Shopping at Costco can be a great way to save money, but you might not be maximizing your savings. Imagine how much extra cash could be in your wallet if you optimized your buying strategy.
With a little extra effort, you can fine-tune the way you shop at the bulk retailer and find unique Costco deals.
Split Bulk Items With a Friend
If you're single or live in a small space, it's probably hard to justify purchasing and storing a package of 30 rolls of toilet paper -- even if it is only $19.99. However, that item can be seriously expensive at regular market or big-box stores.
You can save money at Costco with a friend by splitting up bulk packages of essentials and even non-essentials, like snacks. If you split a $16.59, 42-pack of Chex Mix with three friends, for example, you'll only pay $5.53.
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Know the Secret Costco Price Codes
Costco's pricing codes indicate whether an item is specially priced, discounted or will not be restocked. Here is a general breakdown of the codes, according to ToughNickel:
Prices that end in $0.97 have been marked down from their original rates, which usually end in $0.99.
Other odd pricing, like $0.49, $0.79 or $0.89, typically means the product is regular-priced merchandise.
An asterisk (*) in the upper-right corner of the pricing sign means the item won't be restocked. So, if it's a favorite, you should stock up.
Prices ending in $0.88 or $0.00 typically indicate a manager markdown on returned merchandise still in good condition.
Look for Costco Coupons
You can find a number of Costco coupons and discounts for various items in Costco's coupon book. You no longer need the coupon present when purchasing items from the coupon book.
Search Third-Party Deal Sites
It also doesn't hurt to search the best online coupon sites before heading out to your nearest Costco. Scour sites like Coupons.com, Slickdeals and RetailMeNot for online Costco coupons, printable coupons, coupon codes, the latest deals and other savings opportunities.
Shop Summer Closeouts
Like many retailers, Costco tends to mark down large summer items like patio furniture and pool toys before the season is over because stores need to free up room for the next season's merchandise. You might get great deals on merchandise like barbecues, beach chairs and camping equipment that can be used right away. End-of-season deals can also be found year-round, however, including after Christmas.
Make a List -- and Stick to It
This isn't really top-secret information, but running into Costco for "just a few things" can easily turn into a multi-cart shopping extravaganza. Save money at Costco by practicing a little discipline and doing your research.
"I routinely save $100 or more each visit when I shop at Costco," said Thomas Miller of Keller Williams Capital Properties. "I attribute my ability to do this because I am very selective on what I purchase, making sure to only purchase the items that I know offer the most savings." Make a list to keep your spending under control and on track.
Put on Your Blinders
When you walk into Costco, you usually see a path lined with shiny new things looking to find a forever home with you. If you really want to save at Costco, put your head down and stick to your list.
Start at the Back
Here's an interesting tip to save money at Costco: the best bargains at Costco might actually be located at the back of the store, according to Lifehacker. Start your shopping trip by hitting the back of the warehouse and the ends of aisles. Then, work your way up to the front.
Shop Costco Online
Going to Costco doesn't top everyone's list of favorite things to do. Skip the crowds and avoid the hassle by shopping the Costco website -- you can even find online-only Costco deals that aren't offered in the stores. The big-box retailer also now delivers right to your front door.
Use the Costco App
The Costco app highlights current deals and offers, so checking it before heading to your Costco location can help you pre-plan and have a smoother trip, while still hitting the best deals. Plus, if you despise clipping coupons, you can use the app. Just show the cashier the Costco app on your smartphone to redeem offers and save money.
Buy Meat in Bulk
One of the best ways to save money on groceries when shopping at Costco is to buy meat in bulk. You can portion it out and freeze it for later use. So, the next time you shop at the retailer, you'll save money on food.
Get the Costco Credit Card
If you're going to use a credit card to pay for your Costco purchases, it has to be a Visa, so save money by getting the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi. You'll get 2% cash back on all purchases from Costco and Costco.com, in addition to other perks for using the card beyond the discount retailer.
Use Your Costco Credit Card at the Pump
Use your Costco credit card at the Costco pump and eligible stations worldwide to get 4% cashback. This offer is good for up to $7,000 of gas per year, with 1% cash back thereafter.
Don't Shop Alone
If you need a little help staying within your budget when shopping at Costco, bring a friend along on your next trip. Tell your friend you're trying to save $100, and ask him or her to encourage you to buy only what you need. If your friend also happens to overspend regularly at Costco, make it a game. Whoever saves the most money has to buy lunch at the store's food court.
Fill Up on Samples
Shopping hungry at Costco might make you want to buy every delicious thing in sight -- even if it means going over your grocery budget. To prevent hunger from influencing your shopping decisions, take advantage of Costco's plentiful samples. That way, you're letting your brain do the shopping instead of your stomach.
Just don't let a yummy sample encourage you to buy the food item in bulk.
Choose the Right Membership
Costco offers two types of memberships for individuals and families -- the Gold Star Membership ($60) and the Executive Membership ($120). If you're a frequent Costco shopper, spending the extra $60 to upgrade to the Executive Membership could be worth your while.
The upgraded card comes with an annual 2% reward on qualified Costco, Costco.com and Costco Travel purchases up to $1,000. If you book travel through Costco, you can also score extra perks. Plus, you'll get extra benefits and deeper discounts on Costco Services, including mortgage purchases and refinances, insurance and family dental plans.
If you currently have the Executive Membership but don't use Costco Travel or Costco Services, save money by downgrading to a Gold Star Membership.
Skip the Membership
If you don't shop at Costco enough for the $60 Gold Star Membership to pay for itself, ask a family member or friend with a membership to buy you a Costco Cash Card. You can get them in denominations from $25 to $1,000, and if you want to make a repeat visit, the member can reload it for you. There's no extra fee to shop in-store with a Costco Cash Card as a non-member, but do note that you'll incur a 5% surcharge for Costco.com purchases.
Costco offers many incredible values -- but not all deals are created equal. Check the price per unit -- or ounce -- to make sure your bulk purchase is actually saving you money. You'll likely find that some items are cheaper when purchased in standard quantities at your local Target or supermarket.
Watch for Price Changes
Costco has a 30-day price protection policy for online sales, so after making a purchase, check back during that timeframe to make sure the price hasn't dropped. If the price is lower, contact customer service, provide the necessary information, and you'll receive a credit for the difference in three to five business days.
Take Advantage of Rebates
Some products in both Costco warehouses and online come with manufacturer rebates, allowing you to save even more money. To get your check, you'll need to submit your documents within 30 days. Costco members can complete the rebate process online, but non-members must do so by mail.
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Laura Woods contributed additional reporting.