18+ Costco Money Hacks, or, How Costco Pays Me to Be a Member

I love Costco.

I remember, as a kid, going to Price Clubs in Setauket, New York; and marveling at how massive the store was. Many years later, we would take our kids to marvel at these massive warehouse stores. We love the prices. Our kids love the churros (and the samples!). 🙂

Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that have made our Costco experiences more enjoyable and affordable. Nowadays, Costco pays us to be members!

To get you the best of the best Costco hacks, we have friends at Costco headquarters in Issaquah, WA who’ve assisted us in bringing the most accurate inside money hacks to our readers.

WE HAVE INSIDERS!!! 

Without further ado, here are our favorite Costco money hacks:

1. Be an Executive

Costco technically has four different membership choices. There is the Gold Star membership and an Executive membership. Then each of those has a personal or a business option.   

Gold Star Membership: Gold Star costs you $60 a year and gets you two membership cards, which you can give to a spouse/partner or family member. The Gold Star gives you access to all Costco warehouses worldwide (yes, they are international!) and online as well as access to their gas stations and Travel portal.

Gold Star Business Membership: The Gold Star Business also costs $60 and also comes with two membership cards, but you can add more cards for employees at $60 each. This is also the membership level you need if you intend to resell your Costco purchases. (In reality, they can’t know what you do with your purchases after you leave the store but since it’s the same price as the personal level there’s no reason not to be on the up and up.)

Executive Membership: Executive is $120 a year and an upgrade to Gold Star and Business. You also get two cards but the kicker is you get 2% rewards on purchases. In addition, you get additional savings on certain Costco services and on some travel benefits.

Executive Business Membership: The Executive Business Membership is the same as the personal, you get access to everything Costco has to offer and earn 2% cash back on purchases. With the business edition you can add employee cards for $60 each per year and you’ll need this level if you intend to resell your purchases. 

Is Costco Executive Membership worth it?

When is it worth it to get the Executive Membership? How much did you spend at Costco last year? If the answer is “more than $2,750” then you need to be an Executive Member.

Executive Membership is just like the regular membership except you get 2% back on nearly all purchases (what’s excluded.)

If you spend $3,000 a year, that’s $60 back. That’s the difference in the membership fee between the regular and the Executive membership.

If you spend $6,000 a year, that’s $120 back. That’s the cost of an Executive Membership. We spend over $6,000 a year at Costco so we always end up getting a check!

$5,500 sounds like a lot but it’s only a little more than $450 a month.
When you get the check, you can use it to pay or get it cashed out at a register.

Not sure if you’ll spend enough to get a rebate of more than $60? (the difference between Gold and Executive Gold) If you don’t, you can go to the customer service desk and get the difference back. So if you only earn a $20 rebate, you can get $35 from Costco. You really can’t lose.

2. Find a Costco Membership Discount

Costco rarely offers a membership discount directly but sometimes, very rarely, they offer one through discount buying sites like Groupon. Sometimes you can get membership deals directly at stores too.

The offer isn’t structured as a direct discount though. Instead, they will offer a membership plus a Visa Gift Card ($20 or $30), plus perhaps some other bonuses like a rotisserie chicken ($5 and delicious!) or some other products.

3. Costco’s Lifetime Return Policy

Costco has a lifetime 100% guarantee return policy on most product purchases, including their memberships! You can cancel and refund the membership fee in full at anytime.

There are certain items that Costco will only accept returns for within 90 days of when you received the product. This is mostly electronics and appliances.

  • Televisions
  • Tuner-free displays
  • Projectors
  • Fridges above 10 cubic feet
  • Freezers
  • Ranges
  • Cooktops
  • Over-the-range microwaves
  • Dishwashers
  • Washers, and dryers
  • Computers
  • Tablets
  • Smartwatches
  • Cameras
  • Aerial camera drones
  • Camcorders
  • MP3 players
  • Cell phones

They will also not accept diamonds back unless they are 1.00ct or larger, then you need to present it with all the original paperwork and you’ll get a Jewelry Credit Memo. A Costco gemologist will inspect it within 48 hours for authenticity.

Finally, they can’t accept returns of cigarettes and alcohol if it’s prohibited by law as well as anything custom.

4. Know which Credit Cards Costco Accepts

Years ago, they only accepted Discover Cards. Then they partnered with American Express. Now, it’s Visa’s turn. Costco now accepts all Visa cards and they replaced their old American Express card with the Costco Anywhere Visa Card. It’s a pretty good card (and one of the better store branded credit cards) but it’s not the best card to use.

We love the Chase Freedom Flex.

The Chase Freedom Flex card has a welcome offer of $200 after $500 in purchases in the first 3 months. It also gives you 1% on all other purchases. This is on top of 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter (must be activated).

Learn more about the Chase Freedom Flex Card here.

If you don’t have the card you can open one and take advantage of current opening bonuses. These change all the time but you can check out the current promotion here. It’s a nice juicy credit card promotion to get your day going!

If you already have this card, you’ll need to activate any cashback bonuses by going to the Activate 5% Cash Back page. Enter your information, click Activate, and you’re all set. Enjoy the bonus cash back!

