An Easy Way to Save Money: Shop at Costco
Many families still haven’t discovered the convenience, utility, and fun of shopping at Costco and other bulk food warehouse stores. Read my review below to find out why shopping in these stores is a great way to save money and learn about other benefits.
The membership fees turn many people off, and many think they won’t be able to use larger quantities of a given item. If you have a family of at least three people (and maybe even if you don’t), you should look more closely–even couples can offset the membership fees with a few purchases and the cash back.
The cost savings on many items is drastic. Although the selection can be limited, other factors offset this, such as higher quality of available items and even the environmental benefits of buying bulk.
Here are two examples of the cost savings that make Costco worth it:
Example 1: Today, I purchased 40 Duracell AA batteries for $20.99. On Amazon.com, they offer a 48-pack of Duracell batteries for much more, and Harris Teeter offers an 8-pack of Duracell for around $10. By the way, they also offer 48 of the Costco Kirkland brand AA batteries for $16.49.
In a typical grocery store, you cannot buy this quantity of batteries at all. Instead, you’d buy maybe 12 batteries per package at most, which might cost you $11. It is a huge difference.
Many folks might say, “Yeah, but what am I going to do with all those batteries?” but in this case, Duracell guarantees their batteries to be usable for ten years…so as long as you have a safe place to store them, this is a fantastic deal.
Example 2: Last week, I purchased 22oz of Fisher walnut halves at Harris Teeter in a pinch for $14.99. I checked this week and could have gotten 48oz of Kirkland brand Walnuts (excellent quality) at Costco for $7.99! This is a huge difference. Why go to Harris Teeter and pay more for less? Worst case scenario, you can give away the windfall to a friend, relative, or neighbor.
I Really Like Costco
It is probably apparent from this review, but I think Costco is great. Generally speaking, the shopping experience is good, although I admit at certain busier times, it is so crowded that you feel like you could be mowed down at any moment by a wave of oversize shopping carts. But even so, membership is worth it.
There are two membership levels: Gold Star and Executive. I have the Executive membership that is currently priced at $120. One of the benefits of the Executive membership is that you get 2% cash back on your purchases. So that means that with the Executive membership if you buy $6000 worth of products there, you will make your money back on the membership purchase. I also have the Costco Visa card, which I highly recommend – I get even more cashback. More on that below.
At any rate, the cost of a membership might seem to some people like it’s high, but if you just use it a little, it is worth it. Over a year, your purchase savings easily add up–especially if you purchase any of the many non-food items such as electronics, appliances, home and garden, furniture, and much more (especially if you count what you can buy on costco.com). There is also a regular membership that costs about half as much, and even though the cashback savings isn’t the same, the savings on products will quickly reach the cost of your membership.
With your membership, you get two membership cards for two people who live together from the same family. You must present the card whenever you pay and enter the store. (You might get away with going in on a membership with a friend who doesn’t live with you, but it is against their policy, and only one of you will get their monthly coupon mailings.) If a member gives you a Costco gift card, you can get into the store and use it, even if you’re not a member-the catch here is that only members can buy the gift cards, but if you know someone, this a great way to get into the store.
The Costco Visa Credit Card
Costco only takes Visa credit cards, which means you can use any Visa credit card at their stores. You can also use a Visa or Mastercard debit card to purchase there. However, if you’re a long-term Costco member, you should consider getting a Costco Visa from Citi. It is a fantastic deal and has some of the best credit card perks I have seen. It is undoubtedly worth it, especially if you are careful to pay it off each month before interest kicks in.
The card gives you additional cash back on Costco purchases (see below) and has other great features and benefits.
The cashback comes in the form of a check that can only be redeemed at Costco (for products or cash), but it’s all the better if you’re an avid Costco shopper. At this writing, the interest rate is about 17.5%. You can apply online.
The features you get with the card beyond the cash back make it even more worthwhile. Here are a few of the reasons I think this is such a great card:
- As mentioned above, you get 4% cash back on gasoline purchases from any gas station (There is a limit of, I think, $7,000 worth of gas, and then it goes down to 1% cash back).
- You get 3% cash back on qualified travel and restaurant purchases.
