10 tricks to get the most out of your Costco membership

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesCostco offers deals on travel, prescription drugs, and more.
  • Costco memberships offer customers discounts that go beyond savings on bulk food items.
  • Many consumers may not know that Costco gives its members access to some of the best deals on travel, prescription drugs, gift cards, and more.
  • Here are 10 tricks from a consumer-savings expert for getting the most out of your Costco membership.

Like many consumers, I have something of a love-hate relationship with Costco. I’m still working through a lifetime supply of paper clips, and I rarely escape the warehouse store without at least $US100 of items that weren’t on my shopping list.

On the other hand, Costco offers top-quality products at fantastic prices, and some of those unplanned purchases have proved to be great buys. It wasn’t on my list, but I am glad I bought a truMedic InstaShiatsu Shoulder and Neck Massager – and Costco offered it at a great price.

Consumer-savings expert Andrea Woroch said that she thinks a Costco membership can pay off, but it depends on your shopping style.

If all you want are the bales of toilet paper, you can do better shopping sales and using coupons. But, she said, there’s more to Costco than 12-packs of paper towels. Particularly for business owners and people with larger families, Costco can be a great place for bargains.

Woroch shared some of her tips for getting the most out of your Costco membership.

1. Hone your Costco shopping list and stick to it.

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesMake a strategic shopping plan prior to your trip.

“Don’t become overwhelmed with the deals,” Woroch said. “That’s actually an easy way to blow your money.” She advises coming up with what she calls a “strategic shopping plan.” Make a list and focus on the items you want to buy. Limit the amount of time you spend wandering the aisles trying to justify buying a Vitamix or a five-year supply of Scotch tape.

It might take a few trips to find out which items you like and fine tune your list. My current favourite bargain is Verka organic yogurt. It’s delicious, and the 64-oz tub can cost the same as a 16-oz yogurt at the grocery store.

2. Check your pantry before you shop.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesDo a pantry inventory to see what you need.

Woroch said she advises people to do a pantry inventory as you make your list, so you don’t buy something you already have or forget an item you need. Then stick to that list!

3. Don’t forget Costco deals on large purchases.

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesCostco offers deals on items other than food.

You get more from your Costco membership when you think beyond groceries, according to Woroch. You can find great deals on clothing, patio furniture, even beds. She also said that other discount outlets might have low prices, but they won’t match Costco’s quality.

Woroch suggested checking what’s available at Costco when you need to make a large purchase. Don’t be like me: I recently discovered (too late) that I could have saved $US300 on my new iPad had I bought it at Costco.

4. Visit the alcohol section.

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesCostco’s Kirkland brand vodka was rated highly by Woroch.

“If you want a $US2 bottle of wine, Trader Joe’s is the store,” Woroch said. If you want a really nice wine, go to Costco for the best prices. She gives Costco’s Kirkland brand vodka high marks, too.

5. Get great deals on wedding gifts.

Mike Mozart/Attribution Licence/FlickrCheck out their section of kitchen appliances.

“I find that their selection of small kitchen appliances is really good at really good prices,” Woroch said. Costco may not be the best place to buy a specific china pattern, but if the wedding registry includes a generic request for a blender or food processor, you’re sure to find something to please the happy couple.

When you shop for wedding gifts at Costco, you get more than the benefit of lower prices. You’ll also be giving the gift of Costco’s quality assurance and great return policy.

6. Buy your next sheet cake at Costco.

Ben Tavener/Attribution Licence/FlickrCostco offers deals on bakery items like sheet cake.

Don’t miss out on Costco’s great bakery deals, especially the sheet cakes. You can get any flavour you want, as long as you want chocolate or white cake. A half sheet cake can cost less than $US20 and feed up to 48 people.

You can get a custom-decorated cake if you order ahead, but don’t worry if you have poor planning skills. The bakery keeps sheet cakes in stock and you can pick one up an hour before your son’s birthday party. He’ll never know the difference.

The cakes aren’t just cheap – they’re tasty, too. One of my friends got a Costco cake for her daughter’s graduation party and it was so delicious that the entire giant sheet had disappeared by the end of the night.

7. Buy discounted gift cards.

Damian Gadal/Attribution Licence/FlickrYou can save up to 20% on a bundle of cards.

Costco sells gift cards for restaurants, theatres, and more. You can often save 20% on a bundle of cards. Woroch suggested using these cards not only as gifts but to save money at your favourite restaurants.

8. Use Costco for travel deals.

Mike Hewitt/Getty ImagesThey have discounts on hotels, attractions, and more.

You might not realise that Costco offers deals on hotels, packages, and attractions, because you can’t put a beach vacation in your giant shopping cart, but Woroch said this is a great way to save.

She said she was recently able to book a car for a week in Maui for around $US200, a great deal for Hawaii.

9. Fill your tank and your belly before you go home.

Tim Boyle/Getty ImagesCostco gas may be cheaper than your local station.

Woroch said that Costco’s gas pumps can be significantly cheaper than local gas stations, so be sure and fill up before you go home. A recent survey by Oil Price Information Servicefound that Costco gas stations in Pennsylvania were between nine and 22 cents cheaper than the average gas price in the state.

She also likes the food court; it’s a great way to feed the whole family for just a few bucks.

“I think [Costco pizza] tastes really great compared to the other pizza places in my area,” she said.

10. Still not convinced? Skip the membership fee.

Tim Boyle/Getty ImagesGuests can now pay with their own Visa bank cards.

“If you don’t really have a necessity to go often,” Woroch said, “you can give a friend or family member cash and they can buy a Costco cash card,” which allows you entry to the store. Better yet, tag along with your friend: Each member can bring in one guest.

Costco now lets guests pay with their own Visa credit cards or debit cards, so it’s easier than ever to take advantage of all that Costco has to offer.

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