Costco is a great place to shop if you are budget conscious. You can save money on food, alcohol and more!
If you are thinking that buying in bulk might be bad for your health, think again. That is just not true. You can eat healthy on the cheap by shopping at Costco.
If you shop responsibly at Costco, you can save yourself lots of money on things you already need.
The catch is the membership fee, which can range from $60 for an average family to $120 for an executive plan.
If you aren’t sure about Costco, then you should just walk around the store to see if it would be worth it for you and your family. You can walk around, but you won’t be able to buy anything (except for the covered exceptions) without a membership.
Unfortunately, there is not a “free” membership coupon that will allow you to waltz into the store and start shopping. However, it is still possible to offset the costs of a membership and earn a membership that is basically free.
Table of Contents
- Offset the Membership Cost
- Find a Membership Deal
- Make Purchases Without a Membership
- Skip the Membership and Keep the Savings
- Final Thoughts
Offset the Membership Cost
Assuming that you buy the family plan, you will have to pay 60 dollars for the membership. As long as you are able to save more than 60 dollars at Costco over the course of a year, then the membership cost is basically free.
If you choose to go with the executive plan, then you need to hit 120 dollars of savings before your membership cost is offset.
You’ll be back in the green of saving money when you hit $60 (or $120), so keep track of your savings as you go. You might be surprised how quickly your savings add up!
1. Buy Kirkland brand
Kirkland is Costco’s private label that is sold exclusively at Costco. If you have never used this brand, then you should know that it is a good thing to buy.
Although it is not a brand name, all of its products are really worth buying. Kirkland has everything from canned tuna to baby diapers. Whatever you are going to buy, make sure to look for the Kirkland brand.
The Kirkland brand is manufactured by many of your popular brands, which means that you will just pay less for something you already love.
A few examples include Kirkland diapers are made by the Huggies manufacturer, Kirkland Scotch is made by the Macallan 18 manufacturer, Kirkland tuna is made by the same company as Bumblebee tuna and Kirkland Vodka is manufactured by Grey Goose.
All of those names you already trust can be found at a much better price under the Kirkland name, so enjoy those savings! Keep track as you aim to offset your membership fee.
2. Buy Tires
You have to replace the tires on your car on a regular schedule, so you might as well use your Costco membership.
The store has excellent prices on tire brands that you trust and offer some amazing add-on services to your purchase. The service department offers lifetime rotation, warranties replacements and air inflation with nitrogen which can help keep the pressure in your tires more stable.
If you use the instant rebate that is offered, then you might be about to offset the cost of your new membership with just one purchase.
Currently, there are rebates available on BFGoodrich tires (60 dollars off!) and Michelin tires (70 dollars off!). The deals vary by month, but it likely you will be able to find a good bargain.
Costco will have you and your car driving safely on the road in no time. It also appears that certain locations have tires for off-roading vehicles, high-performance sports cars, and trailers. Check out your local store to see saving are available to you.
3. Buy Gift Cards
Costco has packages of bulk gift cards that can help you save big! Typically, you will be able to save between 25% and 35% on gift cards to popular retailers.
You can give these away as gifts, no one will ever know it was discounted. It can be your little secret around the holidays. If you have a lot of people to buy for, then this purchase might offset your entire membership cost!
Or if you know you will end up spending money at that store, you can keep them to spend.You can buy anything you like at that store and you already have a savings built into your purchase. If you find a good deal at that store, its like you’ve hit the savings lotto!
This might be my favorite way to save money at Costco, just because the options are almost limitless.
4. Buy Gas
Costco offers low cost fuel that can help to really cut down on your monthly fuel costs. If you use a lot of fuel, then this could be the perfect way to offset your membership cost.
These savings can really pay off, especially if you are going on a road trip any time soon. There are Costco locations across the country, so you might as well stop and fill up where gas is cheapest.
You won’t have to use your gas driving around to find the cheapest gas anymore, you know you’ll get the best price at Costco.
5. Buy Movie Tickets
If you enjoy going to the movies but do not enjoy the price tag, then buy your movie tickets in advance at Costco. You can find deals on 10 packs of movie tickets for between 80 and 90 dollars.
That works out to about 8 or 9 dollars a ticket, which is unfortunately way less than you will spend on most movie tickets today.
You might also be able to find a deal on food vouchers that could help reduce the cost of your popcorn and soda. Another way to avoid the snack costs at the theater is to buy candy in bulk at Costco and sneak it in. I always choose the second option 🙂
6. Keep an eye on the “Instant” Costco Coupons
Using coupons at Costco is a breeze, you don’t even need to have the coupons with you in order to maximize your savings. The company has a monthly book full of coupons that offer great savings, but you do not need to have the coupons at the register.
The coupon discounts will be taken at the register automatically. So even if you missed the monthly book, you will still get the discount. However, it is a good idea to take a look at the coupon book to make sure you are not missing out on any amazing deals.
These coupons are so easy to use that you might not even realize they are being used.
