I always leave Costco a bit traumatized by my receipts. When you're spending $24 on paper towels alone, the bill adds up fast. But even though buying in bulk costs more upfront, it's usually cheaper in the long run (that's actually the whole point, of course).
The question is: how much cheaper is it? Is it really worth it to have to stash all those big bottles and tubs just to save a few cents (not to mention the cost of membership)? Could Target, which is known for rock-bottom bargains on household goods, beat Costco's bulk prices?
I decided to put both stores to the test, evaluating some of the most common household goods and personal care items to see which store saves you the most money. Since I'm searching for the best bargain, I stuck to the store brands whenever possible—Kirkland Signature for Costco, Up & Up for Target—both of which are considered good quality by consumers.
In most cases, Costco wins the price game, though sometimes the savings are minimal enough that it might not warrant the hassle of storing mass quantities. But there are definitely a few products that give Target the edge. Here's how they stacked up.
Note: Costco prices vary by store. I shopped at a location in Portland, Oregon. Also, these prices don't account for the membership fee at Costco.
1. Paper Towels
Good Houskeeping gives both brands a better-than-average review, saying they were quick to sop up liquids. Kirkland got a shout-out for being "thick," Up & Up for leaving "little lint behind." And since Costco's rolls are big—about 85 square feet per roll, compared to 42 for Target's and most other brands—you won't have to replace them as often.
- WINNER! Costco's Kirkland Signature Create-a-Size Paper Towels: $23.99 (12 rolls, 160 sheets per roll, 1,026, square feet total / $2.30 per 100 square feet)
- Target's Up & Up Make-a-Size Paper Towels: $12.39 (12 rolls, 95 sheets per roll, 513.7 square feet total / $2.40 per 100 square feet)
2. Toilet Paper
Consumer Reports gives Target's store brand a pretty decent score of 48, rating it excellent in softness and very good in tearing ease. That's a full 11 points higher than Kirkland's rather disappointing overall score of 37, and just "good" rating in the softness department. It'll save you a few more pennies—but is it worth it? That's up to you.
- TIE (PRICE WINNER)! Costco's Kirkland Signature 2-ply Bath Tissue: $15.99 (30 rolls, 425 2-ply sheets per roll, 1,593.7 total square feet / $1 per 100 square feet)
- TIE (QUALITY WINNER)! Target's Up & Up Soft & Strong Toilet Paper: $13.39 (36 rolls, 264 2-ply sheets per roll, 1,056 total square feet / $1.20 per 100 square feet)
Both brands offer napkins at a bargain price, but at Target's price per napkin, it would cost about $5 more to buy the same number of napkins as the Kirkland package.
- WINNER! Costco's Kirkland Signature 1-ply Napkins: $8.49 (four 260-count packs, 1,040 napkins total / $.008 per napkin)
- Target's Up & Up 1-ply Paper Napkins: $2.99 (230 napkins / $.013 per napkin)
4. Kitchen Trash Bags
Kirkland's kitchen garbage bags are not only $2 cheaper than Up & Up, you get 80 more bags, too.
- WINNER! Costco's Kirkland Signature Flex-Tech 13-gallon Trash Bags: $14.99 (200 count / $.074 per bag)
- Target's Up & Up Tall Kitchen FlexGuard 13-gallon bags: $16.99 (120 count / $0.142 per bag)
5. Sandwich Bags
Since Costco's go-to for ziptop bags is Ziploc, offering no Kirkland brand alternative, we compared the prices for this iconic brand at both stores. Rounding up, Costco costs a penny cheaper per bag (though if you opted for Up & Up brand at Target, it would be a tie).
- WINNER! Costco: $10.99 (580 count / $.02 per bag)
- Target: $7.39 (280 count / $.03 per bag)
6. Liquid Dish Soap
The Wirecutter gives a general thumbs up to Kirkland's dish soap (although their reviewer wasn't keen on the scent) plus it's biodegradable, too. As for Up & Up brand, Target's customers give it good reviews, but it's 2 cents more per ounce.
- WINNER! Costco's Kirkland Signature Environmentally Responsible Ultra Liquid Citrus Dish Soap: $7.89 (135 fluid ounces / $.058 per ounce)
- Target's Up & Up Original Refill Liquid Hand Wash Dish Soap: $4.49 (60 fluid ounces / $.074 per ounce)
7. Dishwasher Detergent (packs)
Consumer Reports rated the Kirkland dishwasher packs a solid 78, saying they were "very good or better in every test category." Target's Up & Up packs were a bit far behind, with a score of 67. Although they were "excellent" at cleaning dishes and resisting film, they were only "fair" at resisting water spots. Plus, Kirkland is 50 cents cheaper and you get 30 more packs.
