy of any store bar-none. They will refund you for most anything if you’re not satisfied, and they live up to it sans computers and several electonics. And We like Costco for electronics especially with the return policy…..no 30 days mickey-mouse stuff like with Amazon – 90 days and extended warranties on items if using their CCs are big value.

    As far as groceries, I don’t see “Sprouts” headquartered in Phoenix on your list, but its our goto store for fruits and vegetables value-wise. I think they’re making their way over to the East Coast.

    • We have a new Sprouts here but it’s 15 minutes away, so I’ve never even visited. Their weekly sales items are very attractively priced – as good as or better than Aldi/Lidl’s prices for produce. Just hard to drive an extra 20 minutes to save a few bucks. I’ll have to check them out some day since they seem to have nicer high end stuff, so they might fit in my “Trader Joes” slot for fancy cheeses, wine/beer, nuts, etc.

      • More on Spouts – They have a very good selection of dry bulk with competitive prices too. Ours is a 3 min car ride or 18 min walk. It serves as side exercise for walking to get groceries a couple times a week. Once a year (usually in early November/late October) they give 10% off their gift cards which covers anything in the store. So we essentially buy $1500 of cards once a year from them and immediately save an additional 10% off our fruits and vegetables. They have “double-ad” days on Wednesdays when for 1 day a week they honor both the former and the upcoming sale prices (flyers). I find Sprouts the “goldilocks” grocery story covering price and quality exceptionally. They also have good special sales on meats and seafood sometimes – we splurge on shellfish here and there. We went bonkers with frozen chicken breasts when they phased out a brand with stellar pricing months ago – still have the supply.

        I like Sprouts better than Trader Joes which is quite a bit farther. Trader Joes has some good desserts (which is bad for me), but rarely go. Proximity is a pretty big factor with grocery shopping. If I broke-down our grocery shopping I’d guess it’d be 60% Sprouts, 25% Costco, 15% Vons (Safeway)/Ralphs (Kroger). A 15 min car-ride is a good jaunt. I like Sprouts so much, I’d probably spend the extra time now, but I’d certainly be more strategic to limit the number of trips. We have a Vons (Safeway) right next to us (much closer than Sprouts) but we do more limited and “emergency” shopping there. Their produce (especially vegetables) is sometimes poor quality and definitely more expensive.

        Food is such a integral and important part of living, I place much weight on grocery shopping. I like Sprouts so much in fact I’ve bought and sold shares of their business, which have not been unkind either.

        • Their sale prices on most stuff are still significantly more expensive than regular prices on pretty good quality stuff at Aldi (and now Lidl). So I could save $5, maybe $10 by stocking up on produce but would consume time and gas in the process. Our Sprouts is right next to the big nature preserve we hike at pretty often (aka WAAAY out in the suburbs) so maybe I can swing by there sometime on a Wednesday and get the double sales thing going on and give it a proper review. 🙂

  • I have to agree with Sherry and some of the others. I have not stepped foot in Walmart for over 15 years. Costco and Aldi are much better employers. I am that widowed, low income mother, btw, but I still would rather use my limited dollars to vote for a better world.

  • The reason Costco works for us is the occasional big fat check they send us in the mail. Love the Citi Costco card. If you put most of your daily expenses on that thing, whether it’s gas, purchases, dining out, pre-school fees, whatever, it adds up to serious bonus points. We get a check for about $200 twice a year. Factoring that into the equation, Costco might come out ahead of the competition in your analysis?

    • I was curious so I looked this up, the Costco Citi earn rate is:

      1% everywhere
      2% Costco
      3% restaurants and travel
      4% gas

      Foreign Purchase Transaction
      3% of each purchase transaction in US dollars. No fee for purchases at Costco worldwide.

      The Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card gives:

      1% everywhere
      2% grocery
      3% gas

      But, if you have other account relationships with them and sufficient balances to qualify for their rewards tier, you can get a 50% or 75% bonus on these earn rates.

      So, using the 50% bonus:

      1.5% everywhere
      3.0% grocery
      4.5% gas

      Using the 75% bonus:

      1.75 everywhere
      3.50 grocery
      5.25 gas

    • 2% cash back on everything cards are pretty easy to come by (Fidelity offers a branded one; CapOne Spark Biz is another one, Citi has one), so the $200 cashback a couple times per year is something that everyone should get (check out the credit card offers if you aren’t 😉 ). If you aren’t getting at least 2% back on all purchases then it’s time to upgrade what’s in your wallet!

      That said, if you spend a ton at Costco, the executive membership with the extra 2% cashback on purchases will net you an extra 2% off for all purchases above $6000 per year. It’s not going to knock 40% off your groceries if you switch to Walmart for example, but an extra 2% on thousands is still decent money!

