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Save Money At Costco: 18 Shopping Tips & Tricks

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According to the National Retail Federation, Costco is the fourth largest retailer behind Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger. Costco has over 750 locations worldwide with over 100 million members, so they must be doing something right! Keep reading to see tips and tricks on how to save money at Costco. 

Costco Shopping Tips for Costco Members

The nearest Costco to me is over 100 miles away, so I was hesitant to buy a membership, but now that I have one, I regret not buying a Costco membership sooner! Keep reading, and I’ll tell you the Costco tips and tricks I’ve learned that will show you how I save money at Costco and why I love my Costco membership so much.

1. What Type of Costco Membership To Get

costco membership card
MONTREAL, CANADA – APRIL 6, 2019: A hand holding a receipt and Costco Membership card in Costco warehouse. Costco is an American corporation which operates a chain of membership only warehouses.

Should you get a personal or business Costco membership?

Should you get a regular or executive Costco membership?

What’s the difference of each??

Both the personal and the business memberships are $60, so the same price, but the Business membership comes with extra benefits. You do need business identification when applying for a business account. If you are a reseller, you definitely need a business Costco membership because this allows you to resell products that you buy at Costco. And if you bring in your reseller certificate, your purchases can be tax-exempt from paying sales tax.

The Costco Executive Membership (also known as the black card) is more expensive ($60 more), but it comes with additional perks such as an annual 2% cashback reward (up to $1,000 per year) on purchases that you’ll receive as a rebate check. If the 2% rebate you receive is under $60, Costco will refund you the difference so you have nothing to lose upgrading from personal to the executive.

If you already have a regular Costco membership and you want to upgrade to an executive membership during the year, Costco will prorate the amount due based on the number of months you have remaining in your current membership.

So my verdict on the best Costco membership (most bang for your buck): Costco Business Executive

2. Share Membership with Others

All Costco memberships include a free household card so a total of two people can be on the Costco membership: one Primary member and one household member who is over the age of 18 and lives at the same address.

Also, anyone with a Costco membership card can bring up to two guests with them to Costco during each visit. If you cannot use some of the bulk items that Costco sells, you can split the cost of those items with someone who can use them so you both save.

3. How To Shop At Costco Without A Membership

Yes, there are actually ways to shop and save money at Costco without an actual membership. Here are four ways how to shop at Costco without a membership:

  1. Tag-Along – Costco members are permitted to bring along two guests each visit.
  2. Costco Cash Card – If you have a Costco Cash Card (which is basically a gift card for Costco), you can shop just like a Costco member. Ask a friend with a membership to purchase a Costco Cash Card (which can be loaded with any amount from $10 to $1000) for you to use. You must then use that for payment at checkout.
  3. Instacart – You can order from Costco via Instacart, but keep in mind that some of the prices online are more expensive than in-store – plus you’ll need to pay for delivery.
  4. Membership Not Required – Some Costco departments, such as the Costco pharmacy*, do not require a Costco membership to fill prescriptions. And depending on what state you live in or are visiting, you may have access to other Costco departments. For example, in California and Connecticut, you do not have to be a Costco member to take advantage of their cheap liquor section!

*According to Consumer Reports, Costco had the lowest retail prices overall on prescription drug costs.

4. Get a Costco Credit Card

While I don’t condone using credit cards, this is one that I personally use, and as long as I pay it off every month to avoid interest, it’s a great cashback rewards card. The Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi is exclusively for Costco members and offers 4% cashback on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter; 3% cashback on restaurants and eligible travel purchases; 2% cashback on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com; 1% cashback on all other purchases. Combine this with your Business Executive membership, and you’ll get 4% on all Costco purchases!

Buy Now Pay Later At Costco

Another good reason to get a Costco Visa credit card is that they don’t accept all major credit cards. Costco only accepts their Visa credit card, Visa debit cards (can be personal or pre-paid), cash, and checks (yes, checks), but they don’t accept American Express, Discover, or Mastercard in-store. The Costco website, on the other hand, does accept all credit cards (but prices may be higher online than in-store).