I recommend making sure to keep track of this savings because it can really add up! You might even hit the 60-dollar membership fee without even trying!
While we are on the subject of coupons, there is something you should know about coupons at Costco. Costco does not accept any manufacturer’s coupons. Yes, it is disappointing.
Although you will not be able to use any of the coupons you are normally able to use at other stores, with the easy “Instant” Costco coupons it is unlikely that you will feel like you are missing out on any savings. You might even appreciate that you do not have to track down any coupons while you are in the check out line.
7. Use Ibotta
If you are thinking, I cannot go shopping without my coupons then you will want to try downloading Ibotta. Ibotta is a great app that will help you get around the whole no coupon policy.
Although you won’t earn any savings at the register, you just have to claim your rebates by taking a picture of your receipt.
The app has plenty of rebates that you can use at many stores, including Costco, in addition to your other savings. The rebates are usually on basics like milk, eggs, beer and other staples which means you shouldn’t have any trouble adding to your already substantial savings.
If you use the app often, it is likely you will be able to offset the cost of your membership within the year.
Check out our Ibotta review for more information on this app.
8. Use the “Price Protection” Plan
You might know the feeling of buying something and then watching the price drop the next day, week or month. It is a terrible feeling that has you thinking “if only I had waited just a little while longer before buying X, Y or Z.”
With a Costco membership, you won’t have to feel that pain anymore. If you shop at Costco often, just hang on to your receipts.
It is likely you will buy something that later goes on sale or has a price reduction of some kind. That kind of thing happens to most of us all the time. If that happens to you on a Costco purchase, then you can just head over the Costco customer service desk as soon as you notice the price reduction. Bring your receipt and they will help you get your money back.
This is a relatively painless experience that can help you save money and avoid buyer’s remorse.
Again, keep track of your savings in order to see when you have hit the 60 dollar mark.
9. Maximize Your Cash Back Rewards
That’s right, you can buy a card that offers you cash rewards. The cash can only be used at Costco, but it can help to completely offset your annual membership fee.
This cash back program is for the executive level membership only. Instead of 60 dollars, you will pay 120 dollars but there are perks that come along with the upgrade.
With this level of membership, you get a ton of extras that just aren’t available to the average gold card holder. You get access to travel rewards, special insurance rates, home loan options and more.
The best part of this membership is that you get a 2 percent cash back feature on all qualifying purchases! 2 percent might not sound like a lot, but the yearly rewards will add up!
If you are planning on shopping mostly at Costco, then this is a great idea. It is likely you will spend enough to pay for the membership fee.
Not all purchases qualify. Some things like gas, gift cards, and food court purchases do not qualify. Most things will count towards your rewards total though.
If you are considering this option, think about how much you are planning to spend at Costco each year. If you only buy your groceries here, it might not be worth paying for the executive membership.
However, if you plan on buying more things at Costco including appliances, groceries, electronics and more, then the card will literally pay for itself.
Find a Membership Deal
A simple way to pay less for your Costco membership is to find a good deal. As simple as that sounds, the deals on actual memberships are limited. However, there are a few options to look into.
10. Create Your Own Test Trial
At Sam’s club, you can get a free membership for the day just to see how you like it before you buy a whole year membership.
Unlike other warehouse stores, like Sam’s Club, Costco does not offer a free trial experience. However, there is a grey area that will allow some of you some wiggle room.
If you want to think outside the box, you can create your own free trial.
The official Costco membership refund policy says, “We will refund your membership fee in full at any time if you are dissatisfied.” Which basically means, you can just give it a try and if you don’t like the membership then you can get a full refund.
This could be a good option if you are on the fence about buying the membership. It gives you the option to back out of the membership if it is just not working for you and your family.
Technically, you could use the membership for 364 days and cancel before it is too late to get your money back. If you are planning on trying this method, as with all other memberships the key is remembering to actually cancel on time.
It is likely that you won’t be allowed to try this twice though. It is hard to say, “well I disliked it enough to cancel, but I am going to try again this year.” I am sure they have some kind of system in place that would only let this tactic work once.
11. Check out Groupon and Living Social
Both Groupon and Living Social have offered amazing Costco membership deals in the past.
You might be able to find a discounted membership fee, or a package deal that makes the purchase well worth it.
If a deal isn’t available right now, then it will likely come back in the future. Many times these sorts of deals come in rotations.
You might want to sign up for the newsletters offered by Groupon or Living Social in order to get the deal when it appears. It is too easy to forget to check back regularly for a specific deal. Plus, there is a chance that the deal will be gone by the time you see it.
12. Make Some Inquiries
This method is less straightforward than the other outlined methods, but I have seen it work in the past. It is a very informal method of attempting to get a discounted or free membership.
First, get a group together. This can be family, friends, a moms group, a singles group, it can really be anything as long as everyone wants a Costco membership.
Second, take your list of names to a store manager at Costco. Ask the manager if they would be willing to give your group memberships at a discounted rate if everyone bought a membership.