  • Wait a minute! Justin, you need to amend the study, you forgot 2 staples: butter and bacon! Yummmmmmm!

    Up here in the Twin Cities, we are getting another great chain, Fresh Thyme, which is similar to Sprouts. I should take a day and do a comparison like you’ve done here. It’s certainly eye opening. Wonder if it differs regionally?

    Our paper did a similar study a couple of years ago, but did t include Costco or Sams. Aldi was the winner, followed by Wally World, then Hyvee, Cub (local large grocer) then Target, then expensive Lunds and Whole Foods.

    • I think I saw that cost comparison in my research for this article. 🙂

      As for butter and bacon, those are good comparison points too. I can’t recall Costco’s price but it was more expensive than Walmart/Aldi. And during the holiday season, Aldi always puts baking stuff on sale. So butter is $1.99/lb right now, cream cheese .65, etc. Walmart mostly matches them but I haven’t been to Walmart lately to see this year.

  • Hi Justin, I don’t know if you are aware of this but Walmart has free online order grocery pick up available in a lot of places.

    This is awesome because you can get all of the benefits of Walmart without spending time shopping, standing in line kids or interacting with the crowds and notorious People of Walmart.

    I have not used this service myself yet because I just found it, but am super excited to try it next week.

    They have a pretty generous referral program for this.

    https://refer.walmartcom/

    https://www.doctorofcredit.com/walmart-grocery-referral-program-10-parties-select-stores-states-share-links/

    If a referred person spends $50 on a grocery pick up, both the referred and referring person get $10 discount promo code.

    Referral bonuses are limited to 20 for the referring person, but after that the referred will still get their $10 discount.

    You could probably make accounts for multiple people to skirt the limit if you wanted.

    With all of the traffic and attention your Walmart article will be getting I wanted to make sure you were aware of this opportunity to monetize your hard work, while giving your readers an easy win/win.

    There is also another separate deal right now, valid until 11/30/17, for $10 off a $50 grocery purchase.

    https://www.doctorofcredit.com/walmart-grocery-10-off-50-works-existing-users/

    In case anybody found this information useful and wants to try it, my referral code is

    http://r.wmt.co/g6Zq4

    *I had to add spaces and modify the links to avoid spam filter

    Best wishes

    Austin

  • I love this post! We only buy specific items from Costco suchs as gas, diapers, formula, water, bread flour and eggs. These items are definitely cheapest but we have never done full grocery shopping there. It does not surprise me it is not the cheapest. We get our membership as a Christmas gift from my parents so we don’t feel a need to justfy the cost of membership by buying more items there.

    I think a lot of people assume it is cheapest and therefore buy more items that way and end up spending more money. In Phoenix we do not have an Aldi so I get jealous hearing about it from those that do. I look forward to one hopefully coming here soon.

    In general, I really appreciate how thorough this post is. I love this deep of an analysis. Thanks!

    • That’s a good Christmas gift! I’d probably visit occasionally if I had a membership just to check out what they have but I doubt I will pony up the $60 to join.

  • Great post about how the grocery choices affect consumers directly.

    I appreciate the transparent framing, which is lacking in a lot of news out there.

  • You touched a never, judging by all the comments. I never thought of Denver as a high food cost area compared to Raleigh (I’ve lived in both), but it appears to be so. After reading your article, I went to Walmart online grocery to check out the local Walmart prices vs. your Walmart prices. Turns out the Walmart prices are here are significantly higher. Examples: local Walmart price on eggs: $1.97/dozen, mac & cheese: $0.77/box. No wonder every month I’m left shaking my head in amazement at how low your grocery bill is!

    • Wow, that seems really high. Is that the grocery site or the regular walmart site? I know some stuff is marked up on their website compared to in-store prices. Might be worth a look inside the store to see if it’s more reasonably priced. Though I know the walmart near us is competing with Aldi and Lidl which means it might be abnormally cheap here vs. the rest of Raleigh and the rest of the US.

  • +1 for local food co-ops! They will be more expensive on many items, but they often have bulk grains, nuts and spices for *much* cheaper than the big chains. Find one near you at https://www.grocer.coop/coops .

    • I took a look and the nearest ones to us in Raleigh are all in the next big city over (Durham). Probably a 40 minute drive without traffic. The one I checked out in Durham had the bulk goods and from the few prices I could see in pics, they looked expensive. Almonds were $20/lb. Seems very steep but maybe that’s for organic and I guess we usually buy non-organic.

  • We have totally price-shopped Walmart and Aldi down to the item and periodically revisit. Walmart occasionally has 60 eggs for $1.99 which is INSANE. Our Aldi and Walmart are nearly next door (just 1 mile apart) so even though it means two stops, it helps save that extra couple cents.