- WINNER! Costco's Kirkland Signature Premium Dishwasher Detergent Pacs: $9.99 (115 count / $.0868 per pack)
- Target's Up & Up Fresh Scent Automatic Dishwasher Detergent Packs: $10.49 (85 count / $.123 per pack)
8. Liquid Laundry Detergent
Kirkland's laundry detergent is not only a better value, it's a better product according to Consumer Reports. It earned an overall "very good" score of 69, rating "excellent" at removing body oil, and "very good" at removing most stains. That's nine points higher than Up & Up, which tied with stalwarts like Gain and All at a middling overall rating of 60. It was only "good" and "fair" at removing stains.
- WINNER! Costco's Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean Free & Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent: $10.99 (194 fluid ounces, 126 Loads / $.087 per load)
- Target's Up & Up Free & Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent: $10.49 (150 fluid ounces, 96 Loads / $.109 per load)
9. Bathroom Cleaner
Costco doesn't have a store-brand bathroom cleaner, allowing Scrubbing Bubbles to own that category in its stores for decades. But the price is about the same if you buy it at Target, and you won't have to stock up on as many bottles at once.
- TIE! Costco: $11.49 (Two 25-ounce cans and two 20-ounce cans / $.128 per ounce)
- TIE! Target: $4.99 (Two 20-ounce cans / $.125 per ounce)
10. All-Purpose Cleaner
Costco carries Clorox's Clean-Up All-Purpose Cleaner with Bleach in a multipack that includes a spray battle and massive refill. You'll have to buy those separately at Target and pay 2 cents more per ounce, but at least you have the option of buying just one or the other.
- WINNER! Costco: $11.64 (One 32-ounce spray bottle with 180-ounce refill, 212 total ounces / $.0549 per ounce)
- Target: $4.49 (64-ounce refill bottle) + $2.89 (32-ounce spray bottle) (96 total ounces for $7.38; $.0768 per ounce)
Costco's price on toothpaste can't be beat. Tubes of the same brand (Colgate Total Advanced Whitening Paste Toothpaste) and variety are almost 3 ounces bigger and more than 70 cents cheaper, too.
- WINNER! Costco: $12.99 (Four 8-ounce tubes / $.41 per ounce)
- Target: $3.99 (One 5.8-ounce tube / $.687)
12. Body Soap
Target's store brand bests Costco in price as well as variety, offering several scents, including cucumber and pomegranate.
- WINNER! Target's Up & Up Deep Moisturizing Body Wash: $3.49 (One 24-fluid ounce bottle / $.145 per ounce)
- Costco's Kirkland Signature Natural Citrus Body Wash: $9.99 (Two 27-fluid ounce bottles / $.185 per ounce)
13. Hand Soap
The same brand of hand soap (Softsoap Advanced Clean Liquid Hand Soap Refill) is a couple of cents cheaper per ounce at Costco, though you'll need to find room for those big jugs.
- WINNER! Costco: $8.99 (Two 80-fluid ounce bottles / $.056 per ounce)
- Target: $3.99 (One 56-fluid ounce bottle / $.071 per ounce)
Stock up and you will definitely save. Costco's multi-packs of men's Gillette Endurance and women's Secret Outlast deodorants will cost you several dollars less than individual or even twin-packs at Target.
- WINNER! Costco - Gillette Endurance: $14.99 (Six 3.8-ounce containers / $2.50 each)
- Target - Gillette Endurance: $4.99 (One 3.8-ounce containers / $4.99 each)
- Costco - Secret Outlast: $13.99 (Five 2.6-ounce containers / $2.80 each)
- Target - Secret Outlast: $7.50 (Two 2.6-ounce containers / $3.75 each)
Great news! If you're already shopping at Target for other baby essentials, you can rest easy knowing the prices on its store-brand diapers and wipes even have Costco beat. Plus, Good Housekeeping and moms around the web give the Up & Up diapers great reviews.
- WINNER! Target's Up & Up size 4 diapers: $28.99 (192 count / $.15 per diaper)
- Costco's Kirkland Signature Supreme size 4 diapers, $38.99 (180 count / $.22 per diaper)
16. Baby Wipes
Both brands are nearly identical in every way, from the soothing aloe to the lack of scent, but you'll save about 50 cents on every 100 wipes with the Up & Up brand.
- WINNER! Target's Up & Up Unscented Baby Wipes with Aloe: $13.49 (Eight 100-count soft packs with flip lids / $.017 per wipe; $1.70 per 100 wipes)
- Costco's Kirkland Signature Baby Wipes Ultra-Soft, Fragrance Free with Aloe: $19.99 (Nine 100-count soft packs with flip lids / $.022 per wipe; $2.20 per 100 wipes)
Health & Wellness
If you're in the market for 1,000 ibuprofen pills, they'll set you back $5 less at Costco.
- WINNER! Costco's Kirkland Signature Ibuprofen, 200 mg: $8.79 (Two 500-count bottles / $.0087 per pill)
- Target's Up & up Ibuprofen 200 mg: $13.90 (1,000 count / $.0139 per pill)
18. Cold & Cough
If you want to get your stuffy nose unstuffed, get ready to pay, because guaifenesin (the stuff in Mucinex) isn't all that cheap. Still, even though you'll have to take three of the Kirkland pills to equal one of the Up & Up milligram wise, it's far cheaper to buy them at Costco.
