If you love to snap up a bargain (who doesn't?), then you probably have a Costco membership card tucked away in your wallet. This mega warehouse sells everything in bulk, from grocery items (including organic fruit and vegetables) to household goods, electronics, liquor, diamond rings, and even gasoline, all at majorly discounted prices. But you can save more at Costco than just dollars. We did the research and found some of the best insider shopping secrets, from what the asterisk means on the price tags to its discounting schemes and non-member hookups. Intrigued? Scroll down to read more.
Eat Lunch for Under $2—or Free, With Unlimited Samples
If you're a fan of hot dogs and pizza, then the Costco food court should be your first port of call each visit. According to Eater, the hot dog-and-soda combo price of $1.50 hasn't changed in years (since 1985 to be exact) and isn't likely to. In fact, the entire in-store café menu is extremely well priced. So eat up without the guilt.
Save Big With Costco's High-Quality Kirkland Brand
While some private label brands tend to get a bad rap, Costco's Kirkland Signature products are all really top-notch. According to insiders, the private label is extremely high quality and makes up for 20% of the products in-store. Shop men's clothing, alcohol, pet food, laundry detergent, and batteries, which The Krazy Koupon Lady says are identical to Duracell. Rumor has it that Kirkland products might even be made at the same factory as their equivalent name brands. For example, Good Housekeeping says many shoppers believe the Kirkland dishwasher detergent is made by Cascade; but regardless, it performed above average in a Good Housekeeping Institute test.
Give Your Non-Member Friends a Costco Cash Card
Even if your friends don't have a membership, you can invite them on a shopping trip via the Costco Cash Card. You have to be a member to purchase the card or reload it with money, but with this handy plastic, your friends can shop at any Costco location, including Costco online. They could even put it toward their own membership—now that's savvy.
Visit the Edges of the Store for Major Deals
For the real bargain hunters, skip the center and head for the edges or the back of the store instead. Lifehacker has coined this section "action alley" because of the high traffic. "Makers and distributors often pay for the privilege of being there, and the prices are aggressive," the site says.
Don't be lured by the tempting sample booth or pretty displays at the end of aisles either; Lifehacker says the worst bargains in Costco live here.
Enjoy Membership Benefits Beyond In-Store Shopping
While the bulk-buying discounts are pretty awesome, you can get so much more for that $60 membership than you realize. Exceptional savings can be had through Costco's many services. Book a discounted vacation with Costco Travel, buy a car, have bottled water delivered, get a mortgage or refinance your home, and purchase insurance, dental plans, and even coffins. If you have the cash, upgrade to the Wheels Up membership, which gives you access to your own private fleet of aircraft, with guaranteed availability. It will set you back $17,500, but the store kindly throws in a $3500 Costco cash card to ease the pain a little.
Scan Costco's Coupon Booklets Before You Shop
Costco members will receive a coupon booklet with all its discounted products and savings for that month. Make sure you scan this book carefully before you shop and make note of the discounts you want to redeem. But there's no need to cut them out anymore. As of 2015, savings are applied automatically at checkout. For truly seamless savings, download the Costco Mobile App to redeem your coupons from your smartphone.
Purchase Alcohol as a Non-Member in Some States
Alcohol is ridiculously cheap at Costco, and these prices are available to non-members too, but only if you live in certain states. Why? Well, Saving Advice says it's enforced by state law and that "any establishment selling alcohol must make the sale of the alcohol available to the public." Therefore, Costco must allow non-members to buy alcohol at its stores too. This applies to 12 states, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Texas, and Vermont. And the non-member privileges continue. Lifehacker says you can also get your eyes checked with Costco's optometrist, use the pharmacy to purchase medicine, or get your immunization shots and eat at the food court.
Take Note of Prices Ending in $0.97 and $0.00
If you've gotten this far into the story, then you're a super-savvy shopper and you've just scrolled to one of the best insider shopping secrets. Pay close attention to the Costco price tags. In a Tough Nickel article, Len Rapoport revealed that items ending in $0.97 are national markdowns. It also means these items did not sell and therefore must be cleared out. Prices ending in $0.00 are local-level markdowns.
Look Out for the Asterisk on Price Signage
If you're a regular Costco shopper, you would have noticed the asterisk on the upper right corner of some price signage. If you see one, Len Rapoport says, "It means this item is not being restocked," and that what you see is all that's left. "This is a tip that it might be a marked-down item, but not always," he writes. "It does let you know that once these are gone, there will be no more. I use this guide to determine if I should stock up on a discounted item, knowing that the store inventory is all there is."
Keep Your Receipts For Easy Returns
Costco has one of the best return policies around, so hold onto your receipts from every purchase. Set up a folder at home, where you can store them securely. This is especially crucial for any electronics you purchase from the discount warehouse. Costco will accept returns within 90 days (from the date the member received the merchandise) for televisions, major appliances, computers, touchscreen tablets, cameras, camcorders, MP3 players, and cellular phones. While you can return the item without a receipt, in the event the chain can't find your purchase in its system, Len Rapoport says it will only credit you for the lowest price the item was sold for. Costco also has a very high satisfaction guarantee, so if you aren't happy with any of its products, Len says you can return them within two years. Now that's service.
Shop Discounted Movie Tickets With a Costco Gift Card
Do you love going to the movies but hate paying the ridiculous prices? Well with a Costco membership, you can buy movie tickets for cheaper than at the theater. If you're a non-member, you can use a gift card or cash card to purchase them; otherwise, they're available to Costco members at all times in the gift card aisle.
Costco's Hot Dogs Will Probably Never Go Up in Price. Eater. April 12, 2018.
11 Tricks That Make Shopping at Costco Even Better. Good Housekeeping. November 7, 2015.
12 Costco Pricing Secrets You Need to Know to Save BIG. The Krazy Coupon Lady. November 2, 2020.
Shop the Best Bargain Aisles at the Warehouse Club or Discount Store. Lifehacker. July 11, 2013.
Is It Possible to Buy Alcohol at Costco Without a Membership? SavingAdvice.com. January 9, 2015.
The Best Things You Can Do at Costco Without a Membership. Lifehacker. June 17, 2014.
Secret Price Codes That Will Save You Money at Costco. Tough Nickel. May 6, 2020.