    • Wow, 5 dozen eggs for 1.99?? That’s crazy but I bet with all your kids you can blow through that in a few meals. I’ve seen eggs almost that cheap here, like $0.48/dozen but it’s been 0.67-.99/dozen lately and Walmart doesn’t seem to offer much of a discount for buying in bulk (maybe 2-5%). Last time we bought a 3 dozen bulk pack we had several eggs broken. I figured out we still came out a penny or two cheaper overall vs. buying single dozens and checking for broken eggs but the broken egg thing is annoying (how do they break inside the styrofoam cartons which are shipped inside hard-sided plastic crates??).

  • Kroger shopper here, although we make extensive use their store brand items – which I feel are generally better than Walmart. That said, I have no doubt we would save at least 15% if we shopped at Aldi/Walmart instead. I just don’t have time for two shopping trips every week right now.

    We do mitigate some of this by using a Amex that returns 6% from true “grocery stores” (won’t work at Walmart).

    • Kroger is pretty good here, too. Especially with their sale items. For me though, there are 5-6 stores closer than the Kroger so it really takes some crazy deals to motivate me to drive the extra few minutes to Kroger. Agreed on the time-suck of shopping around. That’s why I usually skip Kroger since I could save a few bucks on their sale items vs. Aldi/Walmart but it would take 20 minutes at least to go down, run in and grab them.

    • We do most of our grocery shopping at Fred Meyer, which is owned by Kroger. We absolutely love it. The atmosphere is great, the produce is always excellent (much of it is grown in our region), the employees have been universally fantastic, and their sale prices regularly beat everyone else’s prices to pieces, including Walmart’s and Costco’s. When nonperishable items go on sale, we buy them in bulk, 2-3 months worth at least. And we can buy gift cards for stuff we buy anyway (e.g. Netflix, Amazon, restaurants) to get fuel points that we use to save around $25 a month.

      • Sounds like our local Kroger! It’s consistently nice, though kind of pricey for things that aren’t on sale. I love hitting their sales but haven’t done that much lately because it’s a few minutes further away than the other local grocery options. Stocking up on nonperishables is smart, and it also serves as a bomb shelter/zombie attack/emergency preparedness food supply should we lose access to regular food supplies for a few weeks.

  • Thanks for your analysis! Very insightful.

    We are occasional Costco shoppers. We share / borrow our neighbor’s membership to buy items in bulk that make sense for us. Maybe we’ll have to run the numbers to see what we find. I’m not sure if eggs are the same here in Oakland as they are in your neck of the woods.

    We don’t have an Aldi near us, and I am anti-walmart for many of the same sentiments other people have shared. But TJ’s is ok, and we have a handful of good local small grocers that we like to frequent.

  • My grocery comparison is stymied by not having a car. The safeway within “walking” distance is truly awful no matter what time of day you go & they have lackluster produce. There is a fancy coop grocery store that is roughly the same distance, but you can’t get ‘normal’ stuff there. It’s good for fancy cheese and some esoteric bulk stuff, but it would be expensive to buy pasta there. I tried the various delivery options (peapod, amazon fresh, etc) and found their packaging intense and their minimum very high for one person. If I lived in a more walker-friendly area of my city, I would have some better options. For now, I’m just taking it and enjoying the low rent.

    • Without a car it must be tough. Shopping for 1 wouldn’t be so bad but I would hate to do it for the five of us. I regularly hit up the store 5 minutes walk from here on foot, though only if I’m buying under 40-50 pounds of stuff 🙂 Sometimes they have great deals where I stock up and take the car just for that purpose (though it’s weird to drive under 1/2 a mile 🙂 ).

  • Costco employees have health insurance. You should factor in the social cost as well. Some companies are just plain evil… Not worth the savings in my opinion.

    • Everyone, including Costco, is primarily motivated by self-interest and always will. Employees only work for ‘evil companies’ because that’s their best option. If they had the skills to work somewhere better, they would.

  • @ $120, we split our Executive membership (find a close friend or family) and effectively halved to $60.
    Between both the card-member expenditures, the fee varies year to year but is significantly reduced or completely covered. That’s on top of the CC reward.

    Here’s a bit from a Market Watch Article:

    “Based on the cash-back reward alone, to make the membership fee worth it you’d need to spend $3,000 a year to get back your extra $60 membership fee. That breaks down to $250 a month, which, if you do any grocery and home-needs shopping at all, you realize is pretty easily achieved (the average American spends $151 on just food every week).”

  • Must be extremely closely tied to geography.

    We did a comparison prior to my blog’s existence and found that our Costco beat our Wal-Mart in unit price of the majority of items we buy. Add into that the fact that Wal-Mart is an extra 3 mile or so drive, and Costco is the clear winner between the two. (Beat Sam’s Club – our former favorite – too.)

