29 Ways to Make the Most of Your Costco Membership

Author: Daniel B. Kline | April 25, 2019

A Costco store as seen from the parking lot.

Source: Costco

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It's about how you use it

Joining Costco (NASDAQ: COST) feels like a victory -- like you have already made a step to save money. In reality, a membership to the warehouse club could save you money or it could end up being a waste of money.

To make the most of your membership, you have to understand how the chain works. Yes, it has low prices, but that's only a small piece of how you can maximize your savings by shopping at the chain.

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A blurred photo of an aisle in a warehouse retailer.

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1. Make it regular

One of the biggest ways people fail to take advantage of their Costco membership is that they simply don't use it. Pick at least one day a month where you shop at the chain and make that a regular habit.

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A woman opens a cabinet in the kitchen

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2. Know what you need

Entering Costco without preparing can lead to foolish purchases. It's important to make a list so you know what you actually need. The warehouse chain sells bulk items, so it's important to only buy things you're out of, about to be out of, or that you have heavy demand for.

You don't want to bring home a two-pack of ketchup and have it sit around until it goes bad. The same is true for pretty much anything that has an expiration date.

ALSO READ: 3 Reasons Nearly Everyone Renews Their Costco Membership

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A man shops in a warehouse store with a cart.

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3. Know what they sell

Costco has new merchandise every day but it also has a lot of staples. Many of its food and household items are regularly in stock. On your first visit, take a look around the store and take inventory of what's offered. Does the chain sell your favorite shampoo or the brand of cereal your kids like? Make notes so you can be prepared to buy when you need those items.

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Shopping cart in a grocery aisle.

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4. Beware the overbuy

Do you have room in your freezer for a 10-pound bag of chicken breasts? Can your bathroom accommodate a three-pack of shampoo? And even if you have the room, will you use these items before they go bad?

Getting a good deal doesn't matter if some of what you buy goes to waste. You also probably don't want a big package of toilet paper having to live in your hall even if you get it at a really good price.

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A stack of children's toys.

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5. Have a wants list

Because the merchandise changes on every visit, it's not possible to plan for every contingency. That makes it important to have a wants list as well as a needs list.

Do your kids have a birthday party to go to? Look for toys or other gift items. Are you planning on buying a kayak? Know what one should cost and be ready to pounce if they come in stock.

ALSO READ: How Costco Actually Makes Money

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Close up of a gas pump at a gas station.

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6. Gas up

Many Costco locations have gas pumps and they're generally the cheapest gas (or close to it) in town. You don't have to enter the store in order to buy gas. If you're nearby and running low, you can stop in to fill up and will most likely save money by doing so.

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bottles of prescription medicine sitting on shelves in cabinet

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7. Fill your prescriptions

Most Costco locations have a full pharmacy where you can fill your prescriptions. The chain will accept your insurance and, in many cases, you will pay a lower price than you would have at a traditional pharmacy chain. This can vary so you will want to shop around. 

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A hot dog with toppings.

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8. Make it a meal

The food court at Costco offers really cheap pizza, hot dogs, and sandwiches. It also has snacks like ice cream and churros. This might be the cheapest place you can eat so it makes sense to plan a visit around meal time. 

ALSO READ: 3 Top Restaurant Stocks to Buy in April

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A sliced pizza on a wooden table.

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9. You can take dinner home too

You don't have to eat Costco's cheap pizza while in the store. It's possible to place a to-go order to bring your meal home with you.

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A plate of food samples

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10. Try it before you buy it

Some people make Costco visits just to see what samples are being offered (there tend to be more on the weekends). That's fun but there's a practical reason samples are offered -- it's so you can try something before you buy it.

Bring the kids or your significant other and see if there's something being sold you want to try at home. Sampling takes a little bit of the risk out.

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A toddler girl drinking from a glass of milk.

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11. Watch expiration dates

Everyone knows that milk and other food items have expiration dates. Were you aware that the same is true for shampoo, moisturizers, and many over-the-counter medicines?

Unlike spoiled milk, a slightly old Advil capsule won't make you sick. It, however, may not make you better as expired medicine may lose efficacy.

ALSO READ: Here’s What the Average American Spends on Prescription Drugs

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The interior of a Warby Parker store, with glasses on display

Source: Warby Parker

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12. Get your glasses

Eyeglasses can cost hundreds of dollars. Costco offers a chance to save money on your prescription and (probably) still look stylish. The warehouse club has a decent selection along with its low prices.

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A female child in a winter hat and coat with hands to her face.

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13. Have a big ticket needs list

If you know that your kids will need new winter coats for next year you might be able to buy them when they go on sale. Make a list of every purchase you plan on making in the next few months. If Costco happens to get that item you can be prepared to act.

This isn't the same as your wants list. That's stuff where more than one item will do (a birthday party gift can be lot of things). This is referring to specific needs, like you're planning on buying new patio furniture, so swapping out a couch meant for inside would not work.

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Woman reading emails on a computer screen.

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14. Watch your email

Costco sends coupons and deals via email. Some of these are online only while others require you to go into the store. In many cases you won't get these deals if you don't know about them.

ALSO READ: Where Will Costco Be in 10 Years?

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A man and a woman negotiate at a car dealer

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15. Buy a car

It's no fun buying a buying a new car. Costco knows that and it has a service that will get you a good price (maybe the best price) from a local dealer without you having to do any of the haggling.

