Ever since working for two years in college as a grocery-store cashier, I’ve loved peeking into other people’s shopping carts. There’s no better place for this than membership-only warehouse chain Costco.
Idly watching from afar, you never know why someone is stocking up on a particular product. Recently, I saw a two women in Costco loading up two carts with humongous bags of Skinny Pop popcorn. My imagination went wild. Were they teachers planning a school movie night? Or did they just really, really love the stuff?
That inspired me to share a peek into my own shopping cart. I’m a veteran of more than two decades of shopping there, after all.
Below are some of my favorite items to buy at Costco. Where possible, I’ve included links to the products. Take note, though: Prices online can differ from Costco’s in-store charge for the same item.
1. Gift cards
Need one to tuck into a birthday card? Or to tape to a teacher’s end-of-year gift basket? You’ll find them at plenty of stores but rarely at a discount.
Costco has them. Granted, you won’t find the selection you might see elsewhere, but the prices are great. For example, I recently picked up a two-pack of $25 gift cards for See’s Candies for $38.99 –- a savings of about $11.
2. Rotisserie chicken
It’s almost cliche now, but unless you’re a vegetarian, it’s a no-brainer to pick up a fresh, hot rotisserie chicken on every Costco trip you make.
Costco’s rotisserie chickens have their own fan page on Facebook, where loyalists share recipes and tips. The whole cooked bird costs just $4.99.
If five people get dinner out of it, that’s just $1 a meal. Shred the remaining meat for everything from soup to tacos, and use the carcass to cook up a batch of homemade stock.
3. Flavored sparkling water
At home we’ve cut back drastically on soda and now lean heavily on water. We love lightly flavored sparkling waters — coconut is my favorite — and Costco is the place to stock up.
A 24-pack of La Croix sparkling water is $6.99 — about 30 cents a can — though it can cost more online. That’s cheaper than my local grocery store, Target or even Walmart.
Also, Costco is the only place where I’ve seen La Croix sold in 24-packs that combine three different flavors. Costco carries a variety of other sparkling water brands, too, including my husband’s new favorite, Spindrift — made with real squeezed fruit.
4. Sandwich platters
Every December, I host a cookie swap for 60 guests. Every Easter, a dozen or more kids and their parents come by to dye eggs and hunt for candy.
On the morning of these parties I send my husband on a Costco mission. The main goal: Bring back a croissant sandwich platter.
These freshly made sandwiches have such fillings as roasted chicken, ham and roast beef. There’s cheese, lettuce, mustard and mayonnaise on the side.
Each platter serves about 20 and costs $32.99. They’re so popular, we’re lucky if we have a sandwich or two left for lunch the next day.
Just note that you might have to pre-order Costco sandwich platters — check with your store.
5. Over-the-counter medications
We’re a pretty healthy family. But that doesn’t mean we don’t keep a hefty handful of over-the-counter medications on hand.
Advil, NyQuil, Bayer Aspirin and cough drops — Costco sells them all.
For one example, an economy-size bottle of 360 200 mg Advil tablets costs $16.99 at my local Costco.
At Target, my other favorite store, the smaller, 300-tablet bottle of 200 mg Advil costs $18.79.
I love making my own quiche, but since I discovered Costco’s two-pack of egg-white quiches I always keep a few in the freezer. Some days, simply beating up some eggs feels like just too much work.
The two-pack now offered in my Costco store is perfect for vegetarians. It has a spinach-and-artichoke quiche and another with cheddar and broccoli.
I love buying bacon in bulk at Costco. Why? Because we eat it so seldom. That sounds illogical but hear me out.
Costco sells four 1-pound packs of bacon strapped together. After I get it home I cut all the bacon slices in half, wrap them in parchment paper (to ensures the slices don’t freeze together) and store it in freezer bags.
Whether we need two pieces or two dozen, I can reach into the freezer and get my hands on precisely as many slices as I need.
Costco’s brand, Kirkland Signature bacon, comes in either low-sodium and regular. Those 4-pound packs are $13.99 at my store — just $3.50 a pound.
8. Birthday cakes
I’m a fan of homemade birthday cakes, although my cake-decorating skills are reminiscent of drip-and-pour artist Jackson Pollock.
Occasionally, for example when I’m hosting two dozen 11-year-olds at a bounce-house birthday party, I need a cake bigger than my baking skills can handle.
Costco’s half-sheet cakes come in white or chocolate, are iced with buttercream and are layered with either vanilla cheesecake mousse or chocolate mousse.
You can choose from among a variety of themes, from rainbows to surfboards. But, here’s a pro tip: For a roomful of grade schoolers, choose a cake that has a rosebud on every single piece to prevent fighting over the icing. A $18.99 for a cake that serves 48 is a deal that beats any I’ve seen.
What are your favorite Costco deals? Share with us in a comment below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.