    For most non-bulk items, a local grocery store actually beat all of the above, and it floods our mailbox with coupons every week that make it even more attractive. So we generally get what we can from Costco and then fill in the gaps (which ends up being most of our groceries, especially produce) at the local grocery store on the way home. Costco or Amazon is usually best for our bulk non-produce food (rice, flour, canned veggies) and our home supplies like paper towels (which we don’t use quickly, anyway, so they’re bought like once a year).

    We’ll apparently be getting an Aldi very shortly right next to that local grocery store we use, though, so Costco might be losing a loyal customer!

    • Geography and time too. Our Walmart used to be a lot more expensive but I think in the past couple years they have intentionally taken a hit to profit in order to lower price and regain market share vs. the Aldis and Lidls of the grocery market. AKA get back to their original roots and be the low cost leader. So it might be worth another visit to Walmart to compare prices today if you want to get rock bottom pricing. Though I wouldn’t personally drive an extra 3 miles just to save a little bit on my routine shopping 🙂

  • As a proud owner of $73,000 in Costco stock, drinking coffee from Costco, and wearing nothing but clothes purchased at Costco at the time of writing this response, I…agree with you. You can beat Costco’s prices by either buying private label at Walmart and Aldi or buying all the loss leaders being sold in the full price grocery stores weekly. I also give Walmart’s new leadership a lot of credit over the past year, they’ve been able to slowly turn a giant company around and improve their performance to both customers and shareholders.

    Costco’s primary competitors are the full-price grocery stores, Target, and Whole Foods. Their average customer has a higher salary and is looking for value, which they define as quality divided by price. They also sell on reducing choices for the busy professional/parent. If you want peanut butter, there’s only 1-2 to choose from. Jim Senegal built the company on this model. It creates the challenge of finding comparative products when there’s no private label peanut butter.

    Costco sells everything at a 13% or lower markup over their cost, where Walmart averages 25%. Senegal believed in building long-term relationships with suppliers (he famously sent back a frozen chicken contract a new buyer brought him saying it was too low and they needed to pay the supplier more). Walmart at the time had the reputation of beating the hell out of a supplier and put them out of business over two dollars. I’ve had a client who sold to both, it was an interesting difference between the two companies.

    I appreciate the thoughtful analysis, in my opinion Costco has gone a little too organic (really, do I need organic ketchup as my only option?) and Walmart has improved significantly over the last year, but each has its target customer and have performed well as the #1 and #2 retailer in the country. I’ll continue to be a Costco nerd, one was recently built near my house and I took pictures of construction and was there on opening day to meet their CEO, but I have to respect Walmart for their improvements over the last year. Both companies have done amazing things to lower the cost of products to consumers over the last forty years.

    • LOL @ organic ketchup 🙂 I bet I would LOL even more once I found out how large the ketchup bottle is 🙂

      I used to do consulting engineering work with Walmart as my main client for almost a year right as the Great Recession started when they were trying to add 300 stores/yr. I can confirm they were the most cost-conscious client by far including the major national REITs that develop property full time as their core business. Walmart’s real estate/development department was very fair but exacting. And we made plenty of profit off of them, so it was a great relationship overall. I can see how their cost cutting extends to all segments of their business including negotiating a hard bargain with their suppliers. We felt the same way when dealing with them. Willing to offer price concessions since we knew we would be getting many millions of dollars of recurring consulting work out of them as long as they were happy. Sometimes that meant taking a small loss on a particular project instead of billing them extra and trying to justify why they should pay us extra (such as “work outside the original scope of contract”).

  • This kind of surprised me as I’m a mostly Costco shopper and probably just assumed their bulk prices were good. I also like to stock up on larger quantities so I don’t have to shop so much. So, based on what was said in the post, I’m going to try some other places (Walmart, Freddies (Krogers), and Cash and Carry) to see if there’s any impact on the food bill. I keep track of expenses in Quicken, so I’m looking forward to see what it shows. In NW Washington it’s kind of a joke that we like to blame the congested parking and long lines at Costco on the Canadians.

  • Well here is my incomplete shopping list. Costco is quite a bit cheaper for us on most items, I’m not sure if it’s because of where we live in Minnesota or something else. Also the quality is so much better on produce and meats, really everything, I am impressed. I think if you run a more comprehensive study you will see what I mean as far as pricing. I am quite sure it is not 40% more expensive as you keep repeating. I do order a few items from Walmart that I can’t get from Costco and sometimes a few things from Target.

