How to Save Money at Costco: Little-Known Secrets

How to Save Money at Costco

Young woman shopping and saving money at Costco.

We know that, right now, shopping for essentials is important, even during this time when social distancing is so important. While we recommend following the directions from the CDC in that regard, we also know you want to make your money go as far as possible right now. That’s why we’re providing these tips to help you save even more when you’re shopping at Costco.

Costco is already cheap – but you could save even more with a few insider tips. You don’t just need to know the best things to buy at Costco to save money. You need to know when to buy them and how to get the absolute lowest price. And it definitely doesn’t hurt to learn about the many other dollar-saving services Costco offers.

Whether you’re a large family or a buyer of big-ticket items, the answer to “Does shopping at Costco save money?” is “yes,” if you know where to look. If you really want to save money at Costco, it’s time to join the smart shoppers who follow these tips and tricks.

1. Know What to Buy

For those wondering if shopping at Costco saves money, the answer is yes – but only if you avoid impulse buys. The top tip to save money at Costco is always to make a list and stick to it. Sure, a 7-pound tub of Nutella might seem like a good idea at the time, but unless you throw an all-Nutella dinner party, you’ll probably never finish it. Another food tip: Eggs, bread, and milk are much cheaper than at Walmart or other big-box stores. If you’ve got a large family, buy these perishables in bulk and cook up some Costco dinner ideas like a pro.

As you’re planning your shopping trip, always keep in mind the best things to buy at Costco to save money. Number one on that list is its Kirkland Signature products, which are known for quality and affordability. Kirkland products make up nearly 25 percent of Costco’s sales, but there are several standout products. Samin Nosrat, the chef of “Salt Fat Acid Heat” fame, recommends Kirkland olive oil. Spices, cereal, nuts and maple syrup also get high marks. And of course, Kirkland vodka is so good, it’s rumored that it’s actually Grey Goose in disguise.

2. Go for End-of-Season Sales

If you’ve got big-ticket items on your list or you can put some things you need on pause, it’s wise to wait for end-of-season sales to find the best deals at Costco. Stores do offer Black Friday deals, but it’s even smarter to wait until after the holidays altogether. They typically make massive price cuts after January 1.

But the best things to buy at Costco to save money are seasonal items at the end of the summer. Wise shoppers start making their lists in May and June when items first arrive, and monitor the prices over the next few months. By August, prices should be at their lowest. You can find patio furniture, outdoor lights, gardening supplies, and more for the cheapest prices of the year.

3. Become a Label Expert

Did you know Costco’s price labels carry secret messages? Pro shoppers who know how to save money at Costco have learned how to de-code these messages to find the best deals. Prices that end with $0.97 are markdowns at every location, and prices ending in $0.88 or $0.00 are manager markdowns, meaning they’re marked down for that location only. Either way, these are the best deals you’re likely to find at Costco.

Prices that end in $0.99 are regularly priced, so there’s no special bargain there, at least not this week. However, these items can still be a great deal! Another price tag tip: If there’s an asterisk on the label, that means that item won’t be restocked. This is likely the lowest price you’ll see before it’s gone.

4. Buy Gift Cards

One of the best things to buy at Costco to save money is actually third-party gift cards. Costco sells a variety of gift cards at discounted prices, and also sells discounted movie tickets, theme park passes, gym memberships, and more. You can save up to 25% on nation-wide restaurants, spas, and stores. Treat yourself to a day at the spa with $100 toward SpaFinder for only $80 or get a 4-pack of e-tickets to the movies for just $38.

The restaurant gift cards are an especially popular way to save money at Costco. Get $100 toward Buca di Beppo for $70, $5 off DoorDash, $100 to Smashburger for $75, and other great deals. Planning on seeing a show or going to a sporting event? Costco also just introduced Costco Live, a marketplace for tickets to concerts, sporting events, and theater shows, giving you even more ways to have fun and save at the same time.

5. Know the Store Layout

Does shopping at Costco save money? Not if you shop in the front or the center, according to some experts. Most people know that the impulse buys are at the front of the store – but that doesn’t make them any easier to resist. At Costco, the center aisles are also packed with less-than-essentials that aren’t always the best deals.

Put your blinders on when you enter the store and make a beeline for the back. Many savvy shoppers think this is where the best deals are. From there, stick to the sides, which is usually where you’ll find the groceries and paper goods. Avoiding things you don’t really need is the biggest key to how to save money at Costco.

6. Take Advantage of the Return Policy

While the answer to, “Does Costco price match?” is actually “no,” they do have a very generous return policy. Members can return any product, for any reason, for 90 days after purchase. In practice, Costco often takes back returns long after the 90-day mark. This commitment to customer satisfaction is a top reason to shop at Costco – and also a reason that it’s worth asking the local manager for a price match, even if it isn’t their official policy.

Another reason to save your receipts: Costco offers 30-day price protection. This means that if, within 30 days after you make a purchase, the price on that item drops, you can take your receipt to customer service and be refunded the difference. Note that this only applies to Costco’s prices – if you see a lower price at another store, they won’t match it. But the price protection guarantee still tops the list of how to save money at Costco for any savvy shopper.

7. Use All the Services

Costco membership benefits are much more than cheap prices on bulk toilet paper. Costco’s pharmacy prices are ultra-cheap, and you don’t even need to be a member to take advantage of them. For members, Costco also has an optical department for affordable exams, contact lenses, and glasses, free health screenings in select cities, and dental insurance options. They also have auto and home insurance and life insurance.

Outside of personal care and insurance, you can save money at Costco on travel arrangements, including bargain car rental prices, all-inclusive holidays, and cruises. Costco does photo printing, flower arrangements, custom logo products and business cards, and water delivery services. Costco’s vehicle benefits are also legendary, with rock-bottom prices on gas, tires, service, and even new or used cars. Is there anything Costco doesn’t do?

8. Check Your Inbox

Discovering how to save money at Costco is as easy as checking your email. The company sends out tons of coupons, member savings books, and notifications about warehouse sales, markdowns, and other savings. Better yet, download the app, and you can monitor current promotions, check gas prices in your area, and get exclusive savings. In addition to signing up for the mailing list, always check out websites like for Costco promo codes and deals. We’ll always help you save the most money.

9. Shop Online

You don’t need to go into a store to save money at Costco. They offer online-only deals that are often even better than the deals in the store. In fact, there are many items that Costco only sells online, for steeply discounted prices. Shipping is usually included, making it an even better deal, especially for larger items. You won’t need to borrow your friend’s truck when it’s delivered right to your door.

Costco offers big items like patio furniture, kids’ playgrounds, backyard sheds, mattresses, saunas and hot tubs, and bedroom sets at excellent online prices. Online-only Costco deals should also be a go-to for electronics and kitchen gadgets, because you’ll have a larger selection to choose from than you would in-store.

10. Skip the Membership

Wondering how to save money at Costco? If you don’t think you’ll shop enough to make up the $60 membership fee, it can save you money to skip the membership altogether. Wait, what? It’s true – you can shop at Costco without a membership, as long as you know someone who has one! They can buy you a Costco Cash Card worth anywhere for $25 to $1,000 that you’re free to spend in-store without a membership. Reload it as much as you like, pay back your friend or family member, and shop away! Note that online purchases have a 5% surcharge if you pay with the card, but in-store purchases do not.

There are many ways to save money at Costco, and it goes way beyond just buying your membership and stocking up on necessities. Do a little digging into store policies, offerings, and insider tips, and you’ll save plenty of cash – to spend at Costco, of course.