13 Costco Money Saving Hacks That Save Us Big Money
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Over the years we’ve moved nearly all of our shopping to Costco. We’ve been going for so long that many of the regular employees know our kids by name. I’m admittedly a fan boy of Costco as we can get nearly everything we need there. Aside from a few produce items and shopping on Amazon, we do all our shopping at Costco. Since we buy so much there, we’ve been able to not just save money but make money shopping at Costco.
Many think that you only need to shop at Costco if you want 10-gallon buckets of pickles or enough boxes of mac and cheese to withstand a nuclear winter. Sure, many of the items are in bulk. But, there are many other ways to save money at Costco that don’t require buying massive quantities and in the right circumstance, you can even make money shopping at Costco.
I’ve been able to learn about some of the best Costco hacks thanks to a friend who has worked for the company for years. Here are some of our top Costco savings hacks that help us save on our shopping needs.
Discounted Gift Cards
One of our favorite money saving tricks at Costco is buying discounted gift cards. I’ve seen it vary by Costco, but our local Costco has dozens of discounted gift cards from restaurants, movie theaters, travel and more. It varies from gift card to gift card, but most I’ve seen are at least 20 percent off the standard price.
When I was on Nutrisystem, I regularly bought Nutrisystem gift cards for 20-40% off standard price. That resulted in a huge savings off the standard price. When I had a few left over that I didn’t need, I was able to sell them at a minor discount on Ebay and net some profit in the process.
Become an Executive
This is probably my favorite Costco money saving hack. The standard Costco membership is $55 per year though you can upgrade to an Executive status for $110. I know that seems steep, but it comes with an upside. You can earn two percent cash back on all purchases, up to a rebate of $750 per year.
As you’ll see in the picture below, we just got our check and were pleased to see that it was a little over $265 for the year. In addition to the cash back you also get further discounted prices on various Costco services. If you don’t make enough back to cover the additional $55 you can ask customer service to refund the difference and lower your membership level.
After paying for the membership fee, we still netted $155 – not bad! In addition to offering quality products at good prices, Costco paid us to shop there. That’s a pretty good deal in my opinion.
Use the Coupons
Costco sends out monthly coupons to all members. In years past you needed to either have the coupon or the Costco app to get the discount. That is no longer the case. As you walk throughout the store, you’ll see discounted items marked, so the coupons aren’t necessary – though we use them to plan out our shopping trip each week.
Coupons aren’t the only way to save money at Costco. You can also use the Ibotta app to save money at Costco. When you finish shopping, you simply scan your receipt into the app and it matches what you bought against cheaper offers, allowing you to pocket the difference via payment to a PayPal or Venmo account.
Ibotta even gives you $10 just for signing up!
Stay Away from the Middle of the Store
If you’ve ever walked the entire store at Costco, you’ve noticed a few things. The first thing is that they rarely keep everything in the same location. The reason for this? They want to keep you in the store longer, so you buy more.
The other thing you may or may not have noticed is Costco pushes a lot of their non-discounted or higher priced items towards the middle of the store – or Action Alley as they call it. In some instances, a company may even pay more to be in the middle of the store because it’s highly trafficked. If you want to save money at Costco, stay on the perimeter of the store.
Book Vacations Through Costco
One of the lesser-known hacks to save money at Costco is booking travel. You can book virtually anything you want vacation wise from cruises and rental cars to theme park tickets and vacation packages. We’ve not price compared, but whenever we book a rental car, it’s almost always from Costco. Their prices are almost always cheaper, and they extend free second driver on all rentals, with no mileage limits.
Price Drop Policy
Many know about the generous Costco return policy. You can return most anything if it’s not acceptable to you. The major outlier is on electronics, which has a 90-day window to return items. However, what happens if the price drops a few weeks after buying an item?
Costco doesn’t have an official price drop policy but if they drop a price on an item you bought within 30 days, and you still have the receipt, take it to the customer service desk and they’ll commonly refund the difference.
