17 Costco Shopping Tips And Tricks For The Best Deals

The Costco shopping experience is unlike any other. As most people know, Costco does away with the traditional shopping style of grabbing individual items, and instead leans heavily on a bulk-buying model, encouraging customers to stock up on essentials from its cavernous warehouse stores. This doesn't just benefit the buyer, but it benefits the business, too. Costco made a jaw-dropping $235 billion in the 12 months leading up to May 2023, according to Macrotrends, and its revenue appears to be growing consistently in recent years.

Costco's bumper sales have a lot to do with the amount that each customer spends there. The average shopper will spend around $100 each time they walk into a store, and they'll make roughly 30 trips a year, reports Business Insider.

Although that may be music to the retailer's ears, it's less great for your bank balance. Luckily, like any store, Costco is partial to helping its customers out with some choice savings. But while they may be open about some of them, they keep some of their best money-saving hacks under wraps. We decided that it was high time that more people knew about the best Costco tips and tricks to cut down on their yearly spending. ‌

1. Download the app

One of the best-kept Costco secrets is on your phone. The Costco app is an excellent tool for tracking the current promotions on offer from the retailer. It lets you check out what's currently at a reduced price, and lists items both in its warehouse and in its online store.

As well as showing "While Supplies Last" reductions — which are items that are on their way out of being stocked by Costco and are therefore at a lower price point — it also shows you "Treasure Hunt" items. These are the items that tend to be in the big bins in the center of the store, and which are usually super cheap. 

The Costco app also allows you to keep track of new items that have come in store, and make lists of your favorite goods. Additionally, you can use the app to keep an eye on gas prices.

2. Keep an eye on its mailers

If you disregard the Costco mailers, you could be missing out; these mailers actually let you know what deals are coming. "Costco sends out mailers with members-only savings at least a couple of weeks before they actually begin, so take the time to peruse it and see what kind of deals you can expect for the upcoming period," Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst, told Go Banking Rates. Ramhold points out that these mailers will also indicate whether a deal is only available in-store, through its online website, or both.

Costco's mailers will also indicate whether an item has a purchase limit, which is a useful feature for budgeting purposes, especially if it's an item you can bulk-buy. You may only start receiving mailers a few months after joining. If for any reason you're not receiving yours, head to the membership desk in-store. ‌

3. Avoid shopping online

Costco's online store is a useful tool. But if you want the best savings, you have to get to a warehouse. The same items can be priced differently online and in-store, with the warehouse items being cheaper, due to Costco sneaking in extra charges for shipping and handling for their online goods. Costco also keeps its prices lower in its warehouse as an incentive to increase footfall, and get people in physically, so they end up spending more.

This isn't the case for all items, and more expensive items will usually have the same price in both places. But even if they're the same price, shopping online at Costco incurs a 5% surcharge, which increases your overall spend. In store there's no such charge — and you may also find store-exclusive items that aren't online.‌

4. Grab Groupon offers

Costco partners with e-commerce services like Groupon that offer discount codes and coupons on certain purchases. It's worth signing up for and keeping an eye on, as offers can come and go pretty quickly. Groupon offers will often roll multiple savings into one go, with one recent deal offering a $45 digital gift card with the purchase of a Gold Star Membership, and $40 off any online purchase that came in over $250.

Groupon only runs these deals once a year, and these time-limited offers tend to only be available for a few weeks. The best way to stay in the know is to check the Groupon page frequently and sign up for its mailing list. As this is an offer for new members, if you haven't joined yet and are in no rush, it may be best to wait for the next one.

5. Opt for Kirkland Signature products whenever possible

Costco's own-brand line, Kirkland, has a stunningly large selection of items under its umbrella. More often than not, these items are great quality, and excellently-priced. In some situations, Kirkland products come in at less than half the price of comparable products in other stores.

Part of the reason why Costco's Kirkland Signature products are so cheap is that by keeping everything under one name, Costco is able to save money on advertising and branding and focus solely on the quality of the product. That quality is also excellent, thanks to Costco's other strategy of branding items made by premium retailers with Kirkland packaging. Brands like Duracell, Starbucks, Bumble Bee, and Jelly Belly all supply items to Costco to sell under its Kirkland name.