5. Costco’s Low Prices

Obviously, the main reason for buying a Costco membership is to take advantage of the savings, and they really do offer the lowest prices on several things that I’ve personally bought after comparing prices to other stores, such as:

  • Alcohol – We stock up on beer and spirits at Costco as prices are way less than liquor, convenience, and grocery stores.
  • Bottled Water – Costco has the cheapest water prices per bottle that I have seen. A 40-count case of water bottles works out to around 9¢ per bottle.
  • Rotisserie Chicken – Members love Costco’s Rotisserie Chicken which they sell for only $4.99 as they make for a great, quick, delicious, not to mention, cheap meal. Rumor has it that Costco actually sells these at a loss to draw in customers. You do have to walk to the balk of the store after all to get one (or two or more). If you hear a bell ringing while you shopping at Costco, it means they just put new hot and ready rotisserie chickens out for sale.
  • Vitamins and Supplements – I had been buying specific vitamins that my daughter’s physician recommended, and I found the cheapest price on Amazon. Turns out they were Kirkland brand, and I can now get them for half the price directly at Costco (obviously the Amazon FBA seller is a reseller).

Not all bulk buys are a good deal at Costco though, so you do need to look at the individual price. For instance, I can buy most canned vegetables at my local grocery store for less than half the price per can as I can at Costco.

6. Costco Coupons & Promos

Costco sends out “coupon books” via snail mail (and are also available at Costco stores), but these books don’t actually contain coupons; they advertise “instant savings” on special items and will take the price off the original price at checkout.

You can also look at Costco’s website to see “Online-Only” deals, “Warehouse Savings” (in-store sales), and “While Supplies Last” items.

Costco also does not accept manufacturer coupons, but you can still use grocery rebates apps that are similar to using coupons. Most grocery rebate apps will have you log in after you’ve purchased the item, scan the product’s UPC barcode, snap a photo of your receipt and submit it to earn a rebate. Here are some grocery rebate apps that we recommend using at Costco:

7. Best Time To Shop At Costco

Costco’s peak hours are weekend afternoons and weekday evenings. If you have anxiety, as I do, I recommend avoiding shopping at Costco on a Saturday afternoon. My anxiety goes into overdrive with all of the people going every which direction in the store. I recommend shopping in the morning at the beginning of the week (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) to avoid congestion.

What are Costco’s hours?

Each Costco warehouse location has different hours. Click here to see your local Costco hours. The various Costco departments and Costco gas stations may have different hours from the warehouse as well.

8. Eat Out For Cheap At Costco

Costco Food Court

Costco has a food court with the lowest prices I’ve ever seen for fast food so you can eat out on the cheap. You can get a hotdog and bottomless soda (or pop as I call it) for only $1.50 (and the fountain drinks come with free refills). And Costco’s Kirkland hotdogs are really good (and I don’t normally like hotdogs). The Costco hotdogs are so good that many baseball stadiums in fact sell them!

Free Samples at Costco

Costco routinely offers free food samples throughout the store and does not limit the number of free samples that one can take. I swear that on Saturdays, every aisle has a different station offering free food samples. I joke that if I had a membership when my kids were little, I could’ve filled them up on free samples! There are fewer free food stations during non-peak hours, but with fewer people shopping, it’s not worth complaining about.

9. Look at the Last 2 Numbers on Costco Price Tags

The pricing system that Costco uses seems arbitrary, but there appears to be a method to decipher the numbers on the price tags. Look at the last two numbers on the price tag:

  • .99 = Costco’s price
  • .98 = Retailer’s price
  • .97 = Markdown
  • .88 = Manager markdown
  • .00 = Manager markdown

The best retail arbitrage deals I have found at Costco so far have ended in .00.

If you see an asterisk in the top right corner of the price sign, it means that that item is going away either forever or the season.

10. Kirkland Signature Costco Brand

Kirkland Signature is Costco’s in-house brand and uses many of the same manufacturers as the name brand products allowing you to buy quality products at more competitive pricing. For example, I believe the Kirkland dryer sheets are the same as Bounce dryer sheets! And those hotdogs that I talked about earlier – they are Kirkland brand, too.

11. BYOB – Bring Your Own Bags

Costco does not offer plastic or paper bags to “sack” your items, so it’s best to bring along some reusable tote bags to use. Costco does offer some cardboard boxes to use (I like to use their fruit boxes), but they are not always available.

12. Discounted Gift Cards at Costco

Most of the gift cards that Costco offers for sale are discounted 20-30% off retail value, and the selection changes by store location to include local chains. This is a great way to buy gift cards for gifts (or keep them for yourself)! I always stock up on Valentino’s gift card (a local pizza chain) as they usually offer $100 in gift cards (4-$25 gift cards) for $74.99 – that’s over a 25% savings!

13. Costco Price Adjustment

If you bought something at Costco, and it goes on sale within 30 days, you can bring in your Costco receipt, and they will give you the price difference back.

