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4 Tips to be a "Hip" Costco Shopper

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Despite the fact that manufacturer’s coupons are not accepted and that you have to buy bulk quantities, I still love to head to Costco once a month or so to check out all their new products. In addition to snagging their delicious hot dogs and a soda for only $1.50, my kids, hubby, and I love to check out their new clothes and kitchen items, browse the produce and meat departments and meander the aisles grabbing samples, etc. For this reason, I was excited to learn about some “secret” tips to be a savvy Costco shopper.

* Scour the aisles for items whose sale price ends in 97¢ (regularly priced items usually have a sale price that ends in 99¢). If you find an item whose price ends in 97¢, this indicates that this item did not sell as quickly as expected and Costco is trying to clear it out. In other words, this is time to buy the item (if it is something that you need/want).

* You’ll also want to look for items whose sale price ends with “odd pricing” (i.e. prices that end in 79¢ or 49¢). This usually indicates that Costco got a special deal from the manufacturer and typically means that these items are competitively priced in comparison to other stores.

* In addition to the price, be sure to look for a * on the upper right corner of the display sign. If you see a *, it indicates that the item is not being reordered (i.e. once the current stock has been sold, it will not be replaced). In other words, if you have been eying this item for a while, now is the time to snatch it up as you will not likely have another opportunity. Keep in mind that a * only indicates that the item will not be re-ordered…it does not necessarily mean that the item is marked down from the original sale price.

* Finally, keep your eyes peeled for those instant rebates that are deducted automatically at checkout (some states are even offering special energy rebates when you purchase fluorescent bulbs).

So…how about you? Do you have any great tips to share or any secrets (we promise not to tell 😉 )?!

(Thanks to the article Secret Codes Will Save You Money at Costco by Len Rapoport for this great information! And thanks to reader Ashley for emailing me about this article!)

Join The Discussion

Comments 173

  1. Shahina

    Thanks for posting something about Costco. My mom taught me the “star” on the sign trick and we have scored some sweet deals lately just by looking at the signs.

    I must add I LOVE their return policy. I bought a box of Huggies for my son last month – he started to get a really bad rash (which is weird bc we always use huggies) anyways we had thrown the box away and used half of one pack AND I didnt have my reciept! I REALLY did not think Costco could help but I called and explained the situation and they told me to brinbg whatever remaining diapers I had in (boxless) – I did and they were able to pull up my account and tell what/when I paid for them and refunded me back $42 in cash on the spot. I was shocked! I will turn around and buy the Kirkland brand diapers (they are really good – when the Costco near me opened last year they gave us free samples of many Kirkland products) and the diapers are good quality.

    Love their selection of books and dvd’s and their “clearance clothing” cart that I often find in the store (this includes returns from other stores that they no longer have or carry – they reduce them usually 50% off).

    • Stacy

      I love love love kirkland diapers!

    • KayLynn S

      The kirkland diapers and huggies are the same. They are both made by kimberly clark on the same machine. My brother used to run the diaper machine. Only difference is the outside of the diaper and the box.

      • BRANDY

        Does anyone know why the Kirkland diapers are the same price as Huggies? You would think they would be cheaper since it’s a store brand?

  2. erika

    i read from some deals blog that costco carries organic baby sleepers with no flame retardant chemicals (that are unhealthy for babies to breathe)…so last time i was there i was excited to find them. i think it was $12 for one, which i thought was a decent deal for organic clothing.

    fyi to those who who don’t think the executive membership is worth it if you don’t spend much there, they do refund the difference. we got our rebate check for $12 and we took it back to the store, and they took the check and instead gave us $50 + tax back in cash. so basically the executive and regular memberships cost the same.

    • Kathi

      NO WAY?!! Ok, maybe I’ll try the executive.

    • Melissa S

      SO true – some years we get the $50 back from not spending enough. I love Costco! We also use them for car insurance and home owners insurance – so easy and best customer service.

      • Randi

        I also have exec membership and only got $36 back. They took the check and put $50 towards my new membership.

    • Elizabeth

      The organic cotton pajamas are our kids’s favorite. Very comfortable & durable. Costco does not carry them in the spring & summer. Our kids wear long sleeve & pant pajamas year round, so stock up now before they are gone for the warmer months.

  3. Kristen

    Consumer Report recently rated Costco’s meats and seafood as the highest quality/lowest price of all the major grocery stores and chains!