On Costco.com – you can use any credit card except American Express! This also means that you can use any credit card to buy a Costco Cash Card and use that card in the store to get around the payment limitations.

5. Shop Without a Membership – Costco Cash Cards

Don’t have a membership but want to buy something? You can technically walk into any Costco and shop there, even without a membership. However, you will pay 5% over the posted prices.

If you want to buy something at Costco without paying the membership or the surcharge, get a member to get you a Costco Cash Card. Diane at The Penny Hoarder shares this strategy and the page on the Costco website that explains that non-members can use it to shop at Costco!

Get a friend to buy you a card and shop without regrets! (max value is $1,000 on a Costco Cash Card and you can use it on gas too). They even say so on their website! You might run into trouble if an employee doesn’t know the corporate policy, but stand firm. (Honestly, the membership is totally worth it though!)

There are a lot of Costco services and products you can buy without being a member, including:

  • Optometrist: You can get your eyes checked by appointment, though you won’t be able to buy any glasses, contact lenses, etc. without a membership.
  • Pharmacy: Prescription medicine and immunizations do not require membership, which is great because a 2013 Consumer Reports report discovered Costco had some of the best prices.
  • Alcohol & Cigarettes: Many states have laws against “alcohol clubs,” so you can often buy alcohol without membership (in those states, the alcohol section will likely be segregated).
  • Food Court: You can buy food without a membership card, so outdoor food courts are fair game. The inside ones will require some creativity to get into the store, but once you’re in you can buy all the hot dogs and pizza you want.

6. Take Advantage of Member-Only Savings

Costco sends out monthly member-only savings coupon books to all members but you don’t need the coupon book to get the discount.

In past years, the coupons all had a barcode on the back (the same barcode!). If you look today, there are no bar codes anymore. Every coupon now says “Instant Savings” at the top — the booklet is just a brochure that lists the monthly discounts. You don’t need it to get the savings, it’ll be automatically applied.

7. Take Advantage of Costco’s Generous Price Match Policy

If you buy something and it goes on sale or gets a reduced price, you may be able to get the difference back in cash.

It might surprise you to know that Costco does not have a set policy on this and each warehouse manager decides how he or she will handle price matching. The “unspoken” price match rule for an adjustment is about two weeks from original purchase date.

However, the reality is that because of the liberal return policy, you could conceivably return it at regular price and re-purchase at the sale price. This creates a hassle for everyone and could create havoc in vendor relations. Costco would much rather offer an adjustment.

If the price drops for any reason, including if it’s been given an Instant Savings coupon, you can get a price adjustment at the Membership Desk (bring your receipt to facilitate!).

So if you see a product will be eligible for instant savings in a week but you need it now, buy it now. Wait for the Instant Savings to activate, then return to the Membership Desk to ask for the adjustment.

8. Load Up on Kirkland Signature Brand

Costco doesn’t make its own products, instead, they sell Kirkland brand items. Kirkland brand items are rebranded items of other companies’ products and sold at much lower prices. However, a secret is that Costco requires the rebranded Kirkland items to be equal or better quality than that name brand.

Often you’ll see name brands sell their lower quality products as store brands. This is not so with Costco! When you buy Kirkland Vodka, that’s actually Grey Goose. Their tuna is Bumble Bee. Their beer is Gordon Biersch and the dishwashing detergent is Cascade.

The easiest way to tell is to look at the manufacturing location, it’ll often match one of the other name brands.

9. Buy Store and Restaurant Gift Cards at a Discount

Costco offers a variety of gift cards to nationwide restaurants. Depending on when you shop, you can get gift cards to Olive Garden, Acapulco, Jiffy Lube, NutriSystem, and a variety of other stores and restaurants.

The cool thing about these gift cards is that they’re discounted. For instance, I saw $100 worth of Acapulco Restaurant gift cards at Costco the other day for $70.

Check out their gift card selection the next time you shop. Purchasing Costco gift cards is a great way to save money on gift-giving too.

10. Fill Up at Costco with Low Gasoline Prices

We buy our gas almost exclusively at Costco. Why? Because the prices are often lower than other area gas stations by 20 cents per gallon or more.

Bonus: If you forget your Costco card, just show the attendant your ID. He or she will verify you’re a member and use their Costco card to let you fill up.

Costco Gasoline is one of the best. It has the industry certification of Top Tier and Consumer Reports has written that the detergents and additives within Top Tier gas makes a difference.

11. Check Out the Costco Auto Program

Costco has partnerships with car dealerships everywhere. When you are shopping for a new or used car, check out the available deals through the company’s auto program.

Certain brands and dealers offer Costco members-only low, prearranged prices all year long. That way you don’t have to worry about haggling or shopping around. But you’ve got to access the dealership through the Costco auto program or you won’t get the deals.

Costco doesn’t specify exact deals because they’re always changing. Check out the Costco website for more details.

12. Order From the Costco Food Court “Secret Menu”

There isn’t a “secret” menu but there are some things you can request that aren’t immediately obvious.