- WINNER! Costco's Kirkland Signature Mucus Relief Chest, 400 mg: $10.99 (400 tablets / $.0826 per 1,200 mg dose)
- Target's Up and Up Maximum Strength Mucus Relief Extended Release Tablets, 1,200 mg: $8.39 (14 tablets / $.60 per 1,200 mg dose)
19. Adult Gummy Multi-Vitamins
When you're ready to stop stealing your kids' gummy vitamins and buy your own, do it at Costco. It's a couple dollars cheaper for every 100 vitamins.
- WINNER! Costco's Kirkland SignatureAdult Multivitamin Gummies: $10.79 (Two 160-count bottles / $.0337 per gummy; $3.30 per 100)
- Target's Up & up Adults Multivitamin Dietary Supplement Gummies: $7.89 (150 count / $.0526 per gummy; $5.26 per 100)
20. Adult Fish Oil
Fish oil pills are supposed to be good for our brains, and when you buy them at Target, they're better for your budget, too.
- WINNER! Target's Up & Up 100% Wild Alaskan Fish Oil Softgels, 1,200 mg: $4.79 (100 count / $.0479 per pill; $4.79 per 100)
- Costco's Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Fish Oil Softgels, 1,400 mg: $19.99 (230 count / $.0869 per pill; $8.69 per 100)
21. Kid Gummy Multi-Vitamins
It's the same brand, but the slightly bigger bottle of L'il Critters Gummy Vites Multi Vitamin at Costco will ultimately cost you less.
- WINNER! Costco: $11.99 (275 count / $.043 per gummy; $4.30 per 100)
- Target: $9.89 (190 count / $.052 per gummy; $5.20 per 100)
If you go through Tums like candy, opt for the Kirkland knock-off, which is 70 cents cheaper than Target's store brand for every 100, and comes in a much bigger bottle, too.
- WINNER! Costco's Kirkland Signature Antacid Ultra Strength, 1,000 mg: $8.79 (530 chewable tablets / $.017 per tablet; $1.70 per 100)
- Target's Up & Up Ultra Strength Antacid, 1,000 mg: $3.89 (160 chewable tablets/ $.024 per tablet; $2.40 per 100)
You can save about 30 cents buying your Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen Spray SPF 70 at Costco, and if you're the kind of outdoors lover who goes through it quickly, you won't need to run to the store as often.
- WINNER! Costco: $14.99 (Two 6.5-ounce spray bottles plus one 1-ounce bottle of lotion / $1.07 per ounce)
- Target: $9.09 (One 6.7-ounce spray bottle/ $1.36 per ounce)
24. Shampoo & Conditioner
Technically, Costco is the winner here because its prices on Pantene Advanced Care Shampoo and Conditioner are just one to two cents cheaper per ounce. But there's a lot to be said for convenience. If you're going to be shopping at Target for other health and beauty products, you might as well just buy your Pantene there.
- WINNER! Costco - Shampoo: $9.99 (One 38.2-fluid ounce bottle / $.261 per ounce)
- Target: $6.99 (One 25-fluid ounce bottle / $.279 per ounce)
- Costco - Conditioner: $9.99 (One 38.2-fluid ounce bottle / $.261 per ounce)
- Target - Conditioner: $6.99 (One 23.7-fluid ounce bottle / $.294 per ounce)
25. Body Lotion
It's almost 50 cents cheaper to buy the same brand of lotion (Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion) in nearly the same size bottle, at Costco.
- WINNER! Costco: $14.99 (Two 20-fluid ounce bottles / $.37 per ounce; $7.50 per bottle)
- Target: $7.99 (One 18-fluid ounce bottle / $.44 per ounce)
26. Makeup Remover Wipes
At first, the prices seem the same for these cleansing wipes—about 8 cents a wipe. But when the cost is averaged over 100 wipes, you'll end up spending 40 cents less at Target.
- WINNER! Target's Up & Up Refreshing Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes: $6.79 (90-count / $.075 per wipe; $7.50 per 100)
- Costco's Kirkland Signature Daily Facial Towelettes: $11.99 (150-count / $.079 per wipe; $7.90 per 100)
27. Men's Razor Refills
The same brand and variety of razor cartridges (Gillette Fusion ProGlide Cartridges) are a whopping 46 cents cheaper at Costco. It doesn't take long for that savings to add up.
- WINNER! Costco: $39.99 (16 cartridges / $2.50 each)
- Target: $35.49 (12 cartridges / $2.96 each)
Ultimately, as you can see, Costco was the clear overall winner (beating out Target on price for 21 items). Sure, warehouse pricing and bulky purchasing is meant to save you money in the long run, but until you stack things up side-by-side, you don't see just how much money you can save. The catch though, is that many of us don't live in large enough homes to store multipacks of cleaners and toilet paper, making the savings nearly worthless for lack of storage. With that said though, where you can, and with items you use daily, it might be worth considering splitting a membership (and those bulk items) with some friends. Happy (smarter) shopping!