- You get 2% cash back on all purchases from Costco
- You get 1% cash back on everything else
Cash back comes in the form of a voucher emailed to you or mailed on paper that can be used to make purchases at Costco or redeemed for cash. They will also let you directly deposit the money into your bank account.
There are also other benefits, all of which have various caveats, that make me think they may or may not work for real-life situations, but anyway, they exist, so here are some of them:
- Travel insurance / Trip cancellation insurance
- Rental car insurance
- Extended warranties that include thefts and other losses
I am pretty sure this is one of the best credit card deals you can get at the moment. I highly recommend checking into it.
The “Green” of Costco – Organic and Environmentally Friendly Offerings
As I mentioned earlier, there are a few reasons why shopping at Costco is good for the environment. First of all, buying bulk items typically means reduced amounts of packaging. Although this hasn’t held for some items, you usually buy more significant amounts of an item so less packing material is needed.
Secondly, Costco offers quite a large variety of natural, fair trade, and organic items. A good example is their house brand (Kirkland) of chocolate chips which they sell for $6.99 for 3.5 pounds. These chocolate chips contain fair trade cocoa and do not have any preservatives. They are delicious and much better quality than the comparable Nestle chips. (Although Costco occasionally sells Nestle as well)
|Cost of Organic Rice Milk At Costco|
Here is another example of the savings you can garner by shopping at Costco: If you purchase Organic Rice Milk at a regular grocery store, you might pay about 8-15 cents per ounce. As you can see below, you will pay less than 4 cents per ounce ($1.14/quart – – on quart = 32 ounces) at Costco. Yes, you do have to buy 12 quarts at a time, but with something like rice milk, you can store it easily and it lasts a long time. I should mention that Kirkland is the house brand of Costco. Kirkland products are usually of very good quality and typically much cheaper than their name-brand counterparts.
As I stated, there are many organic foods at Costco. I am excited to see Costco adding more and more of these kinds of items because when they do, their buying power has potent effects in the consumer ecosystem. They purchase huge amounts of these things from suppliers, which helps stabilize the market and reduce the prices for everyone.
There are plenty of examples of the organic items you’ll find in a Costco store. (BTW, if you live in central Maryland, see my blog post about other ways of getting lower-cost organic fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices) I have put prices down for some of them to give you something to compare to other stores–be aware that sometimes these things come and go, plus prices do change and vary around the country, so YMMV. Here is my current list of organic foods available at Costco–unfortunately this list isn’t complete:
– Whole and 2% Milk
– Several cuts of chicken/whole frozen chickens
– Ground beef
– Olive Oil
– Rice Milk
– Soy Milk
– Frozen Blueberries
– Mixed Greens (Kale & Spinach)
– Frozen Corn
– Frozen Mixed Vegetables – (The flash frozen vegetables are great to have around for soups and quick sides. The quality has been very good.)
– Stoneyfield Yogurt
– Blue Agave
– Frozen Mango
– Bread (two pack)
– Tortilla Chips
– Brown rice
– Organic Pasta
– Classico Organic Pasta Sauce
– Kirkland Signature Organic Tomato Paste
– Kirkland Signature Organic canned Diced Tomatoes
– Kirkland Signature Organic Tomato Sauce
– Pasta Prima Organic Spinach and Cheese Ravioli
– Sambazon Organic Acai Juice
– Several Breakfast cereals
– Peanut Butter
Sometimes Things at Costco Come and Go
Just to say a bit more about a couple of things that have come and gone: One of my favorites they took away without warning was the organic oatmeal…they have plenty of genetically modified Quaker oats, though.
So if I was going to make any complaints about Costco, one of the top ones is that you cannot count on a product to be there for “good”. Certainly, there are some reliable offerings in general, but I would say that you can mainly only count on staple foods, as I have seen all sorts of random things get removed from the lineup or replaced by a different brand over the years.
They also tend to have “road shows.” These are also temporary items brought in by Costco or 3rd party vendors that are only there for a few days, and then they are gone. It’s anyone’s guess whether they will ever be back again.
Things like suits, high-end purses, coats, bedding, jewelry, folding ladders, Vitamix blenders, high-end pots, and a variety of food items are only there temporarily. They also have some “regular” road shows, such as their seafood roadshow, which seems to turn up at our local store approximately once a month with items they don’t regularly sell. Also in this category to some extent, are things like blenders (Vitamix and Blendtec brands) that tend to be consistently sold in the stores, but seem to run out regularly and then are restocked after a company demonstrator comes in for a few days.
