51 Ways to Get the Most From Your Costco Membership

Author: Daniel B. Kline | July 26, 2019

A Costco store as seen from the parking lot.

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It's up to you

When you join Costco (NASDAQ: COST), the warehouse club already has what it wants. Since the chain makes about three quarters of its revenue from membership fees its management does not really care if you use the card you paid $60 or $120 for. That means it's entirely up to you to get the most out of your membership and there are a number of ways you can do that.

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1. You have to use it

If you don't go to Costco you won't get the most out of your membership. Make a plan to visit the chain at least once a month (more if you can) and stick to it.

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2. Have a plan

Warehouse clubs offer discounts for buying in bulk. You can almost always save by buying household staples like toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, and other similar items. Go through your home and identify items that make sense to buy in bulk and stock up when you visit.

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3. Keep a list

Costco is huge and it can be daunting once you walk inside. It gets easier if you keep a list of what you need. A list can also keep you from buying items you already have or stop you from making an impulse buy.

ALSO READ: Where Will Costco Be in 10 Years?

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

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4. Know your long-range needs

Warehouse clubs offer ever-changing merchandise. You can't visit one with a plan to buy a seasonal item -- say a winter coat or a kayak. You can, however, keep a long-range list of items you need to buy at some point so you can take action if Costco happens to have it in stock.

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5. Know prices

It's amazing when you need something expensive and Costco happens to have it in stock. It's also important to remember, however, that the chain generally has good prices but it's not always the cheapest.

If you have a big ticket item on your wish list, know what it should cost. That way if you see it at Costco you will know if it's a good deal or not.

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6. Watch your email

While Costco has been slow to embrace the internet it has moved many of its sales to email offers. Look at the messages the chain sends you and be ready to pounce if an offer is especially good.

ALSO READ: Is Amazon Prime Worth It for Prime Day Alone?

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7. Book a trip

The Costco website offers a travel booking service. The best deals tend to be on packages that include airfare, hotel, and even theme park tickets.

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8. Drink up

Many, but not all, Costco locations have attached liquor stores. In many cases, the house brand liquors and wines are top-tier brands hiding under the company's Kirkland brand. You may have to sample to figure out which ones you like, but once you find a favorite the deals can be very large.

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9. Fill up

A lot of Costco warehouse locations offer members-only gas pumps. The chain offers consistently good pricing -- and it will often be the cheapest place to fill up in town.

ALSO READ: This Category Fuels Costco's Success

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10. Shop with a buddy

Because Costco sells in bulk, it can sometimes feel daunting to shop there because you may not need items in the large quantities. To offset that, shop with a buddy and split common items like paper towels, coffee pods, bottled water, and other bulky staples.

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11. Be careful with electronics

Costco sells electronics and it sometimes offers a really good deal on them. Be careful though because this is an area where the chain sometimes gets beat by its rivals. You also need to make sure you know exactly what you are buying as the warehouse club may be selling a similar -- but not quite the same -- model of the item you want.

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12. Buy a coffin?

It may be morbid but the warehouse club offers coffins at lower prices than you generally find them at funeral homes. That's not something a funeral home will tell you but, in many cases, you can save thousands by opting for a Costco coffin when that fateful day comes.

ALSO READ: Americans Fear This One Thing More Than Death

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13. Have a sample

On weekends Costco offers all sorts of free samples of various food and drink products. Go through and try a bunch of things you've never had (and probably some you have).

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14. Have lunch

Costco warehouses have a food court with some very cheap offerings. You can get a hot dog or a piece of pizza with a soda for $1.50. The chain also sells $1 churros and inexpensive ice cream (along with a variety of other things.

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15. Treat it as entertainment

You never know what's going to be on sale at Costco and sometimes it's fun to just look. Take the kids (and/or your significant other) and just have fun window shopping the sometimes ridiculous offerings.

ALSO READ: 4 Reasons to Not Renew Your Costco Membership

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16. Buy coffee pods

Costco generally has K-cups in bulk at really low prices compared to most grocery chains. You'll see a mix of items including name brands and lesser-known offerings.

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17. Look for gift cards

Costco often has gift cards at lower than face value prices. You might be able to get $100 in gift cards to a chain restaurant for $75. Be a little careful with this (look at things like whether they can be used any day of the week) but if you eat or shop at a chain that's offered, this is basically free money.

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18. Join a gym

In rare cases, Costco offers deals on gym memberships. Generally you buy a card that entitles you to a year (or even longer) of membership for less than what you would pay in total for that period on a monthly membership.

