Money Saving Tips

How to Shop Smart at Costco and Save Money

How to Shop Smart at Costco and Save Money
Written by Oana Schneider

If a little is good, a lot’s got to be better – that certainly applies to saving money when shopping. So while you shop at Costco because you believe you’re going to save by getting good prices, there are ways to shop smart enough while you’re there to save even more money.

Suddenly the savings become even bigger and the checkout bill is even lower.  It just takes a little sense to save cents…

1. Shop without going there

How to Shop Smart at Costco and Save Money

Don’t rush to boycott the store, just go online. Almost everything that’s available in the store is available through the Costco website, with additional coupons, bargains, discounts and offers that will save you cash which are only available online. 

Shipping is included most of the time, so you also get to save on your gas bill by not having to drive to the store. Then there’s also the time and frustration you save by avoiding dealing with crowds, jammed parking lots and sometimes finding stocks depleted once you get inside.

2. Get buy with a little help from your friend

The cost of Costco’s yearly membership fee needn’t keep you from the savings – a Costco cash card bought by a member will gain you entrance to the store and if you spend more than what’s on the cash card, you can pay the difference using any accepted payment method.

That’s a way to save money by avoiding the membership fee while enjoying the savings – it’s also one way to test whether the Costco experience is for you without spending money on the membership fee.

Another is to pay for membership and then, if you aren’t happy at any point, cancel it and all membership costs will be refunded.

3. Purchase store brands

How to Shop Smart at Costco and Save Money

Store brands at Costco (Kirkland) are usually produced by top brand manufacturers for Costco at a cheaper price. Costco passes these savings on to the shopper, but they are very careful to keep a check on the quality of the products bearing their house brand labels.

They have to be because they have a comprehensive return policy which means they are putting their money where their mouth is just as much as you are. So you can feel comfortable saving cash and still expect quality.

4. Be smart when buying big

Bulk buying can save money but can also lead to waste which in the long run costs you more money than you saved in the first place.

So only buy big if you buy with a friend and divide the purchase equally or if you are prepared to divide the bulk purchase up into smaller, practical units for your own use. This principle applies across the spectrum from cleaning products through meat and fresh produce to other groceries.

Bulk containers of household cleaning products and condiments may seem cheaper per ounce in a large container than in a small one, but a huge glob of dishwashing liquid poured carelessly out of a large container turns cash into foam that goes down the drain.

Too big a glob of ketchup makes a hotdog inedible and the cereal in the bottom half of a large box becomes too stale and soggy to eat. That original saving becomes a cost in the end.

All bulk purchases will need to be repacked into smaller containers that are suitable in terms of usage or storage for the exercise to prove worthwhile.

The same applies to bulk purchases of meat and vegetables – meat will have to be cut up, packed and frozen and fresh vegetables will need to be processed for storage unless the family can be persuaded to eat the same vegetables at every meal for the few days they will still be fresh enough to eat.

If these steps are taken and become routine parts of the shopping trip, bulk purchasing can definitely save you money and keep cash in your pocket – it will also keep you out of the shops longer, so saving you from spending on impulse buys.

5. Keep left or go right

How to Shop Smart at Costco and Save Money

If you are intent on saving cash don’t take the middle ground. That’s where danger lurks – the traps are loaded there with toys and fun things, those things you know are bad, but they look so good and are so tempting they’ll have you thinking that just one (or two or three) of them in the basket won’t really make that much difference, particularly as you are saving so much on everything else. 

The centre section at Costco, as in most stores, is where the random impulse buys lie waiting to tempt you to step off the savings path and squander money you had no intention of spending.

The best buys are on the perimeters of the store, so always start by scouting the perimeters. Some of the best bargains are found right at the back so be sure to check it out if you want to save money, but don’t buy what you don’t need just because it is a bargain.

6. Be price smart

Get price wise in terms of unit price. Just because you are at Costco and just because you are buying in bulk, does not necessarily mean you are getting the best deal possible. Get clued up on the prices at other outlets and also work out how the price you pay for the package relates to what you are getting inside it.

These are important factors but they are not the only ones. It is not quite as simple as whether you get one pack slightly cheaper at Costco than somewhere else.

If you find a smaller pack of toilet paper somewhere else is going to save you a couple of cents per roll over buying the big pack at Costco (and that may well happen as other places have special offers, too) the question is whether it’s worth the gas money to drive to the other shop if it’s far away. You could be saving less cash then you spend on saving it.

However, if the trend applies to a lot of items it might be worth making that trip.

Also check the unit price per ounce, roll or other measure between bulk packs and smaller ones – sometimes, smaller packs prove cheaper per unit.

Always keep your receipt. You have 30 days to prove to Costco that their item was cheaper somewhere else and they will refund the difference.

7. Codes, coupons and rebates

How to Shop Smart at Costco and Save Money

Costco’s pricing codes indicate whether an item is specially priced, discounted, or will not be restocked.

Prices that end in .97 have been marked down from original prices, which always end in 99; other odd numbers like .49, .79 or .89 indicate a special price having been negotiated with the manufacturer and those ending in .88 or .00 have been marked down by the store manager to move the product faster.

Instant rebates on chosen items will also save you money. Available in Costco’s monthly coupon book and on their shopping app, these rebates should be applied automatically at the register as cashiers keep copies and should scan them in for you.

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How to Shop Smart at Costco and Save Money

About the author

Oana Schneider

Oana Schneider is a published author located in Chicago, Illinois, who currently works for DontPayFull.com as a communication specialist and blog editor. She writes about lifestyle, family budget, has a degree in Communications and advocates for women’s rights. Her future plans include getting a Labrador and losing a few pounds.

7 Comments

  • Me and my boyfriend have talked about getting a membership but it would mean about 1 hour of driving where as now we can just drive 5 minutes to 3 different big stores. I think it would be great for things we go through a lot of and even better if they accept coupons.

  • I have a costco membership an was not aware that they had shipping!!! Thanks for the time saving tip! My friend and I also split the price of the membership, and that’s worked spledidly! Whenever my family members come with me, we have our card so we don’t need multiples, and I’m the only one who goes by myself so it works out. I definitely fall for the middle aisle traps, but it helps a lot for Christmas shopping! I’ll have to download their shopping ap as well, as I didn’t know it existed!

  • I’ve been considering getting a membership ever since moving into the city … currently I’m going to school and don’t have the funds necessary to support my incessant snacking. I wonder how expensive the shipping option is – saving on gas would be a huge help.

  • I love Costco, and visit at least once each month, however it is always important to make sure that you really are getting the best deal. There are some things that you just can’t get cheaper anywhere else, but there are other things that you could find elsewhere, so you shouldn’t get them from Costco, just because you think it’s a cheap shop. I like to bulk-buy things such as pasta and rice here, and also bottled water, as I cannot get these locally any cheaper.

    • I like to shop at Costco when I need huge amounts of dry beans, flour, sugar and other similar ingredients. If you have a large ice box, you can also buy meat in bulk! 🙂
      Oana Schneider recently posted…How to Take Care of Your Indoor Plants on a Budget

  • Costco in the UK doesn’t really offer that much of a discount on a lot of grocery/household items compared to shopping at a general supermarket. I am not sure why this is, other than the fact that a lot of our supermarkets here offer ‘own brand’ items which are usually extremely inexpensive; if I am buying items like rice then it work out less expensive for me per unit to actually use a regular store rather than a wholesale outlet.

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