Shopping At Costco: The Lazy Way To Save Money On Almost Everything

shoppingatcostcothelazywaytosavemoneyonalmosteverything.jpgWhen it comes to everyday shopping value, Costco truly is the cream of the crop and it is very hard for them to be beat in regards to value because they have great prices on above average quality products. Most people have shopped at Costco at one time or another, so I may be preaching to the choir here, but there has to be at least one person out there that still hasn’t given them a chance!

What do I mean when I say it is the lazy way to save money? Well, you definitely aren’t going to get the absolute lowest price when shopping at Costco. If you look out for amazing loss leader sales, you will often be able to beat Costco’s prices just by doing that. Then, if you combine a good manufacturer’s coupon with said sales, you are practically guaranteed to get a better deal elsewhere. However, finding cheap prices that way requires vigilance and dedication as well as potential trips to several stores with a lot of time wasted and money spent on gas!

When you shop at Costco, you are almost always guaranteed a more than competitive price and a selection of products that is heavily screened for quality. It is very rare to find an inferiour product at Costco as it seems every product has been hand picked to the highest quality and even products you see in other stores often come with an added feature or bonus to make them just a little bit better. But more importantly you will save yourself a whole lot of research and time making Costco the perfect choice for busy people focused on advancing their career (i.e. making more money) and their family or even those just looking to maximize their efficiency and free time while still saving money.

Shopping at Costco is actually almost too easy as you always find so many great products that you never knew existed before, so you may end up spending much more than you originally intended to. To stay on budget, it is important to go in with a list of things you need and then stick to it religiously. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Keep reading for pros and cons of shopping at Costco, a list of good things to buy there, and some tips and tricks to save even more money on your Costco adventures!

Costco Pros

  • Prices that are as good or better than typical sale prices you will see elsewhere all day everyday.
  • An amazing selection of products that typically exude both quality and value.
  • A return policy that is the best in the business.
    • Most items can be returned indefinitely even without the receipt or packaging for almost any reason.
    • Computers and most electronics now have a 90 day return policy as the previous unlimited return policy was being severely abused on these items.
  • Free extended warranty on TVs, projectors, and computers up to 2 years from the date of purchase.
  • Free technical support provided by Costco themselves on many electronic devices and computers by calling 1-866-231-9731.
  • Extra large parking spots and shopping carts so you always have lots of room and space!
  • In store coupons and coupon books for added savings on some of their more popular products.
  • Cheap and good fast food restaurant located in the store if you feel like binging on some junk food.
  • Free food samples handed out at a multitude of stations as you walk throughout the aisles, especially on weekends.
    • People have been known to go to Costco for dates and outings just to sample the free food!
    • I may have done this once or twice myself, but shhh – don’t tell anyone!

Costco Cons

  • Required annual membership fee costing a minimum of $55 that can be shared amongst family.
  • Manufacturer’s coupons may not be used at Costco; Only store coupons they issue themselves are permitted.
  • Potential for large crowds and long lines because Costco is a very popular and is usually quite packed.
    • This gets even worse on the weekends.
    • Fortunately they employ a lot of checkout workers to keep lines moving quickly.
  • No shopping bags or bins are provided at the checkout, but they might give you a recycled box if you're lucky!
  • Large sizes can lead to waste if you aren’t careful to freeze excess food items or share them with others.
  • Potential for increased driving time and gas used to get there because each city usually only has one Costco.
  • Good possibility of spending extra money because of how effective the store is at displaying and selling products.
  • Their range of products isn’t quite as good as Walmart and large grocery stores, so you may need to do some shopping elsewhere on occasion.
  • Credit cards, other than MasterCard, are not accepted.

Good Things To Buy At Costco

Not everything at Costco is a fantastic buy, but most things are at least decent. Here is a collection of a few things that I think provide exceptional value when bought at Costco:

Mattresses – These are always cheap at Costco and you don’t have to wade through the overpriced jungle that is your local mattress gallery or department store. At Costco you are bound to get a great mattress at a fantastic price without needing an 80% off sale or doing a lot of intense haggling; No high pressure sales tactics either!

Furniture – The selection is limited but you can find a variety of furniture at Costco ranging from dining rooms tables and living room furniture to computer desks and bookshelves. The quality is usually far superiour and the price is often much cheaper than you will find at your local department or office store.

