19 Purchases You Should Avoid at Warehouse Clubs

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Unhappy woman with an apple
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Look, I like warehouse clubs as much as the next person standing in line for the jumbo hot dog at Costco. But let’s be real: There are things you never want to buy from these stores.

You’ll want to avoid some items because they’re not such a great deal. For other items, the bulk size makes them impractical for the average family. No reason to buy something you can’t use before it goes bad.

Here are some things we think you should consider skipping the next time you shop at your favorite warehouse store.

1. Books

Books outside a bookstore
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Many of the items on this list aren’t good buys because they’ll go bad before you get your money’s worth. Books are a different story. You should skip books at the warehouse store because you can probably find them cheaper at Amazon.

Better yet, don’t buy books at all. Switch to e-books, and you will find plenty of no-cost options, as we illustrate in “11 Sites That Offer Free E-Books.”

2. Spices

Man cooking at home
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Let’s start with some of the items you can’t possibly use up before they go bad. At the top of the list are jumbo-size containers of single spices like cinnamon, saffron and oregano.

Price-wise, they look like a fantastic deal when compared with the small containers in the supermarket. But unless you’re feeding an army, you’re not going to use up those spices before they lose their flavor.

3. Bread

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Bread is another item that isn’t necessarily a bad deal at the warehouse club. However, you’ll probably get so much that you’ll have to freeze some of it to prevent it from going bad.

And if you’re going to freeze bread, you might as well see if you have a bakery outlet nearby where you can get bread products for an even lower price.

Never heard of bakery outlets? We explain what they are — and how to find one in your area — in “How I Buy Bread for $1 or Less.”

4. Printer ink

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Printer ink is another so-so purchase at the warehouse clubs. The prices aren’t bad, but you could do better.

My favorite place to buy ink is Staples, which has a rewards program that lets you earn rewards for your purchase as well as additional rewards for recycling used cartridges.

You can also buy “remanufactured” ink cartridges from a number of retailers.

5. Produce

Young woman eating an apple
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Produce, especially organic produce, is a deal at warehouse stores. I know some people who have warehouse memberships just for the great prices on produce. They are the type of people who get their five servings of fruit and veggies every day.

But be honest with yourself. If you eat just one apple a week, skip the warehouse produce section. Otherwise, you’ll be filling your fridge with food you’ll be throwing out in a week.

6. Movies

Family watching a movie together
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Like books, you’ll find Blu-ray Discs cheaper online, usually on Amazon. Today’s streaming services mean you may not want to clutter up your home with discs any longer. You could get your movies online instead. Or there’s always the library for free rentals.

For more ideas, check out our article on free streaming movies and TV shows.

7. Electronics

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Some people say electronics are great buys at warehouse stores. Others strongly disagree. Those who argue against buying laptops and televisions at these stores say you’ll find a bigger selection and better prices at places like Best Buy, Walmart and Amazon.

Regardless of where you shop, wait for Black Friday, when electronics are often deeply discounted as doorbusters.

8. Flour

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Time for true confessions: I have a partially used 25-pound bag of flour on my bottom pantry shelf. I can’t remember when I bought it, and I’m slightly scared to open it now.

I bought it because I thought I baked a lot. I was wrong.

The giant bag of flour feels like a great deal at a warehouse club until you’ve been storing it for a year — and find pantry moths inside.

9. Minced garlic

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While we’re discussing my warehouse mistakes, let’s add that you shouldn’t buy that big jar of fresh minced garlic.

I cook for a big family and use garlic in the majority of my meals. I still didn’t put a dent into emptying this jar before it went bad on me.

10. Nuts

Mixed nuts in a bowl
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You can probably make it through a bulk bag of snacking nuts before they go bad, but nuts for baking are another story.

Before you end up with rancid ingredients, consider whether you’re better off buying from the supermarket just what you need for the recipe.

11. Cereal

Dad and son eat cereal
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You can find some good deals on cereal at warehouse clubs, but this is not a slam dunk. Before you buy, ask yourself if your kids won’t get sick of week upon week of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast.

Even if your family loves the brand, you might be able to find a better deal combining coupons and sales at the grocery store.

12. Milk

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Milk isn’t a bad deal at warehouse stores, but there’s no reason to make a special trip for it either.

Fat-free milk can be cheaper at the warehouse store, but a gallon of whole milk at Costco is roughly the same price as a gallon of milk at my grocery store. The grocery store will put it on sale occasionally too.

13. Soda

Soda cans
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Soda — or pop, as we like to call it here in Michigan — isn’t really that good of a deal at a warehouse club. It goes on sale at the supermarket so often that you can stock up at a better price there.

Watch for the best deals around holidays like Memorial Day and big game days like the Super Bowl.

14. Sunscreen

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Each summer, warehouse clubs put out multipacks of sunscreen and sell them at a discount. If your family spends long days at the pool or beach, these can be a good deal.

However, if you only occasionally go out in the sun or fail to apply sunscreen every time you go outside, you might not get through all the bottles before they expire.

For more on choosing the right sun protection, check out “This Generic Sunscreen Gets Top Marks From Consumer Reports.”

15. Lotion

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A little bit of lotion often goes a long way. Before buying a big container of it — or any skin care product for that matter — think about whether you’ll go through it before it expires or becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.

16. Stamps

getting mail
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You can buy 100 stamps at a warehouse store for what is essentially face value, but why bother? Given our collective love of online billing, email and social media, most people won’t send that much mail in a year.

Even if you need bulk stamps for holiday cards or another purpose, your only option at the warehouse is usually the basic flag design. Wouldn’t you rather get some fun or festive stamps from the post office for the same price?

17. Upgraded membership

Costco membership desk
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If you pay for it, membership clubs will give you an upgraded membership that comes with extra perks, most notably cash back or similar rewards on your purchases.

If you’re a warehouse store super shopper, it might make sense to get the upgraded membership. For everyone else, you may be paying more than you reap in benefits.

18. Diapers and wipes

Baby with diapers
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We have fortunately passed the diapers stage of life in my house. However, the word on the street is that warehouse clubs are not the place to go for diapers and wipes.

Instead, look for the best deals using the Subscribe & Save feature on Amazon.

19. Canned goods

Canned soup
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There’s no reason to stock up on bulk canned goods at a warehouse club when you can find them on sale for comparable prices at the supermarket.

Tip: February is Canned Food Month, so that’s a good time to watch for deals at your favorite store and stock up.

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