Is a Costco Membership Worth It? I’ve Had One for 12 Years — Here’s Everything I Know.

published Aug 28, 2023
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Costco warehouse store membership counter
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Costco has it all — from $1.50 hot dogs, to hot tubs, and everything in between. The warehouse is where members shop for appliances and stock up for the back-to-school season. Costco’s frenetic following — especially surrounding the bakery department’s drops — have members following the warehouse’s social media like they would their favorite songwriter or sports team. 

I became a member over 12 years ago — in part because there are five different Costco locations within easy driving distance of my house. I’m there at least once a week on assignment from The Kitchn and for my own personal amusement. So, it’ll come as no surprise that I believe everyone, no matter the size of your home or the number of people you feed, can benefit from a Costco membership. If you’ve yet to be convinced, let’s find out whether a Costco membership is worth it for your household.

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How Much Does a Costco Membership Cost?

  • Gold Star: $60 per year
  • Executive: $120 per year, plus a 2% annual reward up to $1,000 

Costco also offers business memberships.

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How to Earn Cash Back with a Costco Membership

  • Upgrade to Executive membership. Executive members earn up to $1,000 annually on Costco,, and Costco Travel purchases.
  • Apply for the Costco credit card. Costco members can apply for the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card. If approved, you can earn 4% on eligible gas and electric vehicle charging purchases up to $7,000 per year, then 1% on anything over $7,000. You’ll get 3% on restaurants and eligible travel, 2% on items purchased at Costco or, and 1% on all other purchases. Not only can you use this credit card at Costco, but you can also use it anywhere that accepts Visa.

What Makes a Costco Membership Worth It? 

  • Costco memberships are 100% refundable at any time. Costco takes risk-free shopping to a new level. You can cancel your membership and obtain a full refund of the membership fee at any time — no questions asked.
  • There’s a generous return policy. Just as they stand behind their membership with a guarantee, Costco will refund the purchase price on merchandise at any time. Keep in mind that there are a few exceptions, including (but not limited to) electronics, alcohol, cigarettes, and diamonds. 
  • Pay for the membership with the rewards. One way to (essentially) get a Costco membership for free is to maximize the rewards. If you have an Executive Membership and spend at least $6,000 a year ($120 ÷ 0.02) on qualified Costco purchases, you’ll earn enough in rewards to pay for the membership. Anything spent over that amount is money in your pocket, so make Costco your first stop for groceries, tires, gas, appliances, or a new TV.

What If You Live in a Smaller Household?

There are ways to make a warehouse membership work for homes of any size. Smaller households will need to shop strategically to make sure that the foods they purchase are eaten or preserved before they are past their prime. Costco might not be the place for you to buy your lettuce or milk, for example. If you’re open to using your freezer to extend the shelf life of bread, butter, meats, and cheese, try out the membership to see how compatible your shopping and eating habits are with Costco. 

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Costco Buys That Keep Me a Member

The urge to impulse shop is strong at Costco, but there are several staples that have kept me coming back for the past 12 years. At the top of my list is the rosemary Parmesan bread. It’s the item that made me a member in the first place, and I still can’t resist it. Costco’s bakery is always featuring new and exciting items, like this viral chocolate peanut butter pie and green chile cornbread

Whenever I find myself buying the same things again and again at other retailers (and sometimes replenishing my stock mid-week), I know that it’s time to add that item to my Costco list. Now, instead of buying smaller quantities of some of the best groceries Costco carries (including diced tomatoes, chocolate chips, maple syrup, butter, and eggs) from my neighborhood grocery store, I buy them in bulk. Shopping like this saves money (and adds to that 2% reward tally) and time because I can wipe those ingredients off of my list for weeks at a time. Plus, it makes meal planning and cooking on the fly easier knowing that I always have ingredients for dinner on hand. 

Every year I’m bound to be in the market for some combination of big-ticket items (think: appliances, eyeglasses, tires, TVs, and technology). Costco is always the first place I look because I know the products have been vetted and are sold at some of the most competitive prices. 

Before I leave, I stop at the pump. Gas can be around 20 cents cheaper at the warehouse, so I make sure to fill up (or top off my tank) whenever I’m at Costco. Over the course of a year, those savings can add up to as much or more than the price of membership.

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Reasons You Might Pass on a Costco Membership

Finding a place to store Costco’s oversized items is a legitimate concern — after all, most pantries and homes were not built to store mega-sized rolls of anything. While some houses have the luxury of a dedicated “Costco Door,” the rest of us are simply searching for a place to store all of those paper towels. Before you fill your cart at Costco, have a plan for where you’ll put your goods when you get home. Sometimes that means eating through your freezer foods before stocking up, reorganizing your linen closet to stash extra paper goods, or even going halfsies with a neighbor or friend.

If your major mode of transportation is an automobile, you might not think twice about shopping at Costco. If you walk or take public transportation, the weight and bulk of getting your Costco haul home can be difficult, if not impossible. Utilize or Instacart for your Costco shopping needs, and consider whether the lower prices that come with a membership will offset the fees from these services.

If you have a standing grocery list that you shop from every week, Costco may be a good place for you to stock up. But if your meal plans vary widely or if you tend to eat out often, Costco might not be a good fit for your family. 

If your budget is such that you are limited to a set spending amount every week, then shopping for the future by buying in bulk might not make sense for you. Shopping at Costco requires some flexibility, or at least some budget planning, so that you can stock up without spending your entire grocery budget in one trip.

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Can You Shop at Costco Without a Membership?

One way Costco is able to keep costs low is by offsetting its operating costs is by restricting warehouse access to card-carrying members. You have to flash that card at the door and before checking out, and while this is a longstanding policy, Costco recently started cracking down on membership sharing by comparing the member photos. 

If you are still on the fence about joining, is there still a way to shop at Costco without becoming a member? Costco does not offer trial passes, but there are seven ways to shop Costco without a membership.

  • Costco shop cards: These rechargeable prepaid cards allow you to shop at physical Costco locations in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico and at The catch? Costco shop cards must be purchased by a Costco member, so as long as you know someone who can procure that card for you, you’re in.
  • Online shopping at Nonmembers can shop on, although there is a 5% surcharge and there are some items that are only available to members. Prices on Costco’s website can also be much lower when you shop in person at the warehouse. Nonmembers can only choose three- to five-day shipping, while members can have faster, two-day delivery that is even free when the total bill is $75 or more. 
  • Grocery delivery via Instacart: Expect Costco’s normally competitive prices to be higher when shopping with Instacart. Service and delivery fees will also apply and add to your final bill. 
  • Prescriptions: Some states allow members to fill prescriptions online or in person at Costco pharmacies.
  • Alcohol: Some states allow non-members to purchase alcohol without a membership.
  • Costco optical: Non-members can schedule their eye exams from the independent, licensed optometrists on0site. You will need a membership or Costco shop card to purchase glasses or contact lenses.
  • Food court: As of 2020, Costco began restricting its food court to paying members only, yet enforcement of this policy varies by warehouse. Many warehouses have transitioned to a kiosk ordering system that does not require you to scan your membership card, allowing some non-members to take advantage of the $1.50 hot dog deal or $3 ice cream sundaes — as long as they can get through the doors.

What’s your favorite thing about being a Costco member? Tell us about it in the comments.