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Woman shopping for clothing online.

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16. Look at the website

The Costco website has merchandise and it has deals for all sort of things. Need insurance or business accounting software? You can find both there.

Check prices because a deal isn't a always a deal but, in general, these web-based offerings save you money. Some of the products and services offered may not be what you'd expect so take a look often to make sure you're getting all the deals you can use.

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A plate of food samples

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17. Learn to say no

Warehouse clubs are full of temptations. When a nice man hands you a sample of some delicious candy it almost seems rude to not buy any. The same is true when you watch a demo of a new kitchen gizmo.

Taking a sample does not mean you have to buy. Have discipline and say no (or say that you need to think about it).

ALSO READ: How to Politely (but Firmly) Say No to a Meeting

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The inside of an airplane with passengers in the seats

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18. Go on a trip

Costco has a travel service and it often has very good deals -- especially to major vacation destinations. The warehouse club tends to offer the best prices when you bundle airfare, hotel, rental car, and even theme park tickets. It also often has good prices on cruises and all-inclusive destinations.

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A millennial man does pushups at the gym.

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19. Join a gym

Sometimes Costco has gym membership deals. You'll have to pay all at once (instead of monthly) but you'll get six months or a year for much less than the price you'd pay just walking in off the street.

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One person handing a gift card to another person.

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20. Buy gift cards

Do you regularly eat at certain chain restaurants? Costco sometimes has bundled deals on gift cards where you pay less than the value of the cards you're getting. That's essentially free money if you were going to that chain anyway.

Sometimes the warehouse club offers similar deals at retailers, movie theaters, and other types of business. Make sure that you're only buying cards for places you actually go (and check whether there's an expiration date).

ALSO READ: 35 Things You Should Know About Gift Cards

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Someone pushing a shopping cart down an aisle with a display of Christmas decorations in the background

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21. Shop with a buddy

One of the ways to avoid the waste created by bulk shopping is going to Costco with a buddy. You'll need someone in a similar family situation as yours who likes many of the same products you do.

You can then split bulk packages of all sorts of items. That makes it feasible to buy items that expire or ones that take up a lot of space.

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Senior woman pushing senior man in a shopping cart.

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22. Make it entertainment

It's fun to walk around Costco just to look at the merchandise. The warehouse club may have giant stuffed animals, bizarre flavors of candy, or who knows what else. Walk around, have some free samples, and enjoy a little window shopping.

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Sales associate and customer look at TVs.

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23. Watch for big ticket deals

Buying electronics at Costco can be a challenge. This is one area where the chain may not have the lowest prices or it might get a version of the item that's less-than full featured.

Sometimes, however, you may see an item that's just a good deal. Maybe it's a bundle for a gaming console that comes with an extra game or a free headset at the same price other stores sell the lesser bundle at. Maybe there's a computer that's marked down or an especially good deal on a smartphone.

Be careful. Make sure you're getting exactly what you think you're getting, but there are some one-of-kind great deals.

ALSO READ: Why a Bright Outlook in Life Can Help You Save More Money

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A cocktail is being poured

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24. Stock your liquor cabinet

Many Costco locations have attached liquor stores. These can have good deals on name brands, but the best prices are saved for house label liquor and wine. This can be a bit hit-and-miss based on preference, but the quality to price ratio is generally very good.

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The exterior of a Costco.

Source: Costco

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25. Check out nearby stores

Not every Costco has the same setup. One may have a liquor store while another may have a full auto center. It's important to know if there's a major section at a store that's not too far away that you might go to in search of a bigger-ticket purchase.

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Spaghetti and meatballs

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26. Portion it out

Perishable items can often be frozen. If you need two pounds of beef to make your famous spaghetti and meatballs, but the deal is on a 10-pound package, some freezer bags and a little effort (and enough space in your freezer) can make it possible to take advantage of the deal.

ALSO READ: 7 Money-Saving Tricks That Actually Work

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27. Go Executive

It costs twice as much ($120 per year instead of $60) to be an Executive member. That extra fee, however, pays off as you get 2% cash back on qualified purchases up to $1,000. Costco points out on its website that you earn back the extra fee if you spend $250 per month ($3,000 per year) at the chain. Spend more and you will actually put cash back in your pocket.

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A handheld credit card machine terminal.

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28. Get the credit card

Costco only takes Visa for credit card transactions and it has a rewards card with the company. That card offers rewards that can be on top of what you get as an Executive member which include:

  • 4% back on eligible gas purchases up to $7,000 (then you get 1%)
  • 3% back on eligible travel and restaurants.
  • 2% back on all other Costco and Costco.com purchases.
  • 1% back on everything else.

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Boxes on a conveyor belt in Amazon's fulfillment center.

Source: Amazon

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29. Drop Amazon Prime

Amazon charges $129 a year for its Prime service which offers free two-day delivery. That's very convenient but it's not needed if you go to Costco regularly. 

If you shop at the warehouse club you can pick up the staples you need. You can then use Amazon as a fill-in placing orders that qualify for free (albeit not two-day) delivery when your total qualifying items cost at least $35. That way you can shop at both companies without shelling out the premium for Prime.

ALSO READ: 3 Scenarios Where You Don't Need to Pay for Amazon Prime

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Visa. The Motley Fool recommends Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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