6. Learn to understand its pricing system

While reduced items at Costco might have a "reduced" sticker or a clear markdown, there's a subtler way that the retailer shows an item on sale. Costco uses a price tag system to denote when products are cheaper than their usual price, and understanding them will help you save big. Any items marked with ".97" indicate that the product is marked down for clearance, and these items tend to be advertised pretty subtly, meaning spotting them could give you exclusive savings.

Items ending in ".88" or ".00" are also a lower price than usual, with these price codes flagging that they've been reduced by a manager to help shift stock. Other price codes, like ".49," ".79," and ".89," indicate that the manufacturer has reduced the price point, although these are pretty rare. Importantly, though, items ending in ".99" are regular-priced — so don't be fooled. ‌

7. Always fill up on gas

One of the best ways to save overall is to know which products are routinely cheaper at Costco than at other stores, and gas is one item that's often way less expensive. In a lot of states, Costco is the cheapest place you can fill up your car. It's able to keep its prices so low thanks to the membership fees everyone pays, which stops it being purely reliant on profits from products, and allows it to slash prices in certain areas.

This is, of course, a move that benefits both you and the store itself — you get your gas for much cheaper, and Costco drives footfall into its stores by enticing people with low-price fuel. A good way to ensure you're getting the cheapest price before driving all that way, though, is to check your local store's gas price via the Costco app. ‌

8. If you're a loyal customer, get the Costco Visa card

Several companies have partnerships with credit cards, and Costco is no exception. Its Costco Anywhere Visa Card, though, isn't just a gimmick. It can save you loads of money if you shop there regularly. Provided through Citi, the credit card is only available if you're a member, and spending on it in-store or online at Costco will give you 2% cashback on your purchases. The card will also give 4% cash back on eligible gas or electric vehicle charging purchases up to the value of $7,000 yearly, and 3% on eligible restaurant and travel spends.

This cashback is only usable in Costco itself and is rewarded yearly through a reward certificate. The card also has no welcome bonus, and you'll need to have a great credit score to qualify. For regular Costco shoppers, though, it's pretty useful. ‌

9. Fill up on samples as you shop

One of the best things about going to Costco is the abundance of free food samples offered throughout the store. Perhaps our favorite tip is to make use of these as you shop, to avoid spending all your money in the food court upon leaving. 

While it might seem awkward to do so, remember that there's technically no limit on how many samples you can try. "The employees handing out free samples can't tell shoppers 'no,' and most of them probably wouldn't bother anyway," Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst, told Best Life.

However, don't let the urge to try as many samples as you can allow you to forget your manners. "If you're one of those [people trying samples], it's OK — but be polite about it and at least listen to the employee's spiel about the product," Ramhold states.

10. It's rotisserie chicken remains one of the best

There's a reason why everyone talks about the Costco rotisserie chicken so much: Aside from being delicious, it's also a steal. Costco's rotisserie chicken is famously cheap and has been consistently priced at $4.99 for a while now. This is way cheaper than the rotisserie chickens on offer in stores like Safeway and Whole Foods, so remains a must-buy for low-cost protein.

Costco's low price point for its rotisserie chicken isn't because it's low-quality, either — instead, it's part of a tactic for the retailer to keep its membership base loyal. Costco CFO Richard Galanti told FOX that keeping it at $4.99 "is an investment in low prices to drive membership — to drive the sales in a big way." People come into the store for the chicken and end up spending way more than they thought they would.

11. Scout the gift card selection

Costco warehouses have gift card walls where you can buy cards for use in other stores or restaurants. But importantly, the prices of these gift cards can often be less than the actual value of the card itself, so buying them essentially gives you free money to use elsewhere.

A quick glance at Costco's website shows the diversity of gift cards they have on offer, from California Pizza Kitchen to Xbox digital gift cards. While it might seem pretty counterproductive for these companies to allow this, it's worth remembering that there are roughly $21 billion in unspent gift cards in the United States, according to data from Creditcards.com. For these companies, offering low-price cards could be a way to reduce the number of unspent gift cards, thus driving sales.