    Once a month I buy the BIG packs of ground beef, chicken (individually packaged), salmon and talapia or catfish. I bring it home and with the fish and beef, I break the big packs down into smaller portions (1 lb for ground beef, single portions of fish) and wrap them in foil, label what it is with the date it was purchased and then throw those foil-wrapped portions into a ziplock to keep them from getting freezer burnt. It is MUCH cheaper to buy in bulk and it lasts quite a while. Their fish is sooo yummy, we eat it at least once a week with rice/quinoa and veggies. I find buying meats and seafood there are about as cheap as I can find that are fresh as very few “meat” coupons can be found in my area.

    Olive oiil, eggs, milk, butter and rice/quinoa are very affordable and Costco staples for my family too. And yes, filling up my gas tank is essential, always cheaper then local competitors!

  4. Ebony

    Aww man I miss Costco!! They only have sams club where I am and Im not a big fan of Sams (or wal-marts for that matter)

    The costco cake is THE BOMB!! its soo good with the mousse in the middle! I craved it when I was pregnant with my 1st son.

    Love thier Lunches they are SUPER cheap ours would have a line at lunch time. Hot Dogs, Pizza, Ceasar Salads, Ice Cream.
    That place was such a treat when we were kids! LOL going there eating all the samples and sitting outside for lunch…Can you tell Im homesick? LOL

    • Anne

      Speaking of Costco cake: I have a daughter who loves it so much, she wanted it duplicated for her wedding:) So, we had a great tiered wedding cake (made by another baker–more cake flavor choices), but lots of “extra” sheet cake for more cake. Costco scored the top & put white flowers on each “square.” Our helpers pre-cut the cake & everyone was happy.

      • Candi

        I did the same thing.

  5. Mitch

    Wow, I had no idea there were secrets at Costco, my favorite big box store.
    This is where I get my holiday cards, ordered with a family picture, while sitting at the computer and each card ends up costing less than the stamp I need to mail it!
    thanks for this one!

  6. tilla ham

    i love costco, i’m a fan. i love their seasonal dept, their furniture, glue sticks for scrapbooking, spices, kids clothes, swimsuits, beach towels, lunch meat, bakery is fabulous….but their produce is, and has always been, terrible. The apples always taste flavorless, the watermelons as well. Grapes are usually mildewy tasting, as well as strawberries.

    • femsol

      I am so surprised by your comments about the produce at Costco. I love Costco and have been a member for over 15 years. I buy all of my produce from Costco and during the spring and summer months you cannot beat the prices on blueberries, rasperries, strawberries and mango slices to name a few. When cherries are in season I literally almost make myself ill from eating so much. The quality and price of their produce is above and beyond our elite markets–maybe it is just my location as I have not tried any other Costco’s to compare. Certainly agree though with the comments about their cakes and would add that their fruit torte that they make in the summer is so good that one piece is never enough–I try to avoid even looking at them. I am thrilled to know these tricks and enjoyed all of the comments–I also depend on the Costco monthly flyer coupons that I keep in my car just in case I need a Costco fix..

    • Jennifer

      I am also surprised because I LOVE LOVE LOVE costco’s fruit. I refuse to buy it anywhere else!! They are ALWAYS crispy and fresh!!

    • Christy

      We LOVE Costco, but have had several problems w/their bags of lemons … they go bad FAST!!!! Well before we can use them all … just a matter of days of purchasing. However, the lemons are the ONLY item we’ve had a problem with.

      • Anonymous

        Same here, bought lemons on a Friday, by Monday they were bad, got a refund on Tuesday. Everything else, excellent!

  7. Pam

    We don’t have a Costco near here. Do you know if this information is simuliar to SAM’S? I am curious. Thanks.

    • Carly

      I was curious about this too. I go to Sam’s a lot but was wondering if some of the same tips apply?

  8. AnnMarie

    Did you also know that their electronics come automatically with an extended warranty? My son dropped his Ipod in the toilet and we soaked it in rice but it was still not what it had once been. We mentioned it in passing at Costco and was told to just return it! My son did and got a brand new one!!
    On the day after Thanksgiving they also ALWAYS give out a free recipe book and have weekend deals on electronics that rival the other stores that you have to get up at 2 AM to score the deals. We got an awesome TV that was a far superior brand and only $20 more than one that was sold out that morning at Walmart (AND I didn’t have to go to Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving!!!). My husband and I were in and out of Costco that morning in less than a 1/2 hour. An accomplishment on any day-but especially that one!!!!