    Also a good reference for Costco pricing http://queenbeecoupons.com/costco-price-list-updated-with-600-per-unit-prices/

    Description Costco Walmart
    | Quantity Cost Quantity Cost
    Tide HE or Kirkland Brand 180 $29.99 0.17 per load 96 $17.97 0.19 per load
    Contact Solution Equate or Kirkland 48 $9.99 0.21 per oz. 24 oz. $5.98 0.25 per oz.
    Advil Liquid Gels 240 $17.49 0.07 each 160 each $13.94 0.09 each
    Frosted Mini Wheats 70 $8.99 0.13 per oz. 36 oz $5.59 0.16 per oz.
    Cinnamon Toast Crunch 49.5 $6.79 0.14 per oz. 23.6 $4.58 0.19 per oz.
    Hamburger Buns 12 $2.69 0.22 each 12 $2.99 0.25 each
    Craisins 64 $8.79 0.14 per oz. 24 $4.98 0.21 per oz.
    Jiff Creamy Peanut Butter 96 $9.99 0.10 per oz. 40 $5.48 0.14 per oz.
    Olive Oil Extra Virgin 67.628 $11.99 0.18 per oz. 17 $3.96 0.23 per oz.
    Ziplock Gallon Freezer Bags 152 $13.64 0.09 per bag 50 $6.88 0.14 per bag
    Paper twl. Bounty or Kirkland 12 $18.69 1.56 per roll 12 $20.97 1.75 per roll
    Family Napkins 1200 $8.49 0.01 each 600 $3.98 0.01 each
    TP Cottonelle 45 $31.99 0.71 per roll 36 $17.98 0.50 per roll
    Facial Tissues Puffs or Kirkland 30 $32.99 1.10 per cube 4 $5.47 1.37 per cube
    Parchment Paper 205 $11.49 0.06 per sq. ft. 45 $3.48 0.08 per sq. ft.
    Toms of Main Deodorant * * * * 2.25 $4.27 1.90 per oz.
    Great Vallue or Kirkland Trash Bags 200 $16.29 0.08 each 96 $12.52 0.13 each
    Iams Food or Kirkland 40 $37.99 0.95 per lb. 30 $28.96 0.97 per lb.
    Milk 2% 2 $4.70 2.35 per gal.
    Hamburger 88% Lean $2.99 2.99 per lb.
    Mozzarela Cheese 5 $9.99 2.00 per lb.
    Cage Free Eggs 2 $3.49 1.75 per doz.
    Feta Cheese 24 $6.99 0.29 per oz.
    Frozen Chicken Breast 10 $21.49 2.15 per lb.
    Daybreak Bold Frozen Fruit 64 $10.99 0.17 per oz.
    Gala Apples 1 $1.39 1.39 per lb.
    Peppers 6 $6.99 1.17 each
    Romaine Hearts 6 $4.99 0.83 each
    Strawberries 32 $4.49 0.14 per oz.
    Red Seadless Grapes 64 $8.99 0.14 per oz.
    Blueberries 18 $6.99 0.39 per oz.
    Asparagas 36 $6.49 0.18 per oz.

    Thank you,

    Bob

    • Thanks for sharing. Yes, if you only buy name brand stuff Costco has some cheaper options (if you can handle the larger sizes). But the name brand prices are 2x the store brand in many cases. Maybe it’s worth the premium, but maybe it’s not. Medicine, paper products, etc we usually buy store brand. Maybe that’s why many comments say Costco is cheaper on a lot of stuff if they buy name brand items. Nothing wrong with it as we do buy name brand in some cases (but find store brand better or just as good in most cases).

      As for quality of produce, I saw a lot of the same brands at Costco as I see at Walmart and Aldi. Not surprising since they’re probably all buying from a low cost supplier that services our area. Strawberries, bananas, berries, kiwis, etc (just going from memory).

  • My list in the above comment didn’t come through very clear. The first grouped column of quantities and pricing is for Costco and the far right grouped column is for Walmart. The columns didn’t come through straight so you will have to look at it closely.

    Hope that helps.

    Bob

  • I think one thing that you also may have mentioned but is worth repeating is that wherever you are and whatever stores you’ve chosen, the general rule should be to shop by sale for the type of products you like. If its feasible buy large quantities of products that both a) have long shelf-life and b) are on sale.

    Or if they don’t have a long shelf-life make a judgement of how many you can squeeze out to buy AND consume without wasting.

    We shop Costco based on their sale each month ( some months not at all), the same as Sprouts or Safeway or Ralphs. We buy a few things regardless of sale like Hummus and Yogurt off the top of my head.

    I see many people filling up their baskets to the brim at Costco – I dare to say overspending. I’d say they’re easily spending over $400 on one trip. It could be some of these folks are doing one shopping trip for the month, but I’m sure when I look at their baskets I am not seeing the sale items in their carts.

    Shopping for groceries ought to be judicious economically just like shopping for anything else. One last thing is to make it a habit to check online on the sales and make lists PRIOR to leaving for the store(s).