They also sell “earth-friendly” products of other sorts. For example, they offer products from the Honest Company, including vegan shampoo and diapers/wipes. They also offer environmentally friendly Costco-brand environmentally friendly dish soap and laundry detergent.
Sheet Cakes and Desserts
As someone who thinks most supermarket cakes taste disgusting, I do believe that Costco’s sheet cakes are definitely better tasting than most, and at $18 for a half-sheet cake that feeds 48 people, it is a good deal.
We have purchased several cakes for birthday parties at Costco and they have always been tasty (Having said that, they still use quite a bit of sugar and have some chemicals that everyone should do without). They always have “stock” sheet cakes that are quite nice, or you can order a custom-decorated cake by filling out a form.
There are two basic kinds of cake – chocolate and white. The white cakes are filled with 2 pounds of vanilla mousse and iced with white buttercream. The chocolate cakes are filled with 2 pounds of chocolate mousse and iced with chocolate buttercream. They request that you give them 1 day’s notice for customized cakes.
I have created a fillable form to make ordering cakes at Coscto easier. Click here to download the form. (If it opens up in Google’s web viewer, you need to click the download icon to get to the fill-outable/printable form. Once you fill in the details, simply print the page.) This definitely helps to eliminate errors because of handwriting issues!
You can also purchase several other types of pre-made party desserts at Costco. For example, there are many types of non-sheet cakes you can get–they have some really delicious choices, including red velvet cake, coffee cakes, a fantastic chocolate cake, cupcakes, and apple strudel. Availability tends to shift, but you can bet plenty of outrageously delicious options exist. You can also find some fantastic frozen party desserts, such as filled pastries, mochi, and ice cream bars.
[Looking for gift ideas for your genius kids? See my list of gifts for smart kids]
Electronics at Costco
As far as electronics–Costco has all sorts of great stuff. TVs, computers, tablets, phones, and accessories like flash drives and portable hard drives. They occasionally have other electronics; around Christmas, they sold high-end drones.
You might not realize you’re looking at a bargain if you shop by price. Generally, Costco gives you much more for your money than you would get from Amazon or some other retailer for about the same price.
The Food Court at Costco
If you’re looking for healthy food, you won’t find much at the Costco food court. You will find unusually low-cost food, and in the genres of food offered, you’ll find it good quality. I hope Costco will improve on this by providing high-quality, healthier options.
Probably the most popular offering is the $1.50 beef hot dog and drink combination…or maybe the huge $1.99 slice of pizza is most popular (whole pizzas-also huge-are $9.99). As pizza goes, they use a generous amount of cheese and toppings and give you an extra-large slice. I don’t know what ingredients they use, but they are probably better quality than standard pizza places. It is interesting to note that these prices haven’t changed for years, and Costco most certainly loses money on each hot dog and pizza.
For dessert, you will find frozen yogurt. Again, priced very reasonably.
They have recently added automated kiosks to order your food at most Costcos. You can still see the cashier but the touch screens are easy and quick.
PRO TIP: If you want to save some time and you know what you were going to order, you can just tell the cashier when you checkout with your food and regular items. You’ll then just show your receipt to the cashier at the food court.
PRO TIP: If you plan to take your pizza to go, you are going to likely find out that the only way to get a box is to order an entire pizza. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with a paper plate and a tin foil covering…not a great situation. On the other hand, since whole pizzas a so cheap, if you’re getting more than two slices, it might just be worth it to get an entire pizza instead.
This is probably a good place to mention the rotisserie chicken. While it isn’t sold in the food court, it is available inside the store and is priced so low, it is hard to pass it up at a cost of $4.99. These flavorful birds are worth every penny, and again, this is another loss leader for Costco. They haven’t changed the price in years and say they don’t intend to, even though they lose money. BTW, you will also find diced rotisserie chicken available. This has been packaged at the store and comprises chickens that didn’t sell in their two-hour window.