14. Costco Generous Return Policy

Costco wants its members to be happy, and they are huge on customer satisfaction, therefore they offer a risk-free satisfaction guarantee. Their return policy is very, very generous that they even allowed a lady to return a dead Christmas tree! If you are ever unhappy with your Costco membership (or just don’t want or need it anymore), you can contact Costco and get a full refund on the membership fee that you paid.

15. Fill Up with Gas at Costco Gas Stations

Most, but not all, Costcos have a Costco gas station and their gas prices are frequently up to 20¢ cheaper than other stations in the area. Due to their cheap gas prices, there are usually long lines, but they move quite quickly.

16. Replace Tires with Costco Tires

If you need new tires for your vehicle, Costco carries Bridgestone and Michelin tires that are usually less expensive than car dealerships and local mechanics, and they even do installation and balancing. Costco’s tire shop even offers some extra value add-ons that end up reducing the cost of the tires over their lifetime.

  • Lifetime Free Maintenance – This includes flat tires, pressure checks, rotations, balancing, and repairs for the life of the tires.
  • 5-Year Road Hazard Warranty – Costco will repair or replace tires that are damaged from normal wear within 5 years of the date they were installed. This is better than most car warranties do.
  • Nitrogen Fills – Costco fills its tires with nitrogen instead of compressed air which is known to retain pressure and then reduce fuel consumption. If your pressure does drop and you’re not near a Costco location to refill, you can use compressed air.

17. Costco Discount Travel

A lesser-known fact about Costco that I recently learned about is that they offer full travel services to members claiming to offer big discounts on cruises, rental cars, hotel stays, amusement park packages, and upfront pricing on vacation packages. I haven’t had time to price compare as the pandemic has halted most of my travel plans, but I will update this section after I have reviewed it.

18. Preferred Pricing on 3rd Party Purchases

Costco partners with third-party vendors to offer special member-only pricing on goods and services. You’ll see a wall of these partners by the membership counter where you can get brochures for the different offers, and they usually even have a representative there to answer any questions you may have. Some of the goods and services I’ve seen advertised discounts for include:

  • Gutters
  • HVAC systems
  • Window Treatments
  • Swimming Pools
  • Automobiles (yes, you can get a discount on a new car through Costco!)

I hope these eighteen Costco shopping tips and tricks will help you save money at Costco. And if you’re a reseller, I hope they make you more money! If I’m missing any good Costco tips or tricks, please contact me to add them!

Save Money At Costco Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about how to save money at Costco.

Is a Costco membership worth it?

This is a difficult question to answer. Some people feel that the membership fee is too high, while others believe that it is worth every penny. Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference and budget.

What are the open hours for Costco?

Most Costco locations are open weekdays, Monday through Friday, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and on weekends, Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. There may be slight variations for different locations, so you may want to find a Costco location near you to double-check their exact hours of operation.

What is the best time to go to Costco?

The best time to go to Costco is during the week, as it is typically less crowded than on weekends. You may also want to avoid going during the lunch hour, as this is when the store is usually the busiest.

What credit cards does Costco accept?

Costco warehouses only accept Visa credit cards when shopping in-store. This includes any Visa-branded credit or debit card that has the Visa logo, such as a Bank of America Visa, a Chase Visa, or a Capital One Visa. Costco does not accept American Express, Discover, or Mastercard. However, the Costco website accepts Mastercard and Discover in addition to Visa cards for online purchases. American Express cards are not accepted at all.

Does Costco accept Mastercard?

Costco does not accept Mastercard as a form of payment in-store. But you can use Mastercard to make an online purchase through the Costco website or app.

Does Costco accept Discover cards?

Costco does not accept Discover as a form of payment in-store. But you can use a Discover card to make an online purchase through the Costco website or app.

Does Costco accept American Express?

Costco does not allow the use of American Express (AMEX) cards in-store or online. These are the only major card issuers that Costco does not accept. Costco used to have an exclusive relationship with AMEX, but that agreement ended in 2016, and now Visa has an exclusive relationship for in-store purchases.

Does Costco offer AAA discounts?

Unfortunately the answer is no, Costco does not offer AAA discounts.

Save Money At Costco Conclusion

There are several ways to save money at Costco, but you need to know how to shop there wisely. Here is a summary of tips for saving money at Costco: Watch sales, go during off hours, limit your time in the store, stick to a list, compare prices before you buy, join the club, buy in bulk, use your own bags, avoid the temptation of samples, check expiration dates, and know the return policy. If you shop at Costco regularly, you may want to consider signing up for an executive membership. Following these tips can help you save money and stick to your budget.

Save Money At Costco