    • Yes, that’s the key. Shop around to find the best deals. And do your routine shopping at a low cost place. I saw those Costco carts filled up and you’re right, probably $400+ which is like 2 to 4 grocery carts full at Aldi or Walmart 🙂

  • Thank you for the research work on this “Grocery Calculus”….Big Aldi fan here. The savings in time and convenience far outweigh any benefit that WalMart can provide….IMHO…. Plus I get 6% cash back rewards from my CC on grocery store purchases….BUT only 1% from WalMart or other non-grocery store candidates. Thanks one more for the timely info….

  • Hmmm if you cut out the Cheerios, Aldi would be almost a virtual tie with Walmart … I live in Asia here … so actually locally here to get an Asia fix is the norm and cheap, cheap, cheap! 🙂 … Japanese restaurants though can be a bit pricey here but still cheaper than in North America…. In Asia …American staples like Cheerios even in Walmart and Cosco cost double, triple and quadruple as in the States —- so chocolate pudding cups are a luxury here … not to mention a steak restaurant like Friday’s or the Outback etc …. the price for a so-so steak is out this world here … to save money as international expat here we eat local fare and seeing my wife and in-laws are from here … we are living all together sharing the costs and it helps with child care too .. and I like big families too! 🙂 … which helps … we actually have 2 maids … and a driver … the savings helped me become a multi-millionaire ….. seeing I re-invested the savings in stocks, rental real estate, business etc which I have written a bit about… see above link if ya like …. we also save on nursing home care seeing the maids help with the father-in-law who is wheelchair bound … anyway a great posting – Michael CPO

  • This is a great post. I’m sure that every single person that read the article has performed this analysis, thought about it, or contemplated prices among stores. I can easily relate to this. The results were eye-opening, but not surprising as it met my expectations once I viewed the stores included. Currently, my wife and I shop at Target for non-perishables, ALDI for perishables, and another local supermarket for the remaining items that we can’t find because they are cheap. So we kind of capture the best of your analysis.

    Buying bulk is definitely not the cheapest, but it can be the most convenient. And if you place a price on convenience, than COST provides a great alternative to the other options. Plus, I’m a little upset that you did not place a price on their amazing samples 🙂

    Thank you for taking the time to put this thorough analysis together.

    Take care,

    Bert

    • One thing I forgot to add. This is why it is important to know and understand your prices for the products you are purchasing. I can easily identify when the price for something at Costco is out of whack and we are over-paying. Never, ever walk into Costco without understanding the stand-alone cost of the good at another store.

      Bert

    • I don’t see Costco as convenient at all vs. their smaller size competitors. 20 minutes in Aldi for example and you’re done shopping (stores are only ~10,000 square feet). Given how little variety Costco offers, it’s not a one stop shop (they didn’t have 3 out of 16 products in my comparison). I can certainly see Costco’s role in saving money if you selectively compare prices and buy only what’s cheapest or close to it, but that adds another shopping trip to your rotation (and I would argue adding a regular grocery store and shopping their sales would be a better money saver vs. selectively shopping Costco).

  • Hey Justin, nice comparison and judging by the # of comments this is a popular article! I like Costco for non-grocery items. I think that’s where the savings really help. For this past Black Friday, they had some of the best deals on TVs and laptops too, which combined with their great warranty is a nice place to shop for those things. They also have some particular brands of cheeses and meats that we really like and can’t find anywhere else. But for general grocery shopping, we go elsewhere!

  • Hi Justin,

    I had always wondered about people claiming to shop cheaper at Costco. I never did a formal math like you but did some thinking/price comparison on my head and came to the same conclusion. I and my wife shop very similar to you.

    We like to go to Aldi first, get everything that is cheaper or comparable to Walmart. We also get the cheapest fruits and veggies that are on sale at Aldi (they seem to have different every week). For this reason, instead of listing a particular fruit on our grocery list, we just put fruits and veggies.

    If we still need something else we go to Walmart, which is a minute drive from Aldi. If we are down to say 90% of the list, we skip that for the week unless we really need something.

    I wonder if SAM’s club is cheaper, since they have the same owner as Walmart and sell in bulk. They also have membership deals at my work every year. But I have not been very motivated to find out since our grocery volume and habit does not really need it (<200 per month).

    PS: first time reader here and have to do a lot of catch-up. Came here after listening to your podcast on mad fientist.

    • Welcome first time reader! 🙂

      We’re not too picky about what kind of produce we buy either. Aldi runs such great sales that we can get 3-4 extremely cheap varieties of produce at half the price vs. regular groceries or Costco. And it changes each week so there’s quite a bit of variety of what we get throughout the month. It also helps to shop these sale items because they tend to be in season and fresher if they are discounted heavily (apples in the fall, asparagus in the spring, peaches in summer, etc).

