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Costco vs. Trader Joe's: Who Has the Better Deals?

The Ascent 11/18/2022 Maurie Backman
A man pushing a shopping cart through the aisles of a warehouse store. © Getty Images A man pushing a shopping cart through the aisles of a warehouse store.

Consumes today are perhaps more focused on saving money than they've been in the past. As inflation drives living costs upward, many of us are starting to get more creative in finding ways to trim our costs. And many shoppers are also turning to stores like Costco and Trader Joe's to load up on groceries while keeping their credit card bills to a minimum.

If you're not that familiar with these stores, you may be wondering which one offers the best deals. There's no single answer, as that depends on what you're looking for. But here's what you need to know.

When you're looking to buy in bulk

Buying grocery items in bulk can often lead to a nice amount of savings per unit or ounce. And in that regard, Costco is the definite winner over Trader Joe's, simply because Trader Joe's doesn't tend to carry a lot of bulk items.

When you're looking to save on specialty items

Costco tends to stock a nice range of food products. And it also commonly rotates its selection on a seasonal basis. In October, you might find a few extra pumpkin-flavored items on the shelves, whereas in December, you may find a host of peppermint-flavored snacks and desserts.

But still, Costco's selection can be somewhat limited when it comes to food. And so if you're looking for ways to save money on specialty foods, Trader Joe's might be your better bet.

Like Costco, Trader Joe's tends to rotate its selection on a seasonal basis. But while groceries are only one of many things you'll find available at Costco, Trader Joe's is a supermarket at its core. So if you're looking for a specific type of cheese or seasoning, Trader Joe's might offer more options than what you'll find at Costco.

When you're looking for discounts without having to clip coupons

In this regard, both Costco and Trader Joe's get to share the glory. Many grocery chains make you sign up for a store rewards card to benefit from sale prices. Some even make you load digital coupons to your account to take advantage of deals.

But that can be time-consuming. And also, it's possible to just plain forget to do that.

The good news is that both Costco and Trader Joe's make their sale prices available to all customers who walk in the door. There's no need to present coupons or sign up for digital deals. If you decide to stop by your local Costco or Trader Joe's on a whim, you won't have to worry about missing out on discounts.

When you're looking for samples

Here's some good news on the Trader Joe's front -- the supermarket chain recently announced that free samples will be returning to its stores. Similarly, Costco commonly offers free samples so you can try out different foods (or fill your belly if you're shopping while hungry).

Furthermore, one lesser-known perk of shopping at Trader Joe's is that you can actually sample anything sold at the store with no obligation to make a purchase. All you need to do is find an associate and ask.

Both stores offer great deals

All told, both Costco and Trader Joe's are fantastic places to shop -- especially for budget-conscious consumers. You may find that one lends to more savings for you over the other. But both stores are a really solid bet if you're looking to trim your food costs as much as possible.

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We're firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers. The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.Maurie Backman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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