Clothes at Costco
Costco sells a variety of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing. Their offerings include dress shirts, jeans, athletic shoes, underwear, t-shirts, camisoles, and dresses. They also offer seasonal apparel and accessories such as Halloween costumes and sun hats in the summer. As with everything at Costco, brands and specific offerings come and go, but I have recently seen Docker pants and shorts and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, for example. They also tend to offer the Kirkland brands; for instance, in the photo, they are selling men’s Kirkland jeans for $13.99 in a variety of sizes. They also have Kirkland men’s athletic shoes for $16.99. Note that these prices and items available change all the time. This. is just an example.
Costco Pet Foods and Pet Supplies
Costco offers dog and cat food and occasional pet supplies such as dog beds, heartworm medicine, and chew toys. Brands will vary, but for instance, they have Kirkland brand wet cat food and the Kirkland brand dog food/cat foods. Buying pet foods in bulk is cost-effective. Pictured is 25 pounds of Kirkland premium cat food for $36.99. So for about 1.47 cents/pound, you get some pretty decent cat food. Obviously, you’ll need to have a place to store such a big bag of food, but many people keep it in their garage or some other out-of-the-way place and then just scoop it into a smaller container that they keep handy. BTW, I have also seen some pretty cool crafts made out of the huge/sturdy bags these foods come in. They also sell a 42-pound bag of Scoop Away kitty litter, cat, and dog toys. I don’t have dogs, but I have been told that the dog food product seems better than average and is well-liked by my friend’s dog.
They also offer bulk bird seed.
Tires at Costco
There are some fantastic deals on tires from Costco. They’re installed and include nitrogen fill, rotation, and road hazard insurance. The price offsets the inconvenience of the tire service there. I love the tires, and I love the price, but the last three out of 4 times I’ve been there recently, I’ve waited in line for over half an hour (one time close to a full hour) to drop off or pick up my car.
It’s absurd sometimes–for instance the last time I was there I spent 36 minutes behind 1 person who just couldn’t decide whether to get 4 tires or 2, going over every possible scenario of tire rotations, etc. Meanwhile, the one sales rep on duty (I’ve only ever seen one person working at the counter there at once) indulges the customer without any care at all for the line forming behind us. When it was my turn, it took him less than 30 seconds to hand me my keys so I could be on my way. This is pathetic service Costco. Pathetic considering this is not a 1-time affair. On the other hand, the price for the tires was excellent, and the workmanship seemed fine. You should note that it may take 2 to 4 hours to get the tires put on, depending on the line behind you, so you’ll want someone to pick them up and drop them off. You may or may not be able to set a specific appointment time at your local Costco (but even if you have an appointment, you’re still going to be standing in that line!)
PRO TIP: Double-check the tire center hours. At our Costco in Columbia, Md, the tire center opens at 7 am–way before the actual warehouse opens, seven days a week. Most people think the hours are the same as the warehouse, so if you get there early in the morning, you may be able to avoid some wait time both for purchasing the tires and for having them put on.
By all accounts, Costco’s pharmacy is the way to go for any medications. Their generic brands are exceedingly cheap, and the service is quite good–they even offer the ability to refill your prescriptions by mail–you can order them online. Most locations have a pharmacy, and in fact, in many states (as required by law) you don’t even need to be a Costco member to use the Pharmacy. You can view the base price for some prescriptions using their online drug information and pricing tool (you would have to know your insurance company’s policies to understand how much you would pay if you are using insurance–they don’t give pricing for all prescriptions). They also have a unique program Costco members can join to get even lower prices on medications. BTW, they also offer flu and covid shots.
Gift Cards At Costco
Aside from gift cards for Costco itself (which can be used to purchase products or memberships). Costco offers a wide variety of discounted gift cards. Available cards vary from month to month and tend to come with a decent cost, savings-typically about 20% off the face value of the card. These include restaurants, entertainment, and sporting venues. Examples would be $60 for $100 gift cards to Portalli’s – a local restaurant. I have also seen gift cards to Starbucks, ski resorts, amusement parks, movie theaters, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, McCormick and Schmick (two $50 gift cards for $79.99), Bertucci’s and Cirque de Soleil ($200 for $159.99).
Costco Travel and Service Discounts
Costco offers discounts on travel and other kinds of services, often via outside vendors. This includes gutter installation, air conditioners, high-end water filters, countertops, flooring, and credit card processing for businesses. I have used Costco Travel, and I can say that they do offer excellent service and competitive pricing. For example, we got a great deal on a hotel and tickets to Universal Studios Orlando. You can book your travel yourself, but Costco has beneficial travel agents.