  • Fantastic article! Thanks for the research! As you mentioned in your article, Coscto/Sams Club has many great bargains on non-food items. We have two kids, ages 1 and 4. Thats a lot of diapers, formula, and wipes in a 7 year span. Kirkland Formula, Costco’s generic brand, was half the cost for almost 50% more. The same for diapers and wipes. We saved our membership fee easily on just these three items. Then when you throw in the 2% Executive Member refund, we were able to save even more on other items.

    I have found that paper towels can be bought on sale cheaper at the regular grocer than Coscto. BOGO 6-pack Bounty for $8 while Coscto was 12-pack for $12-$13.

    I have found that the Walmart near us does not have as good of quality of produce as our small grocery store (Harris Teeter or Publix). Walmart does have cheaper Organic Whole Milk, by almost $1 per gallon, so we might start buying it there if convenient.

    Finally, you mentioned other services Costco offers not really being cheaper. We bought our kitchen cabinets through Costco. Solid wood, customized to our exact specifications, top tier stuff. Came in thousands less than the closest competitor we could find.

    • Kitchen cabinets at Costco? Interesting! I would never think to look at Costco for cabinets. They must have a good deal worked out with their supplier for high quality cabinets.

  • Saw this late but thanks for the analysis. I haven’t done this in a while for the “regular” grocery stores in my area, because we do most of our shopping now at a variety of grocery outlet type places. We have ones that look fancy, with pretty lighting and matching shelves, and we have ones that look like the stereotype of a Russian grocery store. But they all are at least 40% cheaper (often up to 70%) than the regular big chain grocery options (Giant, Safeway, Costco, Target, Walmart) on similar types of items.

    But since we started using the grocery outlet option, we have changed the way we approach grocery shopping. We rarely have a list, although we have a list of staples we generally keep an eye out for (flour, soy sauce, rice, etc). Instead we buy what they have that’s cheap. Since they typically have a lot of “international” items, we get to try new things on a regular basis (fancy rice!). They also have a lot of high end and organic brands, so we’ve gotten to try many of these things as well (fancy cheese!). The produce is almost always imperfect, but often that manifests in things like smaller than typical fruits. They usually taste about the same as anything we can get from the regular grocery. But often produce is seasonal, so if one expects nonseasonal eating, their options may not be as good in the winter.

    The only thing we don’t buy much of at grocery outlets is dairy. Their milk often doesn’t last as long, and I’m picky about my yogurt and they don’t usually have the brand I like. But compared to our food bills when we lived in places that didn’t have grocery outlets, we’ve cut our food costs by more than half, and eat much fancier food (lots more Thai and Japanese food, less beans and rice, plus things we’d never tried before). I don’t think I could ever move, because going back to our pre grocery outlet diet would lack a lot of the variety we’ve gotten accustomed to. And because everything is priced similarly regardless of brand assuming it’s the same type of item, I can compare the expensive brands with the cheap ones, and determine if brand makes a difference (sometime it does, sometimes it doesn’t).

    • We don’t have any grocery outlets like that around here. The closest is Ollie’s which has a good selection of non-perishable goods (plus a few bakery items about to expire) but the prices are usually about the same as Aldi/Walmart or grocery store sale prices. And they carry no fresh stuff which is a lot of what we buy each week. So it doesn’t make the rotation for my routine shopping (in spite of it being in my neighborhood and easily accessible!).

      We are fortunate to have a very reasonably priced Asian grocery store so we get tons of international goodies there without a large mark up (usually 1/2 the price of Asian items at Walmart or regular grocery store if they even carry them!). And Aldi and Lidl carry tons of imported foods from Europe for very low prices, so that’s where we get some cured meats, cheeses, olives, and other things. It’s not the cheapest strategy overall but I feel like the $450/month we spend on actual food is remarkably low given what we’re buying (I think the average for a family of 5 is closer to $700 and that doesn’t include wine/beer like we do!!).

  • I love how thorough this is! Definitely a few surprises here mostly centered around how expensive Costco is. Quite eye-opening!

    I will become the ultimate FIRE champion when I learn to photosynthesize my food.

    • I was surprised too. I thought there would be better prices and more of their legendary Kirkland brand products (with presumably lower prices vs. name brands). Not so!

  • Justin, in my opinion you are far too in bed with wal(china)mart. It pretty much negates much of your comments on this topic. I don’t care how much they do for society with cheaper prices, they’re negatives are well known and cancel out their faux good. Sorry low prices cause you to ignore that you shop there. It’s time for people to shop the soul of the businesses they support. The dollars are only part of it.