Are you a vegetarian? You can ask if they’ll make you a vegetarian pizza – it’s just the Combo Pizza minus the meats. You’ll have to wait a little bit longer (only about a minute or two) because they have to make the pie and cook it up, but it’s usually something they’ll do. They probably won’t make you a single slice but a whole pie is trivial.

You can also request some sauerkraut to go with your hot dog. Sauerkraut isn’t anywhere on the menu but they’ll give it to you in a cup if you ask politely. Shhhhhh!

13. Decipher the Pricing Codes

It’s all about the cents:

  • An asterisk * on the sign (top right) means this was a seasonal order and it may not be re-ordered until next season. Once they sell out they’re gone.
  • A plus sign + on the sign (top right) means this item is discontinued.
  • 99 cents means regular member price.
  • 97 cents means it’s a clearance/markdown by the warehouse manager. Often has an asterisk too.
  • x9 cents (59, 69, 79, etc) is a special offer from the manufacturer, it reflects competitive pricing over other discount retailers.
  • My contact didn’t know why the Turbotax price in the image above is 85, but she thinks it might be a local price adjustment to compete with local retailers. Costco will send out an hourly employee to comparison shop to make sure the warehouse is the lowest price on certain foods and big-ticket items. You drive around town for two days filling out a clipboard of hundreds of items.
  • 00 or 88 cents is something they want to clear out of inventory, a decision made by warehouse management.

Two things to keep in mind – Costco pricing is based on “cost-plus.” They only mark up products by a maximum of 14% from their own cost, most prices are 8-10% markup. The exception is the Kirkland Signature brand with a 15% markup.

What’s good to know is that during Valentine’s Day, when the roses are more expensive than at other times of the year, Costco isn’t jacking up the price on you just because you waited until the last moment. The cost they’re paying is up too — so you know you’re never paying more than that markup. Plus, if you’ve ever gotten flowers on Valentine’s Day… Costco is still a LOT less. Like multiple times less. 🙂

Most of the products at Costco will end in 99 cents but even then the markup is at most 14% at “full price.” I use this coding scheme to know when to buy seasonal items. Costco often sells seasonal items ahead of the season (so swim trunks in late winter), so I want to wait until they’re about to discontinue them before I buy summer apparel.

14. Go Treasure Hunting at Costco – YMMV

One of the big parts of the Costco experience is the idea of the “treasure hunt.” Costco’s product lines are based on the idea of triggers and treasures. Triggers are staples – products you’ll buy all the time and these don’t often change. Toilet paper, tissues, coffee, … you get the idea.

Then you have the treasures. The stuff that rotates and whose discovery gets you excited. Almost crazed.

The best of the best? Returned but saleable items… since Costco has a great return policy, people will naturally return stuff!

And some of that will be discontinued, seasonal, or otherwise no longer being sold in the store. Costco doesn’t want to return it to the vendor when it could just sell it.

A few years ago, Costco started realizing that they could devote a small section of the warehouse to shelves “saleable” items rather than sending them back to the vendor or a liquidator. There are enormous price cuts on these returns and you might even find something you missed before it was sold out!

The special section in most Costcos will be in the hardline items, near automotive and household goods. That’s where it is in our local Costco… though surprisingly that’s next to the bread, which is not hard. 🙂

Go find the shelf in your Costco and see if you can find any gems! (one of our friends at the mothership reported being able to buy a returned $39.99 product for just $9.97!)

Seafood Road Show dates are always posted above the meat case.

Another piece of the treasure hunting experience is the “Road Show.” Unfortunately, those are not on a fixed schedule. The demo folks don’t even know (you can ask, they won’t know) because it’s based on sales data.

You could ask the warehouse management team about new events and roadshows but a lot of times they are only told a short period before a vendor is given the “green light” to set up shop at a warehouse.

The regional offices make these determinations and then it flows down to the warehouse level. The only exception is the Seafood Road Show. The dates of the next Seafood Road Show are posted in signs above the refrigerated meat cases.

15. Take Advantage of Free Health Screenings

Costco offers Healthy Heart, Diabetes, Osteoporosis,  and Lung Health Screenings throughout the year – free to members.

Just go to the Costco Pharmacy page and look for Health & Wellness Clinics in the lower left (below the plane and to the left of the pharmacist – here’s a link to the PDF but check the webpage if the link is broken). Click on View Schedule and it’ll download a PDF with a list of the screenings.

16. Call for Free Technical Support

If you buy something electronic, you get free technical support. Anyone who has ever bought a TV, computer, tablet, projector, camera, camcorder, MP3 player, home theater system, DVD or Blu-ray player, standalone printer, standalone monitor, router, pressure washer OR security camera system will have seen the free technical support sticker right on the box.

You’ll also have probably ignored it.

But you can call 1-866-861-0450 anytime from 5 AM to 10 PM Pacific any day of the week, except holidays, and get help. No charge but have your name, Costco membership number, item number, model, serial number and purchase date handy.

17. Use Costco’s Travel Services

Costco’s travel services department has deals on airfare, hotels, and travel packages all over the world. From golf adventures to spa resorts, to cruises, you can get great deals on vacation destinations and all that go with them, including rental cars.

Go to the Costco travel website and design your next vacation.

