Insider Secrets for Saving Time and Money at Costco

Costco Store


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Costco Store

Be Warehouse Wise

With its low prices and growing number of affordable services, Costco remains one of the best places to buy in bulk and fill up — a must when inflation is raging. But there's a lot more to saving money at Costco than just showing up and buying a palette of lightbulbs. Here's how warehouse pros save time and money during their shopping trips, including a money-saving tip about Costco's app.

Not already a Costco member? You can apply here.

Related: The Best Finds at Costco

Costco Gas Station
A Churro Wrapped in Brown Paper, a Slice of Pepperoni Pizza on a White Paper Plate, and a Hot Dog on a Brown Paper Bag, At the Costco Food Court, on a White Table

Fight Inflation With the Hot Dogs and Chickens

Even though inflation has made price hikes a near-daily occurrence for frustrated shoppers, the prices of two beloved Costco staples — the $1.50 hot dog and soda combo, and the $5 rotisserie chicken — are holding steady. While the chain is undoubtedly losing money on the deals, it knows the items are synonymous with the Costco brand and inspire customer loyalty. Costco has acknowledged it can't keep prices steady on everything, though. For instance, the prices of its croissants and those infamously huge muffins have gone up thanks to huge increases in the cost of ingredients. 

Related: Costco Superfans Share Their Favorite Discontinued Products

Costco Parcel Locker
Costco Parcel Locker by Mds08011 (CC BY)

Use a Pickup Locker

Costco has been slow to make online pickup a widespread option in its stores. After all, it makes fat profits from encouraging shoppers to wander and discover all the things they never knew they needed. But that may be changing: Costco is has added pickup lockers for online orders in more than 200 stores, Kiplinger reports. Of course, shoppers will still need to come in — Costco was unimpressed with tests of curbside pickup at a few stores last year — so there's still ample chance for impulse buying. Shoppers may also soon find kiosks in store where they can order from

Related: Why Costco Is Such An Annoying Place to Shop

Costco Website
Costco Website by m01229 (CC BY)

Check Out 'Costco Next'

If you've never heard of Costco Next, it's not your fault: Costco has been keeping this chance at savings relatively quiet. But it seems to have recently expanded the online program, which now gives Costco members the chance to buy directly from a few dozen partner companies — with more to come — and get an exclusive discount. For instance, shoppers can get 20% off Anker phone chargers or Zwilling cookware. Not bad, right? It's all in the name of keeping you away from competitors and raising Costco's online profile. 

Related: Don't Miss These Perks of Costco and Sam's Club Membership

Costco Shopping

Always Do Your Shopping In Store

At most retailers, you won’t pay any more to shop online than you will in store. Unfortunately, in many cases that’s not so with Costco: Many items are marked up online — especially smaller items such as apparel and household essentials — ostensibly to help cover the cost of shipping and handling. Another reason is that if you’re shopping online, you’re less likely to spend big on Costco’s rotating assortment of treasures. Assuming you can resist the temptation of impulse buys, heading to the warehouse will net you the lowest prices. 

Related: The Big Differences Between Costco and

Costco executive membership

Spend a Lot? Upgrade Your Membership

If you didn’t splurge on Costco’s Executive Membership, which offers a 2% annual reward, examine your spending habits to make sure you’re not leaving money on the table. If you spend an average $250 a month at Costco — that’s $3,000 a year — you’ll make back the $60 price premium. Spend any more than that and you’ll come out ahead, plus you’ll get access to other benefits exclusive to the Executive Membership, including Costco Travel bonuses.

Related: Is the Costco Executive Membership Worth It?

Costco Shop Card

Shop Without a Membership

On the other hand, maybe you’re not a Costco member, but you’re desperate to buy a few things at the warehouse wonderland without ponying up $60 or $120 a year. The solution: Use a Costco Shop Card, which is essentially a reloadable Costco gift card. The catch: You’ll need to ask a current Costco member to buy it for you, but once it’s in your hot little hands, you can shop without a member accompanying you.

Related: How Non-Members Can Shop at Costco

Romano's Macaroni Grill Two Restaurant $50 E-Gift Cards

Score Discounted Gift Cards For Other Retailers

In each warehouse, one small kiosk holds the key to some of Costco’s biggest money savers: gift cards for other retailers and restaurants. For instance, you can nab $100 worth of Macaroni Grill gift cards for $75. We’ve also spotted discounted movie and theme-park tickets and even cheaper digital codes for video games — all wise buys for shoppers who will spend on those things anyway. 


Related: Amazing Gift Card Deals From Costco and Sam’s

Hoyman L./Yelp

Hate It? Return It

Look, we’re not advocating abuse of Costco’s famously liberal return policy, but there is a certain comfort in knowing it’s there. Just about every Costco member has plunked down serious cash on a huge pack of snacks that it turned out they didn’t like, or a sweater that might have piled up after a couple of wears. But even though you’ve opened the food and taken the tags off the sweater, Costco will take ‘em back — along with almost everything else. Just don’t push your luck too much, or you could see your membership canceled.