The negative, of course, is that you have to pay all at once. But, in exchange for doing that, you get a lower overall price. 

ALSO READ: Are Gym Memberships Worth the Money?

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19. Upgrade your membership

It takes a $60 Gold card membership to make purchases at Costco (there are a few loopholes to that). For an extra $60, you can get an Executive membership which gives you 2% off on eligible purchases up to $1,000 back. Of course, for this to be worth it you have to buy enough to earn at least $60 back. But that's not hard (and the higher-level comes with some better deals on certain Costco services as well).

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Packaged food in a freezer.

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20. Split portions

Many of the best Costco food deals come if you buy more than you need. When it comes to meat or other items that can be frozen for later use buy in bulk and then create your own portion packs using freezer bags. It's a lot of extra work but it's probably going to be worth the effort (assuming you actually defrost and use what you buy).

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21. Use the services

Costco's website offers deals on everything from business accounting software to various types of insurance. Not every deal makes sense for every person but there are probably some that will save you money on products and services you may use already. 

ALSO READ: Make These 4 Moves Immediately if You Don't Have Any Savings

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22. Buy eyeglasses

Costco locations generally have an eyeglass shop where you can also get an exam. In most cases, these are decent quality frames at lower-than-average prices.

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Christmas decorations shaped like hearts and snowflakes hanging in store

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23. Get your holiday gear

Costco generally has seasonal holiday decorations in time for whatever holiday happens next (and sometimes even better deals if you wait to stock up for next year). Check your local warehouse a few weeks before the holiday and you should also be able stock up on party supplies like napkins, beverages, and paper plates.

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24. Fill your prescription

Prescription drugs can be pricey even if you have insurance. Costco can help as its pharmacies often have generic equivalents at low prices. Make sure, of course, that your doctor approves of any substitution, but, in most cases, you'll be getting the same medicine for less money.

ALSO READ: How Does Prime Day Spending Compare to an Average Day?

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Hand holding a blue Visa card in front of a POS device.

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25. Get the credit card

Costco only takes Visa when it comes to credit cards. You can get 4% cash back on some purchases (3% on travel and 2% on anything at Costco or on Costco.com that's not worth 4%). The best thing is that those savings can be added to the 2% cash back you get if you upgrade to an executive membership.

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Young couple picks out cleaning products in a store aisle.

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26. Understand expiration dates

It's not just food that expires. Some cleaning products, medicines, and other goods eventually go bad or lose efficacy. If you use what you buy quickly then this isn't an important factor.

In other cases, it might be fine to buy a five-year supply of toothbrushes buy maybe not as good to do the same with toothpaste. Know roughly how long things last so you don't end up throwing items away.

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27. Know how much you eat

If Costco offers 14 bananas for $5 or 1,000 for $100 you have to figure out if you will eat enough to make the bigger deal worth it for you. Your savings decrease as your waste increases. Don't buy things in bulk you won't use in bulk.

ALSO READ: What Are American-Style Options?

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28. Go there first

Costco almost certainly has lower prices than your local grocery store. Go to the warehouse club first to buy whatever makes sense and then finish your shopping at the higher-priced (but better stocked) grocery store.

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29. Buy car stuff

Not every Costco has an attached automobile center. The ones that do, however, generally offer good prices on the parts and services offered. In many cases, tires are especially well priced. 

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30. Buy a book

While print books may be out of fashion there are still situations where owning them makes sense. You may not be able to use your e-reader, tablet, or smartphone in some places. In others -- like going to the beach -- a book might be a better bet and Costco usually has a selection of bestsellers (albeit a limited and random one).

ALSO READ: Barnes & Noble Still Hasn't Turned the Page

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31. Plan meals

Look at what your Costco offers that's well-priced and build some meals around those choices. Many grocery items are stock for the chain -- meaning that they will be there every time you visit. That should allow you to have some go-to meals you can make from ingredients purchased there.

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32. Stockpile gifts

Costco has all sorts of items that people want as gifts. The chain just might not have what you want in stock when it comes time to give a gift.

To counteract that, buy gifts as you see them. Be careful with toys for kids, however, as tastes change quickly and you don't want to be stuck with items your child no longer wants when it comes time to give it to him or her.

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33. Buy the house brand

Costco markets all sorts of products under its Kirkland label. These are generally cheaper than name brands and are often exactly the same thing. Don't fear the house label. The warehouse club has put a lot of care into making its products a value for consumers.