18. Get the 2nd Year Warranty on TVs, Projectors, and Computers

Oh yeah, and Costco extends the manufacturer’s warranty on TVs, projectors, and computers (excludes tablets; refurb computers get a 1-year warranty) for two years after purchase. Usually, the manufacturer gives you up to one year, Costco will make it an even two. Call the same number, 1-866-861-0450.

A Few More Quick Hitting Costco Hacks

Split Your Membership: – Each membership comes with two cards, you can split a membership with a friend. The second card is supposed to be for a household member but they’ve never checked whenever I shared a membership with a friend or relative.

Buy Online, Use Any Credit Card – If you buy something online, you can often get free shipping on eligible items and you can use any credit card you want.

Rotisserie chicken is da bomb dot com – Not a hack but worth mentioning, I love the rotisserie chicken. 🙂

Look at all these guys!

Oh, and before you go, please enjoy this shopping cart full of MASSIVE BUNNIES. I took the photo and I didn’t know what to do with it… so now it’s yours to enjoy.

 

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of three who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and a farm in Illinois via AcreTrader.

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  1. Holly Johnson says

    We don’t have any Costo-like stores nearby, so I can’t sign up even if I wanted to. The closest Costco is 30 minutes away!
    I know a lot of people who save by by shopping in bulk – my sister is one of them.

    • Jim says

      Ours is about 20 minutes away – there are a lot of non-bulk things like clothes too. Also, with kids a lot of the food stops being “bulk” if you can eat it in a few days!

    • Nicki says

      The closest Costco to me is also 30 mins away, but the savings is WELL WORTH THE DRIVE!! We have a Sam’s Club here in town, and I actually have BOTH memberships, and find I save much more during the year than I pay in membership fees. My Costco return check was $134, and I earned over $350 at Sam’s. I say go for it!! Make one big trip per month, and what you spend will MORE than pay for the $110 membership fee!!

      • Jim says

        I’ve considered getting a Costco and a BJ’s but the two aren’t different enough and they’re next to each other (a few miles away from one another), so I never felt a need to get both. Costco keeps us pretty busy as is. 🙂

    • Michelle Straub says

      Mine is 50 minutes away, but we still go about 4+ times a year of not more. We love their diapers. Price usually can’t be beat and sometimes we just buy online because shipping is included in the price and we save the gas money for the 50 miles. They have really great items online too. And you can’t beat the ground cinnamon container for only $2.59 a bottle!

      • Jim says

        Free shipping is available on a lot of stuff from the website… and you can use whatever credit card you want!

        • Ronald Joseph Marks says

          you completly forgot the fact that you can get gas with only scanning a cash card, i do this to save time so non member can get costco gas with a cash card

    • LS says

      Ours is an hour and a half away but we love Costco so much, we make sure we shop there at least once a month!

    • Tara says

      Wow, we drive almost 2 1/2 hours to get to Costco every month or two. Would give our left arms for a 30 minute away Costco

    • mandy cat says

      The closest warehouse to us is an hour’s drive away. And it’s still worth it. My husband just saved $3,000+ on hearing aids, with a very generous return policy and warranty, plus a lifetime of free adjustments that can be done on site. We drive over about every six weeks and stock up, mostly on Kirkland products, which have never let us down.

      There’s a Sam’s Club ten minutes away. If Costco ever comes to our town, I’ll leave skid marks on Sam’s grubby linoleum floor cancelling our membership.

  2. Kari says

    Our Costco is 90 minutes away. We go every three months or so (usually when the toilet paper runs out). I make a list – especially of freezer recipes that I can assemble easily when I return home. We make a fun day of it. But stick to the list – especially when you have a 15 year old boy pushing the cart.

    • Jim says

      Wow, if the closest Costco were 90 minutes away… I’m not sure I’d be a member! They’re an awesome store… but I’m not sure they’re 90 minutes awesome. Close though. 🙂

      Our kids (4 and 2) want EVERYTHING. Of course it’s because it’s colorful and stores are good at putting things in the right places, so I can’t imagine what it’ll be like in 11 years!

  3. Paul says

    Costco is decent but if you have a Wegman’s near you literally every food item or toiletry is of better quality and cheaper if you stick to the Wegman’s brand. I usually only get the gold star membership when there is a cash card + coupons deal. I will however get tires, batteries, and a giant bag of dunkin donuts coffee there. Oh and yes their rotisseries I’m pretty sure are sprinkled with Heroin. Unfortunately in Maryland Alcohol at Costco doesn’t exist.

    • Jim says

      Rotisseries are definitely sprinkled with something… we will go to the Washington DC Costco sometimes if we need alcohol. It’s only a few more minutes (assuming no traffic, which is a HUGE assumption in DC) and the deals are amazing.

    • Ginger says

      I don’t know if I agree with that. We have a wegmans and there are quite a few things cheaper at costco including some of the cheese and vegetables.

  4. Financial Slacker says

    We are also big Costco fans, although I have to say we have been using the Amazon Pantry Service a fair amount these days instead. It doesn’t require getting in the car and driving.

