Costco Secrets That Will Save You So Much Money

Monica Gray - May 13, 2023

If you love buying in bulk, then look no further than Costco. With an abundance of items to choose from, tiny hors d’oeuvres to taste, and the chance to visit the eye doctor, Costco has it all. But Costco isn’t the place to come and shop as any regular shopper. The store holds a host of secrets you can tap into as a valuable customer, that’ll save you money and give you the best bang for your buck. Even if you’re not a Costco member, you can still reap plenty of benefits. Visiting the pharmacy, shopping for alcohol, or using a gift card are some of the best ways to enjoy the Costco perks without being a part of their member club. And if you are a member, you’ll enjoy a host of benefits that surpass any other warehouse membership out there. If you’re ever wondering where to shop, Costco might be your best option, and with your knowledge of these secrets, you’ll become a professional Costco shopper in no time.


Shop At The Right Time

Never shop at Costco during the weekend. It’s a huge no-no. Just as you would avoid a stampede of animals, you need to avoid the stampede of Costco shoppers. Everyone is off from work, so the weekend is their only chance to go shopping. Even if you try and go shopping during the week, avoid shopping after 5 p.m. The best time to shop at Costco is when everyone is at work. On the subreddit r/Costco, someone said, “New items arrive and have been stocked, the chaos of the weekend has been cleared, children are in school, so there is less of a risk of running over one with your cart, first samples of the day are being handed out. It’s the best time to shop in the warehouse.” If there’s a Costco near your workplace, then taking advantage of your lunch break is a great way to make sure you avoid crowds. And if that doesn’t work, try heading to Costco as early in the morning as possible. If you head to Costco right when it opens, you’ll have the best chance of seamless shopping without the crowds. Even though this hack is viable at any store, it’s especially true for Costco (Apartment Therapy).


Bulk Up On Meat

There’s nowhere else in the world where you’ll get high-quality meat for such an affordable price. If you have room in your freezer, consider stocking up on Costco meat. Celebrity chefs even praise the quality, so you know you’re getting more than what you pay for. Professional chef Walter Apfelbaum said, “Costco sells some of the most beautiful prime beef I’ve seen out of the restaurant industry. They have huge buying power. It’s what the cows are eating, how they’re raised, the kind of water they’re drinking, everything. Miyazaki cows, for example, are fed sake mash and are grazing on vegetation grown in volcanic soil, which is super fertile.” It might seem surprising you’re getting this sort of high-quality meat at a chain warehouse, but there’s a reason people keep going back for more (Food And Wine).


Hack The Secret Pricing Language

Did you know Costco has its very own pricing language? If you’ve ever wandered around Costco and noticed that some items are $0.88, others are $0.97, and others are $0.99, you might have felt confused. How can certain items differ by two cents and even twelve cents? For items priced at $0.97, it means they’ve been cut down below their regular price, but they’re not yet at their final sale. It might go up, and it might go down. If you spot items at the odd $0.88, it means Costco is trying to get rid of them and they’re at their lowest price. If it’s an item you purchase often, then it’s a good idea to stock up, since it’s likely you won’t see that item again. You also won’t see a better price. Another secret to keep in mind next time you’re shopping is to look out for items priced at $0.49, $0.89, and $0.79. When these items end in a nine, other than the standard $0.99, it means it’s a special manufacturer deal given only to Costco. You’re in for a treat! (Life Hacker).


There’s No Limit To The Free Samples

Now, we’re not saying you should be that person and stand there, eating the entire tray of free samples. Those are the unspoken rules of Costco etiquette. Technically, you could, but it’s not respectful to the other customers who also want free samples. Some free samples are so delicious you could eat the entire tray, while others probably make you want to gag. Either way, if you eat a delicious sample and want more, we suggest waiting a bit and circling back for more. Also, keep in mind the people handing out samples aren’t Costco employees. They’re brand representatives trying to sell their product. You might even find that the free booze samples are the best, though be careful on those if you’re driving (The Daily Meal).


