3 Clever Ways to Save Money at Costco

published Jul 25, 2022
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Shopping at Costco is already a great way to save money (as you pay less per unit). I don’t shop exclusively at the warehouse, but lately I’ve been purchasing more of my grocery staples there. I figured that if I’m going to use them regularly, I might as well stock up for less. But I’m always on the hunt for ways to stretch my dollars even further and take advantage of my membership perks. Here are three ways to do just that.

Credit: Heather McClees

1. Track the sales rotations.

Have you noticed a pattern in the markdowns of your favorite groceries? I have! Over the past six months, I’ve been tracking the sales rotations while I shop. (I’ve yet to find this information on the warehouse’s or general savings-focused websites, so I decided to record it myself.) I bring a small notepad with me and tally the items as I put them in my cart. Then I mark an asterisk and the date next to the ones that are on sale. Here’s what I discovered. 

Similar to grocery stores, Costco typically has a six-week sales cycle (give or take a week) on staples, including boxed cereal, oatmeal, juice, yogurt, nut butter, milk, coffee, and bottled water. Sales on specialty items — protein shakes, powders, vitamins, supplements, those Thin Mints Pretzels, and even storage containers — rotate every two to three months. Of course there are some outliers: tires rotate between Bridgestone and Michelin every other month and are usually $150 off a set of four. And in terms of fresh produce, I’ve noticed sporadic sales on in-season items, most recently on strawberries and asparagus.

2. Shop with a Costco Shop Card.

Instead of paying with a debit or credit card, or even cash, I use a prepaid Costco Shop Card, the warehouse’s version of a gift card. I preload a card at the beginning of each month with my allotted budget and make sure to order it in advance. You can’t buy a Shop Card in store and load it there; you have to order it online and get it in the mail ahead of time, which can be frustrating and is something I hope the company changes ASAP.

Using the prepaid card is helpful for me because I will often go over my budget if I carry my credit or debit card while I shop. (For various reasons, carrying cash does not work for me.) I don’t bring any other form of payment with me when I go to my local warehouse, so the Shop Card keeps me — and my budget — in check. It’s helped me save about $500 over the last six months. I’ve also noticed that Costco will occasionally run discounts on its shop cards. I’ve spotted deals for 10% off in the store’s monthly newsletters, so keep an eye out!

Credit: Shutterstock/Andy.LIU

3. Sign up for a Gold Star Executive Membership.

This membership is the main reason I’m still a Costco member. If you’re familiar with Costco’s memberships, you might be wondering: Isn’t the Gold Star Executive Membership, which costs $120 per year, more expensive than the standard Gold Star Membership ($60 a year)? How does that help you save money? Allow me to explain. 

In addition to granting access to any Costco location, including online shopping services, and savings on gas, which is a great deal itself, Executive members also receive an annual 2% Reward on qualifying purchases in the form of a check. Similar to how rewards programs with credit cards function, I get 2% of my money back just for buying groceries (and holiday gifts) at Costco. Earlier this year, I did some number crunching and realized this membership actually pays for itself … and then some.

What are your favorite ways to save money at Costco? Let us know in the comments!