  9. patti

    anyone know if a person can go to Costco on a one time free trip to see if they likebefore they purchase a membership?

    • Anne

      Yes, you just tell the person who checks your card on the way in that you’d like to check out the store. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard that if you have a gift card for Costco, you don’t need a membership to shop there. I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law buys gift cards for my sister-in-law bc she doesn’t have a membership.

    • Christy

      Yes, you can look, but not purchase (w/o the membership).

  10. pattil24

    We love Costco — its a regular lunch ‘date’ for samples! You do have to watch their prices though. Produce is awesome — can’t beat their price on Romaine lettuce, bananas and berries. And for doing weddings or showers on the cheap you can’t beat their sheet cakes! And at .13 a print I still think their 1 hr photo shop is hard to beat. THanks Collin for the decoder ring — we’ve been frustrated in the past when we find something we love, only to have it be ‘seasonal’ as we call it and not available the next time we go to buy it. Now we know!! 🙂

  11. Selene

    I only have a tip what NOT to buy – produce. Maybe it’s my local Costco but their produce items are highly priced and low quality. I usually only get frozen items, automotive items, and allergy medicines. The Claritin is much cheaper than the drug store deals even if I combine store sales, store in-ad coupons and manufacturer’s coupons!

    • Carolyn

      That’s so interesting! Maybe it’s dependent on where you live? I find that the produce at our Costcos are GREAT quality, for a GREAT price… it’s where I often by my produce for the winter (and subsidize what more I need in the summer in addition to my CSA). They often have organic produce, most of it tastes great, and the price is often wonderful. Not for everything, of course, but that’s because they have to make money. 😉 But mangos are often 9 for $8.99 or less, when I find them at grocery stores for maybe $1.50 each, and their organic carrots are a wonderful price. They also have a big selection of organic frozen vegetables, which are wonderful to keep on hand! I also think that when they carry Carter’s kid’s clothing, it’s a better deal than at a Carter’s store + sale + coupon. Spices are a great value, and oh MILK is the best buy anywhere around! It’s consisently under $2 for skim for me (regular) and I think $9 for 3 half-gallon boxes of organic… I can sometimes get that cheaper elsewhere, but I love the box milk because it lasts longer in the fridge so if my grocery store has organic gallons on sale, I buy one and use it before I open another half-gallon. Yep, our family is definitely addicted to Costco… which is why I just spent $170 there today (for a big cart-full!), but I’m loaded with a lot of great stuff for awhile. 🙂

      • kim

        We love their produce too! We always get bananas, pineapple, spinach, carrots and broccoli there.

        • Liz Burns

          Same here, produce at Costco is great here in Nor Cal, year round.

    • Linda Hope

      You can get Aller-tec, Its generic zirtecn and a years supply is in one bottle for around $15. I find that it works great!

  12. me

    I just scored a beautiful king sized headboard at my costco for $100. Think it started around the $200! Was stoked to see it get down soo low! Love, Love, Love their produce and meat. Best quality and the only place I buy my steaks and blueberries! But I try not to go too often as I find lots of things I think I need! 🙂

  13. Debi

    We joined costco three years ago because my infant (at the time) was a weight looser and wouldn’t latch and was colic (true collic, I’m not just saying that) so she had to have formula. She did great on the Kirkland brand which was only $19.97 for TWO containers! The membership paid for itself in 3 months…not to mention the diapers!

    I also like Costco because a lot of thier dairy items are local. I buy locally produced eggs, 2.5 dozen at a time and these are always $0.50 per dozen or more cheaper than my Kroger affiliate….And I’m supporting a local company.

  14. Michelle

    Ok, just another reason why I LOVE Costco….. the average full time cashier earns up to $40,000 a year PLUS benefits. Sam’s does NOT pay that well! Plus when you go there you tend to see the same employees every time, and get to know them. Their employees are VERY loyal…… well, who wouldn’t be earning a decent living? I love that I can walk into our local Costco and see the SAME lady that was there the first time I took my brand new baby daughter out shopping! She always asks after her.
    ** If you have an Executive membership you can also take friends! I do! That helps me earn the 2% back ay the end of the year!

    • pamela

      I didn’t know you could take friends! Can they pay seperately? Or do you have to have it on one bill? I have taken people before and have to have it subtotaled so I know what is owed. I have had an executive membership for YEARS! And btw, I just buy normal things there (fruits, meats, frozen, some cleaning, gas) and I get so much back every year that I can renew my executive membership and still have about $100 left to spend for myself!!! LOVE Costco!!