Become A Costco Member

Not only will being a Costco member open you up to an entirely new world that any old shopper won’t have access to, but you’ll reap plenty of benefits. If you’re ready to sign up for their membership, it’s worth it. This especially rings true if you shop there often and are a valuable customer. You’ll need to pay for the membership, but the savings make up for the price. You’ll get secret discounts that other shoppers won’t have. We’re all about saving money! Costco gas is also cheaper, price codes inform you about secret deals, and you’ll get money back if an item you purchased goes on sale (Go Banking Rates).

The Kitchn

Save Money On Bulk Items By Using An App

Costco is one of the best warehouses to save money on large, bulk purchases. Whether you’re cutting costs with your membership, coupons, or the phone app, your wallet will thank you. But there’s another secret way to save money at Costco without any of the above, and that’s using a third-party application. Certain shopping apps will pay you for buying certain products at Costco. Some apps will give you $4 back for purchasing a 24-case of Pepsi. You’ll receive the money in a digital account, which you can then use as you please. If you shop often, then this app might be a huge money saver (Nasdaq).


When You Hear The Bell, Run

If you’re shopping in Costco when you suddenly hear a bell, sprint to the deli section. This bell means fresh rotisserie chickens have just been placed on the shelf and will likely go fast. If you’re in luck, not many customers will know what the bell indicates. You can also save money on rotisserie chicken if you only want dark meat or white meat. Simply ask the deli attendant to split the chicken and take home your preferred meat of choice (Epicurious).


Follow The Route To The Stars

They always say follow the north star, and there’s a reason for that. While following the star at Costco won’t technically lead you anywhere, it will lead you somewhere for your wallet. Costco price tags with an asterisk on the corner will give you clues about Costco’s secrets. The asterisk means the store won’t restock the goods once it’s sold out. If it’s a product you know and love, then make sure you bulk up on as much as you can. The store won’t buy more for some reason or another. The asterisk also means it’s at a special price because they’re trying to get rid of it. Pick it up if it’s an item you can’t live without since it likely won’t be there the next time you shop. It’s more common with seasonal items, though any item could have an asterisk (All Recipes).


Fill Up On Gas

Even if you’re not shopping at Costco, filling up on gas is a good idea. Its prices aren’t limited to its in-store items. The price per gallon of gas is cheaper than many other competitors out there. Because Costco has loyal customers, it means their gas is always at an affordable price. Their gas station is strategically next to the store. Richard Galanti, Coscto’s chief financial officer, said, “When there are inflationary pressures and prices are going up, people look to save on gas. For every 100 people who come to Costco to fill up on gas, more than half go shop inside afterward.” This warehouse has an advantage that many other places don’t have, so it’s a good idea to take advantage of it (CNN).


Shop In The Side Of The Store, Not The Middle

Since Costco is a business, they’re strategic about the layout of their stores. They have wonderful items like electronics and seasonal offerings not available at many other stores. But they’re also good at human psychology, and the items in the middle of the store are always more expensive than the items in the side of the store. It’s designed to grab your attention. In a way, they’re not on your side, since those items are there to sell and not save. But if you know the secret to shopping at Costco, then you’ll know the more affordable items are at the sides of the store. The biggest savings are in the side and back walls, so head there next time you’re trying to save. Managers want their customers to buy items on their way to the back of the store (Reference).


Take Your Own Shopping Bags

In many stores around the world, you’ll likely have to use your shopping bags. Costco is no different. The warehouse does not offer any shopping bags, since they claim the best way to cut down on prices is to not give out free bags. According to their website, they say, “Not only do shopping bags contribute to waste, but they would also result in higher operating costs – and, ultimately, higher product pricing.” It’s a lot easier to prepare ahead of time and make sure there are tons of bags already in your trunk. There’s nothing more annoying than showing up to Costco and realizing you’ll have to transfer your groceries to your trunk and then home without any bags. Digging around for empty boxes at the store is also frustrating. Purchase inexpensive, reusable bags and save yourself the headache. It’s an easy hack to make your shopping experience at Costco as seamless as possible. And if you forget your bags, head to the alcohol section and ask for wine boxes. A good quality wine box never hurt anyone, and even if you don’t end up using it for your groceries, they come in handy for various DIY projects (The Daily Meal).