More on Why We Shop at Costco
As I’ve been saying, there is plenty to like about the available products and savings from shopping at a Costco store, but don’t forget about Costco.com...there are plenty of interesting things to buy there…everything from glassware to coffins (seriously) for a funeral (apparently they can deliver them quickly to a funeral home and the funeral home is required to let you use it–who knew–just note that it is likely the funeral home will charge you a handling fee and often these are exorbitant because of course they want you to buy a more expensive one from them.).
I have seen many times that Costco makes virtually no money on the products it sells. They do have some markup–probably about 10% over what Costco pays, but by the time they pay their expenses, that money is gone. Where they do make money is from membership fees.
When I compare Costco to Sams, I would say there is quite a bit in common. The man who founded Costo was originally the founder of Price Club–so he started the wholesale warehouse business. I would say that Costco tends to have healthier foods available. Prices seem to be very comparable, though. I haven’t got any experience at all with BJs, but I do have family members who love that place.
Yet another great reason to love Costco is that its employees make much more than minimum wage, and they get some benefits. The average employee at Costco makes over $20/hour. This isn’t common in the big stores, so it is great that they treat their employees well. They also tend to hire within–meaning that many of their managers started off working at cash registers and stocking the shelves.
Need to know how to become a member of Costco? That’s easy–walk in through the door marked “EXIT” and go up to the customer service desk. Aside from the above-mentioned $110 executive membership, the regular membership costs $60. They will give you information, a current Costco coupon book, and of course, two Costco Store membership cards. (They require that each card recipient be there to have their picture taken–if both parties can’t be there, you can always give them the name of the second person who can come by Costco at their leisure to get their card.) Don’t forget about the Citi Visa Credit Card when you join–makes good deals even better.
BTW, you’ll look forward to receiving Costco coupon books in the mail. Most discounts are taken in-store and don’t require you to clip a coupon. The coupons are also available on the Costco Website. Note that there are also specific products in the stores with instant rebates that may not be mentioned in these coupon books. Also, certain things are seemingly always on sale, such as vitamins, mobile phones, and tires.
Who Shouldn’t Shop at Costco
As much as I’ve discussed the positives of shopping at Costco, I must admit it isn’t the perfect fit for everyone. Some folks may find that Costco doesn’t suit their needs or preferences, and that’s okay. Let’s take a moment to talk about who might not benefit from a Costco membership.
- Small households: If you’re single or part of a small family, it might be challenging to consume all those bulk items before they expire. Sure, you can stock up on non-perishables, but for perishable goods, it’s better to shop at your local grocery store to avoid waste.
- Limited storage space: If you live in a small apartment or lack storage space, finding room for those jumbo-sized products could be tough. Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, but it might not be worth the membership if you can’t store it.
- Brand loyalists: For those who are fiercely devoted to specific brands, Costco’s limited selection could be a deal-breaker. While they offer popular national brands, they also heavily promote their in-house Kirkland Signature brand. If you’re not open to trying new brands, Costco might not be the best fit for you.
- Frequent fresh produce shoppers: If you’re someone who loves to have fresh produce on hand at all times, Costco might not be your ideal destination. Although they do offer a variety of fruits and vegetables, the bulk quantities may not suit those who prefer to shop for smaller portions of fresh produce more frequently. And they don’t have as many different fruits and vegetables as an International store might.
- Spontaneous shoppers: Costco is designed for stocking up and saving on bulk items, so if you’re the type who enjoys daily trips to the store for just a few things, a Costco membership might not align with your shopping habits.
In conclusion, while Costco has many advantages and can save you a considerable amount of money, it’s essential to consider your shopping habits and preferences before committing to a membership. If any of the above points resonate with you, exploring other shopping alternatives that suit your lifestyle might be best.
Shopping at Costco has been a great way to get quality food and other merchandise while saving money. For other easy money-saving ideas, see my other posts in this series: Changing your electricity Provider, Ditching Your Home Phone, Changing Your Mobile Phone Provider, and Getting rid of cable TV and instead getting your television shows over the internet.