      • Jenn H.

        it really depends on the cashier. I have had problems with this before. The easiest way is to have them subtotal it and either the person pays in cash, or pays you back. I have had some really grouchy cashiers give me a hard time about shopping with my mom who does not have a membership. Actually, we just switched to Sam’s because they seem to have lower prices, atleast on the items we buy most. Plus, I prefer Pampers and Costco only has Huggies.

  15. Megan

    I’m so happy you published a story on Costco, I’m a Costco-addict! I typically purchase a lot of produce, meat, allergy meds for my son and wine from there. I have also been known to purchase the occasional PJs for the kids or book. I have found their prices for those items to be competitive. I’ll start paying better attention to the rest of the signs in the store now… 😉

  16. Brandey

    They have extra Costco coupons at the Customer Service area. In case you do not get the coupon mailers.

    • Christy

      Ours always seems to be out, so that’s not always an option. However, all of the codes are the same on the backs of the coupons, so any coupon will work for any of the items on sale. You can simply swipe one coupon and it will deduct the $$ off on all items on sale.

  17. Klinkerpopper

    I have a tip for Costco coupons. You only have to tear one coupon out and the rest of the coupons for products your are buying will ring up automatically as the product is scanned. I do this so that I can get multiples of the limit one coupons.

    I also had a GREAT experience with their tire warranty. I admitted that I hit the cub a few to many times and one of my tires blew out. They happily replaced it under the tire warranty at a prorated price of $50 (instead of $150) and even volunteered that I had another tire ready to blow and replaced it for the same price. Not only did I get two replacement tires for $50 each installed, but the 5 year warranty on the replacement tires starts new!

    Costco Rocks!

    • Susieq

      Yikes. So does “limit one” mean “limit one” or not? If you check out the back of your coupon, it states the limit is per household. So that’s not an honest suggestion. But thanks for the tip about tires!

      • Klinkerpopper

        For my experience the cash register computer will limit you to the number stated on the coupon for that checkout. I just go back and use the coupon again next time.

        Our Costco will not look up coupons, you have to give them at least one. But there is always a stack of coupons at the customer service desk for you to grab.

        • Christy

          When we bought our membership, the gentlemen told us that even though coupons might say “limit 1”, etc, they are in the business to sell to us and coming back and doing it again is not something they object to. They want our business, so spend away is what he told us.

    • Janelle

      I never tear out my coupons. They are all usually taken off automatically. I can’t though go over the limit of the coupons though. I was told it’s tracked somehow on my card……

  18. Laura

    I don’t even bring my Costco coupons to the store any more because I just ask the cashier to check if there are any coupons. They have a little barcode next to their scanner that automatically deducts the current coupons for you–it’s great because I have forgotten my mailer a lot and haven’t wanted to go to the front desk with little kids in tow!

  19. Shelly

    I LOVE Costco. I haven’t met a person that doesn’t. We bought a king size mattress there and slept on it for SIX months before we decided it was too soft. They took it back without even questioning us! I will always buy big items at Costco for that reason. They have the best customer service ever. Also, their produce and meats can not be beat in the quality dept! Costco is AMAZING!!

  20. Kerri

    is the gift card part true? no membership required if shopping with a gift card?

    • Daphyn

      “You must be a Costco member to purchase or reload Costco Cash Cards. Members and non-members may use the cash cards to shop at any Costco locaton in the United States, Puerto Rico or on Costco Cash balances may be used toward membership or merchandise.”

    • Anon

      Keep in mind that you can’t return items without buying a membership. And it is well worth the $50 bucks (for two cards).

  21. Heather

    You can use the Costco pharmacy without having a membership. Not many people know this. It is often cheaper than other pharmacies. Just tell them at the door that you are going to the pharmacy.

  22. Carrie

    Love Costco. Love their return policy, produce, bread and bakery.

    We have the executive membership and last year the rebate paid my membership plus an extra 70.00. Not too bad.

  23. sandra

    Another important code is the 00 code. This means final discount and we have gotten some amazing deals when the prices end in 00. Lots of times they will have these items on dollies in the aisles because they are trying to sell them off quickly.
    They always have such unique Christmas items-I usually end up buying some for gifts each year.