The Sun

Buy Gift Cards

If you’re unsure of what gift to give your loved one for their birthday or the holidays, consider buying a Costco gift card. This convenient option goes a long way, and they can buy whatever they want. The warehouse also often sells gift cards at a discounted rate, so oftentimes, you’ll get gift cards that come in up to four sets. You might be able to pay less for the card than what it’s worth. Buying this is giving you the chance to put more money in your pocket and keep your wallet stuffed with cash. You should even buy yourself a gift card, especially if you’re often at restaurants or movie theaters where Costco sells retail gift cards (The Sun).


Attend A Costco Roadshow, But Act Quickly

If you want a sneak peek at future items, attend a Costco Roadshow. It’s a special event showcasing future manufacturers’ items. It’s only there for about ten days, so you have to act quickly. And if you see something you like, it’s always a good idea to act on it and purchase it as soon as you can. This is one way Costco keeps its customers on their feet, and even if it’s a secret skill they use, it’s something many of their customers love (Reference).


Choose Costco For Your Electronics

Purchasing from Costco isn’t only a good idea because of the prices. It’s also a good idea because of their two-year warranty. If you purchase televisions, water heaters, or projectors, you’re protected by the Costco Concierge service and warranty. You can even purchase a three-year warranty for $99, and Reddit users who love Costco say it’s worth it. One user said, “The TV’s wifi went bad so I called Costco and they said they will try to repair it by replacing the board. Unfortunately, they don’t sell the parts anymore for the TV and so Costco offered a brand new TV to replace it and they allowed me to keep my old TV. Extended warranty is so worth it.” It sounds like this customer chose the right business (Reddit).


Indulge In Their Pizza

The pizza at Costco is well-known for being huge, cheesy, and delicious. The pizza isn’t only for customers on the go, you can call ahead of time and order a pizza. While there’s nothing better than grabbing a slice of pizza for $2 after spending an afternoon shopping, you can also enjoy that delicious treat while you’re not shopping. Kaiwen Zhao, a Costco employee, said, “We never shortcut the ingredients. Everything is measured to a standard. Every Costco pizza you get should have the same amount of sauce, cheese, and toppings.” It’s time to indulge in Costco’s best-kept secret (RD).


If You Love Wine, Shop At Costco

There’s no need to shop at your local liquor store if Costco is around the corner. You’ll end up saving tons of money if you shop for your wine at Costco. Even though most of their wine is their typical Kirkland brand, you’ll also find other high-value bottles. Pay close attention to the vintage bottles. In some locations, you don’t need to be a member to shop for wine at Costco but pay special attention to the location (Yahoo).


Hot Dog And Soda Combination

While prices on items in Costco vary widely throughout the year, there’s one item combo that will never change. That’s the signature hot dog and soda combination. Costco claims it will never raise the $1.50 price of the hotdog and soda, so if you’re ever looking for a combination that will stay steady, then this is your best bet. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a little indulgence here and there, especially if it won’t make any dent in your wallet. The hotdog has been around since 1985, and CFO Richard Galanti said, “Some businesses that are doing well with margin… those things help us be more aggressive in other areas, or, as you mentioned, hold the price on the hot dog and the soda a little longer — forever.” Forever is a long time, but at least he seems confident (CNBC).

PX Fuel

Skip The Soda

Costco customers don’t purchase soda as much as other places. The price of soda in Costco never really gets marked down, so you’re never truly saving money. Head to a regular supermarket as opposed to Costco if you want to dive into your soda indulgence. Supermarkets put sales on soda to lure customers into their doors, while Costco does not do that (Reference).

Store Brands

Go Organic

If you’re looking to step up your health game, it’s time to go organic. Costco is a great place to do just that. In 2018, the organic food market skyrocketed to $52.5 billion, where vegetables and fruits were the top organic sellers. And it’s only going up from there. Costco rivals Whole Foods as being one of the top organic food sellers in the world, including peanut butter and chicken stock. Some other items at Costco worth buying organically are ground beef, coffee, and sweet potato fries (Cheapism).