12. Take advantage of its price adjustment scheme

Buying an item, only to find out it's been reduced the next day, can be one of the most annoying occurrences for money-savvy shoppers. If that happens in Costco, though, you can take advantage of its price adjustment scheme to get back the money you'd have saved. 

Costco's price adjustment scheme will allow you to change the price of your item and refund you the difference if you bought the product within 30 days of it being reduced. For large-ticket items, this could give you significant savings.

Notably, Costco doesn't price match items between its online and warehouse stores, as these items are often priced differently anyway due to shipping and handling. It also won't price match if you find the item at a cheaper price elsewhere. Additionally, too, Costco holds the right to refuse a price match based on the employee's judgment.

13. Buy your booze there

Buying alcohol can push your weekly spending up pretty significantly, but purchasing it at Costco is a great way to keep costs down. Costco's alcohol is often significantly cheaper than in other stores, especially if you're buying its Kirkland Signature bottles. Costco's Kirkland Signature Malbec, for example, is almost half the price of an equivalent bottle at Trader Joe's, and buying its wine in bulk will also help you save further money.

Opting for Kirkland wine doesn't mean that you're getting a worse product, either — just that it's been marked up less. Kirkland alcohol markups are way smaller than the industry average for alcohol, hovering at around 10% to 14% (with the industry standard being around 25% to 45%). 

Costco also works with reputable winemakers to produce its products. Importantly, though, wines made and labeled by well-known brands may not be much cheaper in Costco than in other stores.‌

14. Prescriptions are cheaper there than at other stores

Costco has an in-house pharmacy, and crucially, this is open to both members and non-members alike, whether you're shopping online or in-store. This makes it useful for virtually everyone and gives you a chance to avail of its low prices. 

Prescriptions in Costco are often way cheaper than in other locations, and in some of the most well-known pharmacies out there. The cost of the diabetes drug Actos, for example, could be more than $100 less than in Walgreens or Walmart.

While it might seem like there's some kind of catch, it's useful to remember that these drugs are exactly the same as you'd get in other stores — it's just that the markup is lower. "We just price products as low as we possibly can and still make a modest profit," Victor Curtis, Costco's senior vice president of pharmacy, told Consumer Reports.

15. Compare prices while you shop

Once you're in a store, it can be tricky not to buy all your items there. But if you do so, you may end up spending way more than if you went to a few separate locations. A good way to keep track of that in Costco is to grab a price comparison app, to check the cost of products as you shop, and avoid the pricier ones. Flipp, for example, is a simple app that lets you search by item, and see how much said item would cost in different stores.

Importantly, though, remember that this can also come at a cost. Driving to different stores to get different items can be time-consuming, and you may also have to spend additional money on fuel to get from place to place — so remember to weigh these things up when using this strategy. ‌

16. Executive memberships can save shoppers money

There are several tiers of membership at Costco, and the more exclusive executive membership could provide big savings to big spenders. Executive membership costs $120 a year, double the price of a regular membership to the store. With the membership, though, you'll gain a 2% cashback reward on all qualifying purchases, both in-store and online, and also through Costco Travel.

Costco executive members can also avail of some other more specific benefits with Costco Travel and with the retailer's Insurance Program. Some purchases aren't eligible to qualify for the 2% reward, with alcohol (in a lot of states), tobacco, and food court purchases all disqualified. It's also useful to bear in mind that you do have to spend over $10,000 yearly to make back the cost of your membership, although you will of course benefit from Costco's lower-price items as normal.

17. If you're shopping online, remember to stack your deals

Shopping online at Costco can be pricier than in-store — but if you know how to play the game, you could make some juicy savings. One such way is by stacking your deals and buying sale items in bulk to generate an additional money-off offer. "You can double up on savings when you shop for sale and clearance clothing online at Costco. When you buy any five items, you save $20, and you can stack that on top of sale and clearance prices," Marie Clark, CostContessa managing editor, told Go Banking Rates.

Clark points out that this doesn't apply to every item, so you should always check that a discount has been applied before you put your payment down. Additionally, you'll save further money by not having to pay for shipping, and not having to consider fuel costs when heading in-store.