  24. Melinda

    I love Costco! I go once a week for lettuce, tomatoes, and milk. Its cheaper than anywhere else. When I run out of something in my stockpile and don’t have coupons or can’t make a good deal at the grocery store I just pick it up at Costco. The price is always better than I can get at the store if it isn’t on sale. Also, a tip for the readers that may get bad produce from time to time…just go to Customer Service next time you are in and let them know about it. They will refund your card no questions asked. Last summer they got a bad batch of tomatoes and I had to get a refund twice. They were fabulous about it!

  25. Melinda

    Oh, one more comment. The Kirkland batteries are fabulous. I read an article comparing them to Duracell, they rated at least as good if not better. I’ve been buying them for a couple of years now and from my experience they are definitely better than Duracell. Honestly, from the point I discovered the batteries were so good, I pretty much switched all the products I could to the Kirkland brand, from food to paper products I have never had a bad experience on Kirkland items and if I do, I know they’ll refund me no problems. Its a Win, Win!

  26. Lynne Wright

    We are long time card holders for Costco and I never knew about the codes! Thank you Collin! Last year we upgraded our membership because we get our gasoline there weekly – it covers the $100.00 a year plus we got $10 refund! Technically our membership is now free!

  27. Jo

    YAY! A post about Costco..when I become wealthy I am buying stock in this store.. THANK YOU for the tips!!! SO HELPFUL!!

  28. Pat

    Love Costco! They have wonderful produce – I always stock up on romaine lettuce, broccoli, brussel sprouts, pears, apples – when in season. Their frozen veggies are very good and organic. My family loves their roasted chickens – 4.99 and they’re huge. Also when the wild Alaskan salmon is in season – they have great prices – much cheaper than local stores. The Kirkland laundry soap, softener, garbage bags, etc. are all excellent quality.
    I try to only go once a month and stock up. Love picking up a churro and smoothie on the way out too!

    • Christy

      You are the 2nd comment about a churro and smoothie. I am going to have to grab something to eat next time I am there! What is a churro and what types of smoothies do they offer? Good prices too? Thank you!! 🙂

      • Wendy

        Churros are from Mexico, have great ones in California….basicaly, it’s an elephant ear – but tubular in shape! The best!

  29. Ashley W.

    Yay! SO glad I thought to pass this along! I definitely LOVE Costco.

  30. Jenn

    Did you know that different Costco stores can have different prices for the same item? We were looking into buying a bed for my daughter and had them search other stores when I saw they charged different prices. Moral of the story: If you live by two or more Costco stores, and wanting to buy something expensive, shop around!

  31. Jane

    My Costco told me the only manufacturing coupons they accept are the formula coupons. Go figure.

    • Anon

      They can take formula “checks” not formula coupons.

  32. Serene

    On a side note about Sams, anything that ends in a “1” is a clearance item. I worked there all throughout college and saw some people get some great deals. Also, the clearance section in the back corner of the store always has great deals.

  33. Kara

    In case anyone is interested, BJ’s Wholesale Club accepts manufacturer’s coupons and they can be stacked with their weekly flier coupons. They also will send you a month coupon book. Their prices are reasonable and they have a low yearly membership fee.

  34. Heather Hayes

    Man, I *WISH* my Costco had the cheap gas deals other areas seem to have. Its either the exact same price, or maybe a penny cheaper than at the regular gas station. :/

    That being said, their generic zyrtec is a whole year’s worth for less than $17. The savings on that alone pretty much pays for the regular membership.

    • Amy

      Yup, my daughter’s allergy meds are worth the price of admission – buy kirkland brands, they are cheap and the same product as name brands!

  35. Heather

    I’m pretty sure all Costco’s have the same prices for the same items. My sister lives in Hawaii and milk there is the same price as here in Utah. We love Costco, and spend at least $200 each time we go. We cruise the store and get in the “Costco trap” since everything in there is $10 🙂 We don’t complain though – the meat, produce and veggies are awesome and so are their uncooked flour tortillas and ready-to eat meals. The Tri-tip steak is delish!! Our favorite is the organic milk in the little 1/2 gallons. Organic milk is the way to go – it’s pricey, but one of the most important foods to buy organic.

  36. michele

    I cant remember where I read it, but the reviews for Costco’s brand is the best in generic brands. I had read that, for instance, thier coffee or their brand tuna uses the top of the line ingredients versus other generic brands. And, I know from experience thier Kirkland brand laundry detergent is wonderful.

  37. Kristin

    I knew the $0.97 price ending, but, if you spot a $.00 ending it’s a clearance price. Thanks for the tip about the * too! LOVE Costco!

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