    • “Sorry low prices cause you to ignore that you shop there.” – I don’t ignore that I shop there, and have no problem telling anyone who is interested that I shop there. It’s convenient to me (in sort-of walking distance), offers excellent prices and reasonably good quality on most things (= even low income people can have nice things too 🙂 ), and in spite of what people think, provides millions of jobs (that pay market wages, which means some people still need to avail themselves of existing social safety nets based on their individual situation – and we shouldn’t shame the hard working recipients for that, nor shame their choice of employer).

      Re: wal(china)mart – I feel like supporting trade with China is a good thing. Per capita GDP in the US is seven times that of China meaning we are much wealthier than they are. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to spread some of that wealth via trade to those in much more need of jobs and opportunities than us? What is wrong with the desire to increase the wealth of the poorer nations of the world?

      • Wow, a delusional reply in so many ways. I am no longer able discuss for that reason.

        One correction to my prior post, it should have said…l’m sorry that low prices cause you to ignore the damage that walmart does and that you continue to shop there.

  • We have a Sam’s membership. Costco is closer, but we didn’t find the things we need there. Specifically, we buy berries and some other fruit and veg, and bread from Sam’s, plus bulk meat and then large items in some cases. The ring I got for my wife for our 10th was $1300, and the same ring with slightly lower quality diamonds was $2000 at Zales. The berries in particular are about 60% the price of Walmart (where we do most of our shopping.) With 2 kids we actually spend enough on fruit and veg to more or less pay for the membership. Everything else is frosting.

    We also have a BJs membership, but those can be had for essentially $0 on Groupon from time to time. They do propane refills for about $8 for members at the moment, which saves me $30 a year over the exchange method. I think it’s only ~$10 for non members though, and one time when I had to refill between memberships the guy gave me the member price anyway. They also tend to match Sam’s and Costco gas prices, but we have other stations which also meet those prices at times. Go Gasbuddy, go!

    • Gasbuddy is great. I only buy gas about once per month so I totally lose touch with what gas should cost. Around here there’s a $0.30/gallon differential at stations within a couple miles of me, so for a minute or two of sleuthing and waiting opportunistically to pass by the cheapest station, I can easily save $5-6 per tank.

  • Back when I was a traveling consultant, I got to visit a lot of Walmarts in different parts of the country. Some were perfectly fine and I didn’t hesitate to use them as my primary source of groceries. Some, however, were subpar in terms of hygiene, customers, and checkout lines.

    Unfortunately, the only Walmart that I have access to post-FIRE is one of the bad ones, so it’s Aldi for me. My grocery bill is around $100/month for one person, so I am not complaining.

    • You probably won’t save much if you’re only spending $100/month and shop at Aldi. Walmart turned out slightly cheaper vs Aldi in my study but I didn’t really compare a lot of fruits and vegetables that are frequently on sale at Aldi.

      We have noticed some strong variation in Walmarts around Raleigh too. Our nearest one is pretty great but there’s another one near us that isn’t as nice. And they are all packed because I think the secret of their low costs is now common knowledge 😉

  • We’re Kroger shoppers while still working and don’t foresee switching after FIRE primarily because they have several vegan alternatives. We’ll probably add Aldi to our list one day when we have more time but we need the one-stop shop convenience for now.
    We do occasionally shop at TJs or local Indian grocers for a few items. There are some TJs products I don’t see elsewhere like canned jackfruit and frozen burritos that are good to stock up on. We use the Indian grocers mainly for two things: if we’re feeling adventurous and want to make Indian from scratch (think homemade dosa), or if we need certain spices. If you need cumin, paprika, turmeric, and a few others, you can get a massive quantity usually cheaper than a tiny spice bottle at chains.
    My parents have a Costco very close and love it. Not sure why two retirees need it but it explains why they have 2 full-size refrigerators and a stand-alone freezer. I get the impression they’ve lost sight of the big picture on cost – if you’re buying pounds of food and paying to freeze it for months, are you really saving money?

  • I’m a little late to the discussion but had to chime in because I’m shocked – shocked! – that Target isn’t getting any love in the comments. I’ll admit that I’m somewhat biased since I live in MN and this is definitely “Target country” since the HQ is in Minneapolis.

    I do all my grocery and household goods shopping there weekly and for (just me) it’s $40-$60/week. Between Cartwheel, 5% off with a RedCard, and manufacturer coupons, it’s a great deal. I’m also a big fan of their generic brands, Archer Farms for food and Up & Up for personal care/household goods.

    I live in an area that has Target, Cub Foods, Aldi, Walmart, Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Hy-Vee all within a few miles but find that Target is the most convenient since I can buy everything I need in one place while still easily finding a parking spot and without battling crowds.

    There have been times where products have been out of stock but the store managers always take the time to talk to me and ask follow up questions. While not perfect, it’s still a great option.

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