    But that said, I think the Costco meat selection is outstanding. The quality is good (better than our local butcher) and the prices are much better.

    The only problem is that I do tend to impulse buy a little too much when I’m there.

    • Jim says

      I’ve yet to try the pantry service, I think we have our patterns and are used to it by now.

      Everyone impulse buys are Costco… it’s designed that way!

    • IheartNC says

      We had an butcher in an upscale neighborhood ($$$$$), came to find out they were buying their meat at Costco and selling it for 5X the price. Customers thought they were getting premium cuts and raving about the quality, lol, so it’s definitely good product!

  5. ESI says

    GREAT ARTICLE! I’m bookmarking it!!!

    We love Costco and are Executive Members. A couple comments as I eat there often for lunch (office is 5 minutes away):

    1. It’s pretty easy to get in the “out” door for lunch. I just walk in and say “I’m going to get something at the food court” and they never look at my card. By now they know me, but they never asked early on either.

    2. My food court takes credit. I pay with my Fidelity Amex and get 2% cash back. 🙂

    • Jim says

      Ours doesn’t, if you want to pay with a credit card you have to do it at a register and bring the receipt.

    • MilitantRubberDucky says

      Many Costco locations only take Amex as credit, due to Costco not wanting to partner with credit card companies that were raising their rates and passing it along to their members. Amex decided against raising the rates, and Costco kept them as a result. You can use any card type as debit though (at least at mine here in Davie, FL). Employees at my store told me that they will hopefully be extending the other credit card companies this year though.

  6. TAH says

    Great stuff Jim–good news as the Food Courts in some locations now are accepting credit cards. Just recently noticed in a NJ location.

  7. Mary says

    We use our Costco card at our local one all the time and we own 2 condos in Kona, Hawaii and when we go there twice a year we buy all of our, gas, supplies and other items while in Hawaii. Costco has been great for us both at home and on vacation. We also let all of our guests know that there is a Costco on the Island and it is on the way to our condos, they love the heads up.

    • Jim says

      Costco in Hawaii is my favorite, we were there a few years ago for our honeymoon and went to Costco at every island we visited. The prices just can’t be beaten!

  8. Carey says

    We live 45 minutes from a nearest Costco, so it hasn’t been on our radar. However, we’re about to move so it looks more attractive (we know that extra furniture and the like will be purchased). And your hack with the exec membership I wasn’t aware of.

    Last, I wanted to mention…we were recently in Hawaii and my in-laws had a membership. Can’t beat the gas prices there!

    • Jim says

      Yes that hack with Executive is the best one, you get a lot of cash back if you shop there a lot.

      We loved it in Hawaii. We were staying at a timeshare with a full kitchen so we took advantage of the Costco there. If you go early enough in the morning, there’s even sushi and sashimi (it runs out quickly).

  9. Charlie says

    I’d hate to see how obese and unhealthy your children are eating $450 worth of processed foods per month. Another article taking common-man knowledge, claiming it’s a “hack”, when all it’s just another excuse to be an excessive gluttonous slovenly subruban ‘merican.

    • Jim says

      Well that wasn’t very nice! 🙂

      FWIW, Costco has a ton of unprocessed foods – fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, etc. You can easily get non-processed foods there, in fact the vast majority of our food purchases are from that area of the store. The only exceptions are party type foods, chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, which are treats that come out for parties, not every day eating.

      But it’s easier to toss folks into buckets and insult them without knowing anything about them. Thank you for your concern!

      For those who want to see our little fatties, click here!

      • Robin says

        Wow, that was rude and uncalled for Charlie. You have no idea what anyone is buying there.

        Good for you Jim for not taking the bait. Keep on keepin’ on. 🙂

        • Jim says

          Thanks Robin 🙂

          Trolls will be trolls, and that’s OK, but it would’ve been nice if Charlie shared what he’d recommend to combat this plague on our house! (maybe not haha)

  10. Rob @ Money Nomad says

    Phenomal list with great hacks! Thanks. I’ve seen the Costco cash cards around and tried to figure out why they would ever be beneficial to members – but as gifts to non-members, that makes a lot of sense! Now, if someone has one of these cards can they use cash/credit to make up the difference if they go over?

    • Jim says

      Thanks Rob!

      Costco also bills it as something parents can give their kids, kind of a “one store only” debit card. If they go over, I’m not sure what store policy is but I imagine they probably allow cash, debit, or credit from their partners. I don’t know if you can get away with $1 on a cash card to buy a TV. 🙂

      • Yetisaurus says

        They do allow cash/debit/partner credit if you go over. 🙂 I know a non-member who was given a Costco cash card, and she not only used it to get in the store and shop for what she needed, but at checkout, they asked her whether she wanted to buy another Costco gift card. Uh, yes! I don’t know whether the cashier was just a little off her game that day or what, but the non-member was able to go to Costco many times by getting new gift cards each time.

        Also, the roadshow calendar is usually available on the Costco website. I discovered this by mistake once. http://www.costco.com/special-events.html You can click on your area, and it tells you who’s coming to your local Costco locations and when.

        Great post!

