Few things are as exciting as leaving Costco with a cart full of essentials and a bank account with money still in it.
Costco is popular for a reason. The wholesale “members-only” store has everything you need to stock your fridge, pantry, and closet … as well as survive an apocalypse, or two.
But, if you aren’t careful, you may go a little Costco crazy and spend way more than you need. Read on to discover 9 ways to save money when shopping at Costco.
1. Three Ways You Can Shop at Costco Without a Membership
Need to stock up on paper products or craving rotisserie chicken but you don’t have a Costco membership? Would you believe me if I said that was not a problem? Yes, Costco is a “members only” grocery store, but there are a couple of loopholes so you can shop there without the membership.
- Shop as a guest: Costco allows members to bring two guests into their warehouses with them. So, if a friend has a membership, see if you can tag along on a shopping trip.
- Use a Costco Shop Card: Next, anyone in possession of a Costco Shop Card (aka a Costco gift card/cash card) can shop at Costco – even those without a membership! But, a guest has to purchase the card and load money onto it. So, when you are shopping as a guest, why not get a Shop Card, too. It can be as much as $1,000. When you shop with the card, you do not need to be a member or someone’s guest. This is great if you want to purchase a big-ticket item.
- Shop with Instacart: You can get groceries from Costco delivered to your door through Instacart without a membership, but there is a catch. Costco members get same-day Instacart deliveries at no extra cost. You will have to pay additional fees if you are not a member. Try Instacart and start ordering your groceries for pickup or delivery today.
If you play your cards right, you can shop at Costco for bulk essentials and save money without even being a member.
While you don’t have to be a member to enjoy Costco savings, it may be well worth it to get a membership. One such reason is getting cash back from Dosh, a cash-back app that allows you to earn free money easily. Once you download the Dosh app and connect your credit card, you earn free money every time you make a purchase at a Dosh-participating business (100,000+ places), including Costco. Dosh offers $20 back when using a linked card at Costco to start or renew a membership.
2. Find the Best Bargains in the Center of the Store
As a wholesale store, Costco’s inventory can be overwhelming. So you need to know where to look to find the best deals. The answer is simple – head to the center of the store.
“In club stores, the best deals are sometimes on pallets in the middle of the store … Membership stores, often governed by space constraints and the fact that those large club stores stock such an incredible range of products, (put) many of the bargains into what they call ‘center court,’” says Paco Underhill, the author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping [source].
So, the next time you make a trip to Costco, spend some time in the center of the store and discover what bargains await. (And, let us know what deals you scored.)
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3. Costco Has a Secret Pricing Code
Have you had the experience of returning to a store and discovering an item you recently bought is significantly cheaper? It is super frustrating. But, savvy Costco shoppers have figured out a way to avoid this unfortunate scenario. They have unlocked the mystery of Costco’s secret pricing code.
- When you see items that end with .99, those are at the regular price.
- If you spy items that end with .97, then those have been marked down.
- But, those items that end with .88 or .00 are manager markdowns, which typically mean they are either returned items, seasonal items, or floor models.
Items are marked down because the company, or the manager, wants to move them out of the store. So, if you run into an item ending in .97, .88 or .00 and are wondering if you get it or not, realize you run the risk of it being gone on your return trip to Costco.
4. The Price Tag Tells the Future
When you find a favorite Costco product, pay careful attention to the price tag beyond the last two digits. Not only will the price tag’s secret code alert you to any markdowns, but it will also give you a head’s up if your favorite product is disappearing. An asterisk on a Costco price tag means that the product will not be restocked (at least for the foreseeable future). Once the product is sold out, it’s gone. When you see the asterisk symbol on a product you love, stock up!
5. The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Save Big on Costco Gift Cards
One of the best ways to save year-round is to purchase gift cards to your favorite restaurants, entertainment venues, and retailers at Costco. Gift cards sold at Costco are generally marked down (sometimes as much as 30%), so you pay less than you would regularly. For example, a set of five Bahama Bucks $10 gift cards (worth $50) is sold at Costco for $34.99.
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What can be better than buying discounted gift cards at Costco? How about getting cash back, too? Ibotta, the No. 1 grocery app, gives you cash back on grocery store purchases by paying through the app, using the browser extension, or by submitting a receipt. Did you know, when you purchase those discounted gift cards at Costco, they are eligible for cashback rewards from Ibotta? So, you can save even more.
Want to hear even more ways Ibotta can save you money? Check out our Ibotta explainer video, here!
6. Planning to Go to the Movies? Tickets Are Cheaper at Costco
The cost of movie tickets is expensive, but you can find deals. Did you know you can get cheap movie tickets at Costco? It’s true. They sell bulk discount gift cards for movie theaters, such as a $50 Fandango gift card for $39.99. Sometimes they sell ridiculously cheap pricing. For instance, last year Costco offered 4 AMC movie tickets for $11.97 [source]!
As Hollywood prepares to release the next major blockbuster you have to see, keep your eyes open when shopping at Costco because 4 tickets for 12 bucks is a steal.
7. Get the Low Down on When Sales Run
While Costco doesn’t offer sales like traditional grocery stores, it still follows the sales cycle. That means you can expect to purchase out-of-season goods on sale. But that’s not the only time to save money at Costco. Pay careful attention to Costco’s mail-out coupon pamphlet. While you don’t need to actually clip the coupons, it will alert you to items that are currently on sale so you can purchase them before they return to regular price.
Here are some examples of recent savings:
- $200 off a laptop
- $70 off a vacuum
- $40 off an Apple watch
- $4 off shampoo
- $2.50 off Godiva chocolate
8. Buy Kirkland Signatures Brand Products
Costco is many people’s go-to grocery store because the Costco brand products (aka Kirkland Signature) are the same or better than brand-name counterparts. For example, “A few years ago, a study by the folks at the University of California, Davis put a range of imported olive oils to the test and found Costco’s store-brand was one of the few to truly earn its extra-virgin label” [source].
The moral of the story: Don’t be a label snob … especially when it comes to Kirkland Signature. Costco doesn’t manufacture any of the products under their private label. They get big brands, including Starbucks, Duracell, Bumble Bee tuna, Niagara bottled water, and Bolthouse Farms, to produce them.
9. Buy Costco Gas
Gas prices continue to rise, but you can save money on gas by shopping at Costco. members can get gas at Costco for about 20 cents a gallon below the market average. Those savings add up fast! In fact, the lower cost of filling up their tanks is a major reason people get a Costco membership.
You can certainly shop at Costco without a membership, but as you can see, there are plenty of benefits that just might warrant a membership (which ranges from $60 to $120). If you decide to get a membership or renew yours, remember to use Dosh and get the $20 cash back.
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Michelle Salater is a freelance finance writer with a passion for personal finance education. When she’s not in front of her computer, she’s reading biographies and exploring remote areas of the world. She also freelances for Wooster Media Group LLC.