Food – This is one of the best things you can buy at Costco as long as you have a family large enough to eat it all or the means to store it or freeze it until it can be eaten. Some grocery items that are much cheaper than elsewhere include meat (great cuts, good selection, and convenient packaging), cheese (so much cheaper, it isn’t funny), bread (traditional loafs as well as other varieties), and spices (containers 5 or 10 times the size for the same price).

Entertainment / Restaurant Certificates – Costco sells a variety of gift cards and certificates for various local entertainment and restaurants. For instance, my store has a night out movie package that I think costs just over $20 and includes two admissions, two large popcorns, and 2 large soft drinks. That would cost you at least $40 on the weekend if you were to buy everything directly at the cinema. Restaurant gift cards are also typically sold at a 20% discount, which is a significant savings.

Driveway Salt – This is a necessity for Canadian winters and I’ve noticed that the 20kg bags typically sell at about half the price of other stores.

Kitchen Stuff – Great selection of knives, dinnerware, cookware, tupperware, small appliances, and various other useful kitchen items at great prices.

Car Stuff – Car batteries and winter rims are both priced very well.

Clothes – They may not have all the latest styles, but it is hard to argue with $15 for a good pair of quality name brand jeans or full baby outfits for less than $10 each.

Electronics – The extended warranty, free concierge technical support, and the lengthy return period that is six times longer than the standard 14 days are all compelling reasons to shop at Costco for electronics.. The prices are also quite good, but you will almost always do better on electronics price-wise when shopping online.

Office Supplies – They offer a great selection of quality name brands and the prices are always less. Hanging file folders is one of my favourite office products to buy at Costco.

Digital Prints – Getting your home photos developed at Costco is usually cheaper than elsewhere unless there is a good sale happening somewhere else. The quality of the prints and photo paper is only average by my estimation, but it will still save you some money and gets the job done.

Tips For Shopping At Costco

There are a few somewhat lesser known tips for shopping at Costco that I would like to share with you to help you save a bit more money.

  • You can often get a discount on your membership by purchasing it online through Costco.ca and using a coupon code to either get a $10-$25 gift card in the mail or some other bonus like certificates for 2 free movies.
    • These coupon codes come and go but you can usually find one by doing a forum search over at Redflagdeals for “Costco membership coupon”.
    • If you aren’t a member at RFD, you can also search Google for “Redflagdeals Costco membership coupon” instead.
  • Right now you can also get a $10 gift card for having another Costco member bring you to sign you up for a membership. They will also be given a $10 gift card as well for the referral.
  • You can buy items at Costco, even without a membership, if you are using a Costco cash card (gift card) given to you by someone else.
    • Keep in mind you may not get the other added benefits of membership like extended warranty, tech support, and so on.
    • This is a great way to try out Costco if you are uncertain about joining.
  • If you consolidate all your purchases at Costco, getting the Executive membership that costs $100 and gives you 2% back on all your purchases may make sense.
    • If you spend $5000 annually at Costco then your membership will be essentially free.
  • You should use a good MasterCard rewards credit card to earn rewards on all your Costco purchases.
So I’m wondering – do you shop at Costco? If so, what is it that you like to buy there?

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Comments

Sustainable PF's picture

Great analysis as always.
We don't currently shop @ Costco but as we start to think about starting a family we will very likely get a membership and come back to re-read this article!
One other note about membership. The 2% cash back on the Executive membership is good if you spend $5000, however, other CCs (MBNA cash back) will get you 1% cash back that almost pays for the normal membership, and, if you were to use the Capital One Aspire Travel Mastercard and you converted the airmiles to money, you'd come out ahead in terms of dollars spent.

February 08, 2011 @ 9:57 am
SavingMentor
SavingMentor's picture

Isn't the executive membership just another type of membership card? As far as I know it isn't tied to your method of payment and you can still use your normal credit card to make the purchase while simultaneously using your exectuive membership.

Although, Costco only accepts American Express so you aren't going to be able to use either the MBNA cash back card or the Capital One Aspire card to make the purchase unless you were to buy gift cards on Costco.ca first using your credit card, because they do accept MasterCard and Visa on Costco.ca.

February 08, 2011 @ 12:53 pm
Jaymus (RealizedReturns)'s picture

I'm a costco addict. One of the things I really like about Costco is that their buyers seem to find items that strike the perfect balance between quality and price. When I'm in the market for any item - say a treadmill or something - I can pretty much depend on Costco to deliver that perfect balance for me every single time. The don't confuse customers by carrying selection either.. no, no. 1 treadmill to choose from. that's it. take or leave it - - and trust in their purchasers.