        • JNF247 says

          If you are looking for information on when a specific roadshow is going to be back at Costco & you ask someone at the membership desk they can look up when it’s going to return. They have access to a more extensive/detailed schedule than the one offered online & if there are a few different stores near you they can tell you when it’s going to show up at each location.

  11. Hannah says

    Regarding the .99 trick on pricing, lower price point items (like 5# of apples, bread, or 2 gallons of milk) may not follow that rule and instead follow a generic .x9 or .x5 rule. Like other retailers, costco tries to be price competitive but not the low price leader on everyday staple items (and seasonally relevant items like tax software).

    The specific prices in each store will be partially determined by their comparison shops and partially determined by price rounding and profitability algorithms (to make the price look pretty and to save on store workload and also be sure they don’t lose too much money).

  12. Vic @ Dad Is Cheap says

    You’re killing me Jim. You’re now giving me MORE reasons to frequent my local Costco.

    Not really a hack, but whenever we can, my wife and I try not to use a cart so that it limits what we actually buy. A lot harder lately with a toddler and we want to buy a years worth of diapers whenever the coupon books say Huggies is $6 off. I try to tell my wife that Kirkland is the same thing, but ya know, the wife wants what the wife wants. 🙂

    Costco gas is awesome. One thing I do is drive their first thing in the morning on the weekends to fill up. Otherwise you’re waiting a half hour.

    • Jim says

      The time it’s open before Costco are prime time, it’s like seeing an oasis in the desert when you drive up and there are open spots. 🙂

    • Bargain Hunter says

      Hi, I just found your site today – wonderful site!
      Thank you so much for the tips!

      Just to reply to a few things:
      1) Kirkland Baby wipes are NOT the same as Huggies Wipes (sadly – wish they were!). I am sure they are good (I’ve used them before) but it’s not the same in this case; we use the wipes for BEAUTY and they do not remove makeup the way the HUGGIES wipes do.

      2) The Kirkland Brand Basil Pesto is great and it’s actually GIOVANNI RANA which costs way more for way less in grocery stores.

      3) I called my local costcos (yes, I will trek to a few) and none of them, very depressingly, have this SALE SECTION of returned but saleable items.
      I am so bummed about this – maybe they stopped? It sounds like an amazing deal!

      Thank you so much for sharing this information with us!

      Best,
      BH

    • Jim says

      I was surprised to learn they send employees out with clipboards to comparison shop around town. While it’s not “useful” in that I can do something with that information, it did give me confidence all the products were competitive.

      • Kristie King says

        I’ve put in my app a couple times for our brand new Costco here in Kingwood Tx because I’ve heard from quite a few that they are just as great to their employees as they are to their customers. I’m a licensed cosmetologist of 12 years and love providing beautification services, so my interest in getting hired means completely changing careers should reflect how wonderful the things I’ve bn told truly are. So, why am I sharing this info? Well I’d like to know what the “price comparison” position is titled please. Sounds like the position was designed for me and could possibly help in transitioning from the salon life. Also, if you could share special or specific experience requirements would be highly appreciated. Thanks!!!

        • Jim Wang says

          As far as I know it appears to be a data collection role, you get a list of products and have to go to local stores to compare prices.

  13. Sam says

    .97 is a markdown coming from the regional/corp office. .00 would be Warehouse manager. .97 will be a very good price on whatever the original great price was but .00 may as well be a fire sale. Usually seen on open box, last one or two left of item or on inventory that needs to be moved from floor to make room for new product.

    An asterisk is item that will not be replenished as you said, but also means a corporate .97 markdown or in-house markdown could be coming in the very near future since the product will be replaced by another product soon.

    For the most part great article and positive for Costco but don’t agree with promoting a couple of “hacking” techniques to a company that has made a genuine effort to provide honest and truly great value, while paying their employees top of the line pay and benefits for their industry. Costco bottom line profit is usually close to equal to the revenue from memberships. Costco exists due to these memberships. If you enjoy Costco then you should consider supporting the company and purchase a membership because without the memberships COSTCO DOES NOT EXIST.

    • Jim says

      I agree 100%, the idea of using cash cards to buy without memberships has long been out there and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it. That said, I suspect it’s a small percentage of folks who would take advantage.

      I appreciate you adding more color to the pricing scheme, thank you!

  14. Joshua says

    You forgot that if you get an executive membership and it doesn’t pay for you, you can take your reward check to the Member services counter and tell them that it isn’t working out and you’d like to downgrade your membership. When you do this, if the check isn’t enough to cover the downgraded membership, they will cover the difference for the first year of downgraded membership. At least, that’s what I was told when I signed up a couple years ago.

  15. Susan C. says

    We have tried to split a membership with someone outside the household, but our Costco requires that you provide a driver’s license with the same address as the primary account holder to get the second card. That’s something I wish was different–Sam’s Club allows you to give your second card to anyone.

    Still LOVE Costco, though. I shop there almost every week and have gotten some incredible deals there! So worth the membership cost!