Related: Costco Employees Dish on the Most Outrageous Revoked Membership Stories

Burner stove
Alper T./Yelp

Look for the ‘.97’ Products

Eagle-eyed shoppers can easily spot the best deals in the warehouse. Prices ending in 97 cents are typically marked-down clearance products that Costco is trying to clear out. According to Costco97, a site devoted to tracking these deals, these sales are unadvertised and can vary by warehouse.

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Strap set
Alper T./Yelp

See an Asterisk? Time to Stock Up

Here’s another way to hack that all-important Costco price card. If there’s an asterisk in the corner, that means the product is on its way out, reports The Kitchn. Unlike the “.97” products, it may not be discounted, but it’s a safe bet that it won’t be restocked the next time you make a Costco run (at least not immediately — seasonal items may return the following year, for example). So if you really, really love something and see that dreaded asterisk, consider buying more than one. 

Toilet Paper
Jando S./Yelp

Split Bulk Buys With Others

Afraid you could never make it through that two-pack of jumbo marinara jars? Don’t need 30 rolls of toilet paper? Buddy up with friends or family members and split your Costco largesse — that way, you can still benefit from the savings that come from buying in bulk without the hassle of storing things you might not have room for.

Related: Smart Things For Singles and Couples to Buy From Costco

Member Hours
Troy L./Yelp

Scope Out the Monthly Member Deals

A little planning never hurt anyone, and in the case of a store such as Costco, it can be a huge help. Every month, Costco unveils a fresh slate of members-only deals for shoppers to scope out, and the best part is you don’t need to worry about cutting coupons — discounts are automatically taken at checkout. Costco Insider often posts these sales well before they begin, giving members a chance to prepare for battle.

Cindy C./Yelp

Missed a Sale? Get Your Money Back

Okay, okay, maybe you’re not the best at planning. We get it, and fortunately, Costco does too. If something you just bought goes on sale within 30 days, bring the receipt to the customer service desk — you’ll be refunded the difference. If you bought something from Costco online, you can take advantage of the policy too, but you’ll also need to request the price adjustment online instead of in person.

Costco Gasoline

Consider the Costco Anywhere Visa

If you qualify, the members-only Costco Anywhere Visa will let you earn rewards on purchases anywhere (hence the name) that can be redeemed at Costco. Right now, the card offers 4% back on gas, 3% back on restaurants and travel, 2% back on Costco purchases, and 1% back on everything else. There’s no annual fee or foreign transaction fees, either. Of course, the usual caveats about credit cards apply, and rewards are redeemable once a year. 

Related: The Best Credit Cards For Seniors

Costco aisles
Amy M./Yelp

Stick to the Edges

You may have heard that it’s best to stick to the edges of the grocery store, where you’ll find fresh, less-processed foods to help you make healthier choices. Similar wisdom prevails at Costco, but it’s for the health of your wallet. You’ll usually find household staples — paper towels, bottled water, pet food, and so on — around the perimeter of the store. If you want to avoid expensive impulse buys and finish your shopping in short order, don’t spend a lot of time strolling the front and middle of the store, where seasonal merchandise and treasure-hunt items tend to cluster. 

food court
Jando S./Yelp

Don’t Shop Hungry

This traditional grocery-shopping tip goes double at Costco, where an empty stomach can do some serious budgetary damage. At a regular grocery store, a rumbling tummy may mean an extra bag of chips and maybe a package of cookies or a gallon of ice cream. At Costco, buying in bulk means those add-ons will cost way more. Our favorite hack? Dig into that $1.50 hot dog meal in the Costco food court — still one of the best meal deals out there — before getting started on your list.

Related: 50 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store

April 16, 2020 /  Los Angeles, CA: People lined up at Costco wearing masks keeping six feet apart.
Martin Chavez/istockphoto

Avoid the Weekends

Take it from a veteran Costco shopper: For a far more pleasant shopping experience, try to avoid the weekends. That’s when you’ll invariably find a packed parking lot, clogged aisles, and mind-numbingly long checkout lines — all the things that can sour even the most ardent Costco fans. On the other hand, weekday mornings are especially good for elbow room. If you can’t swing that, crowds also tend to thin out about an hour before closing, especially during the week. 

costco membership
Walker A./Yelp

Don’t Forget About Member Services

An oft-overlooked perk of Costco membership is that members can snag discounts on everything from insurance to bottled-water delivery to a new air conditioner. As with any big purchase, you should still shop around, but don’t be surprised if your membership entitles you to some fairly competitive deals