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The Most Game-Changing Costco Shopping Secrets

Julia Mateian

Julia Mateian

If you love to snag a bargain (and 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 like 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 Costco's best insider shopping secrets, from what the asterisk means on price tags to its discounting schemes and non-member hookups. Whether you're looking for the best life hacks at the store or searching for high-quality brands at affordable prices, this retailer can upgrade your life on a dime.

Below, read on to learn the secrets of Costco shopping to catch every deal the store has to offer.

01 of 11

Eat Lunch for Under $2—or Free, With Unlimited Samples

Ada Oguntodu

Ada Oguntodu

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 breaking the bank.

02 of 11

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 top-notch. The private label is extremely high quality and makes up for about 20 percent of the products in-store. Shop men's clothing, alcohol, pet food, laundry detergent, and even batteries. With such excellent quality, we wouldn't be surprised if the Kirkland products were made at the same factory as their equivalent name brands.

03 of 11

Give Your Non-Member Friends a Costco Cash Card

Kate Ogata

Kate Ogata

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 the online store). Give the gift of quality products at bargain prices without the added cost of a membership. These cards are great for use between friends, or even for parents to gift to their children who don't need a membership year-round.

Your friends can even use their Costco Cash Card balance toward purchasing their own membership—now that's savvy.

04 of 11

Visit the Edges of the Store for Major Deals

If you're on a real bargain hunt, skip the center and head for the edges or the back of the store. Many of Costco's best deals are housed here, unlike higher prices found along some end-of-aisle displays or sample booths. Sometimes, the most worthwhile finds aren't in obvious areas.

05 of 11

Enjoy Membership Benefits Beyond In-Store Shopping

Kate Ogata

Kate Ogata

While the bulk-buying discounts are already great, you can still get much more for your membership than you realize. Look to Costco's many services for additional savings: Book a discounted vacation with Costco Travel, buy a car, have bottled water delivered, get a mortgage or refinance your home, or even purchase insurance and dental plans. If you're a frequent traveler with plenty of extra cash on hand, you can even upgrade to the Wheels Up membership to gain access to your own private fleet of aircraft (with guaranteed availability). This top-of-the-line service will set you back $17,500, but the store kindly throws in a $3500 Costco cash card to make it worth your while.

06 of 11

Scan Costco's Coupon Booklets Before You Shop

Costco members receive a coupon booklet with discounted products and savings each month. Make sure to scan this book carefully before you shop, and always make note of the discounts you want to redeem ahead of time. 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 coupons from your smartphone.

07 of 11

Purchase Alcohol as a Non-Member in Some States

Honey N Silk

Honey N Silk

Alcohol is especially affordable at Costco, and these prices are also available to non-members in certain states. Why? Some states have laws that require all alcohol sellers to make their products available to the public. In 12 states—including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Texas, and Vermont—Costco allows non-members to buy alcohol at its stores. If you don't have a membership yet, you can also use Costco's optometrist, purchase medicine from the pharmacy, get immunization shots, and eat at the food court.

08 of 11

Take Note of Prices Ending in $0.97 and $0.00

Extra savvy shoppers will be pleased by one of the best insider shopping secrets: Pay close attention to the Costco price tags. Costco expert and author Len Rapoport notes 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 available in your area.

09 of 11

Look Out for the Asterisk on Price Signage

Julia Robbs

Julia Robbs

If you're a regular Costco shopper, you may have noticed the asterisk on the upper right corner of some signs. If you see one, Rapoport notes that these items will not be restocked. Take advantage of last-time deals by checking for asterisks and shopping accordingly—Rapoport uses this signage to stock up on discounted items before they're gone.

10 of 11

Keep Your Receipts For Easy Returns

Costco has an excellent return policy, so hold onto your receipts from every purchase. For easy organization, make a dedicated folder at home to store receipts securely by date. This is especially crucial for any electronics purchased from the discount warehouse: Costco accepts returns within 90 days for televisions, major appliances, computers, touchscreen tablets, cameras, cell phones and more. While you can still return your items without a receipt, you may only be refunded 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, Rapoport says you can return them within two years. Now that's service. 

11 of 11

Shop Discounted Movie Tickets With a Costco Gift Card

Do you love going to the movies but hate paying the high prices? With a Costco membership, you can buy movie tickets for cheaper than the rates available 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.

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Article Sources
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  1. Costco's Hot Dogs Will Probably Never Go Up in Price. Eater. April 12, 2018.

  2. 11 Tricks That Make Shopping at Costco Even Better. Good Housekeeping. November 7, 2015.

  3. Shop the Best Bargain Aisles at the Warehouse Club or Discount Store. Lifehacker. July 11, 2013.

  4. Is It Possible to Buy Alcohol at Costco Without a Membership? January 9, 2015.

  5. The Best Things You Can Do at Costco Without a Membership. Lifehacker. June 17, 2014.

  6. Secret Price Codes That Will Save You Money at Costco. Tough Nickel. May 6, 2020.