  16. Betsy says

    The Costco here doesn’t carry organic meat, and I refuse to support factory-cruelty farms, so that means I’m only down to the whole plant foods and I have to buy meat elsewhere. Because of that, it’s not worth it for me to have a full membership on my own. I wish they had an mini-membership, like a limited spending card or something, so I could shop there even though I don’t spend enough to warrant the purchase of a membership. If it cost me $20 to get a card that would allow me to spend up to $1,000 a year in there, that would be good. I’d happily pay for that “mini-membership”.

  17. Danielle says

    Our kiddo calls it the “sample store” because in addition to having great prices and amazing products, they give away samples at certain times every day. Weekends have more than the weekdays, but I can always count on Costco having snacks to demo food at great prices. I often test out of my preschooler will eat new foods and if he does we buy the product.

    • Jim Wang says

      Ours too! They always are a little disappointed when we go and the samples aren’t set up already…

      They also like to watch the bakery in the back, all the muffins and croissants and cakes being decorated!

  18. Dee says

    I learned to my great disappointment that some big brands sell cheaply made items, not up to their normal standard, through Costco. Two years ago, as a new Costco member, I spotted Calvin Klein packable down jackets for a very reasonable price. A quick phone search showed that a nearly identical CK jacket was priced much higher elsewhere. Well, said item went on to shed/molt tiny feathers through the winter, messing up dark jeans as well as fabric car seats. Within months of that experience I read an article confirming that big-name companies make lower-grade items for Costco, so….lesson learned :/

  19. Stephanie says

    “Not sure if you’ll spend enough to get a rebate of more than $55? (the difference between Gold and Executive Gold) If you don’t, you can go to the customer service desk and get the difference back. So if you only earn a $20 rebate, you can get $35 from Costco. It is a win-win situation.”

    I’m a current Costco Executive Gold Member. I got a rebate check for $34. Are you saying that I could have gotten $21 back from Costco to apply to my Executive Gold Membership?

    • Jim Wang says

      That’s what the Costco employee told me! I’ve never tried it myself because our rebate always covered it but that was one of their selling points.

    • MB says

      I tried that and they said it was good the first year only. If I cancelled my executive membership then they would refund me the difference. So I’ve not had it every since.

  20. Mary says

    I’ve read that if you buy one rotisserie chicken a week, that alone will pay for your Costco membership in what you’d save over buying them at your local grocery store. And they do their chickens right. Their chickens are juicy, flavorful and tender – not overcooked.

    • Jim Wang says

      Our local grocery store’s chickens are about a dollar more and smaller chickens, so that math checks out with me!

  21. Kendra says

    Any progress on updating about their new Visa card? We love Costco and I’ve considered getting the card since a location has finally opened up so close by us. We don’t generally use credit cards but I’ve considered this one solely for all the Costco and Costco gas purchases we make. Thank you!

  22. Kiki says

    Hey there. I don’t know if different costcos can make different rules but in Maryland AND Pennsylvania, you may NOT purchase food at the food court without being a member. My husband and I used to love the food court and my family has always been a member of Costco but we weren’t. We thought that we could go and take advantage of the food court without being a member. This is NOT true. They won’t let you in. This happened un TWO different states. Just a heads up.

    • Jim Wang says

      I wonder if it’s state related? I’m in Maryland and the food court is inside the warehouse. In some places, the food court is outside. I thought it was weather related (have fun eating outside in the winter in Maryland!) but perhaps it’s state regulated?

  23. Kiki says

    I don’t know how they are owned, who makes the rules but in Lancaster, PA and Glen Burnie, Maryland unless you’re a member, you may not enter the food court. Those are the two Costcos that I frequent and it’s been that way for about 4 years. I used to work for an armored truck company and when we had meetings we would actually order the pizza from there and they would remind us that someone who was a member needed to pick up the order or we wouldn’t be able to gain entrance to the food court. I have never heard of someone NOT wanting to make money. Lol

  24. Kim says

    Clearance/Discount shelf “saleable” item shelf I have not been able to find this in the local Sugar Land or Katy Store. This was always the one place I never skipped in Sam’s because of the discounts. Maybe next time I see the manager in Sugar Land I will ask where it is in the store. This was a great article thank you.

    • Jim Wang says

      You’re welcome! This appears to be a YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) type of situation – some stores do it, some don’t.

  25. adnan sami says

    At the Rochester, NY store they are asking the driver
    s license every time we shop there. So, there is no way to share membership. Also at this store the cashiers and the people who check the receipts at exit are not friendly if you don’t have the cart filled to the brim.. Looks like they only like to tend to the high spenders…

  26. Tasia @ MyBJswholesale.com says

    BJ’s Wholesale Club Finally got the $4.99 Rotisserie Chicken and it’s so good. I like seeing that Costco is pretty comparable to BJ’s- but yet BJ’s ends up being cheaper with the cashback rewards and use of manufacturer coupons!

    • Jim Wang says

      It depends a lot on local factors, like what you have near you (some people are hours away from a Costco). The two stores are comparable – we have both though we prefer Costco because of the location and our familiarity.

