Author: Daniel B. Kline | July 26, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.