ALSO READ: Costco Stock Is Too Hot to Handle, Despite June Sales Beat

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34. Track prices after you buy

When you buy a big-ticket item keep an eye on whether Costco lowers the price after you buy it. If it does, the warehouse club will generally give you the difference back as long as you have your receipt.

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35. Act fast

Costco's merchandise changes every day. If you see something that's not normally in stock that you need, buy it because it may not be there when you go back.

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36. Don't forget the website

Costco ignored the internet for a very long time. That's no longer the case and the chain has upgraded its website. It has also added a lot of web-only deals that sometimes beat the prices offered in the chain's warehouses. In addition, the company's website will have items that aren't sold in stores.

ALSO READ: Where Will Costco Be in 10 Years?

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37. Try things on at the store

Costco has some great deals on clothes but it's important to try on what you're going to buy. That's because if it does not fit, you can return it for a refund but the item may no longer be in stock so exchanging it for the right size is often not possible.

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38. Return things

Costco has a very liberal refund policy. It will take most items back no questions asked. If you buy something and it's not what you expect it to be, bring it back. (You can even get a refund on your membership if you decide it's not for you).

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39. Go to the movies

Costco often has deals on movie tickets. Sometimes it's a ticket at below the normal cost and at other times it might be a bundle deal with popcorn and a drink (or something similar). Be careful to check if the tickets have any limitations (like not being valid for a film's opening weekend).

ALSO READ: Disney Is Dominating the 2019 Box Office

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40. Buy a bed

Costco may not come to mind when it comes to beds, but its sells them and often has very good prices. One caveat is that mattresses are often displayed in a way where they can't be tested. That makes them a better bet for a guest room or another situation where you're not that picky.

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A bouquet of roses

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41. Buy flowers

The warehouse club may not always have a selection of flowers for sale but it will generally have an assortment around any holiday where flowers are traditional. In many cases, there will be even more selection on the chain's website.

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42. Get groceries delivered

Want to save yourself a trip to the warehouse club? Costco has multiple delivery options including same-day delivery through Instacart.

ALSO READ: Same-Day Delivery Is Driving Target Sales

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43. Use coupons

Costco does not accept or match traditional coupons. It does, however, have a page on its website offering its own coupons. These are deals offered both in-store and online (not both in each place) that you won't get if you don't check the page.

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44. Take a cake

Costco warehouses have bakeries and you can get custom cakes for any occasion. The quality is in line with grocery store chains -- so maybe not as good as a high-end bakery but at a much lower price.

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45. Shop for others

To checkout at Costco you have to be a member (or have a valid gift card). That does not prevent members for picking items up for non-members. You can buy things for friends and relatives then have them pay you back. This can be a  big benefit if it's a bigger-ticket item being purchased.

ALSO READ: 4 Reasons You're Not Saving Money


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46. Check out the business services

If you run or own a store (or another small business) you might want to consider a business membership. Costco offers everything from janitorial services to coffee, water, and snack deliveries. Being a business member opens up a whole new array of offerings.

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47. Buy golf balls

It may seem silly but Costco's Kirkland Signature golf balls have been a major fan favorite. In fact, it might be a challenge to get your hands on any as they sell out fast when a new shipment comes in.

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48. Get photos printed

While most pictures probably live on your phone, Costco also offers low-cost printing services. That's a sensible choice for your best photos or the ones you want to show off.

ALSO READ: 9 Reasons to Not Join a Warehouse Club

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49. Visit when traveling

Spending a week in a rented home? Or maybe you're just in a hotel for an extended time?

Whatever the reason is, consider stocking up for your stay at the local Costco. You can buy water, snacks, and other items for much lower prices than at the pharmacy and convenience stores that tend to be in vacation destination areas.

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50. Buy a car

The Costco Auto Program takes the hassle out of buying a car by doing the negotiating for you. You can buy new or used cars through the program and know you're getting a very good price that the warehouse club worked out so you don't have to worry about being ripped off by a dealer.

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Woman holding up hand as if to say no.

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51. Know when to say no

The best value at Costco may be in learning how to say no. Before you buy anything not on your list, step back and really evaluate if you truly need it. A lot of the time you may find you don't and put the item back on the shelf before making a purchase that would later prove to be a waste of money.

ALSO READ:  The Most-Wasteful Spending Habits Among Young Americans

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has the following options: short January 2020 $180 calls on Costco Wholesale and long January 2020 $115 calls on Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool recommends Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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