  27. Auntie Doni says

    HEH! No one said a word about Costco’s Food Court Hot Dogs and Polish Sausages, nor the Chicken Bake or Pizza or Parfaits and let’s not forget the sammies they’ve got now !!! That is a MUST when ever we go to Costco (45 minutes away from our home btw) … I bought a bag of the dawgs and buns in the store for a gaggle of kiddos at our home once and ya know, they just didn’t taste the same as in the Food Court. What is it? Do I need one of those cool small ovens that they use or what? Alls I know is the Churros aren’t the only good eats at Costco’s Food Court !!

  28. Zak says

    Bring your card on long stay vacations. Many of my families favorite vacation destinations are located near or within reason of a Costco. Now as I stated, long stay is really where this makes sense. And further more, traveling to Hawaii, did you know most everything there is imported and as such gets a transportation tax that often makes it cost “too” much. Well not sure how they do it, but Costco does not, I bought a gallon of milk for $3 or so, where the local grocery store was $5-$6 or more! We even were able to pickup additional luggage for all the over purchase, then returned the luggage when we got home.

    Otherwise, great tips!

  29. Costco Employee says

    So lots of false things here. Guess it depends on the store. Firstly, you CANNOT sign up with just any old friend, you must provide proof of shared address to join together. Yes you DO need a membership to even go to the food court or we will shoo you back out. No we do not cash out the executive checks, they must be used towards merchandise or renewals. Our store doesn’t and has never had a special return rack selling at a discount. If its saleable, it goes back to the floor at original price. Yes you can get a price adjustment within 30 days WITH your original receipt. If you forget your card at the gas station, we will still ask for your ID and call inside to membership to verify that you are a member. Lastly, if you spend $2750 a year, at the most, you will break even and it would still not be worth it to have an executive. Spending atleast $3000 a year is where it would benefit you to be executive. Have a great day!

      • Chrissy says

        Dude, some of that is totally false. Maybe the employee you talked to does things different at their warehouse but what the guy above just said is more accurate. Furthermore maybe you shouldn’t give out “tips” when you’ve never worked at the place. And the biggest pet peeve is trying to avoid a membership with a cash card. We allow it once and that’s it. Wanna shop there, get a membership like everyone else.

      • Jim Wang says

        Yeah, that part surprised me because we do it all the time. We’ll take the check in with us to pay for our purchase and then get the rest as cash. We don’t take the whole thing as cash because I don’t want to waste everyone’s time by emptying the register of cash.

  30. Tara says

    One tip I received from a cashier during checkout was that if I want to estimate the total before checkout, just consider each item as $10. Initially, I was trying to calculate each item as I went along (due to not being able to go over a certain amount). However, this is practically impossible with little ones in tow and so I did the math with the $10/item tip and it was pretty accurate! Definitely a much more efficient way to figure out the total when buying groceries. Hope this tip helps someone, especially the mamas of littles who are on a budget!! ?

  31. Stuart @ Epic Quiver says

    Costco will also let you buy extended warranties for TV’s you did not purchase from them. We bought our TV from the “used” section of Amazon Warehouse for an extra $400 off the lowest market prices, then we purchased an extended 3 year warranty through Costco.com for the tv.

  32. Douglas Rodewoldt says

    Although I am a Costco member it is a 2 bus transfer + a train to get to it. I hate shopping on line as I like to touch and examine products before I purchase. So I NEVER go there. I’ll not be renewing my membership and stick with store easier to get to. Costco is not for me.

  33. Charles R. Lowe says

    We only have 3 in the house so we don’t use Costco , We do go there with a friend once a month and get toilet paper, and other items in large amounts. But don’t like to through away food or waste anything. I bought my glasses there and saved money. I read all of the reviews and nobody said anything about Winco in California, there is no membership there and that gets my attention. I don’t like to pay for a membership.

  34. sara says

    Pretty sure you aren’t able to purchase without membership via google express.. I have tried every single way and it always prompts me to put in my warehouse member number 🙁

  35. mason noor says

    Excellent info and tips. thanks a bunch. I’ve been a long term member of price club or costco now. I’d like to shop online now. however, the online prices are higher than the store prices even for over $75 total purchase. I know, I get a 2-days free shipping but how Costco is going to compete with folks like Amazon in this case.

  36. Nicole says

    In regards to splitting the membership with a friend, is it better to get the cards in store together or get them online? I guess, I’m trying to figure out the best way to avoid being turned down. Thanks!

  37. Rene Juarez says

    Hi Jim,

    Question: can you buy a Costco shop card online and gets 2% cash back as an executive member and then use the shop card in store to get 2% for those purchases?

    Rene

      • Cynthia says

        Thank you for this great article! This is in reply to the above question and your answer. I understand that you do not receive the 2% as an executive member when you “purchase” a Costco branded gift card, but do you know if an executive member receives the 2% credit towards their annual check when they “spend” the Costco gift card? Thank you!

        • Jim Wang says

          Based on my reading of the 2% reward, you would get 2% on the qualifying purchases because it has nothing to do with how you pay for those purchases.

  38. Sara says

    Costco’s Kirkland Chardonnay is the best, we buy it in bulk due to the driving distance. Is there a reason why we can’t purchase it online? We live in Asheville, NC and have to drive to Spartanburg, SC or Greenville, SC to buy it, the drive is up to 90 minutes away.

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