Now, they may say yes or no. This worked for my friend and a group of friends with young families. In fact, the store has honored her discounted membership rate for the past few years. However, there is no official Costco statement that acknowledges the existence of any sort of group deals like that.
I would give it a try though, the worst that they could say is no. If you are wondering why a manager would agree to give out discounted memberships. Think of all the money a young family will likely spend at Costco after they have secured a membership, it is likely worth it to the managers.
Do not be discouraged if they say no, but it never hurts to ask.
Make Purchases Without a Membership
Certain items at Costco can be purchased without a membership. The company does not have too much information available on the status of these deals at each location, so I would clarify that the deal in honored at that store by calling ahead.
13. Buy Alcohol
If you drink alcohol on a regular (or even semi-regular) basis, then you will want to cash in on the savings at Costco. The prices are deeply discounted as compared to a normal retailer, so you’ll be able to add up savings fast.
The Kirkland brand offers the best alcohol deals, so be open to trying something other than your original favorite in order to maximize your savings. Also, remember that many of the Kirkland brand products are manufactured by companies you already love.
You might be able to use these savings without a membership. Although there is no official statement from Costco, I have known many people that are able to walk in and buy alcohol without a membership.
Just be sure to clarify with that location before you start loading up your cart. Otherwise, you could be in an awkward situation at check out.
14. Buy Prescriptions
Many of the common medications are available at a better rate at Costco. It might seem unfair that only members can receive special rate medications. The FDA agrees. Due to laws set by the FDA and other organizations, Costco has to sell these low-cost prescriptions to people with or without a membership.
So, you can feel free to cash in on these savings with or without a membership.
15. Use a Costco Cash Card
You will need help from a card holding member for this tactic. If you have a family member or close friend that is willing to help, you can just go with them to buy a Costco cash card. The card can be purchased from the customer service desk.
After you buy the card, you can start shopping right away. As far as I can tell, there is no waiting period or restrictions on what you may spend the Costco cash on.
Basically, anyone with a Costco cash card can buy things at Costco with or without a membership. It is a perfect way to save money at Costco without having a membership. You get all the perks without ever buying a membership card.
Make sure to buy a card with a large value so that it does not have to refilled anytime soon. The maximum amount you can buy is 1,000 dollars.
Be sure to thank your friend for helping out!
16. Buy From the Food Court
As of March 16, 2020, you can no longer buy food from the Costco food court without a membership. But if you have a Costco membership, you can take advantage of the cheap food at the food court.
The fare includes things like hot dogs, rotisserie chicken, soft serve ice cream, soda, pizza and more.
You will have to pay cash for your meal, but you will be eating inside the Costco store. I am not sure how exciting this is, but you will be able to see what is like inside a Costco store without awkwardly walking around aimlessly.
Some of you will decide to check out the store before jumping into a membership, which is always a good idea.
If you want to simply order walk out with something in your hands during or after your scouting trip around the store, then this is a good option. You can just order a pretzel and call it a day.
17. Buy at Costco.com
As a non-member, you can buy things at the online Costco store. The catch is that you will have to pay an extra 5 percent over the member price.
The exception is prescription drugs, you will not have to pay a surcharge if you are ordering those.
If you are looking to buy a few specific things from Costco, then this could be a good option for you. Even with the surcharge, there may be some good deals.
Skip the Membership and Keep the Savings
Maybe you have read these ways to get a free Costco membership and decided that none of these options work for you. That is okay. If you are absolutely sure that you do not want to purchase a membership, then consider this option.
You can get Costco prices without ever shopping at Costco. That might seem like a confusing statement, how can you possibly keep the savings of Costco without any kind of membership? The answer is price matching!
Remember, there is nothing wrong with walking through Costco. You can look for deals and thing head over to a different store to claim the deal via price matching.
Many stores will price match Costco’s prices. So, all you have to do is find a Costco deal and a store that will match it. Some stores that will match prices include Best Buy, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Office Depot, Sears, PetSmart, Sam’s Club, Target, Staples and more.
Make sure that the store will match the price you have. Some of these stores will only match the online Costco prices, not in the in-store deals. Call ahead to confirm your location matches Costco’s prices and to clarify the terms of their price matching policy. Also, check with other stores in your area, it is likely that many others price match with Costco.
The worst that can happen is that you ask and the store says no. It is not the end of the world. This could be the best option if you are looking at Costco for a specific item or two. Electronics and appliances are two areas where this tactic could pay off in a big way.
Finding a Costco membership deal can be a challenge, but it is worth it! The potential savings can be huge, but you need to make sure that a membership is worth it for you and your family.
If you are a growing family that spends a lot of food and other products found at Costco then the membership will likely pay for itself in no time.
The key is knowing that you will spend enough money at Costco to more than offset the membership costs. Take a look at your budget versus the potential savings at Costco before you decide if getting a membership is the right choice for you.
How will you start earning your free Costco membership?