Most people join Costco (NASDAQ:COST) to save money.
The warehouse club has a well-earned reputation for offering good prices, in part by limiting the number of products it sells and in part by making customers buy many things in bulk. In addition, the chain marks up the items it sells less than other stores do while also offering a no-frills shopping experience that keeps its costs down.
Not every item sold at Costco is a good deal. But in a broad sense, members who shop there should save money over shopping at traditional stores if they buy only the things they actually need, in quantities they will use. It's possible, however, to save even more money at Costco than someone who just joins and shops there does.
The company offers some well-known and lesser-known ways that clever shoppers can shave meaningful amounts off their bill. Some are easier than others, and not every method will work for everyone, but it's possible to save more money at Costco if you make the right moves.
Become an Executive Member
Costco offers two types of individual or family membership: Gold Star, which costs $55 (rising to $60 in June) and Executive, which costs $110 ($120 on June 1). The two ways to join the warehouse club are roughly the same, except for the perks that come with the pricier membership. Executive members get 2% back on eligible purchases, up to $750 a year (that number climbs to $1,000 in June). They also get higher discounts on some Costco services and travel products.
The cash back alone should make spending an extra $55 (soon to be $60) worth it for avid Costco shoppers. Forgetting any other potential savings offered to Executive members, anyone who spends $2,750 a year at the current membership pricing will break even on the higher cost. Any spending over that amount counts as added savings (as long as you're sticking to only buying what you need).
Get Costco's Visa Rewards card
Unlike most retailers, Costco only takes credit cards from one provider, and that decision has allowed the chain to make a very strong deal for its customers. The chain partners with Visa (NYSE:V) not only as the only credit card it accepts, but also for its rewards card. The Costco Anywhere Card offers members who opt to get one 4% cash back on gas (up to $7,000 worth), 3% on eligible restaurant and travel purchases, 2% back on Costco or Costco.com buys, and 1% back on anything else they buy.
Like any credit card, Costco Anywhere does require credit approval from the issuing bank. Not everyone who applies will get one, but those who do will be able to pile up the savings.
While Costco doesn't promote this very much, consumers who pay for an Executive membership and are also Costco Anywhere Visa card holders can double-dip. The two programs are not mutually exclusive, and it's possible to in many cases double your savings by using your Anywhere card to pay for purchases as an Executive member.
Of course, there is a major caveat here. As is the case with any credit card, those savings disappear if you don't pay your bill in full every month. If you have the discipline to do that, then this is the way to maximize your savings at the warehouse club.
Look for coupons
While Costco doesn't accept traditional manufacturer coupons, it does offer some of its own. The warehouse club even maintains a web page where members can access the deals. The selection changes dramatically each month, and some offers are only good in stores while others are only for online shoppers. In some cases, the savings can be substantial, but if you don't seek out the coupons, you'll miss out on the deal.
Costco's coupon site also offers savings on travel, rental cars, and other categories you may not immediately think of when it comes to the retailer. Like the merchandise deals, these change regularly, but there are sometimes some fairly spectacular offers.