Shop At Their Pharmacy

Not only is Costco a grocery store, gas station, and pizza restaurant, but they also have a pharmacy. And while other pharmacies may jack up their prescription prices, Costco will always give you the best prices. It’s a secret pharmacy hack that’ll have you coming back for more. You don’t even need to be a Costco member when you shop there, so you can enjoy the best prices even if you’re on a strict budget. Just let the person at the front door know you’re going to the pharmacy and they’ll wave you right in (Clark).

Thrifty Traveler

Save On Travel With A Costco Membership

Did you know you can also save on hotels, resorts, and car rentals with a Costco membership? If you’re a frequent traveler, you might want to consider a Costco membership just for the travel perks. Costco travel enthusiast Vicki Cook said, “We took a trip to Germany and Italy in the fall of 2019 and saved big on a car rental with Costco Travel,” which helped her lock in an SUV for 9 days for less than $250. If that doesn’t sound like a bargain, we’re not sure what else does. Their search engine is strategic at finding you the best prices possible, helping you book the lowest rates the hotel or rental car company offers (Travel).

Apartment Therapy

The Treasure Hunt

If you walked into Costco swearing you knew exactly where the peanut butter was, but cannot find it anymore, don’t fret. It was moved. Costco purposefully moves its items around to create a sort of treasure hunt game. The sole purpose of this is to help their customers discover new items they normally would never find. While some people might love this, others might find this incredibly annoying. But the sole purpose is to have their customers spend more money in the stores (The Kitchn).


Don’t Like It? Return It!

Costco loves its customers, and there’s a reason people keep going back for more. Costco makes it incredibly easy to return their items. Many stores have policies that continually change, but Costco sticks to one rule with its returns. You can return almost anything within 90 days of purchasing. You can even return diamonds. But you can’t necessarily return food, though it’s pretty obvious why (Reference).

Business Insider

Like Vodka? Go, Kirkland

The Kirkland brand is Grey Goose’s biggest competitor. In blind taste tests, Kirkland has surpassed Grey Goose in terms of flavor. If you’ve always wanted to drink Grey Goose but the price tag doesn’t fit your budget, then stock up on Kirkland. This well-kept secret is worth the price tag, so it’s time to stock up your bar with this high-quality vodka (Business Insider).


Ask For Chub Meat

Costco is great at limiting its waste. When fat is trimmed away from steaks, they add the fat to the regular ground beef. If you want to keep your waistline slim and avoid the extra calories and fat, ask for chub meat at the counter. According to a Reddit user, “For extra lean (and cheap) ground beef, ask the meat department for a 10-pound chub. We sell our regular ground beef (88/12 percent) for $3.49 a pound. The way we make it is, we take our fat trimmings from cutting steaks and mix it with the chubs to bring up the fat content and increase our profits. The 10-pound chubs are probably sitting around 5 to 8 percent fat and only cost $2.99 a pound! You’ll have to ask for these specifically as we don’t normally put them out for sale.” He gave us the answer to Costco’s best-kept secret. They’ll give you the ground beef without the fat. It’s cheaper since it’s less work to produce, already packaged, and ready to sell (The Kitchn).

Eat This Not That

Costco Is Regional

Depending on where you are in the world, items in Costco are regional. Users of Reddit compared different Costco items in different regions of the world. In Hawaii, Costco sells surfing equipment, while warehouses in the Pacific Northwest have seasonal blueberry items. Costco in Upstate New York sells hotdogs, whereas a Costco in Flordia does not. If you’re visiting a new state, it’s a good idea to do some research beforehand and see what you can find (Reddit).


Don’t Like Your Membership? You Can Return That, Too

Just because your membership isn’t tangible, doesn’t mean it can’t be returned. As we’ve already mentioned, Costco has a generous return policy and that includes your membership. You can get a full refund on the membership fee if you dislike it or don’t want to use it anymore (Best Life Online).


Shop In the Summertime

The best month to save money at Costco is during the summer. End-of-season sales happen regularly. This is when you’ll find sales on items like tents, camping supplies, sports equipment, pool gear, garden tools, and patio furniture. Even if summer is coming to an end, it’s a good idea to prepare for next year and stock up on items you’ll want for your backyard or summer activities beginning in early May. There’s nothing wrong with being one step ahead of the game, and Costco sales help with just that (Finance Buzz).