Secrets to shopping wholesale: What to buy and what to skip at Costco and Sam's Club

Posted at 2:24 AM, May 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-03 13:25:05-04

A lot of us shop wholesale clubs to save cash, but are you really getting your money’s worth?

We shopped for the best bargain and real rip-offs to reveal the secrets to shopping in bulk and saving big.

“I’ve got four kids to feed, so I like buying in bulk,” said one Costco shopping pushing her full cart through the aisle. "I can get a shirt, and a TV, and all my groceries."

It’s been called “the Costco effect,” bulk-sized bargain hunting at your wholesale club of choice, filling oversized carts with oversized cartons.

People go to Costco and Sam’s Club to shop big and save big, but not everything inside the wholesale clubs is a good deal.

"Sometimes, I wonder, I really saving that much money?" one shopper admitted.

So we hit the aisles with savings expert Eva Fry to unlock the secrets.

"We're going to go find the best deals and the worst deals," said Fry, using her UGrocery price comparison app, which compares prices at Colorado Targets, Walmarts, King Soopers and Safeway.

Often, because the sizes are different, we also use a calculator app to get the prices down to the per-unit level.

Doing the math, a 10-pound bag of sugar at Costco is a sweet deal, saving customers about 17 percent.

You should scramble to buy five-dozen eggs, saving 118 percent. ("85 cents for a dozen is really unheard of," said Fry, looking at the prices at other stores.)

Purina dog food (SAVE 6 percent) is also a stand-out deal.

But when it comes to the cereal aisle, Fry said, keep walking.

"We have a family of five,” said Fry. “I've got three kids. We eat a ton of cereal. Do not buy cereal here at Costco, in my opinion."

Fry said Honey Nut Cheerios go on sale regularly at grocery stores and if you use the ubiquitous coupons, Costco’s could be 34 percent more than grocery stores.

We also found if you shop sales and use coupons, grocery stores have better deals on soda and Tide.

"Safeway and King Soopers have a two-dollar off Tide coupon on their loyalty apps, so it's really easy to save on Tide at the grocery store," said Fry. “This is not a good deal."

Here's another Costco secret -- most of the prices end in 99 cents, but if you see one that ends in 97 it's marked down. If it has an asterisk, it's discontinued. So, if it has both, you will likely get the best deal.

Most bulk shoppers have a storage area, and Laura Daily, a consumer advocate who owns Mile High On The Cheap, showed us hers, fully stocked with super-sized paper towels, plastic wrap and contact solution.

"I shop at both Costco and Sam's club," said Daily, who said the key is to watch for the sales flyers. “There’s a $4 coupon for Brawny paper towels, which is what I use, so I will stock up now.”

She also recommends saving money on gift cards, batteries and gas.

"The savings in gasoline along probably pays for that membership right there," said Daily.

There are some wholesale club savings no bargain hunter can pass.

"We pick up a chicken every week we come to Costco!" said Fry with a laugh, pointing at the $4.99 rotisserie chicken.

She also shops the organic spring mix and the toilet paper.

"The worst thing you could possibly do is have a house of five people and not a roll of toilet paper,” said Fry. "So we think this is a good buy."

If you're feeling a little hungry after all that heavy lifting, we found one of the best bargains at the Costco Food court.

You can get a hotdog and a drink for $1.50; a price that hasn't changed in almost 30 years.

To see a breakdown of the prices and the 6 things to buy and 6 things to skip at Costco, go here

Eva Fry is a consumer savings expert and the founder of the uGrocery price comparison app. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three children. Read more money saving tips and price comparisons over at