February 08, 2011 @ 5:04 pm
SavingMentor
SavingMentor's picture

I agree Jaymus, Costco is amazing for that and their buyers are superstars. It makes the whole process a lot less stressful and time consuming. It's so good that sometimes I find Costco taking the ultimate saver out of me and I find myself spending a bit more for the convenience of the complete package they give you.

February 08, 2011 @ 5:25 pm
youngandthrifty's picture

I used to have a membership, but found that I spent too much money (like $50-$75) on things I didn't really NEED.

All those samples the staff offer you- seduces me to spend money!

I am waiting for a good membership offer to come up, and then I'll take the plunge again.

February 11, 2011 @ 5:48 am
SavingMentor
SavingMentor's picture

Agreed, that's why I specifically warned people to take a list and stick to it if they really don't want to overspend. However, as long as those new discoveries that you are buying are enhancing your life and your enjoyment and it isn't breaking the bank - then it is money well spent, right?

February 11, 2011 @ 10:04 am
apennygained's picture

Great post, We love Costco and the money it is saving us. One of our family's budget cutbacks this year was to try and reduce groceries by $300 a month (We were spending up to $800). We figured the best way to do this was to buy monthly in bulk, split up what we bought and either freeze or put the food away in our cold cellar. There is definately temptation all around at Costco, I see tons of products I could argue we "need". But we stay true to our list and I can say after two months our grocery budget is on target, Costco is saving us money!

February 11, 2011 @ 5:19 pm
SavingMentor
SavingMentor's picture

That's fantastic! It's nice to hear a story about someone who has actually tracked the spending closely to see exactly how much it can save. $300 in monthly food savings alone is no small feat and I bet you're eating just as well or better than you were before, right?

February 11, 2011 @ 7:13 pm
Mitch
Mitch's picture

I love Costco except for the membership fee.
It seems to me they would have a lot more customers ans sales if they cancelled this membership policy.
Their Milano Espresso coffe is the best,and very good value at approx. $5.00 a pound.
I also love their cheeses and their chocolates.
Good value on car items like tires etc.

February 12, 2011 @ 2:04 pm
SavingMentor
SavingMentor's picture

True Mitch, but I don't think you'd be able to park or get in the doors if they didn't have the membership fee. They do offer a fair bit of value for the membership fee as well - so I don't personally mind it all that much.

February 12, 2011 @ 2:16 pm
Pedro
Pedro's picture

You really think Costco saves you money? Not a chance. I have yet to see a person that can consistently go for six months to a year and not succumb to temptation on things like electronics, or high cost pre-processed food they wouldn't ordinarily get. Direct purchases of meat/poultry from butchers, farmers, wholesalers, etc give you the bulk savings you need. Fruits/vegetables (peas, berries, tomatoes, apples, pretty much anything) bought in season from farmers markets, or even grocery stores etc in bulk and canned (although that's a lot of effort) or stored in either large freezers (the cost of the freezer is easily offset in the first few months of not buying frozen vegetables). As for consumer electronics, etc, tires, things like that, they are pretty much market value, maybe a little above, if a person is willing to shop around (tires) or order online (electronics). Market research shows very high spikes in purchases as a result of in store samples - would they do it otherwise? The perception that you are saving money also causes increases in spending. The truest way to save money is to make an itemized weekly menu before you shop & restrict yourself to this list. Try this once & go to a few different locations with the same menu over a few months & you'll see the savings compared to any grocery store.

June 15, 2011 @ 2:05 pm
SavingMentor
SavingMentor's picture

Thanks for you comment Pedro! You've hit the nail on the head in that there are definitely better ways to save money than shopping at Costco and that is exactly why I said that it is the lazy way to save money. Think of how much work, planning, and preparation is involved in all of the things you mentioned in your post. It may seem easy to you because you are very used to it already - but to the average busy person with a family - the things you mentioned are time consuming and hard to learn.

I think the prices at Costco are actually better than you let on (especially here in Atlantic Canada), but they most certainly aren't the best. However, Costco WILL for sure make you spend more money if you aren't disciplined because it is so attractive and they have so many great and enticing products.

Let me ask you this. Is it easier to shop at one store (Costco) with the head knowledge that it is designed to make you buy things you otherwise normally wouldn't and put significant mental energy towards resisting those temptations or to go through the lengthy process of learning your method and shopping at multiple locations?

You way is clearly "better" but it definitely isn't easier.

June 17, 2011 @ 10:22 am
Lenita
Lenita's picture

Try and get on someones Business Membership. This only costs £13 and gives you a trade card which lets you shop earlier than public membership does.