Get Memberships Through Daily Deal Sites
Is the $55 membership fee a bit too much for you but you would jump at a lower price? At least in Omaha, they’ll run specials on Groupon or Living Social where they offer a $20-30 discount on the annual membership.
Just keep in mind you’ll have to pony up the full price in a year if you choose to renew your Costco membership. There are alternatives to Groupon that offer similar deals as well.
You may not realize this, but you don’t have to be a member to get prescriptions from Costco. This isn’t dependent on Costco’s policy, but as required by federal law. For those who are members, Costco has the Costco Member Prescription Program that offers discounted prices on many prescriptions.
Costco does require you fill out a form to get this discount, so make sure to ask your local store to enroll in the program. If you need to buy cheap glasses online or order cheap contacts online, Costco is a great option to save money
We’ve moved to buying as many organic groceries as possible. We take our health seriously but buying organic can definitely be more expensive. Thankfully Costco has started to carry a lot more organic options over the past few years – at least in our local store.
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They’re more expensive than the non-organic option, of course, but seem to be about 10-15 percent more, so it’s not too bad and still cheaper than we find at the local grocery store. Costco notates organic items with a green price tag vs. the standard white, so make sure you look before you buy.
There are many articles on the Internet about the Costco price codes. If you know the not so secret code, it can be a tip off whether it’s a deal or regular price. Here are some of the top Costco price codes to know:
- An item ending in $.99 means that it’s a regular member price.
- An item with an asterisk * in the upper right-hand corner means it’s not going to be reordered. It may have been a seasonal item, but will not be around for much longer.
- An item ending in $.97 means that the item has been marked down by the manager and likely will not be reordered.
- Odd pricing, such as ending in $.59, $.69, etc. is a specially priced item. These may be discounts from the manufacturer given to Costco.
- An item ending in $.88 or $.00 are items marked down by the manager meant to sell the item fast.
Something our friend has shared is that Costco is very aware of the overall cost. They want to pass on the best deals to members, so they regularly play with pricing to move items.
Just as with the prescription savings above, you don’t always need to be a member to buy alcohol at Costco. Again, this is dependent on state law as some states don’t allow membership clubs to prohibit alcohol sales to non-members.
*Related: Do you like to use meal delivery services? Read our guide on the top alternatives to HelloFresh to save money on meals delivered to your door.*
If you’re in such a state, just tell the greeter you’re there to buy non-member items, and you can buy those items. As you can imagine, alcohol is usually quite a bit cheaper than at other stores.
Free Technical Support
When you buy electronic items from Costco – TVs, computers, some exercise equipment, etc., Costco provides free technical support by phone. We’ve had to use this service once or twice and have had great service. Here’s a link describing the program, but you can call in seven days a week, and they can help you with your problem.
*Related: Love to shop at Target? Check out our guide on how to get discounted Target gift cards and save money at the store.*
As an added bonus, Costco extends the warranty to two years on TVs, projectors and computers at no cost to you – you’d normally have to buy a warranty at other stores to get the same benefit.
Free Health Screenings
One area Costco provides non-members savings in is providing access to both optical exams and hearing screenings. If you need to buy an item as a result, you’ll need a member to buy the item for you.
Costco also provides members savings through free health screenings. It varies by state and store, but Costco offers heart and diabetes screenings, amongst others, at no cost. Costco also provides savings on other health-related needs, such as flu shots at a discount. We typically get a $10-15 discount per flu shot vs. getting it elsewhere. That adds up with a family of five!
The final money saving hack for Costco is to shop online. The Costco website and app commonly have deals not available in the stores, and you can use any card you like, not just a Visa card. We’ve bought numerous items on the Costco website in the past as a way to save money when we couldn’t find a similar deal in the store.
What other money saving hacks have you used at Costco or Sam’s Club? Have you found shopping at a warehouse club saves you money? Do you stand in line to get samples? – Be honest. 🙂
John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.
Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.
Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.