This is in the UK by the way, not sure if it's different in the US?

June 23, 2011 @ 4:59 am
SavingMentor
SavingMentor's picture

I have not heard of such a thing here in Canada Lenita, but thanks for the additional information!

June 23, 2011 @ 2:58 pm
K
K's picture

I guess I am the one person you must be referring to that hadn't given them a chance, lol.

Costco opened up a new store in the city where we live this year so we finally decided 4 months ago to buy a membership that would give us cashback on purchases.

I can't say that we shop there a lot yet; but the items we have bought there, we were pleased with. One of the things we did buy was a water tow tube and certainly both the price and the quality was better than we could find elsewhere. They must have been popular because they sold out within a week.

A Costco employee told us that items with a price ending in 97 cents are clearance/reduced price items so when we do shop there we are always looking to see what is on clearance that we might need/want.

The two things that I don't like about Costco: can only use their own coupons and they don't have a weekly flyer so you never know what prices are on various things, nor what is on clearance, until you walk thru the doors.

I am not sure yet if Costco will become a fav place to shop.

November 09, 2011 @ 4:28 pm
SavingMentor
SavingMentor's picture

I forgot to mention the .97 clearance thing so thanks for bringing that up K! I agree, it does suck that they don't accept manufacturer's coupons as that represents significant savings lost but I think that all their other positives easily outweigh that drawback especially for those people looking to put in the least amount of time into their shopping while still saving money.

I had never really thought about them not having a weekly flyer either. For me, I usually find the latest deals at Costco by monitoring forums like RedFlagDeals and by checking there specifically either on their website or in person when there is something specific I need to buy. Besides that, I just enjoy going to Costco and browsing when I'm out of a few things I regularly buy there because they are so much cheaper. That allows me to spot other new items or deals they might have that I didn't know about before.

Try doing a search (titles only) in the RedFlagDeals hot deals forum for "Costco" and see what you come up with!

November 10, 2011 @ 4:48 pm
Christina
Christina's picture

I spend about $200 every two weeks on groceries at Costco. I used to spend about $350 every two weeks. That's a $3900 savings per year. Well worth the membership.

May 31, 2013 @ 3:01 pm
James
James's picture

I'm not a member of Costco but I fortunately get to "piggyback" on my sister's membership about once/month. If she stops subscribing I will likely get 1 too (so thanks on the post re: signing up online). Even if I were to increase my frequency to shop there- it would be worth it as "Time is money" and I'm getting tired of wandering around various stores to get the best deal (see below).

I'm located in GTA of Ontario so there are many stores who offer competitive prices in our area. More specifically, Food Basics, Freshco & No Frills often offer sales that are quite competitive to Costco & that is where we do our weekly shopping. Even the top-tier stores (Fortinos, Metro, Sobies) occasionally have deals/sales that can beat prices at Costco. For saving $ on groceries I recommend the price-matching (Freshco/No Frills) available & reading flyers before you go shopping (most deals are on the weekends). But that, of course, is if you have the time to shop around/& prepare to price match.

Also, there are various items at Costco that cannot be beat elsewhere. I am hard of hearing and use hearing aids. You cannot find hearing aid batteries as cheap as at Costco (40 pack for $11.99). Most health items, vitamins/supplements, prescriptions have similar deep discounts compared to regular drugstores. My favourite food item to buy at Costco is the fish (farm/wild salmon, trout, tilapia) all considerably less expensive than the other grocery stores I mentioned (unless the store have a discounted price). However, most of the stores- when they discount- the fish/chicken/eat is very near its expired date- whereas @ Costco its fresh & excellent quality as Stephen Weyman mentions in his excellent analysis. If our Costco had a gas service station (& I had a membership) I would be filling up there (for the 0.10/Litre discount compared to other stores).

The two quibbles I have with Costco is that they will often carry a top-notch product that I will develop a fondness for & then suddenly discontinue it (probably for lack of sales). I used to buy a 3 pack of Sonic electric toothbrush replacements for the price of a 2 pack (Walmart) but no longer available. Also, for produce, I have noticed there is a heavy reliance on American & international products even when our local items are in full abundance (& reduced) such as grapes or apples.

December 24, 2015 @ 5:36 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Thanks for the excellent comment James. A lot of valuable information there!

I agree with you it can be very frustrating when you get to love a product that Costco carries and then they stop carrying it. That does happen much more frequently than I would like!

December 26, 2015 @ 4:20 pm

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